In 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley was born to humble beginnings in a small home in Tupelo, Miss. But it was clear early on that he would become a star.

After receiving his first guitar at the age of 11, he made his first radio appearance in 1954 on a local program called “Louisiana Hayride.” A year later, his first television appearance was on a televised version of the same show. So perhaps it should be no surprise that his era-defining career was both audio and visual.

While most people know Presley as the “King of Rock and Roll,” he was also a regular in Hollywood, making 31 feature films between 1956 and 1969. (He also made two concert movies.) Although his films were not critically acclaimed, they were beloved by fans and their estimated box office earnings would total nearly $150 million over the years.

Presley made his acting debut in the 1956 Civil War-era western Love Me Tender, in which he played the role of Clint Reno, a man who stayed behind and married his brother’s girlfriend after the brother went off to war. The tagline for the film was “You’ll love him tender in the story he was born to play!” (As the the official Elvis Presley site recounts, footage of him singing the title song was added to the end of the film late in the process, after preview audiences were upset over his character’s death.)

Swedish-American actress, singer and dancer Ann-Margret and Elvis promoting the movie 'Viva Las Vegas,' 1964. (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images)
Swedish-American actress, singer and dancer Ann-Margret and Elvis promoting the movie 'Viva Las Vegas,' 1964.
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

From his first feature film to his last (Change of Habit, 1969), Presley was surrounded by talented costars, from Debra Paget in his first film to Mary Tyler Moore in his last. One in particular, Ann-Margret, left an indelible impression on him and they would remain friends (and rumored lovers) until the day of his death. The Swedish actress and sex symbol starred with him in the 1964 hit Viva Las Vegas.

On the 40th anniversary of his Aug. 16, 1977, death, revisit his 31 films — some memorable and some obscure — in the gallery above. The memory of “The King” is alive and well not only through his music, but also the films he left behind.

Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior photo editor at TIME

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at

You May Also Like