17 niche Elvis references you probably missed in Baz Luhrmann's biopic

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Like all of director Baz Luhrmann's movies (Romeo + Juliet or Moulin Rouge!, anyone?), Elvis is a maximalist treasure trove of sound, color, and emotion. The biopic, released last month, sees Austin Butler play the King, while Tom Hanks takes on the role of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Luhrmann charts Elvis' rise to fame and takes us all the way through to the rock 'n' roll behemoth's health problems and death in 1977.

The movie also contains an ensemble cast of key figures from Elvis' life, including his wife Priscilla Presley (Oliva DeJonge) and blues artist B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Coupled with a mighty runtime of two hours and 40 minutes, Luhrmann certainly packs plenty into the movie, so you could be forgiven for missing some of the more niche references and Easter eggs hiding in plain sight.

Seeing double

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

During the opening split-screen montage of Elvis performing in his iconic blue jumpsuit, there's a moment when the screen is a two-panel split as the King does karate moves. One is Presley and one is Butler – the footage was taken from a costume test.

Star Trek

Spok in Star trek: Strange New Worlds episode 5

(Image credit: Paramount)

As Colonel Tom Parker is rushed to hospital the sign outside The International Hotel advertises a Star Trek show. Why? Elvis was a Trekkie who named one of his horses Star Trek. Posters of the stars of the show also appear in the control room during the 1968 special segment.

Nightmare Alley

Tom Hanks in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

When Colonel Tom Parker first describes looking for an act that could make audiences feel what they weren’t sure they should feel, we see a pan across a carnival to a freak tent when shadows recall the imagery of the 1947 film Nightmare Alley. This was Parker’s favorite film. Later when Parker 'seduces' Elvis at the fairground, a 'geeks' poster is visible behind The King – another nod to Nightmare Alley – and, if you know that story, a foreshadowing of how Elvis will ultimately become Parker’s ultimate geek show.

Through thick and thin

Tom Hanks and Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

When Elvis tells Colonel Tom Parker on the ferris wheel that he’s the best manager he could hope for, it’s a direct quote from a telegram Presley sent his new manager in February 1956. "You are the best, most wonderful person I could ever hope to work with," he wrote from New York. "Believe me when I say I will stick with you through thick and thin…"

Blue Hawaii on Beale Street

Austin Butler and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

When Elvis and BB King are finding outfits together in Lansky’s outfitters on Beale Street, the display of shirts on the shelf behind them includes the famous red Hawaiian shirt worn by Presley in his 1961 movie, Blue Hawaii.



(Image credit: Warner Bros)

When Elvis licks and fondles the RCA model dog during his Trouble performance at Russwood Park, that’s a nod to Presley’s cheeky behavior with the record company mascot during a show in LA in 1957 when he dry-humped Nipper. He didn’t actually sing Trouble at this event because he first recorded it for King Creole in 1958.

It Happened at the World's Fair

Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy 2

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

During the 'Elvis’ Life At A Hollywood Movie' montage, look out for a child kicking Elvis in the shins in a clip from the Elvis film It Happened at the World's Fair. That’s Kurt Russell as a child actor in his first on-screen role. Russell would famously go on to play Presley in the 1979 John Carpenter biopic, Elvis.

All dolled up

Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In the same montage, there’s a moment where Elvis is applying make-up to Priscilla – a nod to Priscilla Presley’s autobiography in which she talks about Elvis liking her to always wear a full face of make-up.


Britney Spears in the Toxic music video

(Image credit: Jive)

Also in this montage, there are strains of Britney Spears’ Toxic – a comment on the controlling management of stars and our own public consumption of them

Live a Little, Love a Little

Elvis Presley in Live a Little, Love a Little

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

At the end of the montage, that spinning 'Elvis in pyjamas' shot is from his 1968 film, Live a Little, Love a Little. The pale blue outfit brought to his bus, which he later wears when he chastises Jerry for laughing at the promotion of Singer sewing machines, is the suit he wears in a psychedelic dream sequence in the movie.

Road tripping

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

When Elvis is on set and hanging out in a lux bus it’s a nod to the fact that the King preferred to drive (with his Memphis Mafia) from Tennessee to Hollywood in a custom-built bus rather than fly. He often drove.

Order of business

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

That scene at the Hollywood sign was the first one Butler filmed. He then went into filming the 1968 special in the leather suit for his first 'performance' and his final scene was the water-skiing scene in the montage.

Seeing red

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

During the rehearsal scene in Las Vegas for the International Hotel show, Elvis wears a red shirt director Baz Luhrmann describes as a pirate shirt. The helmer always put a red item of clothing in his movies and this is Luhrmann’s talisman red costume for this film.

Once upon a time…

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ending

(Image credit: Sony)

When Elvis is in hospital, the TV shows news reports of the death at the Altamont concert headed by the Rolling Stones in December 1969 and Parker is reading a paper reporting on the murder of Sharon Tate. Not strictly possible as Tate was killed in August 1969 but likely a narrative conceit as well as a cheeky nod to Butler's pre-Elvis role as Tex, one of Tate’s murderers, in Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood.

Runway regalia 

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

When Elvis and Priscilla meet at the airfield to swap parenting duties with Lisa Marie, Priscilla is wearing a coat that is a replica of the one she wore the day she divorced Elvis. He’s wearing the tracksuit he wore on the day.

I Will Always Love You

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In the same scene, when Elvis mouths "I will always love you" to Priscilla before boarding the plane, it’s a reference to the famous Dolly Parton song that Elvis sang to his ex-wife on the day of their divorce. Presley had hoped to record the track but Parker’s strict royalties deal meant that Parton wouldn’t give the song away.

Unchained Melody

Austin Butler in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Unchained Melody performance that ends the film starts out as Austin Butler and cuts to the real performance by Presley in Rapids City in 1977. Luhrmann originally had resistance to using the footage but he argued that Elvis’ smile during the sequence shows how he came alive in front of an audience until the very end. Butler’s performance is so immersive some viewers don’t spot the switch.

Elvis is in theaters now. For more viewing inspiration, check out our picks of the best upcoming movies

Contributing Editor, Total Film

Jane Crowther is a contributing editor to Total Film magazine, having formerly been the longtime Editor, as well as serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the Film Group here at Future Plc, which covers Total Film, SFX, and numerous TV and women's interest brands. Jane is also the vice-chair of The Critics' Circle and a BAFTA member. You'll find Jane on GamesRadar+ exploring the biggest movies in the world and living up to her reputation as one of the most authoritative voices on film in the industry. 

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