Why Elvis Presley Didn’t Star in this X-Rated Film That Won Best Picture

Elvis Presley’s filmography is filled with some critically reviled movies. However, he almost starred in a classic film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Here’s a look at why he wasn’t in the film.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley | RB/Redferns

How Elvis Presley’s films stack up against the edgy movies of the 1960s

Firstly, a little background. Some of the more acclaimed films in Elvis’ filmography like Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas are simple, fun romps. However, he starred in a number of critical disasters like It Happened at the World’s Fair and Clambake. Part of the reason Elvis’ films aren’t taken very seriously by critics is that they were fluff made at a time when Hollywood was getting experimental.

The 1960s was a time where filmmakers started to push back against the censorious atmosphere of earlier decades. The 1960s saw the release of a number of films that were far more violent than the Hollywood films of previous decades, like Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Birds. In addition, some of the Hollywood films of the era explored explicit sexuality, such as The Graduate, Rosemary’s Baby, and Easy Rider. While Elvis’ films tended to be more old-fashioned, he had the opportunity to star in a film which reveled in the explicitness of the era.

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Why Elvis Presley didn’t appear in ‘Midnight Cowboy’

Midnight Cowboy is the controversial tale of a male prostitute named Buck trying to make it in the big city. According to The Independent, United Artists wanted Elvis to play Buck. After all, Elvis was a major sex symbol and, like Buck, he was from the Southern United States. However, Colonel Tom Parker didn’t like the idea of the film. He turned down the offer without discussing the film with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Ultimately, the role of Buck went to Jon Voight, who starred alongside Dustin Hoffman.

How the world reacted to ‘Midnight Cowboy’

So how did people react to Midnight Cowboy? “There were certain things I wished had been in the film,” Hoffman told Entertainment Weekly. “As an actor, you’re just a color on a palette; you’re not deciding what the character is completely…. I have my own disappointment, even though it’s a terrific movie.”

The theme from Midnight Cowboy

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However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded to the film well. The Independent reports it is the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture. In addition, Voight was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for playing Buck, losing to John Wayne for True Grit. Why did the film resonate so much?

“It’s a love story, and maybe a love story we hadn’t seen before,” Hoffman told Entertainment Weekly. “People just sat there [crying] when it was over. It worked on a narrative level, on the cinematography level, and it had music that was [its] soul. It’s a surprise when something hits you that strongly.”