Born Terrence Steven McQueen in 1930, Steve McQueen would go on to become known as one of the slickest actors ever to grace the silver screen. In fact, his calm demeanor, expert delivery, and impeccable style would garner him the nickname “The King of Cool.” But he wasn’t just a badass on film either; offset he was an avid motorcycle rider and race car driver – even going so far as to participate in the 1961 British Touring Car Championship and several off-road motorcycle races throughout his lifetime.
Interestingly enough, his offscreen talents became both a boon and a drawback for his professional career, as he was a more skilled driver than many stuntmen and was known to put himself in danger’s path on a fairly regular basis filming risky driving scenes. Even so, he had a long and storied career marked by decades of stardom and popularity. With all that in mind, it was a tough job trying to rank this badass renaissance man’s best films – though, somehow, we managed. The following are, in our humble opinion, the ten best Steve McQueen movies of all time.
10. Tom Horn
There’s something to be said for the fact that this, alongside The Hunter, was one of McQueen’s final roles. It also helps that Tom Horn was based on a true story – a tale in the life of the legendary frontier tracker and scout who helped capture Apache leader Geronimo. It’s a brutal character study about the lengths to which a man will go and how those actions could, ultimately, bring his downfall. Playing on several western tropes, it could be argued that this film somewhat mirrors the fall of the Hollywood “tough guy” actors, of which McQueen was clearly a major part. In any case, it’s a solid cowboy movie and not a bad way for Steve McQueen to have ended his career – even if it wasn’t on purpose.
9. The Towering Inferno
One of the few actors that ranks up there alongside Steve McQueen is his longtime rival Paul Newman. And, while they were originally both supposed to star in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, they would not appear alongside one another in a film until this flick. This disaster film follows the story of a quickly and shoddily constructed skyscraper, the Glass Tower, as it becomes engulfed in flames during its dedication ceremony. While it won 5 Oscars and featured appearances by the likes of Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, O.J. Simpson, and more – it would also be remembered for being plagued by its own host of problems, including an onset fire in which McQueen helped actual firefighters extinguish the flames.
8. The Thomas Crown Affair
If a movie gets remade, there’s a pretty good chance that the first iteration was a success to some degree. But it doesn’t always mean that the original is better. Well, in this case, it is. Alongside Faye Dunaway, Steve McQueen stars in this hybrid heist-romance movie that, believe it or not, was actually first offered to Sean Connery (who went on to say that he regretted his decision to decline). While the stunts in this move are not what one might call extensive, Steve McQueen did elect to film them himself – including the beach buggy scene. And, if you think one remake might be a fluke, Hollywood is in the midst of making this one a third time right now.
7. The Blob
While Steve McQueen’s career certainly reaches back further than 1958, it was following the release of The Blob that his career really took off. And that’s because it was his breakout starring role. In fact, literally all of the other films on this list came out after this one. Say what you will about science fiction movies, but you can’t argue against this flick as one of the genre’s staples – as strange as it is. The story follows a small Pennsylvania town as it tries to combat a nigh-unstoppable amorphous alien creature that is slowly devouring its citizens. If you like sci-fi and fantasy and you haven’t seen this one, the time has come to give it a watch.
A bit different from many of his roles, Papillon is the true story of real-life safecracker, Henri Charrière, sentenced to life in prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering a pimp. This crime drama and prison escape film also stars Dustin Hoffman in one of his earlier roles and, though it takes place in French Guiana, was primarily filmed on location in Spain and Jamaica. Interestingly enough, though it has a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 82%, Roger Ebert originally only gave it two of five stars. Also, this one is getting a remake staring Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).
5. Le Mans
While some might disagree with how high this film is on our list, there’s no denying the significance it had on the world of both racing and film – not to mention the impact on Steve McQueen’s personal and professional life. Although the story of this film is fiction, the depth, realism, and attention to detail in all facets of it place it somewhere in the murky expanse between drama and factual documentary; that is to say, it’s not quite truth, but it isn’t entirely fictional, either. If you’re not familiar, this movie depicts the story of Michael Delaney, a race car driver played by Steve McQueen, as he participates in what is arguably the world’s greatest and hardest endurance race in the world: the 24 hours of Le Mans. There is also a stellar documentary about the making of this film entitled Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans.
4. The Getaway
Steve McQueen had 3 wives in his time on Earth. So the story goes, however, that the one he met while filming The Getaway was the true love of his life. He starred alongside her, Ali MacGraw, in this crime thriller about an ex-con, his wife, and a bank heist gone slightly awry. Like so many of McQueen’s films, this one was met with middling critical reviews, but a tremendous amount of box office success. In fact, it was one of the most successful films of the actor’s career. And it wouldn’t be too much to say that this flick is certainly a staple of the crime thriller genre as a whole.
Bullitt is probably the greatest car movie of all time. And, no, we don’t think that’s an exaggeration. The film stands alone, but it is also surrounded by a rich mythos thanks, in part, to the beautiful custom Mustang driven by McQueen. So the story goes, McQueen and stuntman Loren Janes drove a pair of 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT fastbacks at speeds higher than 100 mph through the streets of San Francisco during filming. Afterward, one of the cars was so mangled that it had to be sent to the scrap yard and crushed. The other… disappeared. Despite numerous attempts by Steve McQueen to find and purchase it, he would never see the beautiful Bullitt Mustang again.
2. The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven is to western movies what Bullitt is to car films; namely, it might be the best ever made. Not only does it star a whole host of tough-guy acting giants – including Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, and (of course) Steve McQueen – but it features some of the richest story and character development ever to appear in a gunslinger flick. What you might not know, however, is that this movie is actually based on a Japanese film from 1954 called Seven Samurai by legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. For reference, Kurosawa is also the director responsible for inspiring George Lucas to create Star Wars.
1. The Great Escape
While it was truly a difficult decision, we honestly believe that The Great Escape is the best Steve McQueen film of all time. It also happens to be one of the best war movies ever made. The concept is simple: a group of allied soldiers conspire to escape a German camp during World War II. The execution, however, is brilliantly complex both in the twists and turns that the story takes and in the depth of the surprisingly large number of characters. This movie also stars Charles Bronson, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough (the brother of famous naturalist David Attenborough whom you might remember as John Hammond from Jurassic Park). Truly, if you have never seen this film, you should drop everything and give it a watch right now.
Best 80s Movies
Although the late and great Mr. McQueen didn’t get to see it, we still think that the 1980s was one of the best decades for film. Don’t believe us? Then check out our list of the best 80s movies and see for yourself.
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