Steve McQueen was one of the coolest actors of his time, and still endures as an icon today. He may have passed away more than four decades ago at just 50 years of age, but his numerous movie roles live on, with many of them having aged very well in the years since their release. (He's also not to be mixed up with the identically named - and equally important - British director, Steve McQueen ).
Steve McQueen (the actor) is probably best known for starring in the WW2 thriller, The Great Escape . It's a masterful epic that stands as perhaps the great prison escape movie of all time, with McQueen leading a strong ensemble with impeccable charisma and physicality. Diving deeper into his filmography reveals numerous other films that are worth checking out for anyone who enjoyed him in The Great Escape, with the following 10 titles being some of the best he ever starred in.
Bullitt may be a movie best remembered for one scene, but what a scene it is. Without giving too much away, towards the end of the film, it contains one of the best car chases ever presented on-screen. It's a simple but efficient and perfectly executed sequence, and makes great use of the city of San Francisco as a setting for such a dramatic action scene to take place.
The rest of the film is sleek and a decent time, but it really is all about that car chase, though it does at least give McQueen a chance to play one of the coolest characters he ever played. However, it's the kind of movie where you come for the car chase, stay for the car chase, and leave saying, "Hey, that car chase was pretty fantastic."
A remake of Seven Samurai , The Magnificent Seven essentially takes the classic story from the iconic 1954 Japanese film and transports it into America's West. In each story, there's a town that's being terrorized by bandits, the townspeople employ a squad of physically hired hands to protect them, and then things end in a big, climactic showdown.
Seven Samurai is one of the greatest films of all time, so it's a little unfair to compare the two. The Magnificent Seven condenses the story and loses some of the original film's emotion and character development in the process, but it does have an amazing score, provides a better main villain (thanks to Eli Wallach), and also benefits from having Steve McQueen as one of the magnificent seven.
Steve McQueen often seemed to play himself in many of his films, or at least that's the sense you get from the fact that many of his characters act similarly. However, The Blob was a film that gave him a chance to "play himself" in a different fashion, as here, his character is also named Steve.
It's also somewhat infamous for being a film where McQueen played a teenager despite being 28 at the time, and also not looking particularly young for his age at that. Still, once you get past that, it's a solid 1950s science-fiction/horror movie, being about a small town plagued by the titular blob: a strange alien lifeform that consumes everything it comes into contact with, getting bigger and more dangerous all the while.
One of the most iconic disaster movies of the 1970s would have to be The Towering Inferno . It's got a huge cast, with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman in the leading roles, and centers on a fire that breaks out in a high-rise building, with time spent on the people trapped inside, and those on the ground who are mounting the dangerous rescue operation for the survivors.
Disaster movies of its kind were far more popular in the 1970s than they are today, which does make The Towering Inferno feel like a product of its time. Still, it is at least well-made, and certainly one of the better action/thrillers that focuses on a deadly disaster and the ensuing fight for survival by those caught up in it.
The Thomas Crown Affair is a solid crime movie from the late 1960s that blends a story about a dangerous robbery with a strong romance element. The blend of genres isn't done seamlessly, but it does ensure that the movie feels interesting, and McQueen does a good job with both areas of the film alongside his co-star, Faye Dunaway.
The biggest obstacle to enjoying The Thomas Crown Affair is probably the fact that the characters aren't hugely well-written, and the fact that McQueen's character commits a robbery out of boredom more than anything else doesn't exactly make him sympathetic. Still, for fans of anti-heroes, he might be a compelling enough protagonist for his roguish charm, and when all else fails, at least McQueen is his usual cool self in the lead role.
An engaging crime-thriller released just one year after the equally good Straw Dogs , Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway is another strong entry in a filmography filled to the brim with them. It's also a movie with a pure and wonderfully simple title that tells you a great deal using just two words.
The title gets the job done because the film is about two people who need to make a dramatic getaway. They're partners in crime as well as partners when it comes to literally being married. And so when a heist goes wrong, they find themselves on the run from the law, Bonnie and Clyde style. It's a tense and exciting film, and as usual, putting Steve McQueen behind the wheel of a vehicle naturally leads to action movie magic.
The second-best prison escape movie to feature Steve McQueen, and honestly, if its competition was anything besides The Great Escape, Papillon would likely be a worthy first-place winner. It is an iconic, memorable, and very exciting prison movie; it's just not as amazing as the great 1963 movie that also happened to have the word "great" in its title.
It's also important to emphasize the differences between the two movies. Papillon is a little grittier and darker than The Great Escape - as well as more violent - and has a slightly reduced scope, given it focuses on two prisoners and their attempts to escape, rather than a large cast. For anyone who craves more McQueen plus prison movies beyond his best-known role, Papillon is essential viewing.
Le Mans is the kind of movie that will be loved by racing fans, but probably only appreciated by those who don't follow the sport. That's because it takes a grounded, no-nonsense approach to depicting the famous 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans, undertaken by some of the most daring and skilled race car drivers in the world.
There's a story in Le Mans, but it's hardly focused on. The dialogue is minimal, the racing frequent, and the realism undeniable. It honestly feels like a documentary, so it's not surprising to learn that some of the film's footage came from the actual Le Mans event in 1970. Its lack of story and strong characters will turn off some, but when viewed as an almost experimental action film of sorts, it works decently well.
Just as Le Mans was a no-nonsense movie that will mostly appeal to car racing fans, The Cincinnati Kid is a straightforward and fairly simple movie about poker. McQueen plays a young, up-and-coming player who organizes a match with an old professional, hoping it'll be the match that puts him permanently into the big leagues.
If you're not well-experienced in poker, you'll be pretty lost in the second half of this film. As for the first half, a good deal of it feels like nothing more than a lengthy prologue to the main game itself. For capturing the game on-screen, it does a good job, but it's most likely going to appeal to big fans of poker more than casual players.
Arguably, The Sand Pebbles is the film that contains McQueen's best performance. It's a three-hour epic that's set in the 1920s, and follows the crew of a boat as they embark on a risky rescue mission in war-torn China.
It provided McQueen with his one and only Oscar nomination, and makes for a hard-hitting war drama, by the standards of the 1960s. It's a long and sometimes grueling film, but it has a very strong final act, and is exceptionally well-made all around. It might not be his greatest film, but it might be the greatest showcase of his acting skills.
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