Ten Best Steve McQueen Movie Roles

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Steve McQueen's best movie roles include Virgil Hilts in The Great Escape, Eric Stoner in The Cincinnati Kid, Vin in The Magnificent Seven, Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles, Henri Charriere in Papillon, Frank Bullitt in Bullitt, Max Sand in Nevada Smith, B

Steve McQueen (1930-1980) – a.k.a. the "King of Cool" – reigned supreme in Hollywood during the 1960s and early '70s. Here are ten memorable Steve McQueen movie roles. Wild Man McQueen rides again...

Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts, The Great Escape (United Artists, 1963)

McQueen plays Captain Virgil Hilts, a downed U.S. Army Air Forces pilot in World War II who plots his escape from a special POW camp in Germany. Hilts is the consummate rebel and dreamer, coming up with various escape schemes which invariably land him in the cooler – solitary confinement – hence his nickname "The Cooler King." Hilts eventually busts out of Stalag Luft III during a mass escape, commandeering a German motorcycle and heading to neutral Switzerland. The thrilling motorcycle scenes, completed with the assistance of stuntman Bud Ekins, were specially written into the script for McQueen's benefit.

Lobby card: L-r: James Garner, Steve McQueen, Jud Taylor in The Great Escape (1963)

Steve McQueen as Eric Stoner, The Cincinnati Kid (MGM, 1965)

McQueen plays Eric Stoner – a.k.a. "The Cincinnati Kid" – a young, hotshot gambler during the Great Depression who aspires to be the number one stud poker player in the country. Standing in the Kid's way is the sly old veteran Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), with the two later sitting down for a marathon poker session. Once again McQueen is the rebellious loner, not averse to violence when he disarms a knife-wielding opponent who objected to the Kid's winning hand. During a break in filming, when producers launched a search for a new director to replace the fired Sam Peckinpah, a restless McQueen along with his buddy Dave Resnick were given $25,000 and sent to Las Vegas, where they partied like rock stars for two weeks.

Lobby card: Steve McQueen as Eric Stoner fends off a knife-wielding assailant in The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

Steve McQueen as Vin, The Magnificent Seven (United Artists, 1960)

McQueen plays Vin (no last name), a gunslinger who joins Chris Adams' (Yul Brynner) band of American mercenaries who are hired to rid a Mexican village of the evil Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his marauding bandidos. McQueen fits in perfectly with his seven cohorts – Brynner, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Horst Buchholtz – as they traverse the high country, on their way south of the border to the strains of Elmer Bernstein's classic, Oscar-nominated "Marlboro" music score. "We deal in lead, friend," McQueen's Vin declares as the seven's violent calling card. McQueen, who was paid $65,000 for his services, was still under contract to Four Star Productions at the time, starring as Old West bounty hunter Josh Randall in CBS-TV's Wanted – Dead or Alive (1958-61).

Promotional still: Steve McQueen, right, with Horst Buchholtz in The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Steve McQueen as Jake Holman, The Sand Pebbles (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1966)

McQueen plays Jake Holman, a U.S. Navy enlisted man who tends to the engines of the USS Pueblo, an American gunboat patrolling the waterways of mainland China in 1926. Holman and his shipmates soon find themselves at the center of the Chinese Revolution, defending American interests when hostilities break out. McQueen's Holman is something of a rebel, clashing with the Pueblo's Captain Collins (Richard Crenna) and romancing American missionary Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen). McQueen earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles – the only Academy Award nod of his career.

Promotional still: Steve McQueen as Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles (1966)

Steve McQueen as Henri Charriere, Papillon (Allied Artists, 1973)

McQueen plays the real-life Henri Charriere – a.k.a. "Papillon" or "The Butterfly" – an innocent man convicted in the murder of a Paris pimp who is sent to infamous French Guiana in the 1930s. Devil's Island is a hellish place, with Charriere plotting his escape from day one. Several of his escape attempts land Charriere in solitary confinement on the island of St. Joseph, where strict silence is enforced. McQueen, who was paid $2 million plus a percentage of the film's gross, is riveting as the irrepressible French Guiana inmate, with Dustin Hoffman as counterfeiter Louis Dega ably complementing McQueen's performance. And that really is McQueen and Hoffman wrestling with a partially-drugged crocodile in the famous work camp scene. On location filming in Spain and Jamaica greatly enhance the production.

Promotional still: Steve McQueen as Henri Charriere in Papillon (1973)

Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt, Bullitt (Warner Bros./Seven Arts, 1968)

McQueen plays Lt. Frank Bullitt, a San Francisco Police detective tasked with protecting mob witness Johnny Ross (Pat Renella). Things go bad in a hurry, however, when a couple of hit men charge into the Hotel Daniels, shooting Ross and police detective Carl Stanton (Carl Reindel). Tough guy Bullitt now hits the pavement, trying to learn which underworld kingpin ordered the hit on his witness. McQueen did the bulk of the driving in the famous car chase scene, ably traversing the hills of San Francisco in a dark green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback, with Bud Ekins performing the more hair-raising automotive stunts.

Three sheet movie poster: Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen as Max Sand, Nevada Smith (Paramount, 1966)

McQueen plays Max Sand – a.k.a. "Nevada Smith" – a half-breed who vows to track down the killers of his parents. Shown the ropes by veteran gunman Jonas Cord (Brian Keith), Sand embarks on his journey of vengeance, finding the three murderers – Tom Fitch (Karl Malden), Bill Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy), Jesse Coe (Martin Landau) – and meting out frontier justice. McQueen turns in a tour de force performance as Sand, with the Louisiana prison swamp scenes rating highly. "I don't see nothing, except my father laying on a blood-covered floor, all burnt and cut, with the top of his head blown to pieces! And my mother, split up the middle, and every square inch of her skin ripped off," Sand tells his mentor Jonas Cord. Now you know why he was out for revenge. 

Italian movie poster: Steve McQueen as Max Sand in Nevada Smith (1966)

Steve McQueen as Captain Buzz Rickson, The War Lover (Columbia, 1962)

McQueen plays Captain Buzz Rickson, the callous, gung ho pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed "The Body." Rickson and his crew are stationed in England during World War II, where they fly bombing missions against Hitler's Fortress Europe. Rickson is competing with co-pilot Lt. Ed Bolland (Robert Wagner) for the affections of British lass Daphne Caldwell (Sally Anne Field), causing tensions on the ground and in the cockpit. Rickson's finest moment comes when he crashes his crippled Flying Fort into the white cliffs of Dover after his crew had safely bailed out. "What's the matter, Bolland, afraid to die?" the cocky Rickson asks his co-pilot in one scene.

Promotional still: Steve McQueen as Captain Buzz Rickson in The War Lover (1962)

Steve McQueen as Carter "Doc" McCoy, The Getaway (National General, 1972)

McQueen plays Carter "Doc" McCoy, an inmate who wins early release from a Texas prison so he can pull a bank job for businessman Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson). The heist, however, goes awry, with Doc and his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) grabbing the money and hightailing it to Mexico with Doc's two angry bank partners in rabid pursuit. McQueen and MacGraw married one year later, with their tumultuous union lasting from 1973 to 1978. There's plenty of automotive thrills in this one, with McQueen repeatedly ordering MacGraw, who is at the wheel, to "Punch it, baby." And that she does...

Japanese movie poster: Steve McQueen as Doc McCoy with Ali MacGraw in The Getaway (1972)

Steve McQueen as Boon Hogganbeck, The Reivers (National General, 1969)

McQueen plays Boon Hogganbeck, a "reiver" – "that's a cheat, a liar, a brawler and a womanizer," according to the movie's promotional material – who shows young Lucius McCaslin (Mitch Vogel) a good time in Memphis. McQueen excels in this serio-comic, coming-of-age movie based on the novel by William Faulkner. Set in the early 1900s, it's a classic road trip picture, featuring a Winton Flyer automobile and a racehorse who loves sardines. McQueen earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical/Comedy. When filming wrapped up, McQueen added the movie's Winton Flyer, which had been built from scratch by Kenneth Howard (a.k.a. Von Dutch), to his classic car collection.

One sheet movie poster style A: Steve McQueen as Boon Hogganbeck in The Reivers (1969)

Ten More Memorable Steve McQueen Movie Roles

  • As Michael Delaney, Le Mans (1971)
  • As Rocky Papasano, Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
  • As Sgt. Eustis Clay, Soldier in the Rain (1963)
  • As Steve Andrews, The Blob (1958)
  • As Henry Thomas, Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965)
  • As Reese, Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
  • As Junior Bonner, Junior Bonner (1972)
  • As Thomas Crown, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
  • As Chief Michael O'Hallorhan, The Towering Inferno (1974)
  • As Tom Horn, Tom Horn (1980)

Lobby card: Steve McQueen with Aneta Corsaut in The Blob (1958)

Image Credits

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in The Getaway (1972)


Posted on Nov 22, 2010
Jerry Walch
Posted on Nov 21, 2010