Bullitt- The Film that Spawned a Million Car Chase Movies

During the 50’s and early 60’s, television and home entertainment was growing to unprecedented levels across America. For studio executives in Hollywood, there couldn’t have been anything worse. Studios had been making films with no legitimate competition for thirty to forty years, but now there was a new kid on the block; “To it’s horror, Hollywood discovered that old-style movies made in the old-style way had ceased to make money…In one fell decade, Hollywood was knocked down by TV, kicked in the jaw.”


During the 50’s and 60’s, television gave movies a serious run for its money.

To rival and counteract the convenience of television, movie studios started releasing outrageous, over-the-top films to keep audiences coming (it’s actually very similar to what has been happening in the past 5 years). Bad story lines and bad acting and bad habits started to develop. Studios leaned on gimmicks; for example, 3-D films initially boomed and became popular at this time. But, these plans only backfired and pissed off the general public.

Cue Stage Right- A New Wave of Filmmakers

As Hollywood was starting to dip and lose credibility, a new wave of filmmakers, known as the New Hollywood group, came into the picture during the late 60s. The writers, directors, and actors of this period were young and college educated. They were figures that represented the emerging counter culture and a new way of doing things. Their fresh approach and attention to detail helped to revitalize the film industry, creating some of the most classic films and movie stars in film history. Some of the actors include Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, and Clint Eastwood. Some of the films include Easy Rider, The Graduate, The Godfather, Bonnie and Clyde, and Planet of the Apes. But, to us car enthusiasts, the most important film to come out of this period was Bullitt.

Bullitt Gives Birth to the Modern Car Chase


Bullitt’s car was a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT

Bullitt is an American classic, released in 1968 and directed by Peter Yates. The film is about lieutenant Frank Bullitt (played by a brilliant Steve McQueen) of the San Francisco police department. In the film, Bullitt ends up taking on the mob as he tries to rid the city of the evil forces that dictate the everyday life of ordinary citizens. But, all of this is secondary. Despite the amazing story line and awesome acting, the true joy and historical greatness of the film is with the car chase.

Concerning the car chase, film critic Emanuel Levy says, “Bullitt contains one of the most exciting car chases in film history, a sequence that revolutionized Hollywood’s standards.”

Life magazine also named it as one of the 15 Greatest Car Chases of All-Time, saying, “[It’s] the one, the first, the granddaddy, the chase on the top of almost every list. Bullitt’s car chase is a reminder that every great such scene is a triumph of editing as much as it is stunt work. Naturally, it won the year’s Academy Award for Best Editing.”

Movies like the Fast and Furious franchise, Smokey and the Bandit, and Gone in Sixty seconds were all born out of and influenced by this movie. Truly, it’s a must see for any auto enthusiast and every film fan. Check it out here:

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2 thoughts on “Bullitt- The Film that Spawned a Million Car Chase Movies

  1. I didn’t realize that was the trigger, though I’ve certainly seen the movie. Actually, having driven in SF many times, I’ve always like playing “Which road is that” while watching. It’s one of my husband’s faves … he’s a McQueen fan whereas I’m a SF fan! Interesting piece — great for we film buffs.

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