Every modern movie car chase owes a debt to Bullitt.
After looking back at the best movie car chases of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Donut Media has returned to the period where they all began with a countdown of the top 10 car chases of the 1960s. No prizes for guessing the winner. Car chases have become a staple of the modern action movie genre, but they all owe a debt to Bullitt. Nearly 50 years since its release in 1968, Bullitt is still regarded by many as the best movie car chase of all time. And it’s easy to see why.
Directed by Peter Yates, the film stars detective Frank Bullitt played by Steve McQueen who did most of his own stunt driving in the iconic car chase featuring a Ford Mustang 390 GT and Dodge Charger R/T 400. Before Bullitt, car chases in movies were unrealistic as they were done for comic effect in films like 1963’s It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and 1968's The Love Bug.
Whenever filmmakers tried to create an exciting car chase action scene, they were hampered by technical limitations like rear-screen projectors that took you out of the scene. But then Bullitt was released in 1968 with the most realistic depiction of a car chase movie-goers had ever seen. Bullitt essentially did for movie car chases what Star Wars did for science fiction films. That’s because, unlike other movies at the time, the stunt driving was all done for real. There were no cheap rear-screen projections used for the close-up shots of the actors, and none of the scenes were sped up in post-production to heighten the sense of speed. They didn’t need to be, because those cars really were gunning through the streets of San Francisco at over 110 mph.
There was a sense of danger unlike any movie chase before it as the two muscle cars weaved through traffic and jumped over the hills of San Francisco, while the camera literally put you in the driving seat. The soundtrack is glorious, too - and we don't mean the music soundtrack. Not a word of dialogue is spoken during the 11-minute long sequence. Apart from the iconic jazz score that does a great job of building tension before the chase erupts in a cloud of tire smoke, there’s no music either, allowing you to appreciate the sound of two screaming V8 muscle cars battling it out. Bullitt set the standard for all movie car chases to follow, making it the most iconic and influential chase scene of all time.