Steve McQueen Movies

Nadine Caridi

American actor, Steve McQueen movies have created ripples in the Hollywood leading him to be one of the most remarkable actors of 1990s.


Steve McQueen “The King of Cool” is a top notch actor of 1960s-1970s. He earned his Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. Steve McQueen movies that remained popular are The Cincinnati Kid, Bullitt, Papillon, The Gateway and The Thomas Crown Affair. He became the highest-paid actor in 1974 due to his performance, popularity and high demand.

Early Life and Background

Steve McQueen was born Terence Steve McQueen on March 24, 1930 in Beech Grove, Indiana. He was born as the son of stunt pilot, William Terence McQueen, and an allegedly alcoholic mother, Julia Ann. His mother left six months old McQueen with her parents, Victor and Lilian in Slater, Missouri, in 1993 because of her inability to cope with a small child.

Later, Steve McQueen with his grandparents moved to live with Lilian’s brother Claude, in Slater. McQueen expresses his good memories with Claude. He received his first tricycle from his Uncle Claude on his fourth birthday which sparked his interest in racing.

When McQueen was 8 years old, his mother took him to Indianapolis where she stayed with her new husband. On his departure, Claude gave him a special memento, a golden watch, with an inscription that read “To Steve – who has been a son to me”.

Steve McQueen did not have a good health as a child. He was dyslexic and half deaf due to ear infection. Moreover, his step father was abusive who used to beat him severely enough that he left home and went to live in the street when he was nine years old.

Consequently, he got involved in street gang and committed petty crimes. Therefore, his mother sent him back to Slater as she became unable to control his acts. Later, Julia ended up divorcing her second husband and married for the third time. She now lived with her third husband in Los Angeles, California. When McQueen was 12 years old, he wrote to her mother asking if he could come and live with her in their new home.

Unfortunately, his second step father was similar to the previous one who beat both the mother and son. As McQueen began rebelling against him, they sent him again to live with Claude for the final time when he was 14. There, he joined circus for a short time. However, he returned back to his mother and again turned into a gang member.

Once, police caught him stealing and they handled him back to his stepfather. His stepfather beat him severely and ended up throwing down the stairs. As a result, McQueen threatened his stepfather saying, "You lay your stinkin' hands on me again and I swear, I'll kill ya.”

His stepfather persuaded his mother to sign court order stating that McQueen was hopeless, sending him to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino. There, he started to mature and change. Eventually, he turned to a role model and got elected to the Boys Council. At age 16, he left the Boys Republic where he regularly returned to talk to the boys retaining lifelong association after his popularity.

Getting out of the Boys Republic, he returned to his mother living in Greenwich Village, New York. There, he met 2 sailors with whom he volunteered to serve on ship for Dominican Republic. Reaching there, he quit his job to work in a brothel. Soon, he left for Texas where he frequently changed from roughneck to carnival barker and then to lumberjack.

Involvement in Military

Before Steve McQueen movies appearances started, he went through a rough life until he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1947. He received promotion to private first class soon and then got assigned to an armored unit. While in military, he took unauthorized absence and stayed with a girlfriend for 2 weeks.

However, the shore patrol caught him which resulted in him spending 41 days in the brig. After this incident, he focused on self-improvement and adopted Marines’ discipline. Eventually, he was assigned to guard then US President Harry Truman’s yacht. In 1950, he got honorable discharge from marine.

Acting Career Highlights

A couple of years after leaving military service, McQueen began studying acting in Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse, New York. G.I. Bill provided him financial assistance for his acting studies. He delivered his first dialogue in 1952 play.

Interested in racing from the early days, Steve McQueen earned money competing in weekend motorcycle racing at Long Island City Raceway. With that money, he purchased a Harley Davidson. Soon, he turned to an excellent racer with earnings of $100 each weekend.

In 1953-54 season of Jukebox Jury, he appeared as a musical judge. Eventually, Steve McQueen movies appearances started to increase. His primary minor roles are in The Member of the Wedding, Two Fingers of Pride and Peg o’ My Heart. Similarly, he made his Broadway debut with 1955 play A Hatful of Rain.

When he was 25 years old, he left for California to seek acting jobs in Hollywood. He appeared in The Defenders which grabbed attention of Hollywood manager Hilly Elkins. Consequently, he landed a small role in Somebody Up There Likes Me, Never Love a Stranger, The Blob and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.

After a few Steve McQueen movies appearances, he made a breakout role in NBC sitcom Tales of Wells Fargo and CBS series Wanted: Dead or Alive in 1958. At the age of 29, Steve McQueen movies appearances gained prominence through his significant break in the film Never So Few. The movie has a lot of close-ups with the young actor and earned him positive reviews.

The 1960s Movies

Soon, he landed the role of Vin Tanner in The Magnificent Seven (1960), which became his first major hit. Similarly, he played a lead role in The Great Escape (1963) where his friend and fellow cycle enthusiast, Bud Ekins, did stunt representing him. At The Tonight Show, McQueen declared it was Bud Etkins when Johnny Carson tried to congratulate him. This established his status as a superstar.

Around the same time, Steve McQueen movies mushroomed. He starred in a number of movies including Love with the Proper Stranger, The Carpetbaggers, The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and The Sand Pebbles. For The Cincinnati Kid, he earned his only Academy Award nomination in 1966.

He earned an Oscar nomination through his performance in 1968’s Bullitt. The movie became a huge box office success. In his next movie The Thomas Crown Affair, McQueen changed his image playing a role of a wealthy executive.

McQueen’s 1970s Movies

In the early 1970s, Steve McQueen movies like Le Mans, Junior Bonner, Papillon and The Gateway released. By the time, The Gateway released, he had become world’s highest paid actor. However, working together with his professional rival, Paul Newman, in 1974’s The Towering Inferno caused his earning and career success to drop. The movie became a tremendous box-office success but McQueen diminished from attention of public.

Consequently, the number of Steve McQueen movies also diminished. This led him to focus on motorcycle racing and traveling around the country. After a few years, he returned to acting with An Enemy of People (1978) which released poorly.

The last two Steve McQueen movies were Tom Horn, based on true stories, and action movie about a bounty hunter, The Hunter. Both of the movies released in 1980.

Personal Life and Relationships

McQueen dated Gia Scala while attending Stella Adler’s School in New York. The actor married actress Neile Adams on November 2, 1956. The couple has a daughter, Terry Leslie (1959-1998) and a son, Chad, born in 1960. McQueen and Adams divorced in 1972.

A year after their divorce, he married actress Ali MacGraw for 5 years until they divorced in 1978. While they were married, MacGraw suffered miscarriage. Sources state that MacGraw was McQueen’s true love whom he loved until his death. In January, 1980, McQueen married model Barbara Minty.

McQueen was in relationship with actress Barbara Leigh during 1971-72 before meeting MacGraw. Lauren Hutton, actress/model, and Mamie Van Doren claim they had an affair with McQueen. Doren even claims she and McQueen took hallucinogens together.

The actor had a bad reputation of demanding free items like razors and jeans from studies after agreeing to do a film. He also earned bad reputation for his drug abuse. The actor smoked marijuana almost every day, took huge amount of cocaine, drank and smoke heavily. Once, police even arrested him for driving under influence in 1972.

Illness and Death

In 1978, the actor developed persistent cough and shortness of breath. He gave up smoking and underwent antibiotic treatments. McQueen developed a cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no cure.

McQueen flew to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1980 to have abdominal tumor removed. The actor underwent the surgery despite his doctor’s warning that his heart could not withstand the surgery. He died of cardiac arrest at Juarez Clinic on November 7, 1980.

Salary and Net Worth

Once the highest paid actor, Steve McQueen movies have earned him huge net worth and popularity. The actor has a net worth of $30 million which he earned through his dedication to acting. 

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