Bullitt is a 1968 American neo-noir action thriller film. San Francisco was featured in the film directed by Peter Yates and produced by Philip D’Antoni. The film stars Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, and Jacqueline Bisset.
Bullitt opened in fall 1968, with a San Francisco premier and had a long run at Bay Area theaters.
The gala premiere was at the Cinema 21 in the Marina.
The screenplay by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner was based on the 1963 novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish, written under the pseudonym Robert L. Pike. Lalo Schifrin wrote the original jazz-inspired score.
Two Ford Mustangs were used in the history making chase seen. In 2020, the surviving Mustang was sold at acction for over 3 Million Dollars.
The film was made by McQueen’s Solar Productions company, with his partner Robert Relyea as executive producer. Released by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts on October 17, 1968, the film was a critical and box-office smash, later winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller) and receiving a nomination for Best Sound. Writers Trustman and Kleiner won a 1969 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.
Bullitt is also notable for its car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, which is regarded as one of the most influential in movie history.
In 2007, Bullitt was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
The Million Dollar Co-Star Mustang
Many cite Bullitt as the first film to have a car chase. It also seems fitting since the movie’s star, Steve McQueen, was an avid racer. The film featured two identical 1968 Ford Mustangs, which McQueen drove, most notably in the ten-minute-long chase. One car was used for casual driving shots, while the other “jumper” car was used for the action. After the project was completed, McQueen tried to purchase the car to add to his private collection, but he was unsuccessful.
It turns out that the “casual” car was actually given to a Warner Brothers employee. Later, it was sold via a newspaper advertisement which read:
“1968 ‘Bullett’ (sic) MUSTANG driven by Steve McQueen in the movie ‘Bullett’ (sic). British Racing Green, 4-speed, new tires, 19,000 miles, mint condition. It can be documented. Best offer.”
It sold for $6 thousand. According to Sean Kiernan, who inherited the car from his father, their family used it as an everyday vehicle before it was stored in their garage. “You have to remember that, at the time, ‘movie cars’ were not really sought after,” Kiernan said. Many suspected that the owner (who at the time was unknown to most) was trying to keep the car under wraps for personal enjoyment, but Kiernan explained that the intention was always to reveal it once it was ready. After his father passed, Kiernan worked with a friend to restore it, and the car was unveiled in 2018 – fifty years after the film was released.
In 2020, the Mustang sold at auction for $3.74 million and became the most valuable Ford Mustang in the world. A car of the same model and type (though without the Bullitt connection) would only be worth $70 thousand.
Interestingly, the Bullitt car story isn’t over because the other “jumper” car that was thought to be lost was found.The car was scrapped after it sustained damage during the filming, and in 2017, it was found in a junkyard in California. The find was accidental. The body shop owner was actually intending to convert the car into a replica of the Gone in 60 Seconds vehicle driven by Nicholas Cage.
After searching the VIN number, they realized that they had the Bullitt car and abandoned any ideas of altering it. They now plan to restore the car and eventually put it up for auction.