Paul Newman And Steve Mcqueen Were Two Of The Biggest Stars Of The ’70S, But Their Only Collaboration Led To Name-Calling And Ridiculous Demands


Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are two of the most iconic actors of the ’60s and ’70s, but they famously didn’t get along and it got totally out of hand when they starred in a $203 million movie together. Newman was one of the most in-demand actors of the era, and few actors have been nominated so many times in a row without winning. The actor was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and finally won his eighth nomination for his performance in The Color of Money. In stark contrast to Newman, McQueen was considered Hollywood’s “King of Cool” but never earned the same acclaim.

McQueen earned his reputation for playing loveable anti-hero characters in movies like Le Man and Bullit, which were completely different from Newman’s awards-darling releases. At the time, Steve McQueen didn’t have the same kind of prestige that Newman had, but he was nominated for one Academy Award in 1966 for his role in The Sand Pebbles. Unfortunately, the nomination and being branded the King of Cool wasn’t enough. McQueen was jealous and wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Newman and considered a heavyweight dramatic actor, which led to one of the most famous feuds in Hollywood.

Paul Newman & Steve McQueen Had A Rivalry Over The Towering Inferno’s Top Billing

In the book Paul and Me, it was revealed how much Newman and McQueen hated each other, and it was all over top billing (via Far Out Magazine). In 1974, McQueen had thought he’d reached Newman’s level, as he was in talks to star alongside the actor in the epic disaster movie The Towering Inferno. Nevertheless, that still wasn’t good enough, as McQueen wanted top billing over Newman. While the actors weren’t on the same level in terms of talent, they were both as bankable as each other. It’s hard to say who ultimately should have gotten top billing, as they were both bankable stars and brought in guaranteed audiences.

The arguments didn’t end with the top billing either, as McQueen was upset that he didn’t have the same number of lines in the movie as Newman. McQueen went through the whole script and counted how many lines each of the actors had. Upon finding out that he had fewer lines, McQueen went behind everyone’s back and requested that the screenwriter add more lines for his character. Not only that but McQueen wanted to have the last line of the movie, regardless of whether it worked narratively. It was this petty move that led to Newman calling his costar a “chicken s***.”

The Towering Inferno Had A Unique Solution To Its Actor Problem

The producers had a creative answer to resolve the conflict over The Towering Inferno’s top billing. On the poster for The Towering Inferno, McQueen’s name appears first with Newman’s name appearing second. However, Newman’s name appears above McQueen’s in a diagonal fashion. The alignment of the names on the poster looks awkward, but it achieved the impossible and both actors got what they wanted, almost. Depending on how people look at the poster, either Newman or McQueen could have top billing. However, McQueen still wasn’t totally happy and saw it as a compromise.

Given that McQueen had lost so many roles due to his over-the-top demands, it’s likely that the actor finally realized that sticking to his guns and demanding top billing could have lost him another monumental role. Previously McQueen turned down a Bruce Lee movie because of some bizarre reasoning. McQueen reportedly turned down an offer to star alongside Lee in The Silent Flute because the Great Escape actor wasn’t in “the business of making other people stars.” For The Magnificent Seven, McQueen feuded with costar Yul Brynner and constantly tried to upstage him (via Daily Express).


The Towering Inferno Was A Big Hit For Paul Newman & Steve McQueen

The Towering Inferno unsurprisingly ended up becoming a huge success, making $203 million worldwide (via Movies In Focus). The movie earned $116 million in North America, and $87 million internationally, which led to one of the biggest box office successes of the ’70s. That number was extremely rare even in the early 1970s, and adjusted for inflation, that $203 million would be $1.25 billion today (which would make it one of less than 60 movies to join the billion-dollar club). What makes the success even more impressive is that The Towering Inferno had a relatively low budget.

The movie cost $14 million to make, and based on the movie’s budget, even a $50 million gross would have been a huge success for the studio. Earning $200 million was no small feat and that performance is ironically largely thanks to McQueen and Newman onscreen together for the first time. With two of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars in the lead roles, the movie was always going to be a hit. If it wasn’t for their feud, the two could have starred in more movies and made millions of dollars together. Unfortunately, neither of them would ever put aside their differences or be willing to take lower billing.

The Towering Inferno Wasn’t The First Instance Of Newman & McQueen’s Rivalry

While The Towering Inferno was the first time McQueen and Newman had ever worked together, they almost collaborated five years earlier; however, McQueen’s demands once again got in the way of his starring in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. McQueen ultimately turned down Sundance Kid because, once again, he wanted top billing when the studio wouldn’t allow it. McQueen also, once again, requested that the two lead actors have an equal amount of lines. The studio wouldn’t budge and Robert Redford was cast as the Sundance Kid instead. As a result, Redford and Newman became an iconic duo thanks to the 1969 release.

The infamous feud between Steve McQueen and Paul Newman on the set of The Towering Inferno might have been a result of the behind-the-scenes negotiations of the 1969 movie. The two actors likely had some pent-up frustration and the Bullit actor not getting the role of Sundance Kid in the classic film could have been a catalyst that led to his contempt for the Butch Cassidy actor before they’d even worked together. The King of Cool ultimately lost out on an opportunity of a lifetime with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and that was probably what made the demanding actor compromise on dual top billing for The Towering Inferno.