Movies That Inspired Baby Driver

(Welcome to Cinematic Inspirations, a series where filmmakers talk about the movies that inspired their latest release. In this edition: the first of two conversations with Edgar Wright on the movies that inspired Baby Driver.)

Leading up to the release of Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright was a guest programmer at the British Film Institute for a series of films under the banner Car Car Land. The filmmaker rounded up 10 of the movies that influenced Baby Driver in some way for cinephiles in London to enjoy. Since not everyone can attend those screenings and hear all the wonderful things he has to say about these movies, some of which he introduced himself, we wanted to hear from the man himself why he loves these movies and how they inspired his new film, which is being called a “dazzling car chase musical.”

A little over a week ago, we had an extensive phone call with Edgar Wright where he laid down his passion for these 10 movies and provided some fun facts. Since this is such an extensive conversation, we’ve split it up into two parts. Below is the first part going through the first five movies, and we’ll be posting the second part tomorrow with the remaining five.

First of all, here’s Edgar Wright explaining how he chose the films for BFI’s Car Car Land season:

What I did with this season is I picked movies that had car chases of my youth. So there are not as many recent ones because I capped it where I started making movies myself, which was around 1994. I chose the car chases that really inspired me when I was younger. Because I had the original idea for Baby Driver in 1995 so I was thinking about the films up until that point.

Let’s get right into the first five movies that inspired Baby Driver and why Edgar Wright loves them so much. Anything below that appears in italics (other than the titles) is me – everything else is Wright in his own words.


Bullitt (1968)

Why Edgar Loves It: I think when Bullitt came out it was notable in terms of it having a car chase sequence that fully dominates the movie, and the whole film is building up to it. Then when you get to the actual sequence, maybe you can check how long it actually is, but I want to say it’s six or seven minutes long. It’s a wordless action scene that feels like such an influential sequence not just in terms of inspiring hundreds of other car chases in movies, but also because the placement of the car chase where the plot builds up to centrepiece set up of a cat and mouse chase between Steve McQueen and Bill Hickman with a Mustang and a Charger.

It’s one of those sequences where, despite film making having become advanced in the last 49 years, the photography is still extraordinary – I can’t really think of the hills of San Francisco without thinking of the Bullitt chase. Not only is McQueen and his vehicle iconic, but just the cars themselves going over those hills was incredible. And I think there’s something in the fact that it was a British director, Peter Yates, shooting his first US movie, that was interesting to me, when British directors take a foreign eye to an international location. And you’ve gotta think that Peter Yates must be part of that decision, the idea of being in San Francisco and saying, “Oh, we should do a chase on these hills.”

The other thing I really like about it – and I used to have a bit of dialogue in Baby Driver about this that was cut out of the draft – there was a whole part of scene about somebody playing the chase music from Bullitt. “Get the soundtrack from Bullitt, so we can play the chase music.” And then someone points out that there is no chase music in Bullitt, the music is actually the sound of the engines and the wheels screeching. Because Lalo Schifrin’s score, this incredible cue called “Changing Gears” is leading up to the chase kicking off. Then the chase explodes and it’s an amazing sequence with no score. I just love how pure it is.

Another interesting thing about it is McQueen seems to be doing most of his own driving. It was one of the first movies to lock cameras to the cars and shoot the actors for real, for the most part. There’s no process work. Sometimes when you see earlier car chases, even in Bond films, it’s done with back projection, but Bullitt feels very real and I think that’s the reason why it feels so revolutionary at the time.

Baby Driver Note: In the same way that Edgar Wright can’t help but think about Bullitt when he sees the hills of San Francisco, you’ll be hard-pressed to think about any movie other than Baby Driver if you’re ever in Atlanta, because this movie tears through that city and lets it appear as itself, unlike most blockbusters that let it double for other cities.

Edgar’s Fun Fact: Bill Hickman, the guy who’s pursuing Steve McQueen, the one who buckles in, is also the stunt driver in The French Connection. He’s the guy who’s playing Popeye Doyle’s, or Gene Hackman’s, stunt double. He is also known for being the first on the scene at James Dean’s fatal crash, because they were driving to the speedway together. Bill Hickman was in the car behind and was the guy who was first on the scene when James Dean and his passenger were in that horrific crash.

The Italian Job

The Italian Job (1969)

Why Edgar Loves It: When I was thinking about Baby Driver, I knew in my head that it probably wasn’t a British film. Aside from Peter Yates’ Robbery, there are not too many car chase movies in the United Kingdom, especially in recent years as the center of London had become car-chase-proof. Someone texted me the other day, “What about The Italian Job?” And I said, well, the main chase is in Turin, that’s where the Mini chase is.

As a kid, it’s probably one of the first car chases I remember seeing in a movie. I especially loved it because the Minis are red, white and blue. It’s such a product of the swinging 60s coming out during a real boom time for London, when it was the cultural epicentre of the world at the time. The thing I love about this film, apart from the stunt driving, is just how fun it looks and feels. This isn’t a gritty movie like some of the other ones, this is a caper movie. The other thing that’s extraordinary to me about this film is  Quincy Jones’ music. The score, particularly that track called “It’s Caper Time”, is incredible. I have very fond memories of this movie.

I also absolutely adore the ending of The Italian Job. The fact that it ends on a literal cliffhanger is fantastic. It seems like a studio wouldn’t let you do something like that today. It’s such a great ending and even the very final line by Michael Caine, when the bus is teetering on the cliff with the gold on one end and the gang on the other end, and he turns and says, “Lads, I’ve got an idea.” Then it cuts to a helicopter shot and Quincy’s score kicks in and that’s the ending. What an amazing, highly memorable ending, the perfect way to end a heist movie like that.

I think about this movie a lot and it’s an exceptional, interesting film besides just the car chase.

Baby Driver Note: Much like The Italian Job, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver isn’t just about the car chases. Sure, they’re outstanding and practical, but it’s the characters at the center of this story and the style that presents it that would make this a fantastic film if it didn’t have any of the car chases.

Edgar’s Fun Fact: In the UK, it is a very famous movie. It’s one of those Christmas holiday standbys that’s always on TV. That Michael Caine line, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off,” is one of the most famous British one-liners of all time.

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