All Aboard! Best Movies Set On Trains
‘Train To Busan’ is deservedly a massive hit for South Korea – an action adventure about zombies that makes ‘World War Z’ look like ‘Carry On Camping’, and manages to be both thrilling and heartbreaking within its streamlined runaway plot.
It’s Zombies On A Train – thanks to a spreading biohazard that forces a motley crew of passengers to try and outrun the epidemic on the titular train, crashing through one overrun station after another. So far so zombie, but there are plenty of jaw-dropping surprises along the way, from the all too human villain to the Hawaiian-song-singing little girl who’ll make you cry.
More intriguingly it raises some nice points about class conflict and working together for a common aim, and has the kind of smart structure we used to get from old Hollywood films. While no gorier than the average action flick (it’s rated 15), it concentrates instead on creating unbearable tension and building spectacular set pieces, including a climactic chase in a railway yard that will have you lifting your feet off the cinema floor. (BTW, this film won’t work half as powerfully if watched at home).
It made me think of other train movies I’ve loved. Here’s a top ten for you.
A train hurtling around the devastated snowbound world is a microcosm of class conflict. Based on graphic novels, it’s exhilarating and tense. Chris Evans risks everything to lead a revolt for control of the engine and the future of the world.
Eric Roberts and Jon Voigt are escaped convicts who board a train in snowbound Alaska, not realising there’s a female rail worker (Rebecca De Mornay) on board, or that the driver just had a heart attack and is dead at the wheel. Konchalovsky’s film is an existentialist masterpiece, accidentally made by the dreadful Cannon Films, who got it right for once.
The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery
The great train robbers! Evil schoolgirls! Reg Varney! Frankie Howard! Flash Harry! Train chases! Dora Bryan shouting through a megaphone; ‘I am the headmistress of St Trinian’s and I claim the reward!’ What’s not to love?
Not about non-gender-specific travellers but a Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow which becomes a chase of deception and murder when an American couple meet a weird pair of passengers. Our third snowbound train story (you’ll note I’m not including ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, but only for one reason; it was shit).
Train De Vie
The population of a shtetl hear that the Nazis are cleansing Jews town by town, and come up with a novel plan; they’ll deport themselves! The town is full of tailors and engineers, so restoring an old train and sewing prisoners’ and guards’ uniforms, they make their escape. Things don’t go according to plan – partly because they haven’t allowed enough ‘give’ under the arms of their fake Nazi uniforms to do a Heil Hitler!
Projected at the correct speed and topped with a delicious score from Joe Hisaishi, Buster Keaton’s Civil War masterpiece is even more endearing, subtle and hilarious – although it takes a little longer to get going than you may remember.
Back To The Future III
More a retro-futuristic Western than a train movie, but the last half-hour on a train to yes, the future, is so memorable that it feels as if the whole thing could have been set on the locomotive. Michael J Fox’s finest hour.
Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, Yvette Mimieux and Kenneth More are on board a train to the Congo to rescue a beleaguered town and grab some diamonds, but there’s one snag; the jewels are in a vault with a timer that won’t open for two days. Based on Wilbur Smith’s ‘The Dark of the Sun’, with a stunning jazz score by Jacques Loussier.
It’s a train taking failed director Oscar Jaffe to LA, and his ex, Lily Garland (Jean Harlow), to a new acting job. Oscar has the train journey to convince her to change tracks and follow him in this classic screwball comedy. It was turned into a successful musical with Madeline Kahn.
The Railway Children
Long before Jenny Agutter started kickboxing, she took her knickers off for an avalanche. All together now; ‘Daddy! My daddy!’ Kleenexes out. Enough said. My favourite line comes from Mum to the kids; ‘I’m afraid we have to play at being poor for a while.’
‘Well well, look who’s here!’ says Christopher Lee to Peter Cushing at the station in this rocketing horror adventure with a defrosted monster zombifying Russian soldiers under mad cossack Telly Savalas.
To these I would of course be tempted to add my very own ‘Hell Train’ – if somebody out there would care to film it, the rights are now available!
I should probably also mention ‘Non ho sonno’ by Dario Argento (the last halfway decent film he made), ‘The Train’ with Burt Lancaster, Ealing’s late ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’, ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, ‘Silver Streak’, ‘Unstoppable’, ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, ‘Bullet To Bejing’, ‘Narrow Margin’, ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’ and ‘Source Code’. Films set on the underground don’t count, not even Argentina’s mad ‘invisible tube train’ movie ‘Moebius’ or the wonderful ‘Death Line’.