All Aboard! Best Movies Set On Trains

Film

 

Train To Busan

‘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.

Snowpiercer

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.

RT

Runaway Train

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?

Transsiberian

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!

The General

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.

Mercenaries

The Mercenaries

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.

Twentieth Century

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.’

Horror Express

‘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.

Hell Train

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’.

15 comments on “All Aboard! Best Movies Set On Trains”

  1. snowy says:

    Snowpiecer wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be, I can’t quite put my finger on what it was, I left me with a feeling of having watched somebody trying to make a Jean-Pierre Juenet film and not quite succeeding.

    The different versions of ‘Pelham’, there are apparently four but I’ve only seen two. As well as being great fun, [the first is still better in my personal opinion and has better jokes in it], comparing them against each other is almost a potted history of what is not allowed to be said in mainstream media anymore. But it is underground and apparently they don’t count?

    The First Great Train Robbery, is a great big pudding of a film with an international star cast. But it is not just a retro-riff on Ronnie Biggs and Co, it is based on a much earlier robbery that would completely baffle the police for months. [The criminals could have got away with the crime, but they made a series of mistakes after the event that sealed their fate.]

    I’m still rather taken by the low-budget Brit independent, ‘Last Passenger’. It manages to keep you engaged by constantly suggesting that you know where the story is going and then deftly pulling the rug from under you.

    [“Agutter… knickers off…Kleenexes out…” That’s just wrong, on so many levels! You naughty, naughty man.]

  2. admin says:

    Snowy, Snowy, I’m shocked that you could think impure thoughts of the saintly Ms A.
    The First Great Train Robbery was by Michael Crichton, wasn’t it? A good read, I remember.
    I know what you mean about Snowpiercer – nowhere near as satisfying as it should have been, whereas Train To Busan overcomes those hurdles.
    And 4 Pelhams? All with the sneeze I hope!

  3. snowy says:

    Only one of us sat down with an entirely blank canvas this morning and immediately after typing Ms A’s name, and when searching for the next lingustically pleasing co-joining phase; went straight to ‘knickers’. When everbody knows it was petticoats, I may not know much, but it wasn’t me that typed that sentence, no definitely not, I was here all morning, I checked; with myself.

    *Puts on a pair of half-moon glasses*

    *Peers over the top*

    “Paging Dr. Freud!”

  4. snowy says:

    Still can’t pin down the problem with Snowpiercer, it’s lots of little things: the train is too small, it’s CGI, it could have been made massive, an entire ecosystem on rails, but it wasn’t. The ‘proles’ are too few, not angry enough, not oppressed enough. The ‘elite’ are less than cyphers, more Dorking Set than despotic, etc.

    I’ve been wading through old newspapers from around the time of the capture and trial of TFGTR miscreants for some-thing I’m doing. And it’s very distracting because I have to read the ‘Latest News’.

    The sneeze, followed by the head round the door. Sadly it is not in the Tony Scott directed remake, the plots are similar, but they only ‘fit where they touch’.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Right, making a list. This should guarantee both of us watching the film. Too bad about Hell Train – I love the cover and really enjoyed the book. Surely someone will pick up the movie rights, unless the book’s descriptions are so clear (right there in my head now) that it limits their options. Not that that has ever stopped a director.

  6. Rh says:

    Casey Ryback’s on this train… sorry… great list, now I’m thinking Breakheart Pass and also arnold Ridley’s Ghost Train. Can we include stations? Terminal?

  7. One of my favourites in the genre is North West Frontier with Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall.

  8. akikana says:

    I’ll add Closely Watched Trains (https://youtu.be/kxFRa3aDflE) to the list. Slightly more racy than The Railway Children though…

  9. davem says:

    The Titfield Thunderbolt would be in my list.

    And, as it is one of my favourite films, I will include The Man Who Would be King, on the basis that Peachy Carnehan meets Rudyard Kipling when he sits next to him on a train.

  10. Brian Evans says:

    Let’s hear it for “The Last Journey”, a 1935 “Quota Quickie” 66 minute long second feature. It’s brilliant, and something of a cult film. The 1st 10 minutes or so are a bit slow, but when it gets going it moves at a cracking pace and the editing is first rate. It’s especially good when you see the train speed through various stations. It’s available on DVD, on the “Renown” label.

  11. GlenK says:

    “From Russia With Love”.

    Not completely set on a train but a great chunk of it is.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    Beat me to it Glen, the fight between Robert Shaw and Sean Connery is brutal.

    Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome has the truck-train chase, weakest of all the Mad Max films, even if it is the most ambitious.

    All star, plague on a runaway train film, The Cassandra Crossing, more fun than it should be.

    Broken Arrow ends on a train with Travolta as the villain which is always fun.

    Sliding down the scale Under Siege 2: Chef on a train, Steven Seagal is, do I really need to say.

    falling to Snakes on a Train, low budget rip off and one to miss, worse than the above.

    The original Narrow Margin, is a splendid film, and on an older films, one set partly on a train is The 39 Steps, Donat & Carroll are quite splendid, the film that almost forgot it’s McGuffin. Also partially set on a train, if we allow those, Some Like It Hot is on my list.

    If we allow train stations, I guess Oh Mr Porter, and other Ghost Train remakes, I would include the Arthur Askey one and of course the old stiff upper lip tear jerker, Brief Encounter. The Lady Killers makes good use of trains, but it stretching it as a train movie.

    Wayne.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Great to be a little behind the times. We watch on DVD so when I checked to above list, down to From Russia with Love, I have pretty much all of them available from our public library. No Train to Busan, no Last Journey, and no Mercenaries. Other than that – everything. Enjoyable winter ahead.

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    On radio the other day, Strangers on a Train, how could it be forgotten, which then reminds me off the Lady Vanishes (Charters and Caldecott are splendid characters. Which brings back Agatha Christie with the 4.50 from Paddington which has been on TV in various Miss Marple series and filmed as Murder, She Said, the train spotter’s Rear Window.

    Wayne.

  15. Steve says:

    I love train movies 🙂
    There are loads of good ww2 train movies.

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