Top 6: Train Movies

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

Our Top 6 topic for Episode 3 is about movies that take place on, or at least prominently feature, trains. Visually dramatic, trains are rife with cinematic possibilities, from chases to robberies, action to comedy. What are your favorite train movies?

As always, we recommend you listen to the show first, before spoiling our Top 6 lists for yourself, which follow.

A quick explanatory note: for our lists, Stephen spread his net wider than I did, including movies with important train scenes but which did not necessarily involve trains throughout. Had I considered including Strangers On a Train in my own list, for example, it would have ranked #2. It turned out nice that we did that, as we wound up covering a broader range of films — just be aware that the two lists don’t necessarily compare with each other very well.

  1. The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) and The General (1927)
  2. Strangers On a Train (1951)
  3. Some Like It Hot (1959)
  4. Le Samourai (1967)
  5. The French Connection (1971)
  6. The Great Train Robbery (1979) (aka: The First Great Train Robbery)
  1. The General (1927)
  2. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
  3. The Great Train Robbery (1979) (aka: The First Great Train Robbery)
  4. Murder On the Orient Express (1974)
  5. Danger Lights (1930) (Watch/Download For Free)
  6. North West Frontier (1959) (aka: Flame Over India)


  1. Jaguar (22) said,

    October 17, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    Ahh the General. I generally have a tough time sitting through a feature length silent movie… I think because it’s so much more difficult for me to be immersed in it. But the General is so good, I can do that.

    Danger Lights was also quite good. Robert Armstrong who played the hobo, was the male lead in the original King Kong.

    When putting the train lists together, did you consider Von Ryan’s Express? It probably would have made my list.

  2. Jaguar (22) said,

    October 17, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Also, did you consider The Polar Express? I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve been meaning to.

  3. ThePhan (128) said,

    October 17, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    I have only seen a few of these… and they’re all Stephen’s picks. Some Like It Hot (good movie, except I forgot there was a train involved), Strangers on a Train (agreed, this belongs on the list) and Bridge On the River Kwai (also a good movie).

  4. Sam (405) said,

    October 17, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    Jaguar: Yeah, my short list had a few goodies I had to cut. Von Ryan’s Express (1965) was one, but now that you mention it, it occurs to me that it’s similar in spirit to “North West Frontier.” Both movies are adventure/suspense flicks about infiltrating enemy territory and getting a train through it. The wild difference in setting makes them each feel quite different, but my guess is they have similar appeal, so if you like one, check out the other.

    The Polar Express (2004) was another one I considered, and so were Back to the Future III (1990), Go West (1940) by the Marx Brothers, Octopussy (1983), Our Hospitality (1923) also by Buster Keaton, Runaway Train (1985), and Silver Streak (1976) which is the best of the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedies.

    So it was tough to cull this crowd. Any other favorites out there?

  5. Dave (130) said,

    October 18, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Guys, I have to say, you lost a ton of credibility with me by having a Top 6 Train Movies list and you only mention Throw Momma from the Train in passing, and derisively at that. I can forgive you for missing out on Planes, Trains & Automobiles since I can’t off the top of my head remember the “trains” parts of that movie. But come on. TMftT has the word TRAIN right in the title! Danny DeVito! Billy Crystal! Some really ugly chick! How can you miss this one? Feh.

  6. Stephen (221) said,

    October 19, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Throw Momma From the Train? Not a good movie.

    Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, however, is a very good movie.

  7. wintermute (157) said,

    October 23, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    I’ve always been a big fan of The First Great Train Robbery. I think it’s my no. 1 train movie ever.

    But how did you miss out Under Seige 2: Dark Territory? Or Van Damme’s Derailed?

  8. Nyperold (116) said,

    October 23, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    Ah, I knew Murder on the Orient Express and The General were going to make the list or lists.

    But what about Atomic Train? (Just kidding, of course.)

    Now, isn’t this the second time you’ve managed to work 7 entries into a Top 6 list? ;-)

  9. Sam (405) said,

    October 24, 2006 at 12:22 am

    Nyperold: Just wait until Episode 4, when I work almost two dozen movies into my Top 6 list.

  10. Mia (6) said,

    October 24, 2006 at 11:47 am

    How did you guys miss the ultimate train scene? You know..the one in Indiana Jones?

    Granted, it’s only one scene, but it’s a great scene and it belongs in a Top 6 list, I’m sure.

  11. Ferrick (140) said,

    May 24, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    It isn’t a train movie but a great train scene is the crash in The Fugitive.

    More Top 6 suggestions:

    Top 6 crash scenes.
    Top 6 car chases (or have you done this? If so, how about Top 6 chase scenes not involving cars).
    Or, just Top 6 Chase Scenes.

  12. joem18b (231) said,

    May 24, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Not a train movie, but the first and last scenes in Before Sunrise.

    So wrong: Falling in Love (DiNiro and Streep on the train. Again and again…)

    Most disturbing trains: in all those holocaust movies.

    What was that movie about a train in Colorado in the winter, with a good guy and a bad guy - train going through tunnels. (Train tunnels - whole nother subject. Also James Bond on trains and the Bond flick where the laser death ray was on a train?…)

    My favorite: Once Upon a Time in the West. Shooting through a boot. Shooting through suspenders. Shooting through a belt. Guy has an attitude. And the final glorious shot of the new town-to-be with Claudia Cardinale bringing water to the workers and the track being laid and the train coming and Ennio Morricone’s music swelling. One of the great moments in movies, imho.

  13. Ferrick (140) said,

    May 25, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Also, along the lines of building for a train, a la River Kwai, The Ghost and the Darkness centers around a train line.

  14. joem18b (231) said,

    May 25, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    My top 6 train movies:

    1. Brief Encounter
    2. Breakheart Pass
    3. Next Stop Wonderland
    4. Kontroll
    5. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
    6. The Station Agent

    In a class of it’s own:
    Boxcar Bertha - Corman and Scorsese together!!!

    Favorite train image:
    War of the Worlds - The flaming train that roars through the intersection

    Train shout-outs:
    Superman (TV) - That train roaring along that Superman is more powerful than.

    Superman - Lex Luthor’s train set.

    Dumbo - Dumbo’s circus train at Disneyland.

    Spiderman II - Spiderman saving the train in Chicago.

    From Russia with Love. The Connery vs Shaw fight on the train raised violence to a new level (at least for me).

    Groundhog Day - The head-on with the train.

    Dirty Mary Crazy Larry - Representing the hundreds of movies where a car or truck or motorcycle races a train to an intersection.

    Doctor Zhivago - The train is stopped, everyone is detrained, and every man without calluses on his hands is shot.

    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - The ore carts are on tracks.

    Ghosts of Mars - Trains on Mars!

    Young Winston, The Professionals - Train battles.

    Pride of the Yankees - Babe Ruth on a train.

    The Natural - Train stops and Redford gets an at-bat.

    Vintage film - I remember seeing a brief film clip that used to run in theaters, in which two trains collide.

    Joe Kidd - Train plows into the station.

    Speed - Train erupts from underground.

    North by Northwest - If Strangers on a Train counts as a train movie, then so does North By Northwest, trading Farley Granger and Robert Walker for Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint (who end up back on the train at the end of the movie, married…)? Plus, in the director’s cut of Strangers on a Train, Granger and Walker spend more time together on the carousel than they do on the train, or did it just seem that way?

  15. JoAnneThrax (4) said,

    July 23, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    I’m stunned…nay, SHOCKED, that you could have a thread about the “Best Train Movies” and no one has mentioned Frankenheimer’s “The Train” (1964) with Burt Lancaster. Easily one of the finest train movies ever made.

    Also, all the suggested titles seem to be English-language films. I’m sure there are a great many wonderful train movies in other languages. A truly fine example is the Czech film “Closely Watched Trains”…

  16. Nyperold (116) said,

    July 24, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Even Le Samouraï? ;-)

    Well, okay, that could be amended with an “almost”. But then, there’s a good reason for that…

  17. Grishny (156) said,

    August 8, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    I finally saw The General last night, and really enjoyed it.

    So I announced to my sons that we were going to watch a movie together while we ate dinner last night, and my seven-year old got really excited. When I told him what we were going to watch he got a really crestfallen look on his face.

    “A silent movie? That sounds boring! Can’t we watch something else?” He must have protested and asked me that three or four times before I told him he could either watch the movie with us or go to bed early. He opted to give The General a chance, and ended up really enjoying it. He probably laughed harder than any of us at Buster Keaton’s antics. Even my three-year old was completely absorbed (he loves trains) and it almost seemed like he got a little upset when [SPOILER ALERT] one of the trains took a dive into a river.

    My favorite moment was when [ANOTHER SPOILER] Buster knocks out one guard, dons his uniform, and then walks up to another guard with his head down and just lets his rifle fall forward, conking the unwary soldier on the head and knocking him out. It was just so unexpected; I laughed harder at that bit than anything else in the movie.

  18. Sam (405) said,

    August 8, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    He must have protested and asked me that three or four times before I told him he could either watch the movie with us or go to bed early.

    That cracks me up. That’s exactly the same deal my brother got sometimes when we were growing up. Occasionally, watching a movie as a family was a ticket to stay up a little later, so we got that choice. Well, my brother did — I was always up for a movie, so the question was never even posed to me. But my brother went through a phase as a kid where he wouldn’t ever watch anything he hadn’t seen before (makes one wonder how he started off with anything to see). When posed with a choice between an unseen movie, an unknown quantity, and bedtime, sometimes he really had to think about it.

    In any case, bravo for expanding your children’s horizons. Keaton is actually pretty popular with kids, those few today who are coerced into seeing his movies in the first place. I’ve heard about The General being shown as a special children’s matinee at film festivals and being a hit with them every time.

  19. Grishny (156) said,

    August 9, 2007 at 9:50 am

    Last night we watched the two Keaton shorts that were also included on the DVD, “The Playhouse” and “Cops,” and he enjoyed both of those as well. He came in while I was watching the very end of The Playhouse, which was followed by Cops, and then he asked if we could start The Playhouse from the beginning so he could watch the whole thing. I think he’s hooked. :)

    So, can you recommend any other good Buster Keaton features? This is really my first experience with him as well.

  20. Sam (405) said,

    August 9, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Sherlock, Jr. and Steamboat Bill, Jr. seem to be the ones that win Keaton the most acclaim after The General. The latter deals with trains again, so your younger son might also like that one.

    I have a particular fondness for Seven Chances, although the story — which is about how Keaton will inherit a large sum of money, only if he gets married within the next few hours — may or may not be something your kids will relate to as well as The General’s train chases. Three Ages and The Navigator are good. Really you can’t go wrong with any Keaton selection made between 1920 and 1928, except perhaps The Saphead, which was his starmaking role in an ok but very different and more subdued kind of movie than the ones he would later make himself. I have reviews for several of his features and shorts at http://www.rinkworks.com/movies/i/1920s.shtml.

  21. joem18b (231) said,

    August 11, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    The General:

    1. I walked around and asked at random seven software engineers, product marketeers, tech support engineers, and UI designers under the age of 45 if they knew what a cowcatcher was. None of them did. Back in the day we must have learned about cowcatchers from movies and children’s books. Guess they’re not in there anymore.

    2. So nobody knew what a sand dome was either.

    3. Several times in the movie, Keaton runs along the train tracks. When I jog to the library, there is a stretch of tracks. Hard to run on those ties. He makes it look easy.

    4. At one point he holds his finger under his nose to keep from sneezing. Haven’t seen anybody do that lately.

    5. Seeing him show up in Sunset Blvd. was weird. And don’t miss him in Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

  22. ipso (1) said,

    April 11, 2010 at 7:05 am

    My top 10(+1.5)

    The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alFMQ2Dq2dY
    How the West Was Won (1962) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfAk8ljuEcQ
    The Iron Horse (1924) – John Ford - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBbiibB1gY4
    Union Pacific (1939) – Cecil B. DeMille - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Feo-NNzqz3Q
    Oh, Mr. Porter! (1937) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1XxG33PE3k
    Three and Out (2008) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5m_nL8jas4
    The Railway Children (1970) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw43SSzutlE
    Train Master (2008) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCtuga3g-Ik
    The Claim (2000) - a loose remake of McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) (About train companies, as was Heaven’s Gate (1980)

    And no one has more arresting good looks while exiting trains than Greta Garbo. She made a career out of it. You can’t mention trains in movies without a nod to Garbo.

    Flesh and the Devil (1926) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEh0LzQC-zk
    The Mysterious Lady (1928) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je2B1afJ84M
    Anna Karenina (1935) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOBpLctLDtw


    The Professionals (1966) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bKEj6JbKGg
    Duck, You Sucker (1971) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8AsiDGqZ4U
    Unforgiven (1992) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpgiKcRPB4A
    The Great Train Robbery (1903) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc7wWOmEGGY
    Castle in the Sky (1986) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3u_3wxavRow
    Mystery Train (1989)
    The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
    High Noon (1952) – clock-watching scene waiting for train, (John Wayne said the movie was “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen”; and John Ford agreed) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lclT6NEtCcI

    And.. what surely will be the #1 whenever it finally comes out

    Atlas Shrugged (2011, Mini series) – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480239/

  23. ronsolo (3) said,

    October 25, 2011 at 12:14 am

    The best train movies. This depends on if you enjoy an action movie involving trains or enjoy a good cast of characters and storyline aboard the train. For action movies involving trains, here is my list in my “favourite” order
    1. ” The Train” (1964) with Burt Lancaster and Paul Schofield. This movies easily takes top spot as it combines a great story and characters with several great train sequences during World War ii as the Nazis attempt to transport several famous works of art out of Paris before the Allied liberation. They are constantly thwarted by the actions of the French underground. A fantastic movie.

    2. “The Great Train Robbery” with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. Another classic train movie revving around a master thiefs attemptto steal gold from a moving train in the late 1800’s in Englamd. A great story by Michael Crichton.

    3. “Von Ryan’s Express” with Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard. Another classic involving a steam train and World War II. Allied POWs being transported by train manage to cleverly take control of the train and have to avoid detection and bkuff their way through occupied Italy.

    4. “The General” with Buster Keaton. Yes, this is a silent fdilm set in the American Civil War and that may prevent some people watching this filme but this film amazes me for the train and action/stunt sequences. It scares me to think that this gem was produced so long ago.

    5. “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington is fairly recent but it revolves around a train engineer and his conductor’s efforts to catch and stop a runaway and unmanned train. Lots of good action.

    6. Movies that revolve around a train but are more centered on the story taking place on the train are great flicks like “The Lady Vanishes”, “Murder on the Orient Express” and although the train sequence is not terribly long, Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” would ne included on my list.

    I hope this list helps.

  24. ronsolo (3) said,

    October 25, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Thought of another interesting train movie that is fairly recent and has Ben Kingsley and Woody Harrelson in it called “Transiberian”.

  25. ronsolo (3) said,

    October 25, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Please excuse my typos above. I know how to spell but my fingers do not and I typed all of that on my iPhone. My apologies.

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