20 Silver Stripe (1976)
The sight of Gene Wilder turning black under the tutelage of Richard Pryor is enough to make this lightweight comedy thriller cancel faster than a train on strike day. But there’s still plenty to enjoy, from a sleeping compartment scene between Wilder and Jill Clayburgh, which is punctuated by an eerie shock, to the lively supporting characters (Ned Beatty, Scatman Crothers) and a spectacular final crash.
19 Tezz (2012)
This frenzied Bollywood spin on Speed degrades the thrill of the original by placing the bomb on the London-to-Glasgow Virgin Express. Product placement rules out damage: Virgin would hardly have stocked any of its trains if there was a risk of it being destroyed. The film comes closest to real danger when the train jumps from points without slowing down, causing a refreshment cart to roll into a passenger’s arm.
18 The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Wes Anderson’s Sojourn in India is far from his best, but it deserves a place on this list for its admiring portrait of the melancholic joys of train travel. The film is accompanied by scenes of characters running in front of trains – a businessman played by Bill Murray fails to catch his own at first, while three brothers (Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson) carry some emotional and physical baggage. shedding (“The past is over!”) in the last dash before theirs.
17 Station to Station (2015)
Artist Doug Aitken’s mesmerizing documentary features 62 one-minute films shot during a 2013 ‘happening’ during a 24-day train journey between the US East and West Coasts. By integrating conversation, performance, music (Beck, Cat Power, Thurston Moore) and travelogues, the film invites direct comparisons between the cinema screen and the landscapes framed by the train window.
16 Train to Busan (2016)
Tensions in the classroom bubble up in Yeon Sang-ho’s outrageous zombie horror, much like his compatriot Bong Joon-ho’s earlier train thriller Snowpiercer. The undead race through a bullet train as it hurtles from Seoul to Busan. They are bloodthirsty, unstoppable and their Two Together train tickets have probably expired.
15 Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Director Sidney Lumet’s agent called it “the silent train movie,” but the cast—Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and suspects like Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, and Ingrid Bergman, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress—give this upbeat mystery (interior shot at Elstree) the feel of a luxury chocolate box with very few fudge. “I knew it had to be stylistic in spirit, even if it involved a murder,” Lumet said. “And you’ve never seen anyone work so hard to get happiness [as] this grim little Jew knocking himself out.”
14 Night Mail (1936)
The post makes its way from London to Scotland in the wee hours of the morning in this influential, poetic short film made for £2,000 by the GPO’s Film Unit. The high caliber staff includes director John Grierson, WH Auden (who wrote the verse commentary), Alberto Cavalcanti (later the director of Went the Day Well?), who was responsible for the evocative use of sound, plus music by the 23-year-old birthday Benjamin Britten.
13 Blind Chance (1987)
Created in 1981 but put away by those in power until 1987. More than a decade before starting his Three Colors trilogy, Krzysztof Kieślowski presented this Three Trains scenario, in which the same man runs to catch a train to Warsaw in three parallel realities, each with its own stark outcome. Sprinkle it with romcom stardust and call it Sliding Doors.
12 Europe (1991)
Drawn to the material by a childhood love of railcars and by the realization that the track resembles a strip of celluloid, Lars von Trier pushed himself into an expressionist corner with this hyper-stylized thriller set aboard a German train in 1945. in all its visual dazzle, this tale of an apprentice conductor battling Nazi terrorists and a collaborationist boss is a stifling claustrophobic ride. No wonder the lo-fi, shaky cam wildness of The Kingdom, Breaking the Waves, and the Dogme 95 revolution were just around the corner.
11 The Palm Beach Story (1942)
As in Billy Wilder’s later Some Like It Hot, the train sequence in Preston Sturges’ masterpiece is just a small but memorable part of the bigger screwball shenanigans. The misfits here don’t even seem to realize they’re on a train: the frenzied millionaire rejected from the Ale and Quail Hunting Club, with whom the unhappily married Claudette Colbert becomes briefly entangled, seem poised to disappear from the screen and into the cinema at any time.
10 Compartment No. 6 (2021)
Warmth and charm abound in this Cannes award-winner about a crude Russian miner (Yuriy Borisov) and an amorous Finnish archeology buff (Seidi Haarla) squeezed into the same sleeper train compartment. Their slowly thawing friendship and the train’s forward momentum contrast nicely with the destination: the Arctic harbor of Murmansk and its ancient Kanozero petroglyphs. Tenderly observed writing and performances allow kinship and even romance to emerge organically from the forced unpromising intimacy.
9 Trans-Europ-Express (1966)
A man gets on a train and devises a scenario with his fellow passengers. “We should shoot a movie on a train like that,” says one of them. “We could call it Trans-Europ-Express.” Among these improvised plotters hatching a script about a drug smuggler boarding a train is the picture’s writer-director, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet; the yarn-in-the-film stars the inscrutable Jean-Louis Trintignant (who died earlier this month).
8 Before Sunrise (1995)
Richard Linklater’s Before movies span almost 20 years, but it all started modestly enough aboard a train from Budapest. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) strikes up a conversation with Celine (Julie Delpy), then persuades her to disembark with him in Vienna to spend the evening and early morning before catching his flight home to the US. Had she not fallen for his goofy charms, audiences would have missed out on one of cinema’s most enchanting trilogies.
7 Taking Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Ignore Tony Scott’s brash 2009 remake (who clearly had trains on his mind, judging by his latest film, Unstoppable) in favor of this clever, understated original. It effortlessly combines suspense, top-level actors including Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam and Hector Elizondo as the color-coded crooks (hello, Reservoir Dogs) who hijack a New York subway, and an invaluable crumpled comedy from Walter Matthau as the lieutenant commander. of the transit police she tries to talk.
6 Runaway Train (1985)
Jon Voight and Eric Roberts were both Oscar-nominated for playing tough convicts who steal a locomotive after escaping from prison. Directed with an air of intense existential horror by Andrei Konchalovsky (a former Tarkovsky collaborator still working at 84), Runaway Train was based on a 1966 screenplay co-written by Akira Kurosawa and in turn inspired by an article in Life from 1962. Kurosawa’s plan to direct the film in 1967 was derailed by disagreements with producer Joseph E Levine.
5 Snow Piercer (2013)
A revolution is in the air in Bong Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic thriller set on a train that circles endlessly around a frozen and inhospitable Earth, with humanity’s last survivors – poor people crammed in the back in misery, rich who the first class boasting their own nightclub, hair salon, school and ecological sanctuary. There was enough fuel in the furnace to keep the idea burning during three outings of an excellent TV spin-off; a fourth and final series will arrive at the station later this year.
4 Strangers on a Train (1951)
No train-mocking author ever matched Hitchcock’s enthusiasm for motor skills. The murderous “crossover” trade-off that Robert Walker suggested to Farley Granger in Strangers on a Train (and later got a gritty remake of sorts from Danny DeVito in his 1987 comedy Throw Momma from the Train) may be hatched on a train journey, but it is telling that the actual climax takes place on a runaway carousel – the antithesis of the train and an abomination to any screenwriter as it just goes round and round pointlessly.
3 Twentieth Century (1934)
The constant tapping sound of the wheels on the track serves as a kind of metronome, timing the bangs and wacky antics in Howard Hawks’ breakneck comedy to perfection. The movie takes off in about half an hour when the disillusioned, debt-ridden theatrical svengali Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) jumps aboard the twentieth-century train to flee his creditors, only to find Lily Garland (Carole Lombard) to encounter. the star he launched 10 years earlier and then drove off: “When she left, she took his genius with her,” notes a colleague. Sparks fly, along with insults and jokes.
2 The Lady Disappears (1938)
For a film that channels the thrill of train travel, and its propensity for intrigue, it’s hard to beat The Lady Vanishes. It is an adaptation of Ethel Lina White’s novel The Wheel Spins, which is set on a European express train and was shot on a 90-foot set at the Gainsborough studio in London. It concerns a British spy who has been seized by foreign agents. François Truffaut confessed that he sometimes saw the film twice a week when it was shot in Paris: “I tell myself every time I’m going to ignore the plot, examine the train to see if it really moves, or to the transparencies, or to study the camera movements in the compartments. But every time I get so absorbed… that I have yet to understand the mechanics of that film.’
1 The General (1926)
Cinema has been linked to train travel ever since the Lumière brothers showed their 1895 45-second film of a train arriving at La Ciotat station. It’s unbelievable to think that it wasn’t until 30 years later that Buster Keaton started working on his stunningly sophisticated (and very funny) silent Civil War action comedy. Keaton plays a sad engine driver who does everything in his power to save two objects of his affection – his locomotive and his lover (Marion Mack) – when both are snatched away. The highlights would require a Top 20 list of their own, but it’s worth mentioning the extraordinary scene where Keaton clambers onto a moving train to get out of reach of the cannon rumbling across the track behind him with his fuse, or the shots of whole armies march across the countryside as Keaton unknowingly chops wood on the train in the foreground. A film that still manages to stop jaded viewers dead in awe.