America By Rail Blog

posted on October 13, 2011

What’s a movie without a train? Think about everything trains provide for a storyline. Trains are ideal for western robberies and cold, mysterious crime scenes. They provide an element of danger and suspense in action films and thrillers. And who doesn’t find something romantic about meeting a handsome stranger in the confines of a train car? It’s settled, then. Trains make for great movies.

Check out some of the best in our list of the greatest train films of all time.

Best train comedies:

Some Like It Hot - 1958
When two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness a mob massacre, they disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band led by “Sugar Kane” (Marilyn Monroe) on their way to Florida. On board the train, the men do everything in their power to earn the affection of Sugar and keep from being found out.

A Hard Day's Night - 1964
When The Beatles embark on a train trip from Liverpool to London, they experience everything from crazy fans, terrible managers and losing Ringo. This mockumentary is a hilarious rendition of a day in the life of the most beloved band of all time—aboard a train, of course.

Silver Streak - 1976
This 1976 comedy-thriller tells the tale of a Los Angeles-to-Chicago train adventure full of murder, action and hilarity. Starring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh and Richard Pryor, the Silver Streak might just be the craziest train in film.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - 1987
Steve Martin and John Candy star in this 1987 transcontinental comedy of trouble, frustration and friendship. Trying to make it home for Thanksgiving, two strangers ultimately end up taking every form of transportation imaginable—including the ever-trusty train.

Throw Momma from the Train - 1987
A 1987 comedy about two acquaintances who plot to commit murder for each other, Throw Momma from the Train tells the story of a man (Danny DiVito) seeking to get rid of his abusive, grumpy mother and his writing professor (Billy Crystal) who wants destroy his thief of an ex-wife. Together the two attempt to put the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train into play, failing miserably but developing a friendship in the process.



Best magical train movies:

Dumbo - 1941
In this 1941 Walt Disney Animated Classic film, there is extra special emphasis on the train. It is on this circus train that Dumbo is first delivered to his mother via stork. And after separation from her, much ridicule, hard work and triumph, Dumbo becomes a circus sensation and is given his very own train car to share with his mom.


Back to the Future Part 3 – 1990
The last of the Back to the Future series, this film includes everything lovable about trains—danger, speed and magic. It is in this film that we see a high-speed, exploding train run right off a cliff, and watch a steam-powered locomotive turn into a magical, time-traveling hovertrain.

Harry Potter – 2001
Some of the most magical movies of all time, the Harry Potter film series showcase one of the coolest trains ever imagined. The Hogwarts Express is a mystic train that takes students non-stop from Platform 9 ¾ to the Hogwarts school near London. If you’ve ever seen Harry Potter, you’ve wished you had access to a train like this.

The Polar Express - 2004
Tom Hanks stars in this film about a young boy hesitant to believe in the North Pole before his journey there on a magical train changes his mind. The Polar Express is a train unlike any other, taking children up mountains, through tunnels and across frozen, glacial lakes—all to see Santa Claus.

Best train westerns:

The Great Train Robbery - 1903
Only 12 minutes long, this Western is considered a milestone in film making, implementing a variety of innovative camera techniques for the era. Oh yeah, and the 12 minute plotline consists of a high-stakes, masked train robbery. Awesome.

Union Pacific - 1939
This film highlighting President Lincoln’s Pacific Railroad Act displays the trials of pushing the Union Pacific Railroad west. While one man looks to profit from obstructing the project, another must do everything he can to push the railroad through the wilderness of the West to California.

Once Upon a Time in the West - 1969
When a mysterious stranger with a harmonica (Charles Bronson) joins forces with a notorious desperado, they set out to battle an assassin working for the railroad (Henry Fonda) in order to save the widow (Claudia Cardinale) whose family he killed.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969
Based loosely on actual events, this American Western tells the story of two Wild West outlaws (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) as they rob trains, run from the law and rob more trains. How much more Western can ya get?

The Train Robbers - 1973
What’s a great Western film without a train and John Wayne? In this Western, a man (John Wayne) helps a woman (Ann-Margret) get back the half-a-million dollars in gold her late husband stole in an assault on a train. In true Western style, the task isn’t easy, as the friends of the late thief, followed by a Pinkerton agent, try anything to get the gold.

the train robbers |

Wild Wild West - 1999
In this film starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Selma Hayek, two government agents in the Old West use a specially-equipped train to stop a mad villain. Unlike other Western-themed films, the trains in this film have features like crazy hydraulics, armor and mounted cannons.

The Assassination of Jesse James – 2008
When a young man (Casey Affleck) attempts to join the ranks of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) by proving himself in a train robbery, he becomes obsessed with James and ultimately resents him. Through the years, the two men develop a feud that ends in murder. And it all started with a train.

Best train action movies:

From Russia with Love - 1963
The second film in the James Bond series, From Russia with Love follows James Bond (Sean Connery) as he is sent to Turkey to assist in the defection of Soviet consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova. In the height of the film, Bond ends up on a train full of murder, blackmail and action.

Von Ryan's Express - 1965
When Colonel Joseph Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is shot down in WWII, he is captured by Italian troops and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. When Von Ryan and the other prisoners are put on a train, they seize control and escape through the bottom, climb to the roof and strangle the guards. They eventually capture the German commander of the train and must fight to stay alive and arrive in neutral Switzerland.

Runaway Train - 1985
Jon Voight and Eric Roberts star in this film about two escaped convicts and a female railway worker trapped on a runaway train through Alaska. The convicts work with a train dispatching office to stop the reckless, brakeless train and at the same time must avoid being found out by the warden who wants to recapture them.

Money Train - 1995
Money Train is an action comedy about a jobless transit cop (Woody Harrelson) who seeks to steal the “money train,” a trainload of New York City subway fares, with the help of his brother and fellow cop (Wesley Snipes). Along the way, the duo encounters plenty of trouble, including a run-in with a serial killer.

Mission: Impossible - 1996
Mission: Impossible follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in his quest to reveal the mole within the CIA who has framed him for the murders of his Impossible Missions Force team. Full of adventure, the film’s most exciting scene is aboard a train, where the villain climbs to the roof of the train in hopes of being extracted by a helicopter. Hunt tethers the copter to the train and drags it through a train tunnel, as the villain successfully boards the aircraft. Hunt then triggers an explosion of the helicopter before leaping back to the safety of the train.

Unstoppable - 2010
This action film starring Rosario Dawson, Chris Pine and Denzel Washington tells the story of a runaway freight train, barreling down the tracks at full throttle. The characters of Pine and Washington attempt to stop the train, but not before it turns deadly.

Best crimes/thrillers on a train:

Union Station - 1950
When Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson) takes a train to Union Station, she notices suspicious activity by two men. She realizes they have kidnapped the daughter of her boss and are using the always-crowded Union Station as the drop-off location for ransom. Willecombe seeks the help the station’s police chief and inspector to find the child alive and well.

Strangers on a Train - 1951
Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Farley Granger and Ruth Roman, Strangers on a Train, is a story of two strangers on a train who plot the perfect cross-murder. When one man learns of the other’s desire to kill his unfaithful wife, he suggests killing her in exchange for the murder of his father. Sounds flawless, but the deed isn’t as simple as the pair had planned.

North by Northwest - 1959
Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is a tale of mistaken identity, in which Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is pursued across the United States by representatives of a mysterious organization looking to stop his intrusion in their plans to smuggle microfilm full of government secrets. Alon the way, Thornhill meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), an insider to the smugglers-turned romantic interest. By plane, train, bus and foot Thornhill tries to stay safe and out of trouble.



The French Connection - 1971
Featuring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, this film is based on the smuggling of narcotics between France and New York City. In an attempt to catch the drug smugglers, a pair of New York detectives catches up with the criminals on a hijacked elevated train.



Murder on the Orient Express - 1974
When detective Hercule Poirot’s (Albert Finney) train is stopped in deep snow, he is asked to help solve the murder mystery of an American businessman that took place in a train car the night before. He enlists the help of a doctor and the train conductor to solve the railroad crime.

The Cassandra Crossing - 1976
Starring Sophia Loren and Richard Harris, this disaster film tells the story of a Swedish terrorist infected with a bacterial plague on his attack of the U.S. mission of the International Health Organization. As the terrorist escapes on a European transcontinental train, fellow passengers are infected and killed while some work to eliminate the disease.

Narrow Margin - 1990
When a woman (Anne Archer) witnesses a mob murder in Canada, her District Attorney attempts to take her back to the United States to testify against the mob boss. When they try to escape the hit men sent to kill her, they board a train and later find the hit men have boarded the same one. As the train makes its trek back the U.S., the only goal is to stay alive.

Narrow Margin (1990) (Theatrical Trailer) by NakedBrotha2007

Transsiberian - 2008
A Trans-Siberian train excursion from China to Moscow turns to a trek of deception and murder when an American couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) encounter a dangerous pair of fellow passengers. Full of murder, suspense and danger, Transsiberian encompasses everything not supposed to happen on a train.

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