Trains. I mean who doesn’t like trains? Bullet trains, freight trains, model trains. How can you not like them? The movies have certainly had loads of fun with trains. For decades we’ve been give one great train scene after another. Today I’m looking at five of the very best to ever grace the big screen. Now obviously with so many to choose from (and there are TONS) I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. Still I have no problem calling these five movie train scenes absolutely phenomenal.
#5 – “The Fugitive” (1993)
It pained me to leave movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Before Sunrise”, and “Spider-Man 2” off this list. That should tell you how much I love the explosive train derailment scene in the 1993 thriller “The Fugitive”. Wrongly accused Harrison Ford is trying to escape from a crashed prison bus laying across railroad tracks. A train barrels towards him and slams into the bus just as Ford flies out of the window. The train derailment that follows is absolutely stunning.
#4 – “Skyfall” (2012)
There is no way to document all of the incredible over-the-top action scenes that have become staples of the James Bond franchise. And it just so happens there is one which is a perfect fit for this list. “Skyfall” opens with one of the coolest train scenes in movie history. 007 uses feet, fists, bullets and even a huge excavator as he fights a mercenary on top of a speeding train. Through tunnels and over a bridge, right up to its big splash finish.
#3 – “Mission: Impossible” (1996)
Without a doubt the signature scene in Brian De Palma’s “Mission: Impossible”comes at the very end. You know the one I’m talking about. Tom Cruise’s IMF agent Ethan Hunt atop a speeding bullet train on the heels of the mole (I won’t spoil who) who framed him for killing his team. Oh, and to make it even more electric, the mole plans to escape on a helicopter that’s tailing the train. I’ll leave it there but look it up if you haven’t seen it.
#2 – “The General” (1926)
Exactly which train scene do you pick out of the many featured in Buster Keaton’s silent classic “The General”? I mulled over several of the film’s great scenes before ultimately settling on one of Keaton’s most iconic movie moments. Some have called it the most expensive shot in silent movie history. A Union Army train makes an ill-advised attempt to cross a burning wooden bridge but plunges into the river as the cavalry watches from the bank. The set piece was incredible then and still is today.
#1 – “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007)
The train robbery in Andrew Dominik’s brilliant “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is not only one of the best train sequences, but it’s one of my favorite scenes ever shot. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins is at his best in the buildup, capturing the dim glow from the bandits’ lanterns, the vibrations of the tracks, the headlight of the train penetrating the forest as it rounds a curve. And of course you get the robbery itself. Simply put, it is sublime filmmaking.
And those are my picks. There are so many great train scenes I hated to leave off. Now it’s your turn to help. Let me know what you think of my list and please share what would have made yours.