close menu

These are The Greatest Train Sequences on Film

This weekend Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, a rococo, star-studded update of the Agatha Christie classic, rolls into theaters. This new version, full of fabulous people looking fabulous on screen, is a reminder of the cinematic power of trains – they are transportation vehicles, sure, but also ripe with potential symbolism (aggressive industrial expansion, etc) and dynamic visual possibility (they are, we must remember, rocketing along a track). In fact, one of the earliest films ever, “L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat,” was screened by the Lumière brothers on January 25, 1896. The audience, unaccustomed to the new motion picture technology, supposedly screamed and ducked out of the way as the train hurdled towards the camera.

It’s in honor of the new Murder on the Orient Express (as well as the general awesomeness of trains), that we run down several of the greatest train sequences of all time:


It was said that, when visionary filmmaker Gore Verbinski was trying to get his ambitious redo of The Lone Ranger the green light at Disney, one of the sticking points was the climactic train chase. Thank God he stuck to his guns because the Lone Ranger train chase wound up being the Sistine Chapel of train sequences. Using real trains and miles of specially laid track (as well as some pivotal assistance from Industrial Light & Magic), the sequence bristles with ingenuity and suspense – heightened by Hans Zimmer’s version of the iconic “William Tell Overture.”


Brian De Palma had always wanted to do a big train sequence. There was one initially planned for The Untouchables that was scrapped when the production went over-budget. (It was replaced by the Odessa Steps sequence, perhaps an even more memorable alternative.) He finally got his train sequence in Mission: Impossible and it’s a doozy. In a way the sequence sets the tone for the rest of the Mission: Impossible franchise; what had been a relatively quiet thriller sudden explodes with this taut set piece involving Tom Cruise surfing on a speeding train, explosive chewing gum, and a helicopter in the Chunnel.


The crown jewel of Spider-Man 2, arguably the greatest Spider-Man movie until Homecoming came along, was the sequence where Spider-Man battles Doc Ock on top of a subway train. It’s full of wonderful, heartfelt touches that turned a spectacular action sequence into a moving moment (Spider-Man’s webbing being ineffectual, his reluctance to take off his mask, everyday New Yorkers coming to his aid). But even stripped of those flourishes, it’s a breathless piece of filmmaking, all movement and color and big character moments.


Supposedly based on a true story, Unstoppable is the tale of a runaway train whose cargo is a highly flammable toxin. (Rosario Dawson cheerfully refers to it as a “missile.”) While the movie is rife with perfectly orchestrated tension, thanks to an impressively subdued Tony Scott, the climactic sequence, which sees our two hapless heroes (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) working together to stop the train, is some true edge-of-your-seat type stuff. Scott, who in recent years was more concerned with mood and atmosphere, does a tremendous job of aligning you with the geography and speed of the train, which makes the action even more terrifying.


One of the few films to be set entirely on a train (there isn’t even a cut-away), Bong Joon-ho’s visionary Snowpiercer, about a train that holds the world’s surviving population following a second, manmade ice age, is at turns horrific, thrilling, and oddly funny. Of all of the sequences in the film, one of the greatest has to be when Chris Evans, as a resistance leader from the rear of the train, makes his way towards the front of the train. Evans and his posse pass through train cars devoted to aquariums, discos, and fine sushi, as he passes through economic, political and cultural strata on his way forward. It’s visually breathtaking and highly unnerving.


There are many who will cite From Russia with Love’s train sequence, which has Sean Connery calmly navigating his way through a commuter train while evading villains at every turn, as one of the greatest train sequences ever. But it can’t hold a candle to the opening of Skyfall. This is the sequence where a crane digs into a commuter car, Daniel Craig’s Bond jumps into it and then straightens out his cufflinks. (Character development in an action sequence is always the best.) Unlike From Russia with Love, the Skyfall sequence ends with a dizzying cliffhanger, as a colleague accidentally shoots Bond and his lifeless body falls into the water below. It’s just the coolest.


John Woo’s second English language feature (after the disappointing and heavily censored Hard Target) was Broken Arrow, a movie that felt like it was from another era entirely. It concerned some missing nuclear bombs and had a ramshackle, we’ll-get-there-when-we-get-there vibe. But Woo brought out all the pyrotechnics (both visual and literal) for the finale, which saw psychopath John Travolta battling his idealistic protégé Christian Slater for control of one of the bombs. It’s a fight on a speeding train that ends with Travolta getting bloodily impaled by one of the missiles. If that isn’t cinema, I don’t know what is.

What do you think? Did we miss anything? What are your favorite train moments? Let us know below!

Images: Disney, Paramount, Sony, Fox, Weinstein Company, MGM/Eon

Want more? Allow us to list a few more lists…

What is Wrong with MAD MAX’s War Boys?

What is Wrong with MAD MAX’s War Boys?

The Subtle Triumph of Furiosa’s Prosthetic Arm

The Subtle Triumph of Furiosa’s Prosthetic Arm

Is it Possible to Double Jump?

Is it Possible to Double Jump?