Top 5 Movies Set on Trains

Posted by Brandy Dean March 8, 2013 12 Comments 20131 views

Lots of movies are set on trains and is it any wonder. There’s really nothing more romantic than a train. One of my deepest regrets is that I was born after the golden era of train travel. Some of the very first motion pictures involved trains, whether it was a dramatic shot of a train arriving at a station, or a camera mounted on a train to capture scenic footage (known as a “phantom ride”). When it comes to thinking about movies set on trains, there’s almost an embarrassment of riches. Nevertheless, here’s my…

What are your favorite movies set on train? Tell us in the comments!

Top 5 Movies Set on Trains

The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Good old master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock returned to scene of the train many times in many movies, but it is The Lady Vanishes that represents his train masterpiece. In this early Hitchcock thriller, everyone tries to convince Iris (Margaret Lockwood) that a certain Miss Froy she’d been talking to was never on the train in the first place. This movie is a pitch perfect suspense ride and shows the best of British Hitchcock.

Still image from "Night Train to Munich"

Night Train to Munich (1940)

Though Night Train to Munich was directed by Carol Reed, not Alfred Hitchcock, it’s almost a sequel of sorts to The Lady Vanishes. Rex Harrison plays a British agent posing as a Nazi on a mission – save an inventor, and his beautiful daughter (Margaret Lockwood), from the clutches of actual Nazis during a train ride from Germany to France, without blowing his cover. Much like the Hitch movie, this one completely exploits the claustrophobic potential of trains to create suspense.

Still image from "The Train" (1964)

The Train (1964)

What’s with Nazis and trains? In The Train we have Burt Lancaster trying to stop a Nazi train without damaging a cargo of priceless art. Director John Frankenheimer created one tense train ride with this gem, and Lancaster did all his own stunts to boot.

Still image from "The Railrodder"

The Railrodder (1965)

This short film produced by the NFB and directed by Gerald Potterton features one elderly Buster Keaton travelling across Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. This is one of the last films Keaton appeared in and demonstrates that even though he was just about to shuffle off this mortal coil, the man still had it. You can watch The Railrodder in its entirety at the NFB site.

Still image from "The General"

The General (1926)

And, of course, the best movie ever made set on a train – Buster Keaton’s The General. Of course, in this silent masterpiece, the train isn’t so much a set as another character. The audience is just along for the ride with engineer Johnnie Gray and his beloved locomotive The General as he pursues the Norther army to rescue his love and… er… becomes the pursued. This is no other train movie that’s a brilliantly constructed, as exciting, or as hilarious as this one.

What are your favorite movies set on train? Tell us in the comments!

About Brandy Dean

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films.

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There are 12 Comments

  1. - March 8, 2013
      -   Reply

    I admire your grit in limiting your list of train movies to 5. I’ll shall attempt to do likewise:

    1. The Lady Vanishes

    2. The Tall Target

    3. Murder on the Orient Express

    4. Twentieth Century

    5. Sleepers West (All fans of The Narrow Margin, and I count myself among their number, owe a debt of gratitude to this “Mike Shayne” programmer.)

  2. Ray
    - March 9, 2013
      -   Reply

    My own highly personal filing system for my CDs has a section “Assorted shifty looking people with dodgy foreign accents on a train”. From that i pluck ‘Rome Express’, (1932) or it’s not quite as good remake ‘Sleeping car to Trieste’
    Add ‘narrow margin’ (No, not Gene Hackman, the 1952 version with Marie Windsor).
    I guess there is not enough train to ask for ‘Double Indemnity’ is there? The headline clearly says set on a train.

  3. - April 9, 2013
      -   Reply

    we are very partial to Wes Anderson’ Darjeeling Limited at teamgloria towers

  4. - May 11, 2013
      -   Reply

    Let me suggest another topnotch film: Hitchcock’s Stranger’s on a train

  5. Kerry Fristoe (@echidnabot)
    - May 26, 2013
      -   Reply

    Murder On The Orient Express and The Narrow Margin come to mind. The Great Escape and Julia have great train scenes too. Ha! Nazis again!

  6. T.W.
    - May 26, 2013
      -   Reply

    Von Ryan’s Express. Again, trains and Nazis!

  7. Brandy Dean
    - May 26, 2013
      -   Reply

    Yah, seriously – what’s with Nazis and trains?

  8. Sue Galster
    - June 9, 2013
      -   Reply

    Love your choices. 5 is hard! Have to add Murder on the Orient Express and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

  9. - August 2, 2013
      -   Reply

    These are great flicks, though the list certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel. I’m thinking most who visit this site had three or four of those in mind as soon as they read the headline. (On that note: that’s for introducing me to The Railrodder).

    I’d say my favourite train film of all time is Horror Express, a phenomenal horror b-movie with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, though not under the Hammer Films banner.

    A speeding Trans-Siberian Railway train. A Polish oligarch and his babe daughter. An insane monk. And, lastly, an ancient humanoid specimen plucked from a mountain cave in high-altitude Manchuria that suddenly goes missing.

    You owe it to yourself to see this film immediately.

  10. Richard Armitt
    - October 6, 2013
      -   Reply

    Under Seige 2 – I win, you can all go home.

  11. - October 12, 2013
      -   Reply

    I would be remiss if I did not mention FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The finest Bond movie deserves at least an honorable mention. Though it is not wholly rail bound, the climax between Red Grant and Bond is extraordinary, tense cinema. One of the few examples where Bond is actually allowed to use his wits in order to perform activities related to being an international agent of espionage.

  12. - March 25, 2014
      -   Reply

    Good list. Love that you included 2 from the master, Buster Keaton.
    I would add:
    1. Murder on the Orient Express
    2.Runaway Train
    3.Source Code
    4.Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (1974)
    5.Emperor of the North

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