I like movies that take place mostly a train. The limited amount of room that is available forces directors, writers, and actors to be clever and creative. Here are my top 10 favorites.
1. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) – In the 1930s, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling from Turkey to Paris when one of the passengers is murdered. Unlike many mysteries, this case has too many clues pointing to too many suspects. Great plot (based on the Agatha Christie novel), great acting. My grade is a solid A+.
2. Terror by Night (1946) – On a train from London to Scotland, a man is murdered and the Star of Rhodesia diamond is stolen. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on board because they had been hired to protect the diamond. Will they discover which one of the several suspects is guilty, and recover their reputations? Grade = B+.
3. Source Code (2011) – Colter Stevens (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train headed to Chicago, but he doesn’t know who he is or have any memory. As it turns out, he has been sent from the future to stop a terrorist bomb plot, but he only has eight minutes. Clever plot, good acting, unexpected happy ending. Grade = B+.
4. Horror Express (1972) – In 1906, actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing play scientists who are on a train from China to Moscow. Grisly murders occur. Who, or what, is behind it all? An interesting science fiction movie that isn’t very well known. Grade = B.
5. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) – Casey Ryback (played by the so-bad-he-is-awesome Steven Seagal) is on a train from Denver to Los Angeles. Armed mercenaries hijack the train. Bad idea when Seagal is on board! It’s easy to make fun of Seagal movies but this one is quite good if you like lots of action. Grade = B.
6. The Commuter (2018) – Michael MacCauley (played by Liam Neeson) is a former cop now in a mundane job, traveling to and from work on the same commuter train every day. On one trip, a mysterious woman offers MacCauley a lot of money to find a person on the train who is travelling incognito, and put a GPS device on him/her. Will MacCauley figure out the plot? (Hint: Of course he will!) Grade = B.
7. The Lady Vanishes (1938) – Iris Henderson, a young tourist traveling on a train in Europe, makes acquaintance with an older woman, Miss Froy. The older woman disappears but nobody except Iris remembers seeing her! With handsome fellow traveler Gilbert Redman, Iris unravels the mystery. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Grade = B.
8. Bombay Mail (1934) – British Inspector Dyke is on a train travelling from Calcutta to Bombay in the 1930s. A British governor on the train is poisoned by cyanide. Classic murder mystery with lots of clues and suspects. Grade = C+.
9. Terror Train (1980) – A group of college students hold a New Year’s Eve costume party on a train. Having everyone wear costumes when one of them is a psychotic murderer is a bad idea. An early starring role for actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Standard horror/slasher fare but not all that bad. Grade = C.
10. Snowpiecer (2013) – Bizarre science fiction movie. The last remnants of humanity live on an atomic powered train that travels endlessly through a frozen wasteland. This movie got excellent reviews, but my grade is just a solid C.
A few other movies set on trains:
Transsiberian (2008) – An American couple’s journey from China to Russia becomes a nightmare after they befriend a pair of fellow travelers.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (1974) – A subway train is hijacked for ransom. Most reviewers give this film great reviews but it has never resonated for me.
Last Passenger (2013) – A train travelling out of London is under the control of a suicidal engineer. Very much an action film. Well-received by critics but it never completely grabbed me.
Snakes on a Train (2006) – Snakes + Mayan curse + train = all you need to know. I actually liked this movie better than the big-budget “Snakes on a Plane”.
Breakheart Pass (1975) – Set in the old west, a train is carrying a Marshal and an outlaw but everything isn’t what it appears.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) – I had high hopes for this remake, but it was, in my opinion, inferior in every way to the 1974 version.
Von Ryan’s Express (1965) – Frank Sinatra plays a WWII prisoner of war who, along with others, is being transported from Italy to Germany.
Runaway Train (1985) – The driver of a speeding train in the Alaska wilderness has a heart attack. With Rebecca De Mornay.
Unstoppable (2010) – Chris Pine and Denzel Washington must stop a runaway freight train.