Train Movies: Why Do We Love Them?


I had quite a revelation this weekend. It happened as I was watching The American Friend (1977), a Wim Wenders film that’s playing on FilmStruck. I enjoyed the movie but found myself becoming more engaged during a sequence that took place on a train. It’s not that the movie wasn’t compelling before and after this point (it was), but my interest level ratcheted up in a way it hadn’t quite done before. It reminded me of another train sequence from Ripley’s Game (2002), which – like The American Friend – is based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game novel.


It also reminded me of how much I love The Narrow Margin (1952), another train movie that I saw four times in the span of 20 months. Then I thought of other train movies (or movies with significant sequences onboard trains) I’ve seen fairly recently, such as:


Murder on the Orient Express (1974)


Runaway Train (1985)


The Train (1964)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Snowpiercer (2013)

Human Desire (1954)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (Technically about a subway car, but I’m including it…)

Without giving it much thought, I came up with other train movies that I love:

Strangers on a Train (1951)

North by Northwest (1959)

From Russia with Love (1963)

The General (1926)

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Silver Streak (1976)

Terror by Night (1946)

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Source Code (2011)

And train movies I haven’t yet seen:

Twentieth Century (1934)

Berlin Express (1948)

Breakheart Pass (1976)

The Iron Horse (1924)

Train to Busan (2016)

Here is a list of obscure train movies I’m dying to check out.

I’m not entirely sure where this fascination with train movies comes from. I’ve ridden on trains a few times in my life, but my memories of those trips aren’t exactly spectacular. Maybe it’s because trains invite a certain amount of tension, at least as far as movies are concerned. Space is limited and your options for movement (and escape?) are limited as well. But the possibility of intimacy is heightened. And danger.

Maybe I also like the fact that – like life – we’re all headed in the same direction, in a manner of speaking. We’re all headed somewhere and as much as we hate to admit it, none of us are really in control of where we’re going. In a way, it’s comforting to know that someone else is driving the thing and we don’t have to worry about it, but at the same time, someone else is driving the thing.

I wonder if actors, directors, crew, etc. love trains? Hitchcock must’ve loved them. I wonder how many loathed them?

So I’m not really sure why I love train movies, but I do. Maybe you do as well. Do you have any favorite train movies? Let me know.

Photos: Brandon’s Movie Memory, BFI, TCM, Nerdist

4 thoughts on “Train Movies: Why Do We Love Them?

  1. Pingback: The Best of 2017: The 1970s | Journeys in Darkness and Light

  2. Pingback: Movies Watched in March 2017 Part V | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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