Back in the day, a train journey was one of the most romantic and exciting voyages one could take. Travelling in luxury through the glorious countryside was an adventure not available to everyone. As with any form of transport, it was only a matter of time before accidents would happen and the more wary among us would start writing about potential disasters.
The Orient Express was possibly the most prestigious and certainly most well-known luxury train in the world. Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was arguably the first murder-mystery novel set on a train; a disaster story for the victims. Disaster movies were to follow and remain a staple of the genre. Read on to find out my eleven picks from the 1940s to the present day.
Release date: 1943
With a plot summed up by ‘A train leaves Los Angeles with a Nazi spy, a woman, a reporter, their respective sidekicks, and the wrong suitcase: one with a bomb in it,’ you know you’re in for a runaround and a plethora of Nazi stereotypes.
Release date: 1964
Burt Lancaster and Paul Schofield get their teeth into a solid film based on the Resistance attempting to stop a train laden with French artworks being taken to Nazi Germany. In this day of CGI, it’s like a breath of fresh air to re-watch this and enjoy the air raid sequence and train crashes filmed for real: no model work or unrealistic graphics here.
Release date: 1973
It’s make your mind up time, fellow viewer. Does putting an exclamation mark in a film title a) increase your anticipation of what is sure to be an exciting film, or b) strike you as the producer’s poor attempt to inject some excitement into an otherwise limp title? As with most train disaster movies, the plot centres around an out-of-control runaway train. Expect this theme to keep reoccurring. ‘Runaway!’ is an action thriller that imperils its skier train passengers.
Release date: 1985
A mere 12 years later would see the title being resurrected with a couple of changes. With a well known (if not too-starry) cast combining the talents of Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca de Mornay as escaped convicts and train worker trapped on a runaway train. This film was touched by tragedy when the helicopter filming aerial shots collided with power lines, killing the pilot, Richard Holley.
Release date: 1993
Hyperbole hits the train disaster movies’ titles. You can picture the producer’s meeting. Think big guy chomping down on a fat cigar. ‘We need a title. Has to let the audience know it’s about a train. Has to be catchy. Has to show peril. Whatcha got?’ Well the result for the UK was ‘Death Train’. The US ended up bizarrely with ‘Detonator’ and it starred Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart and a hijacked train with a atomic bomb on board heading across Europe. Based on a novel by Alistair MacLean and you have a stimulating enough adaptation.
Release date: 1995
Who would have thought a Steven Seagal sequel would lift the train disaster movie to new heights? Couple that with an intriguing title, some decent plotting and personable actors and you have a great pizza-and-beers night in.
Release date: 1996
Like your films overladen with swearing, violence and misfiring attempts at banter? Then you’ll enjoy this Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes vehicle (pun intended) who play undercover cops guarding the subway train that is carrying an entire day’s takings for the network. All goes smoothly until Harrelson decides the money will pay off his debts…
Release date: 1999
Not had enough rail excitement involving atomic bombs on board an out-of-control train? Well, with ‘Atomic Train’ you get what you see. This is a snowballing sequence of increasing peril disasters as a train crash leads progressively to a nuclear explosion and its after effects. It’s a great film for plot-hole and bad-science spotters everywhere.
Release date: 2002
One word titles are back and it’s time for van Damme to kick some bad guy butt. The plot is typically OTT in the action vein and so-so in plot. By now the out-of-control train with hostages onboard storyline should never get green-lit but what do I know? Brain on standby, engage fun and action and good guys triumphing!
Release Date: 2006
And still they come. By now all the good titles and even some of the bad ones have been used so now begins an era of title recycling. Terrorists steal a deadly virus, disguise themselves as monks and a nun and board a train to Lourdes. Seemingly this is an attempt to steal a load of money from the visiting Pope…
If you thought it was safe to go back to rail then you’re going to be disappointed as there is no let up in sight to the silver screen disasters being served up. Amazingly there seems no end of scripts coming out of Hollywood and surely this will be tapped out soon (if not sooner!)
Release Date: 2010
Last year witnessed the latest Tony Scott action film starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. Its plot centres on two men who attempt to stop a runaway freight train. Damned by faint praise, it was nominated for an Oscar – for sound editing – it lost.
Guest blogger, Greg Coltman, writes prolifically about films and the entertainment industry. His last train trip was up to the gorgeous city of Edinburgh. Beautiful place. Book your rail tickets today.