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Train Films

17 August 2017

With the unique iconography, the rosy nostalgia and the inherent romance, rail travel and trains have long been a deep well of inspiration for the cinematic industry. From Bond to Potter, Wes Anderson to Alfred Hitchcock, all manner of trains have appeared in all kinds of film including thrillers, romances and comedies. In a difficult list to compile and with minor spoilers for some films, here are our favourite film scenes featuring trains and railways:

10. The Railway Children

Starting our list off is the wonderful, timeless classic British film, 1970's The Railway Children. Set amidst idyllic Yorkshire countryside, the Railway Children is the story of a family who are forced to live near a train line in rural England, when their father is falsely imprisoned. They get up to a variety of adventures, many with touching conclusions but our favourite scene, by far, is when the family is joyously reunited with their father. Dramatic and making full use of the nostalgic majesty of steam train travel, the vapour from an old locomotive gradually clears to reveal a weary male figure on the quaint station platform. It is moving, emotional and uplifting all at the same time. Enthusiasts today can make a journey on the same stretch of railway featured in the film, by travelling on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, the inspiration for the fictional Great Northern and Southern Railway of the film.

9. Spiderman 2

A controversial choice perhaps, for both the fact that this scene takes place more around a train than on it, and that the train itself is more of a metro tram, yet this scene is so packed with high-octane action between Spiderman and his nemesis Doctor Octopus, that it would be a shame not to include it. As Spiderman attempts to take down Doc Ock, he has to contest with an out of control carriage full of terrified passengers, hurtling towards a rupture in the tracks. The sequence culminates with a heart-warming moment to round off a thrilling segment.

8. Darjeeling Limited

There are few directors able to truly bring out the exotic colour and charming eccentricity of India like Wes Anderson. His unique style and almost cartoonish cinematography are perfect for this magnificent country, and the Darjeeling Limited shows India at its best. This story of three brothers rediscovering themselves on a rail journey, operates like a highlight reel of India, featuring a fictional train inspired by the real-life Darjeeling Himalayan Express. Our selected scene from the Darjeeling Limited is the opening, where Bill Murray in a cameo appearance runs through a marvellous urban kaleidoscope to catch the titular train and is outpaced by Adrian Brody's character who makes it in time.

7. Polar Express

Polar Express earns its place on the list simply for combining the magic of Christmas with the wonder of rail travel. This excellent festive film is packed full of delightful scenes of sleepy villages and winter landscapes, but it is the introduction of the titular train which we love. Rumbling to a stop in classic Christmas imagery of fir trees and Christmas men, the Polar Express and Tom Hanks take turns to steal the scene, against a backdrop of shaded white.

6. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

What a way to introduce the audience to the magic school of witchcraft and wizardry! In an iconic scene in the Harry Potter saga, Harry meets Ron and Hermione for the first time in a compartment in the Hogwarts Express. For the length of this sequence, we are treated to long bird's eye shots of the Scottish Highlands and the train as it crosses the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland. Fans of the film or indeed the landscapes, can enjoy a journey on the actually train used as the Hogwarts Express, whose real name is the Jacobite Express, travelling on the West Highland line in Scotland.

5. Before Sunrise

Unsurprisingly, the romance of rail travel has provided the backdrop for many romantic films over the years. This offering, from director Richard Linklater, is the story of two strangers meeting on a train in Europe and spontaneously deciding to get off the train together to explore with each other. The myriad of European cities, the enchanting plot and the excellent cast make this a fantastic addition to our list. Our favourite moment is when the couple make the decision to leap off the train and explore Vienna.

4. Some Like It Hot

Farcical comedies do not come much better than Bill Wilder's Some Like It Hot. Considered one of the best comedies ever made, this cinematic gem follows the story of two musicians who dress as women and join an all-female jazz band to escape Chicago mobsters. Near the beginning of the film, when main characters Joe and Jerry first dress up as their female alter egos Josephine and Daphne, they board a sleeper train with the female jazz band members. What follows is a hilarious scene in which Jerry accidentally hosts a party in his berth, all in the cosy confines of a coast to coast sleeper train which provides the perfect backdrop to the rambunctious festivities.

3. The General

In one of the finest films of silent Hollywood starring one of the best comedic talents in cinematic history, The General is arguably Buster Keaton's most lauded film. Our chosen scene is when Keaton's character, an engineer called Johnnie Gray, attempts to catch up to a hijacked train with his lover on-board. Along the way, he is required to operate the train and clear the tracks of planted debris, and he does so all with the hilarious dead pan face for which he is famous. Most remarkable of all is that he performed the dangerous stunts himself.

2. North by North West

Hitchcock truly outdoes himself with this cloying thriller. Cary Grant plays an innocent man on the run from mysterious agents who want him dead. Some way through the film, his character boards the 20th Century Limited Train and encounters a woman named Eve, played by the superb Eve Saint-Marie. Their meeting is simply scintillating, underscored by the tension of the setting, the sparkling chemistry between the actors and the charm of the carriage set. It's a classic scene in a classic movie.

1. From Russia With Love

In a series of films with no shortage of train scenes, it is apt that our top rail scene features in arguably the greatest of the James Bond films. Sean Connery's 007 is cornered by enemy agent Grant in a compartment on the Orient Express. Tense, claustrophobic and culminating in a brutal fistfight, this scene is Bond at his best. With seemingly no way out, Sean Connery plays the role with ice cool charisma, bartering for his life with the menacing Grant. The resplendent luxury of the former Orient Express is the perfect backdrop as Bond tricks Grant into a fight, and they tussle in the mysterious darkness of a classic train compartment with the background noise of the train running across the tracks.

This list is definitely non-exhaustive so if you can think of a film which ought to have made it onto our top ten, let us know in the comments below!