The Commuter continues a long tradition in cinema: the train thriller. Will Liam Neeson’s new action flick make its way into the canon of awesome locomotive film adventures? Only time will tell, but if you feel like you need to brush up on your train thriller history, I’ve curated ten pictures that will satisfy your curiosity.
Note: I selected films that are primarily set on/around a train for the film’s running time and disqualified movies with big train sequences. Sorry, Back to the Future III fans.
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Starting off with an all-time classic! This Alfred Hitchcock suspense film presents an instantly enticing premise: what if a passenger on a train simply disappeared? How could that have happened and why?
Anchored by fun performances from Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, Hitchcock’s razor-sharp talent for mystery is in full form here. An unmissable entry in both the train thriller sub-genre and Hitch’s own filmography.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
While Tony Scott’s 2009 remake has its simple charms, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original 1974 film. A group of criminals hijacks a subway train for ransom. How will they get away?
The fun of this film comes in its surprising amount of humor and a stellar cast that includes acting legends Robert Shaw, Walter Matthau, and Martin Balsam. Fun fact: Quentin Tarantino took the idea of naming a group of gangsters by colors in Reservoir Dogs from this film!
Murder on the Orient Express (1974 & 2017)
Depending on your tastes, you have two solid choices when it comes to this seminal Agatha Christie thriller. World-renowned detective Hercule Poirot must solve a murder that occurs on a leisurely train ride home.
Both the 1974 and 2017 versions feature star-studded casts and assured direction. If you like a more classical feel, go with Sidney Lumet’s take. If you need to inject some kinetic energy into the tale, Kenneth Branagh’s version is the one for you.
Terror Train (1980)
The setup involves a college costume party which allows for the mysterious killer to go through a number of entertaining masks. Plus, you’ve got scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as your leading lady. This is definitely one to check out for horror fans.
Runaway Train (1985)
The schlock factory that was Cannon Films is best known for goofball fare like Death Wish 3 and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but they have a few titles which have a little more prestige. Runaway Train might be their best.
Two prisoners escape from jail and end up on an out-of-control train. The action and drama are heightened but always engaging. This is a film that deserves some rediscovery as its easily one of the best in the Cannon Films library.
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)
Steven Seagal returns in this sequel to a Die Hard rip-off that was actually pretty darn entertaining. Now, the Die Hard setup is put onto a moving train that’s being used as a base of operations for a team of terrorists that have taken control of a weaponized satellite.
You might lose a few brain cells while watching this one, but you’ll be laughing and cheering so much that you won’t even notice. A good pick for a night in with friends.
This is the only entry on this list that was actually inspired by true events. A freight train is accidentally let loose due to some incompetent workers and it’s up to Denzel Washington and Chris Pine to stop it.
Unstoppable was the final film for director Tony Scott before his tragic death and it features all the propulsion and pure entertainment that he was known for. An effective and well-made exit for the man behind Top Gun.
Source Code (2011)
I don’t know why more people don’t bring up this sci-fi thriller from Moon director Duncan Jones. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a soldier who is used to relive a specific moment in time in order to discover the mastermind behind a train bombing.
With a little bit of that Groundhog Day/Edge of Tomorrow angle, Source Code ends up going to a lot of incredibly unexpected places and never lets up along the journey. If you skipped this one, now is a good time to rectify that mistake.
Set in the future, Snowpiercer posits an (admittedly bonkers) idea where mankind survives on a perpetually moving train. The cars are divided up by class and the film follows the rebellious Curtis (Chris Evans) as he leads a revolt to the front of the train.
If you can buy into the high concept, Snowpiercer offers a scathing and impacting look at class separation and how oppressors continually find a way to keep the lower classes in check. It also features some incredible action sequences that need to be seen to be believed.
Once you’re done with these films, check out The Commuter when it opens on January 12.