This week, Kenneth Branagh brings his interpretation of Agatha Christie’s distinguished detective Hercule Poirot to theaters in
, a stylish period mystery set aboard a passenger train. But Hollywood has a rich history of telling stories on and about trains, almost from the very beginning, so we thought it would make sense to take a look back at the best train movies to grace the silver screen. Murder on the Orient Express
The Great Train Robbery
One of the most influential films from the silent era, Edwin S. Porter’s 12-minute Western is widely considered one of the first action films ever made.
Critics Consensus: Brilliantly filmed and fueled with classic physical comedy, The General captures Buster Keaton at his timeless best.
Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Clive Brook star in Josef von Sternberg’s romantic thriller about an old flame that reignites between passengers aboard a Chinese train during a time of civil unrest. Shanghai Express was the highest grossing film in the US in 1932.
John Barrymore and Carole Lombard star in Howard Hawks’ classic romantic comedy about a struggling film producer who attempts to win back the actress he helped make into a star. This film not only helped popularize the screwball comedy but also turned its own lead actress, Lombard, into a star herself.
Critics Consensus: One of Alfred Hitchcock’s last British films, this glamorous thriller provides an early glimpse of the director at his most stylishly entertaining.
Night Train to Munich
Carol Reed’s taut espionage thriller stars Margaret Lockwood as a Nazi prisoner of war and Rex Harrison as the British Intelligence officer who attempts to infiltrate Berlin undercover to save her and her scientist father.
This David Lean masterpiece, written by Noël Coward and based on his own play, charts the forbidden romance between a man and woman, both married, that develops from a chance encounter at a railway station.
Strangers on a Train
Critics Consensus: A provocative premise and inventive set design lights the way for Hitchcock’s diabolically entertaining masterpiece.
The Narrow Margin
Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, and Jacqueline White star in this twisty, Academy Award-nominated noir about an LAPD detective who squares off with gangsters aboard a train as he escorts a mob widow from Chicago back to Los Angeles to testify in court. It was less successfully remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer.
This World War II spy thriller from John Frankenheimer centers on a French railway inspector (Burt Lancaster) who is convinced by a museum curator (Suzanne Flon) to sabotage the train that a Nazi colonel (Paul Scofield) plans to use to transport priceless art back to Germany.
Von Ryan’s Express
The same year The Train came out, Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard also starred in a World War II thriller set aboard a train, playing a pair of Allied prisoners who escape an Italian war camp and hijack a train to hightail it to Switzerland.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Critics Consensus: With its iconic pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, jaunty screenplay and Burt Bacharach score, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has gone down as among the defining moments in late-’60s American cinema.
Murder on the Orient Express
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the first adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, which stars Albert Finney as brilliant detective Hercule Poirot and features a sparkling supporting cast that includes Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and John Gielgud, among others.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Critics Consensus: Breezy, thrilling, and quite funny, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three sees Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw pitted against each other in effortlessly high form.
Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder first paired up on the big screen for this comedy thriller about a book editor who teams up with a thief to clear his name when a prominent art historian is murdered on his train. Pryor and Wilder would go on to make three more films together, but none of them was as well received as their debut collaboration.
Jon Voight and Eric Roberts were both nominated for Academy Awards for their work in this tense thriller about a pair of prison escapees who make a quick getaway on a speeding train, only to discover its engineer is dead, and it’s barreling towards derailment. Fun fact: legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa penned the original script, which was shelved for a decade and a half due to financing difficulties.
to the Future Part Three
It doesn’t take place entirely on a train, but a train does figure importantly in the film’s plot, as Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty (Michael J. Fox) have no other means to get their DeLorean up to 88mph. Part Three isn’t quite as beloved as its two predecessors, but it marks a satisfying end to one of the 1980s’ most enduring trilogies.
Hungarian-American writer-director Nimród Antal’s debut behind the camera is this smart, gritty, and funny comedy thriller following Budapest transit officials as they deal with customers and a possible killer on the loose.
Critics Consensus: Traditional in form yet effective in execution, this taut thriller updates the “danger on a train” scenario with atmospheric sense.
The Midnight Meat Train
Critics Consensus: A creative and energetic adaptation of a Clive Barker short story, with enough scares and thrills to be a potential cult classic.
Critics Consensus: As fast, loud, and relentless as the train at the center of the story, Unstoppable is perfect popcorn entertainment — and director Tony Scott’s best movie in years.
Critics Consensus: Finding the human story amidst the action, director Duncan Jones and charming Jake Gyllenhaal craft a smart, satisfying sci-fi thriller.
Critics Consensus: Snowpiercer offers an audaciously ambitious action spectacular for filmgoers numb to effects-driven blockbusters.
Train to Busan
Critics Consensus: Train to Busan delivers a thrillingly unique — and purely entertaining — take on the zombie genre, with fully realized characters and plenty of social commentary to underscore the bursts of skillfully staged action.