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The Most Iconic Train Scenes In Movies

All aboard! Since the early silent films, trains have been a staple in practically every movie genre imaginable. People often go to the movies as a way to escape their everyday lives, and what better metaphor is there for travel than the exotic and often luxurious world of trains?

Depending on the type of movie you're watching, however, a train scene can evoke a wide range of emotions. Romantic movies offer tearful farewell scenes at train stations. Action-adventure films provide exciting fight sequences in (and sometimes on) a high-speed train. And then there are the fantasy films that allow trains to literally soar off the tracks and fly past the boundaries of imagination.

If you're a dedicated trainspotter like Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory," or just love the romance that comes from riding the rails, get ready to revisit some amazing journeys. These are the most iconic train scenes in movies.

The General

Let's start with one of the very first iconic train movies — now regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. In 1926, United Artists released "The General," a silent comedy film starring the legendary Buster Keaton. Taking place during the American Civil War, we follow the adventures of Western & Atlantic Railroad Confederate train engineer Johnnie Gray (Keaton) and his beloved locomotive "The General."

In the film, The General is stolen by Union spies and Johnnie pursues it into Union territory. At one point, Johnnie crosses a bridge and sets it on fire to prevent The General from following. When the Union officer in pursuit orders the train to cross anyway, The General chugs across the bridge which collapses beneath its weight and sends it falling into the river.

What's truly remarkable about this scene is that the train that falls into the river really is a full working steam locomotive and cars and not a model. This made the train scene the most expensive scene ever filmed in the silent era with an estimated cost of $42,000 (about half a million dollars today). The train wreckage actually stayed at the bottom of Oregon's Row River until it was salvaged for iron during World War II ... although you can still see bits of it today.

Mission: Impossible

Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible" movie franchise seems intent on topping their stunt sequences with each film. Over the years, we've seen Cruise, as secret agent Ethan Hunt, hang from the outside of a plane, scale the tallest building on Earth, and perform a high-altitude halo jump. The fact that these stunts are real and not achieved with green screens speaks volumes about the lengths the filmmakers and Cruise will go for their fans.

But it's Ethan's epic battle atop a speeding TGV train in the original "Mission Impossible" (1996) that first made audiences sit up and take notice. Having secured a top-secret "NOC List" containing the true identities of covert Impossible Mission Force operatives, Ethan attempts to flush out a traitor in the IMF by delivering the list to arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave) in return for the identity of the mole ... who turns out to be none other than Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), Ethan's former mentor.

But Jim won't go down easily. After stealing millions of dollars from Ethan, he makes his way to the roof of the speeding train to rendezvous with his getaway helicopter. Ethan follows and, against insane wind resistance, tethers the helicopter to the train so that it flies into the Channel Tunnel. He then climbs onto the helicopter, blows it up with a stick of exploding gum, and rides the explosion back to the train. Impossible? Absolutely. But then, that's his job description.

Spider-Man 2

Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" did an amazing job of telling the webslinger's origin, but it's "Spider-Man 2" that many fans consider the best film in the trilogy — and it's easy to see why. No other Spider-Man movie has depicted Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire)'s terrible "Parker Luck" so well. In the first hour, Peter loses his job, his spider-powers, and any chance of being with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the woman he loves.

Fortunately, Peter recovers his powers for the film's climax — just in time to face off against Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), on top of a high-speed train. From there, things get crazier. Doc Octopus snatches passengers out of the train with his mechanical arms and hurls them at Spider-Man — only for Spidey to weave web hammocks and save them. Undaunted, Doctor Ock sabotages the train's brakes, and Peter is forced to slow down the train with his webbing and superhuman strength as the train hurls toward an unfinished bridge.

Spider-Man triumphs — but his road to victory is one of the most painful and exciting sequences ever filmed in a superhero movie. The scene of Spider-Man holding back a massive train with nothing but a few strands of webbing and his body is so excruciating you'll swear you'll pull a muscle watching it. Heroes like Superman can stop runaway trains with minimal difficulty, but Spidey really has to work for this win. And we love him for that.


Not all train scenes need to be giant epic sequences to be memorable. Sometimes, what makes a good train scene is all a matter of perspective. While other superheroes end up battling on the Bifrost or in Wakanda, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has his most memorable battle on a toy train set in "Ant-Man."

After gaining size-altering powers from Doctor Hank Pym's Ant-Man suit, Scott Lang secretly uses his abilities to watch over his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). But when Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), another size-shifting villain, threatens Cassie, Scott rushes to her defense. Shrinking to the size of insects, the two take the fight to Cassie's bedroom table — and nearly get flattened by her Thomas the Tank Engine toy train.

It's a hilarious yet still exciting fight depending on what angle you're watching it from. Seen up close, the battle takes on epic proportions as Ant-Man lifts entire box cars and flings them at his enemy. Seen from far away, it looks ridiculous since all of those superhero moves amount to a toy train falling off its tracks. Yet by the end, everyone gets to see just how dangerous Thomas the Tank Engine can be when one of Ant-Man's growth discs accidentally lands on the toy, expanding it to the size of a real train that smashes through the house of Scott's ex-wife and crushes a police car. Think that'll come out of his alimony payments?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is one archeologist with plenty of fun quirks. During "Raiders of the Last Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," we learn Indy has a pathological fear of snakes, is proficient with a bullwhip, wears a trademark hat, and has a distinctive scar on his chin (actually a real-life scar Ford sustained in a car crash).

As it turns out, every single one of these character quirks were acquired by Indy during a train ride. In the opening scene of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," we discover that a teenage Indiana (River Phoenix) witnessed some grave robbers steal a golden crucifix from a cave back in 1912. Feeling the artifact belongs in a museum, Indy takes the crucifix, causing the robbers to chase him onto a circus train.

As he moves from one car to another, Indy falls into a snake pit, giving him a crippling new phobia. He fends off a lion with a bullwhip that gives him his facial scar. And while he loses the crucifix thanks to a corrupt sheriff, he gains the admiration of the leader of the robbers who gifts Indy with his hat.

The Indiana Jones movie franchise has always been a love letter to the adventure serials from the 1930s, and this scene celebrates this by explaining Indy's entire backstory in one wonderfully traumatic train ride.

Since You Went Away

So far, we've placed the spotlight on action sequences involving trains. But train scenes can deal with more somber material, as the 1944 classic "Since You Went Away" reveals. The film follows a family traveling by train to reunite with their husband and father before he ships off to fight in World War II. Over the course of the trip, teenager Jane (Jennifer Jones) fall in love with Bill (Robert Walker), a corporal in the U.S. Army. They get engaged, but Bill asks Jane to wait until after the war to get married, leading to a crying Jane running after his departing train to tell him goodbye as he throws her his watch as a parting gift.

Sadly, this marks the last time Bill and Jane get to be together since Bill dies in the war. Although considered cliché by audiences today, and even parodied in films like "Airplane!" (1980), the scene is very poignant in "Since You Went Away." Train stations are often associated with romance, and you couldn't ask for a more romantic goodbye scene than seeing your lover off at a train.   

Back to the Future Part III

Train heists are a popular cinema trope, but according to Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), hijacking an 1885 steam train in "Back to the Future Part III" wasn't a stick-up but "a science experiment." Regardless, this train scene ranks as one of the tensest action sequences in the trilogy. Needing to get the train up to 88 miles per hour so it can push the DeLorean time machine into the future, Doc develops his version of "Presto Logs" to provide the engine with enough power. Unfortunately, this means the engine will overheat and blow up in minutes.

That's not the only problem Doc and Marty (Michael J. Fox) need to deal with. After powering up the furnace, they make their way back to the DeLorean by climbing onto the roof of the speeding train as it hurls toward an unfinished bridge. Unfortunately, Doc's girlfriend Clara (Mary Steenburgen) unknowingly boards the doomed train, forcing Doc to go back for her just as the furnace explodes.

Fortunately, Marty provides Doc with a last-second save by passing him a hoverboard, allowing Doc and Clara to fly to safety seconds before the train falls off the side of a ravine. That's not the last we see of Doc though. In the final scene, we learn Doc built a new steam-powered locomotive time machine with the ability to fly. Where they're going, they won't need ... tracks.


Christopher Nolan's mind-bending film "Inception" delighted in playing with audience's minds. Taking place largely within a lucid dream where the normal rules of physics no longer apply, the film allowed the FX artists and set designers to truly test the limits of imagination.

After accepting a risky job to plant an idea deep within a powerful man's subconscious, professional dream thief Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of specialists craft a complex con involving military-developed shared dream technology. Unfortunately, Cobb has a bizarre problem — the guilt he feels over his wife's death causes a mental construct of her to manifest in his dreams and sabotage his missions. To the team's horror, "Dream Mal" (Marion Cotillard) makes her presence felt almost immediately after they arrive in their target's mind — by creating a massive dream train smashes through a city street and rams their tax cab, nearly killing them all.

This isn't the only time we see a train scene in "Inception." Turns out the reason "Mal" used a train is because the real Mal and Cobb had once been trapped inside a dream world for the mental equivalent of decades. When Mal began seeing their dream as reality, Cobb planted the idea that their world was an illusion — and woke them both up by allowing a train to run over them. Sadly, the idea of the world's unreality continued to infect Mal, and she later killed herself in real life, believing she was returning to her dream reality.

The Incredibles

"The Incredibles" gave us one of animation's best superhero families — but it all started with a massive train accident that completely destroyed the superhero community. When Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) meets up with his old enemy Bomb Voyage (Dominique Louis), it looks like the start of another one of their usual battles. But when Buddy Pine, an overzealous fan boy, gets in the way, an errant bomb winds up destroying a huge section of the city's elevated train tracks.

Mr. Incredible manages to stop the train from falling, but the resulting bad press from all the injured passengers forces all the public superheroes to go undercover. The fallout proves particularly devastating to Mr. Incredible who falls into depression and becomes an overweight shadow of his former self. Maybe he should have taken some lessons from Spider-Man. Everyone loved the webslinger after he saved a New York train from Doctor Octopus in "Spider-Man 2."

The Polar Express

Most of the films on this list only feature a train in one or two key sequences. "The Polar Express," however, builds the entire premise of its movie around a train. Based off of the celebrated picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, "The Polar Express" follows a boy (Daryl Sabara) struggling to hold onto his belief in magic and Christmas. When a mysterious magic train appears in front of his house one night, the boy takes a leap of faith and climbs onboard, joining a bunch of children on their way to the North Pole.

What follows is a magical journey that's equal parts heartwarming movie and roller coaster ride. Those audiences lucky enough to see the film as it was meant to be seen in IMAX 3-D know the film is filled with scenes showing the train careening over icy hills, sliding across frozen lakes, and generally executing feats only Santa Claus' train could perform. Then there are all the musical numbers being performed inside the diner cars as dancing waiters serve hot chocolate to the kids.

With the "Hero Boy" and "Hero Girl" as our viewpoint characters, we even get a peek at the inner workings of the train, including the engine and a spooky section occupied by a creepy (but friendly) ghost. If Christmas is defined by "scary ghost stories" and "tales of the glory," then it's no surprise that "The Polar Express" has become a regular Christmas movie for some families.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Let's be honest — if you could choose only one fantasy train to ride in, the Hogwarts Express would easily top the list. Originally only found in the pages of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books, audiences got to see the train on the big screen in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Practically everything about the train is memorable, from the way young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) manages to find his way to the hidden "Platform 9 ¾" at London King's Cross Station to his first meeting with future best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Then there's the Trolley Witch (Jean Southern) who arrives mid-journey to offer magical confections like Chocolate Frogs and Cauldron Cakes to the young witches and wizards.

Still, the Wizarding World is dangerous, and Harry's encountered numerous dangers during his train rides. In "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," he nearly gets the life sucked out of him by a dementor. Then in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," rival Draco Malfoy petrifies Potter when he spies on the Slytherin carriage.

Dangers aside, riding on the Hogwarts Express ranks high on the wish lists of many fans. This is why many travel to Scotland to board The Jacobite, the actual train used in the "Harry Potter" films, which journeys through many familiar sights from the movies. Just stay clear of the dementors.

The Lone Ranger

"The Lone Ranger" (2013) was a box office bomb and disappointed audiences. However, even the harshest critics couldn't help but admire the final chase scene where the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) and Tonto (Johnny Depp) engage in one of the most epic train battles in movie history.

The scene sees the Lone Ranger confront corrupt railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and his henchman Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) during Cole's railroad union ceremony. Realizing Cole will use the mined silver on one of the trains to gain more power, Tonto steals the train. Simultaneously, the Lone Ranger pursues another train holding his love interest and her son captive.

What follows is an insanely over-the-top fight scene accompanied by the Lone Ranger's theme song, "The William Tell Overture." Highlights include the Lone Ranger's unusually intelligent horse Silver galloping over rooftops and leaping onto the top of the train to chase the bad guys. At one point, the hero catches a bullet thrown to him from a moving train, reloads his gun, and shoots the gun out of Cole's hand from half a mile away. 

And just when it looks like Cole will get away, Tonto gleefully reveals they blew up a railroad bridge, causing the train to fall into the river and drown Cole beneath all his silver. Box office flop or not, this scene holds up remarkably well in repeat viewings.