• The time train in Back to the Future III. (Universal)Source: Universal
Some of these trains can cry on cue...
Jeremy Cassar

24 Aug 2016 - 1:49 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2016 - 10:00 AM

Great American Railroad Journeys is a documentary series that sees English host Michael Portillo explore the Land of the Free via rail.

But trains didn't just shape 19th-century America, they've also helped create iconic moments in film and television. (How about that for a segueway?)

All told, there are too many to list here. But these are our favourites...


Under Siege 2 (1995)

Children of the '80s are still coming to blows over which of Stephen Seagal’s Die Hard rip-off’s reigns supreme. As far as we’re concerned there’s no contest, as the original plot of naval chef Seagal battling a battleship full of mercenaries pales in comparison to the sequel’s plot (“Last time he rocked the boat. This time, the sky’s the limit.”) of naval chef Seagal battling a train full of mercenaries.

Seagal spends the film climbing through, on top, and along the side of the train, blowing bad guys to bits while rasping out memorable one-liners such as “Nobody beats me in the kitchen”.


The Sopranos (2007)

Not cool, David Chase, not cool. Nobody but Phil’s crew wanted to see Bobby dead, as the gentle giant seemed one of the only made men with genuine empathy. And to murder the man while in a hobby-shop is doubly heinous.

That being said, the actual scene is a cracker – cutting between the tiny train’s point of view, the faces of figurines, and the lurking assassin.

We’re not sure there’s ever been a moment featuring a toy vehicle has created so much tension.


Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Anyone who disses the third installment of Doc and Marty’s wacky adventures should apologise to Robert Zemekis as soon as possible.

Our favourite intergenerational pair spends a fair chunk of the film figuring out how to propel a train faster then 1885 allows, and the climactic train-set action set-piece - where Marty zaps back to the present with less than a second to spare while Doc drifts off on a hoverboard with the love of his life - is family adventure at its finest.


The Fugitive (1993)

Nowadays, if a blockbuster film director wanted to flip a moving train, they’d most likely turn to computer generated effects, as it’s cheaper, safer, and a hell of a lot easier, logistically. There’s also a strong chance the result would look terrible.

The train crash scene that officially begins Richard Kimble’s journey as fugitive is still a marvel to behold, especially considering most of it was achieved in camera. Most esteemed critics rightly believe the train deserved the supporting actor Oscar over Tommy Lee Jones.


Source Code (2011)

After the fantastic Moon, David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones helmed the Groundhog Day of high-concept sci-fi (or was that Edge of Tomorrow?) – throwing Jake Gyllenhaal into a crowded moving train that he has to save from an imminent bomb explosion. Every time the thing explodes, he’s sent back to the same seat and forced to figure out a bit more information.

As with most high-concept sci-fi, Source Code’s ending was lauded and ridiculed in equal measure. Regardless, this was a neat nail-biter that used the inescapable propulsion of a train to fascinating ends.


Breaking Bad (2012)

During the arguably perfect fourth season of Breaking Bad, an episode titled "Dead Freight" exploded onto our screens. Walt and Jesse work together to perform the single most significant train heist in history, without a single soul noticing it’s missing.

Their plan is a success, but not before a massive spanner is thrown in the works when a good Samaritan turns up and threatens to expose the entire ruse.

Just when we thought we’d seen every possible train-set action sequence, show creator Vince Gilligan and co serve up this ingenious mini-movie, and add two cherries on top with Todd (Jesse Plemons) and Patrick (Bill Burr).


Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

Sometimes, a film’s title is so evocative that it basically funds itself. This Danny DeVito directed feature aims for black comedy and only hits the mark a handful of times, which over the years has become part of its charm.

While watching DeVito grapple with the impulse to murder his mother isn’t exactly a recipe for brilliance, the actress who played the titular matriarch (Anne Ramsey) steals the show in a brilliant performance that lead to an Oscar nomination for supporting actress.


Seinfeld (1992)

The third-season gem titled "The Subway" separates the famous foursome into four individual plot lines, each a classic in their own right.

From Elaine’s claustrophobic voice over to Kramer’s fortunate eavesdropping, to a charming woman luring George into her bedroom so she can steal his wallet, this is train-based comedy at its finest.


To further witness the wonders of trains, watch Great American Railroad Journeys Wednesdays at 7:30pm on SBS. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.

Missed the last episode? Watch it right here:

While you're at it, check out Dateline's report on people travelling on DIY trolleys on Manila's railways right here:

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