There’s a romance about train travel you don’t get on other forms of transportation. With flying, there’s always the hassle of going through security, being crammed next to total strangers and, y’know, the possibility of crashing. And road trips are fun, but you can’t just tune out and watch the world go by - you actually have to pay attention to the road from time to time.
Trains, on the other hand, have been whisking travellers to far-flung destinations in style, comfort and relative speed for hundreds of years. They’ve also been great fodder for filmmakers - a perfect location for romance, excitement and danger. Here, in no particular order, are seven excellent scenes set between two rails.
Before Sunrise: I promise I’m not an axe murderer
Depending on your general tolerance of chatty strangers on public transportation, you’ll find the set-up of Before Sunrise really cute or really damn irritating. Either way, this is the scene that sets the film - and the whole franchise - in motion, as Ethan Hawke’s Jesse tries to convince Julie Delpy’s Celine (a woman he has literally just met) to get off a train and spend the evening wandering around a foreign city with him.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Why did it have to be snakes?
There are dozens of great train chase scenes, but this is one of the most fun. A young Indy (played by the late River Phoenix) tackles giraffes, alligators, snakes, rhinos and lions as he steals aboard a passing circus train in an attempt to outwit a team of graverobbers intent on retrieving the golden crucifix he stole from them.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Poor unfortunate souls
The wizarding world gets significantly darker in the third film in the series, as soul-sucking Dementors board the Hogwarts Express and try to steal Harry’s happiness - and life - away from him.
Strangers on a Train: The old switcheroo
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest thrillers is set up with this scene when two strangers meet on a train (duh) and discuss just how much easier their lives would be if they could conveniently do away with the one person making them miserable. For one feller, it’s his wife; the other, his father. The obvious solution? Why not murder the other’s bugbear! Sure, there’s no way that’ll go wrong…
Some Like It Hot: Party on the train
One of the greatest comedies of all time sees Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as jazz musicians who accidentally witness a Mob shooting and, fearing their lives are in danger, flee Chicago for Miami in drag as members of an all-girl musical troupe. The plan is foolproof, except for the fact that they can’t flirt with the ladies on tour, especially the one played by Marilyn Monroe. In this great scene on an overnight sleeper train, Lemmon's Jerry (aka Daphne) tries his hardest to keep it in his pants while getting boozy with a bevvy of beautiful ladies.
Lion: Saroo goes missing
Anyone who saw Lion earlier this year knows the MVP of the film is Sunny Pawar. The pint-sized superstar played the young version of Dev Patel's character, Saroo, who falls asleep on an empty train and winds up, days later, on the other side of the country, lost, alone and soon to be shipped off to live with Nicole Kidman in Tasmania. The sequence - and the performance - is incredible, even more so for the fact that Sunny had never acted before this movie.
The General: Clearing the tracks
Made in 1927 and it's still one of the greatest train sequences of all time. Buster Keaton performed all his own stunts as Confederate train engineer Johnnie Gray, whose locomotive (named The General) is stolen with his girlfriend onboard. He gets both back, but a lengthy chase ensues with two trains chasing the The General south as Johnnie tries to slow them down by removing telegraph poles, pulling up tracks and leaving debris on the rails.
Create your own train-related screen memories with season 3 of Extreme Railway Journeys on Wednesdays at 7:30pm on SBS.