5 Train-Themed Films That Left the Station Before ‘Snowpiercer’

Snowpiercer, a dystopian science-fiction film that takes place almost entirely on a train, finally arrived in U.S. theaters this weekend when it opened in limited release on June 27. The film has been out in Korea since August 2013 and has also already been released in most international markets.

However, don’t let the low-key U.S. release of this film trick you into thinking Snowpiercer is a dead-on-arrival movie. The film has already pulled in more than $80 million in total worldwide gross, according to Box Office Mojo, and it features a stellar international cast that includes Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Ah-sung Ko, Kang-ho Song, Octavia Spencer, and Tilda Swinton. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Snowpiercer also stars Chris Evans of Captain America fame as the film’s primary protagonist.

Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer is set in the near future, when the Earth has been rendered into an uninhabitable frozen wasteland as the result of a failed experiment to counteract global warming. The earth’s few survivors live on a perpetually moving train where a brutal class system has developed that keeps most people confined to a bleak existence in the back of the train, while a select few live in luxury at the front. However, after 17 years the status quo may finally be overturned, thanks to a revolt led by the rebel Curtis (Evans).

Snowpiercer is Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s first English-language film, but it will likely not be his last. Critics are praising the film’s solid performances, gripping action storyline, and unique visual aesthetic. Snowpiercer currently has a 93 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

While the futuristic train in the dystopian fable essentially functions as a fairly straightforward allegory for economic disparity, there are many other films that feature trains for a variety of other reasons. From dramas and mysteries to children’s films and action flicks, here are five movies that feature trains in unforgettable ways.

5. Shanghai Express (1932)

Like Snowpiercer, this classic pre-Code era film also takes place almost entirely on a train. Starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, and Warner Oland, Shanghai Express tells the story of a group of train passengers who become pawns in China’s civil war when they are taken hostage by rebel forces. This Josef von Sternberg-directed film garnered three Academy Award nominations and won cinematographer Lee Garmes an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

4. The Polar Express (2004)

Famous for being the first all-digital motion capture film, The Polar Express stars Tom Hanks as the conductor of a train that takes children to see Santa Claus at the North Pole. Although some moviegoers found the innovative motion capture animation used in the film somewhat creepy, The Polar Express received many positive critical reviews and was considered a commercial success with a total worldwide gross of more than $307.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

3. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Based on the Agatha Christie murder novel of the same name, Murder on the Orient Express features an impressive ensemble cast of acting legends, including Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, and Anthony Perkins. In the film, renowned French detective Hercule Poirot is faced with solving a murder that was committed on the snowbound train.

Ingrid Bergman won a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for her portrayal of a Swedish missionary train passenger; the film garnered five Academy Award nominations. Murder on the Orient Express currently holds a 100 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

2. Runaway Train (1985)

Although a film about escaped convicts stuck on a runaway train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca De Mornay may sound like a guaranteed formula for a B-movie, there is actually more than meets the eye in this surprisingly thoughtful action film directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. The film tells the story of two escaped convicts in Alaska who inadvertently board a runaway train and must contend with their impending death as well as their increasing hostility to each other.

According to IMDb, the film’s screenplay was based on an original screenplay written by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Voight and Roberts garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, respectively. Calling it an “existential adventure flick,” the critics at Rotten Tomatoes gave Runaway Train an 86 percent approval rating.

1. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

While perhaps not as well-known as Alfred Hitchcock’s other train-themed film, Strangers on a Train, the train setting in The Lady Vanishes features even more prominently in the plot. In the film, a young English tourist played by Margaret Lockwood meets an elderly woman while travelling on a train through Europe. However, after the elderly woman mysteriously disappears, almost everyone on the train who previously met her claim they don’t remember her. If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the plot was recycled in 2005’s Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster. The Lady Vanishes currently has a 97 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

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