The 13 Best Movies Set on Trains and Subways, Ranked

The confined nature of train cars has given rise to all kinds of captivating and memorable films. Here are the best ones to watch!
The 13 Best Movies Set on Trains and Subways, Ranked

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The more confined the space, the more the tension can build. That's why movies set on trains feel so different from most movies.

Train carriages can double or even triple the suspense of a murder investigation or bomb threat, forcing characters to face each other with no way to escape their conflicts—whether that be from archenemies, hitmen, or siblings they've been avoiding. Not to mention cabin fever...

From silent era comedies to classic whodunits, here are my picks for the best movies that take place on trains or subways and fully make use of their cramped, restricted settings.

13. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe

Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 54m)

6.5 on IMDb60% on RT

There have been so many Agatha Christie film adaptations over the years, and most of them have ended up swept under the rug. But a few of them have managed to stand out, including this one by Kenneth Branagh.

The British actor/director shook off his Shakespeare-loving reputation in favor of another British literary figure: Agatha Christie, who popularized the whodunit subgenre back in the 1930s.

In this version of Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh plays the mustached Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. (As well in the two follow-ups in the series: Death on the Nile and A Haunting in Venice.)

While choo-chooing through the Pennine Alps, he's surrounded by an ensemble of famous passengers played by Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp, to name a few.

When an avalanche hits the Orient Express, it's up to Poirot to figure out how a pile of snow left one of the riders with stab wounds...

12. Source Code (2011)

Directed by Duncan Jones

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga

Action, Drama, Mystery (1h 33m)

7.5 on IMDb91% on RT

The setting of Source Code is a fluid concept that you can't always rely on at first sight—and that goes for both audience and character.

Captain Colter Stevens (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on the Chicago Metra with no memory of getting there... and when he looks in the window, he sees his reflection as a different man.

Turns out, the real Colter is actually in a cockpit elsewhere and he's in a simulation, receiving orders from the Air Force to identify and apprehend a bomber before this pretend train explodes in 8 minutes.

When he inevitably fails, the train does explode. So, he's sent back into the simulation with the same mission. Over and over again, like Groundhog Day but with higher stakes and no groundhog.

On top of hunting down this suspect, Colter is also hell-bent on saving the woman (played by Michelle Monaghan) who sits across from him on the train... without scaring her off with his predictions of the future.

11. Bullet Train (2022)

Directed by David Leitch

Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Action, Comedy, Thriller (2h 7m)

7.3 on IMDb54% on RT

When Aaron Taylor-Johnson was formally offered the role of James Bond to replace Daniel Craig in the 007 film franchise, it kind of made sense. His role in Bullet Train had something to do with it, no doubt!

The sleek suit, Cockney accent, swagger walk, and bulked body proved that Taylor-Johnson could strike the perfect harmony between bad-boy violence and elegant professionalism.

He stars in Bullet Train alongside Brian Tyree Henry, with both of them playing British hitmen named Tangerine and Lemon—and they play them so well that they arguably steal the show from Hollywood headliner Brad Pitt (who plays a down-on-his-luck assassin named Ladybug).

And what are all these killers doing on a Tokyo bullet train? Trying to snatch a briefcase. It's pretty simple, but for all its seemingly empty-headed action, Bullet Train is a surprisingly funny and competent adaptation of Maria Beetle's Japanese novel.

10. The Girl on the Train (2016)

Directed by Tate Taylor

Starring Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson

Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 52m)

6.5 on IMDb44% on RT

Every day, Rachel Watson (played by Emily Blunt) commutes to work in New York City. She always seems extremely sleepy, teary-eyed, and insanely thirsty for your average weekday morning... which makes sense since she isn't sipping on water but vodka.

Oh, and she's not commuting to work, either. Rachel actually lost her job (and her marriage) a while ago, so now she rides the trains endlessly and gets quietly smashed in her carriage every day.

Rachel has little else to do but ruminate and gaze out of the window, from which she can watch the lives of her ex-husband, his new wife, and their neighbors from the confines of her train seat.

But when Rachel spots the neighbor getting it off with a stranger, she becomes embroiled in something far more complex than just an affair. Megan (played by Haley Bennett) is now a missing person and Rachel is the last person to have seen her...

9. The Polar Express (2004)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Starring Tom Hanks, Chris Coppola, Michael Jeter

Animation, Adventure, Comedy (1h 40m)

6.6 on IMDb56% on RT

All aboard! It would be a little strange to watch this film outside of the festive season, but hey, it's a free country. Do what you want! Just make sure to get your annual dose of animated Tom Hanks every Christmas, who plays enough characters here to last you the rest of the year.

Voicing the train conductor, the hobo ghost rider, the protagonist's father, a Scrooge puppet, and Santa Claus himself, Tom Hanks dominates the cast of this cozy holiday classic from Robert Zemeckis.

Based on a children's book, The Polar Express unfolds over the course of one night, during an unexpected train journey that escapes all the laws of science, geography, and time.

The nameless protagonist (voiced by Daryl Sabara, Josh Hutcherson, and Tom Hanks at different times) is agnostic about Santa Claus, and so he boards the magical express train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to see if it's all really a hoax.

8. Europa (1991)

Directed by Lars von Trier

Starring Barbara Sukowa, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier

Drama, Thriller (1h 52m)

7.6 on IMDb82% on RT

Europa is the final entry in the experimental film trilogy by Lars von Trier, in which all three films are linked together by theme and style rather than narrative, all while borrowing from film noir conventions across various European locations.

The train in Europa is in US-occupied Germany after WWII, where Leopold Kessler (played by Jean-Marc Barr) becomes a conductor for Zentropa. As an American, Leopold is an outsider to the post-war chaos of Germany, an outsider trying desperately to fit the part of an insider.

From this, the synopsis might seem quite straightforward, but Von Trier models a dynamic structure to the simple railway setting by playing around with saturation, surrealism, irony, double exposure, hypnotism, and second-person narration.

7. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Directed by Joseph Sargent

Starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam

Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 44m)

7.6 on IMDb100% on RT

From Pelham Bay Park station in the Bronx at 1:23 PM, four men hijack a subway car and demand a million dollar ransom.

Guns at the ready, these four men—played by Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Héctor Elizondo, and Earl Hindman—take 18 hostages, not realizing that one of them is an undercover officer. Oops!

There have been two remakes of this movie, but neither live up to Joseph Sargent's original adaptation, imbued with that 1970s film grain that Tony Scott failed to recapture in his shiny 2009 reboot.

A classic caper and morality play that's equally tense and humorous, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three caused the New York City Transit Authority to halt all trains from Pelham Bay Park station at 1:23 PM in real life for fear of copycat crimes and paranoid passengers!

6. Snowpiercer (2013)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho

Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton

Action, Drama, Sci-Fi (2h 6m)

7.1 on IMDb94% on RT

The cover of Snowpiercer looks dangerously Michael Bay-esque (if he suddenly got into grunge rock), but once you know that Bong Joon-ho is in the director's chair, you can rest assured in safe hands.

One train—the Snowpiercer—is a microcosm for the entire world. After Earth is plummeted into a global ice age, the remnants of humanity ride endlessly on this train that circumnavigates the globe.

And yet, even in this dire situation, the class system remains rigid. Humanity is still divided into rich and poor, with the rich living at the front of the train and the poor in the rear. It all leads to the inevitable revolution we've seen repeated so many times throughout history.

Snowpiercer is brimming with action and starlit faces—Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt—without skimping on the symbolism, storytelling, or socioeconomic commentary of the original 1980s graphic novel.

5. Train to Busan (2016)

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho

Starring Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok

Action, Horror, Thriller (1h 58m)

7.6 on IMDb94% on RT

South Korean cinema has some incredible gems up its sleeve, including Parasite, Old Boy, Memories of Murder, The Housemaid, and Decision to Leave. After the industry's brief golden age, South Korean filmmakers gravitated towards all things crime, horror, and disaster.

Train to Busan is a classic example of this, depicting a zombie outbreak on a KTX train from Seoul. Well, it's not just on the train—the whole country is ravaged by this flesh-eating apocalyptic threat—but we witness it from the confines of the KORAIL speed line.

While surviving an epidemic of the undead might be the worst time to get to know your kids, but Seok-woo (played by Gong Yoo) is traveling with his estranged daughter Su-an (played by Kim Su-an) when the zombies hit, and their fight-for-survival brings them closer together.

4. Before Sunrise (1995)

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert

Drama, Romance (1h 41m)

8.1 on IMDb100% on RT

Wandering, feel-good, semi-autobiographical slice-of-life movies are Richard Linklater's forte. His films are always cruising around and making chit-chat with partially improvised dialogue, and the Before Trilogy is no exception.

Diving into on-location production even before a full script was ready, Before Sunrise is the first installment in Linklater's dreamy-eyed franchise.

Before Sunrise follows Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and Céline (played by Julie Delpy), who meet on a Eurail train and decide to hop off in Vienna to share a spontaneous postmodern romance on the rails.

Café chats and sightseeing make up this naturalistic drama, to which intellects, philosophers, film lovers, and travelers gave rave reviews.

3. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman

Adventure, Comedy, Drama (1h 31m)

7.2 on IMDb69% on RT

Bill Murray chasing down The Darjeeling Limited express train is a red herring opening. He's not actually in this movie; he's just fulfilling his trademark duty as a Wes Anderson movie cameo.

But Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody are also frequent collaborators of Wes Anderson, and they feature in this poppy-colored comedy-drama as three estranged brothers who reunite in the wake of their father's death.

Wes Anderson deploys the Whitman siblings on a spiritual journey that's made physical via train. And what location could be more spiritual than the temples of India, which ripple past the windows en route to the Himalayas where their mother waits?

Thanks to Anderson's skilled artistic steering, the rich cultural textures, tones, and fabrics of this self-discovery train movie are pulled off without feeling like an appropriated tourist attraction.

2. The General (1926)

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton

Starring Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender

Action, Adventure, Comedy (1h 18m)

8.1 on IMDb92% on RT

Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin will forever be known as the comedic cornerstones of the silent film era. Before "talkies" came about, these two actors relied on sight gags and body language to evoke laughter in audiences, and Keaton didn't even use facial expressions.

Nicknamed the "Great Stone Face," Keaton remarkably generated all his impact from limbs, props, camera angles, and blocking alone!

His most critically acclaimed film is The General—despite its poor box office performance—and the scenes of Keaton sitting on the steam train are almost as iconic as him hanging off a clock in Safety Last.

In The General, Keaton plays a locomotive engineer who's rejected from the army, so he decides to catch Union spies during the American Civil War instead. (Of course, expect to read all of the plot info from title cards because The General is a silent film from 1926!)

1. Strangers on a Train (1951)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman

Crime, Drama, Noir (1h 41m)

7.9 on IMDb98% on RT

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most influential names in film history. His entry on this list is one of the greatest in his filmography, which says a lot considering he's made iconic classics like Psycho, Rear Window, The Birds, Vertigo, North By Northwest, and To Catch a Thief.

The plot of Patricia Highsmith's original novel Strangers on a Train has been duped several times throughout film, literature, and pop culture, but the best of them remains the one by Hitchcock himself.

The simple premise is actually pretty smart: two strangers kill each other's enemies so their deaths can't be linked back to either of them, and it would be the perfect crime if they both actually agreed to it.

Robert Walker stars as the manipulative psychopath Bruno, who has a habit of hunting down strangers on trains and talking them into murder...