Top: 'Runaway Train,' bottom: 'Spider-Man 2'

I'm not certain when, exactly, my long-time fascination with trains was born, but it probably started the first time I walked through Union Station in Los Angeles, a cathedral dedicated to mass transit that opened in 1939. Opportunities to ride the rails were few and far between, so I treasured any chance to experience a train trip vicariously through the movies. Eventually I moved to New York and, still later, visited Europe, banking thousands of hours on all manner of subways and trains. Still, I've never had a personal train trip as thrilling as those I've enjoyed at the movies. With Tony Scott's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 racing into theaters tomorrow, let's honor a few of the films that have provided terrific train thrills of the cinematic variety.

1. Runaway Train
The other movies on this list feature excellent scenes set on or around trains or subways (see also "Honorable Mention" and "Sensational Subway Scenes" after the jump) but Andrei Konchalovsky's thriller, based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, spends the majority of its running time on a train speeding through the bitterly cold, snowy winter landscapes of Alaska. Jon Voight and Eric Robert are two hardened convicts who've broken out of prison and, by chance, happen upon the just-departing train. When the engineer suffers a heart attack, the cons are at the controls of an out-of-control beast they cannot hope to master.

2. Spider-Man 2
I'll dance around needless spoilers by saying there is a coda to the runaway train scene that caught me unaware, filled with grace and humanity. That elevates a very good, thrilling, fast-paced suspense sequence involving helpless passengers and the heroic, masked Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) as he fights Doc Ock (Alfred Molina).

categories Cinematical