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Top 10 Train Crashes in Media: My Picks (Train Crashes Part 2)

If you’re addicted to YouTube (me), then you’ve seen a bunch of Top 10 lists for pretty much everything in the history of ever. Watchmojo has probably made half of them, but plenty of random people make great lists. Since I’ve launched this blog with railroad disasters, here are my picks for best crashes in media.


Before I start, I want to mention that if spectacular train crashes are your thing, then here is a great 21 minute compilation on YouTube of movie crashes by someone named Axecutioner – Disney XD Masterclips. The scenes are from Hancock (0:00), The Lone Ranger (1:29), Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (2:14), Red Tails (3:55), Wanted (4:35), Source Code (6:01), Knowing (6:25), The Fugitive (7:36), Final Destination (8:45), Super 8 (9:58), Hugo (11:17), Zoro (12:11), Skyfall (13:26), Broken Arrow (14:08), Unstoppable (14:44), Back to the Future III (16:45), Batman Begins (17:31), Snowpiercer (18:37), Die Hard With a Vengeance (19:01), Speed (19:57), and Money Train (20:33). These are all great crashes, but only five of my picks on this list because I think they’re notable for different reasons than the special effects. Also, I’m not an engineer, but the comments for this compilation are hilarious.


·      “Train: hits some stones / Back of the train: explodes”

·      “Love how these trains have endless momentum, friction be damned.”

·      “RIP physics”

·      “Train: exists / Car: ‘so you have chosen death’”

·      “So how unrealistic do you want the train crashes? / The movie Directors: Yes”


I like huge explosions, flying cars and gruesome deaths as much as anyone, but a lot of train crashes, especially the CGI ones, blend together for me. Which means that when I sat down to make a Top Ten list, I was surprised by the answers that I came up with. Crashes often stood out for historical or sentimental reasons, or because the scene was wildly different, maybe even cheesy, from what’s out there now. To me, if you’re going to use a computer, then you’d better make the mother of all crashes. 


In a piece called “The 8 Coolest In-Camera Movie Train Crashes,” David C. Bell observes, “Not to take anything away from the fine people who create digital effects in films, but there are certain things that just look better when done for real. One of which has and always will be chases, crashes, and explosions.” I agree (mostly), so it’s interesting that he has a few crashes that didn’t make my list, including Speed, Back to the Future III, Batman Begins, and Die Hard with a Vengeance. This goes to show that Top 10 lists will be as varied as the people making them. Preferences are personal, and I’m all for appreciating everyone’s point of view. When it comes to the stuff we like, we’re all snowflakes.[1]


 [1] The ‘unique as a snowflake’ (‘no two snowflakes are alike’) has been called “the most overused metaphor in the history of metaphors.” But it turns out that there’s some truth to it according to this PBS video explainer.



Let the Countdown begin!


Number 10: Super 8 (2011)

In the 10th spot is Super 8 directed by J.J. Abrams and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. It involves a train derailing in a small town and releasing an alien.

Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Super 8 Crash Scene


Why I Love It: The Spielberg connection. Anyone who’s watched The Fabelmans, or heard Spielberg talk about how he got into movie-making, knows that he began with an 8mm amateur film of a railroad crash using his Lionel trains. Same here. At the start of the movie, the main characters are teenagers filming a movie at a train station on an 8mm camera—hence the name, Super 8. A freight train passes by the station they’re on and derails, creating a spectacular scene of destruction as the cars fly everywhere and explode. This scene probably won’t make most people’s list, but I’m a sucker for anything that has a tie-in to Spielberg, which means Super 8 gets my nod.


But …: It’s all CGI; there are no life-sized props or models used. As I mentioned earlier, CGI often produces spectacular but implausible results. One YouTube commentor observed about this scene, “train hits car / train turns into a tornado.” But Super 8 was nominated for several Best Visual Effects awards, so most people don’t seem to share my ambivalence about CGI.



Number 9: Hugo (2011)


9th on my list is Hugo, a film directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and based on the Brian Selznick book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007). It’s about an orphan who lives in the Paris station at Montparnasse, where he tries to repair an automaton that his father was working on before he died. Hugo thinks the automaton will have a message from his father but needs a heart-shaped key to activate it. In a nightmare, he finds the key on the station’s tracks, but when he goes to retrieve it, he’s run over by a train.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Hugo Crash Scene being filmed in studio (top) and the final cut (bottom)


Why I Love It: The scene recreates a real crash that occurred in 1895 at the Montparnasse Station, then called the Gare de l’Ouest, and was captured in an iconic photograph.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Montparnasse Crash (1895)


Actually, there were several photographers at the scene, and this image is credited to Studio Lévy. I talk about the crash in my first blog because Thomas the Tank Engine recreates the accident in “A Better View for Gordan.” There’s a great YouTube mash-up of the original crash using Hugo and Gordan by Roblox & Friends Productions that has 1.3 million views so far.


Anyway, in the real crash, a passenger train was going too fast as it entered the station and jumped the tracks. It then skidded across the platform and went out the giant window, landing onto the street below. Incredibly, the only person who died was a vendor in the street. The film used both CGI and models to recreate the scene. It was nominated for a bunch of awards for Best Visual Effects.


But …: Sorry, I thought the film was long and boring, and I can barely remember anything about it except the accident. It flopped at the box office, too, so I wasn’t alone in thinking it was underwhelming. Apparently, it was shot in 3D, so I’d love to see the train crash with those special glasses.



Number 8: The Cassandra Crossing (1976)


Coming in at Number 8 is The Cassandra Crossing. I discovered this clip recently when I was looking at other Top 10 lists. The Cassandra Crossing was directed by George Cosmatos, who went on to film Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). Confession: I haven’t seen the movie, but I read the plot summary on Wikipedia, and it’s … weird. A terrorist infected with a disease that “might” be deadly is on a European train. In order to keep the passengers from reaching the public and spreading this “maybe” catastrophic disease, apparently created by the Americans, the U.S. military reroutes the train to the “Cassandra Crossing,” with their fingers crossed that the bridge will collapse under the train’s weight and contain the deadly disease that turns out is probably not too deadly or contagious. 



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Bridge Collapse in The Cassandra Crossing



Why I Love It: This could have become a cult film in the “so bad it’s good” category. First, the train crash is dramatic, but what happens afterwards is priceless. The ‘serious people’ back in the Crisis Room, after learning about the crash casualties, respond with all the emotion of co-workers discussing paper clips.


Second, shout-out to whoever decided to play Solomon and split the train in half. That way, the audience gets to watch a gruesome crash that kills dozens, while survivors get to prove that the virus wasn’t that dangerous, and there was no reason for anyone to die. Importantly, half the train gets uncoupled in the hopes that the front will be lighter and get across the bridge. As you can see from the image—bad plan. So my question is—why didn’t they uncouple everything but the engine and maybe one or two cars and moved passengers to the back, which would have limited casualties? 


Third, the crash itself gets a high rating because the scene is really disturbing, even though it’s old and clunky by modern standards. The sequence shows passengers being thrown around like dolls and falling through the train, with one shot of a dude being impaled by a steal beam.


But …: Before the days of replays and YouTube, would I have watched 129 minutes to get to the 40 seconds of disaster at the end? Probably not. Also, I appreciate that the film is old school, but a few shots are maybe too cheesy, like the old lady screaming and the close-up of a blood-soaked face.



Number 7: Broken Arrow (1996)


Slipping into Number 7 is Broken Arrow, an action-thriller directed by John Woo, who also directed Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2. It stars John Travolta (bad guy named Deakins) and Christian Slater (good guy named Hale). Deakins has stolen nukes and is using them to blackmail the U.S. government, which then orders Hale to stop him and recover the weapons. The movie’s climax is a showdown between Deakins and Hale that takes place on a train with the nukes. 



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Deakins turns into Rocket Man in the climax of Broken Arrow


Why I Love It: The Cassandra Crossing is the kind of movie where I skip straight to the crash scene, but Broken Arrow is the opposite. It’s a fun watch and gets bonus points for having a train collision. Leading up to the disaster, the suspense builds as Hale battles Deakins’ goons before clobbering Deakins in a fist fight. Hale disables the nuclear warhead (somehow) and jumps from the train before it crashes into other boxcars that are holding barrels of oil. My favorite part is when the disarmed bomb shoots off and Deakins steps into its path, smiling like a lunatic at the thought of dying like a different kind of ‘Rocket Man.’ He takes a hit to the gut like a champ, and if you look at the far left of the image above, you can see his folded body flying into the oil barrels that are about to explode. This is the opposite of an Irish Exit.


But …: The crash could have been more spectacular. When two trains collide, I expect to see cars flying in every which direction. Instead, they stay mostly connected to the tracks until some derail. Also, there are a few explosions and fires, but they’re less spectacular than what you might see on a Mythbusters episode like “Catastrophic Carnage” or this compilation. No surprise that Broken Arrow wasn’t nominated for any visual effects awards, which is a shame since it had a budget of $50 million.


Number 6: The Train (1964)


Sliding in at number 6 is the film classic The Train, which technically has two crashes at the same time that you can watch here, here and here (the last clip has funny sound effects added). Directed by John Frankenheimer, who also made Birdman of Alcatraz and The Manchurian Candidate, it starred Academy Award winner Burt Lancaster, who also played a general in The Cassandra Crossing, although I’m pretty sure he ‘phoned it in’ for the latter film. Lancaster makes this list twice, so congratulations to him. Lancaster spent a decade working in a circus, so I’m sorry he wasn’t cast in The Greatest Show on Earth, which has the train crash that inspired Spielberg to become a filmmaker.


 The story takes place in 1944 as the Allies approach Paris and Germany is on the verge of losing the war. A French resistance fighter named Paul Labiche is trying to stop Nazis from shipping modern art masterpieces to Germany. Labiche is told that the train carrying the artworks must be stopped without damaging the precious cargo. During one attempt to reroute the train, Labiche and other resistance fighters trick the Germans into thinking they are heading to Germany when they are looping back to Paris—where they uncouple the engine from the train, and it crashes into another engine deliberately placed on the tracks. The uncoupled cars run into the wreck and are rear ended by another locomotive driven by a member of the Resistance. This destroys the last car and kills the Nazi inside.


Train Crahses from a Gen Z Perspective

Crash One

Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Crash Two

Why I Love It: The Good News: Real steam locomotives were used in the crash scenes. Real railcars, too. No CGI anywhere. Also, as a history major and art history minor, this film is a two-for-one, combining my two great interests. It’s based on the true story of Lt. Alexandre Rosenberg, son of the famous art dealer, Paul Rosenberg. In August 1944, Alexandre and members of the Free French forces stopped a train heading for Germany that contained over 400 artworks, many masterpieces belonging to his dad. The retelling of this true life event in The Train adds lots of drama and clever plot twists to already great story.


But …: The Bad News: Real steam locomotives were used in the crash scenes. It pains my heart to see the destruction of steam locomotives, especially since they were vanishing quickly by 1964. Also, there’s no fiery explosions, flying cars, decapitations or dramatic effects. I know, I know—Labiche was trying not to harm the art. But the kid in me craves destruction on a massive scale, even as the adult wants to save the art.




Number 5: The Fugitive (1933)


Kicking off my top five is this action thriller directed by Andrew Davis, mostly known for big action films, although he made Holes, which was low-budget and pretty chill. Harrison Ford stars as Richard Kimble, a doctor who is wrongly sentenced for murdering his wife. His spectacular escape near the beginning of the film is iconic. The prison bus carrying Kimble crashes onto train tracks after other convicts try to escape. Kimball saves an officer, then jumps from the bus just as a train hits it. As Kimble flees, another engine and the rest of the cars derail and head in Kimble’s direction, whose shackled body flees into a tunnel as everything crashes on top of him.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

The Fugitive: Kimble leaps off the bus as a train crashes into it.


Why I Love It: Most of the crash scene was filmed with real trains in a 60-second single shot! What’s more, the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad asked the film crew to leave the wreck behind in Dillsboro, North Carolina, so it could become a tourist site. “Fugitive Train Wreck—Abandoned”, written by BK, is an interesting piece about filming the wreck and its aftermath. I learned that when scouting for a location, other railway companies refused to allow the shooting on their tracks because they didn’t want to be associated with a crash, even a fake one. Anyway, this scene has it all. A big collision! Flying cars! Explosions and fires! Bonus points awarded for casting Tommy Lee Jones as a U.S. Marshal. More bonus points for putting this at the beginning of the movie.


But …: Not much blood, unless you count the few scratches on Kimble’s face. Also, some of the shots are a bit dark for my taste.




Number 4: Silver Streak (1976)


Fourth place goes to the first comedy on the list—not counting some of the lines in The Cassandra Crossing. This film was directed by Arthur Hiller, who’s famous for other movies that my parents have heard of, like Plaza Suite and Love Story. Silver Streak stars Richard Pryor as a car thief and Willy Wonka—I mean Gene Wilder—as a book editor, both trying to stop a criminal on a train. The twists and turns of the plot build towards the story’s climax, where Wilder uncouples a runaway train engine from the passenger cars to trigger the emergency breaks. Without a driver, the engine smashes into Chicago’s Central Station before the brakes kick in. In reality, the terminal is modeled after Toronto’s Union Station because Amtrak and other U.S. lines wouldn’t allow access to their tracks for filming. Again.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

The train arrives at Chicago’s Central Station in Silver Streak


Why I Love It: As you’ve probably figured out, I really appreciate the CGI-free crashes, and this is way up there in that category. No miniatures were used to film this scene; everything was full scale. According to something I read on Quora (add salt grain here), cinematographer M. David Mullen said the crash was shot using an engine shell on a flatbed truck used for parade floats that was driven through a mock train station in two airplane hangars. Explosive chargers were used to create extra debris so that it really looks like a real train crashes through a real station. This crash is similar to the one in Hugo, but I prefer the authenticity that CGI lacks. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you like Old School Thomas or CGI Thomas.


But: As I mentioned a couple of times already, there’s a gremlin inside me that loves to see railroad cars fly, crumple and explode. This doesn’t happen here. Even the slow motion doesn’t thrill me because I think normal speed is better at capturing mayhem and violence. Having said that, watching the engine slowly crash into shops and pillars feels like art, and probably gave moviegoers more bang for their buck.



Number 3: Runaway Train (1985)


We’re in the top three, with third place going to Runaway Train, which was directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, an award-winning Russian filmmaker who endorsed Putin in 2024. The film stars Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as two convicts trying to escape an Alaskan prison on a “train” with four diesel locomotives and no cars. The train’s engineer gets sick and falls off the lead engine, although he tries to apply the brakes before going over the side. Unfortunately, the engines burn off the brake shoes, and they’re off and running. Knowing there’s a runaway on the line, the dispatcher tells a freight train to pull onto a siding. However, it moves too slowly and the runaway smashes into its flatbed car and caboose just as the brakeman jumps clear.



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

A caboose splinters in Runaway Train


Why I Love It: This crash happens near the beginning after the fugitives jump onboard. As you can see from the image above, the crash has a unique setting of the Alaskan snowscape. When the train blows through the caboose, it looks as though a boat is coming apart after a giant wave crashes into it. The entire movie has this ghostly atmosphere as the train races through the snow—like a gloomier Snowpiercer. I don’t know if there are any connections between those two movies, but the creators of Speed say they got their inspiration from Runaway Train. What’s interesting is that model trains were used for the crash, but this fact is so well disguised by the setting that I didn’t realize there weren’t real trains involved. Finally, what an Invictus moment at the end when one of the fugitives chooses to die free rather than live as a prisoner. “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.” Godspeed!


But …: The downside to the winter atmosphere is that clouds of snow obscure what’s happening. Maybe that’s the purpose—the viewer doesn’t look too close at the movie magic. Also, someone described the soundtrack as “very 80s,” which I think means synthetic and disco. But I thought the techno beat went great with the crash.





Runner-up on this list is the film made by Cecil B. DeMille, who’s been called “the founding father of American cinema.” The Greatest Show on Earth, about the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, inspired Steven Spielberg to make his first movie. The plot is kind of complicated, but all you need to know is that a robber in a car realizes that the love of his life is on the circus train barreling towards a collision with a stalled train. So, the crook tries to stop the locomotive with his car (love makes you do stupid stuff), but the train basically yeets his car into the sun and crashes into the first train.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Scenes from The Greatest Show on Earth


Why I Love It: History. DeMille set the bar high, and this scene might be called “the founding train crash of American cinema.” Also, it wowed Spielberg, who went on to make some of my favorite movies, like Jaws and Jurassic Park. Computers were in their infancy back then, so no CGI. The film used a combination of real and model cars, with the crash sequence filmed with the models, while the interior and aftermath shots involved the real deal. Also, the pile-up of the cars seems more realistic than many CGI-created crashes, especially when you look at images of actual train wrecks.


Moreover, you can’t go wrong using circus trains, which were an iconic part of the American experience for over a hundred years. They famously crisscrossed the country and brought a unique form of entertainment to almost every demographic, including folks in rural areas near Whistle Stops. “Running away to join the circus” was a fantasy for many kids because they imagined circus workers had a fun and glamorous life on the road. The reality was different—being part of a circus could be dangerous and gritty, and there are many recorded cases of cruelty to workers, performers (often children) and animals. But the allure of circuses in their heyday remains, even for some Gen Xers like me.


But …:  The film is old, and it shows. You can completely tell which scenes use model trains, which detracts from the immersion experience. Also, some scenes are particularly corny, like the sped-up shot of the women’s sleeper car.




My pick for the Number One train crash is from a movie that plenty of people love to hate. Its director, Geoff Murphy, called making it “a very dreary process,” and Steven Seagal apparently got creepy with co-star Katherine Heigl, who was sixteen at the time. It did meh  at the box office, and the consensus among critics was that it was a “forgettable sequel to Seagal’s best movie.” But the train scene makes plenty of ‘best ever’ lists, so even if you never watch the movie, check out the crash.


Seagal plays an ex-Navy Seal named Ryback, who’s traveling by train with his niece (Heigl) for the funeral of his brother/her father. Terrorists board the Denver to LA train in the Rocky Mountains and take its passengers and crew hostage. The terrorists want to blow up the Pentagon and destroy Washington D.C., and the rest of the movie is how Ryback stops them. The big finale has the passenger train on a collision course with a Southern Pacific tank train carrying gas tank cars. By coincidence, the crash takes place on a trestle bridge with a helicopter and ladder overhead.



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

When trains collide in Under Siege 2: Dark Territories


Why I Love It: This was my first movie train disaster that didn’t take place on the Island of Sodor. I must have watched this scene on YouTube a few hundred times. It breaks all my rules—there’s no historical significance to the film, it uses CGI along with real and model trains, it’s not artsy, and it’s not an amazing film. But the nine-year-old me genuinely believed for years that its filmmakers had crashed two actual trains over a trestle bridge. It’s made my top spot because of nostalgia and because its scale of destructions has held up. At a satisfying 2 minutes longs, the scene is still badass. Trains crumple into each other like soda cans, cars fly off the bridge or explode into humungous fireballs.


But …: There are some bloopers that audience members have picked up. At 0:15, one train starts to derail before the collision takes place, and at 0:42, Seagal looks like he’s jogging to the mailbox. Also, the coincidence that with a thousand miles of regular tracks, the crash takes place on a bridge. I don’t care. Under Siege 2 will always be my number 1.




Honorable Mentions


Lots of great crashes didn’t make my list, so here’s a shout out to a few of them:


Best Crash on the Island of Sodor: “The Flying Kipper,” (Season 1, Episode 19) (1984).  Green Engine Henry is pulling a train called the Flying Kipper because it carries fish. Due to freezing weather and snow, the switch tracks and signals are malfunctioning, so Henry is mistakenly sent to a siding where another train is parked. Henry crashes into the train at full speed and obliterates the brake van while he tumbles onto his side. But the Happy Ending is that he’s sent off for repairs and returns bigger and better than ever. He even gets to pull the Express. The show would have been more fun if the crash had sent the kippers flying, but this is still a great crash.



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Poor Henry in “The Flying Kipper”



Best Nonsensical Crash: Skyfall (2012). I have to award 10,000 Crash Points to this scene because according to one article, it used real subway cars that were suspended on wires so it could fly into the set, which almost got completely destroyed in the process. Afterwards, CGI was used to cover not just the cameramen and polystyrene, but the set’s physical reaction—it was made from plywood but needed to act like brick.


But why? The scene opens with the villain blowing up a wall so the train can come through and kill James Bond. So why not just blow up Bond instead of letting him live to fight another day? The villain gets in some not-that-clever lines (“the latest thing from my local toy store—it’s called radio”) before setting off an elaborate and unsuccessful attempt to kill one guy. I’ll never understand movie logic that has the villain trying to kill the hero in the most convoluted way. Some of these tropes just piss me off.



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Another weird murder attempt on James Bond’s life in Skyfall



Best Film Where the Audience Roots for the Crash: The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957). How often does an audience root for the train to crash? This film stars Obi Wan Kenobi—I mean Alec Guinness—and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Actor. Go Jedi Master! There’s a lot of debate over its historical accuracy, but the filmmakers were honest about the story being a work of fiction. If you watch it, just know that conditions for POWs in Japanese camps were way worse than is depicted and that many have taken issue with the character played by Guinness for lots of reasons explained in the Wikipedia page.



Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

The Bridge on the River Kwai



Best Groundhog’s Day Crash: Source Code (2011). Jake Gyllenhaal’s character has to experience the same train crash via a computer simulation until he figures out who planted the bomb that led to the disaster. Let’s just call it a bad day at the office. It’s all CGI, so it’s not believable, but it’s a cool story with the same fiery scene happening over and over, so there’s that.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Source Code (“We can’t keep meeting like this.”)



Best Crash that Takes Out the Most Pillars: Batman Begins (2005). If your thing is watching pillars explode as a train barrels through them, then this is your scene. What’s more impressive is that this monorail plunges into a basement parking garage. The movie starred Christian Bale as the titular flying mammal and is credited with re-energizing the Batman franchise, including The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Here is a great explainer about how the crash scene involved a combination of CGI, models and mixed live action. For example the street scene and monorail towers were full-sized, and Batman flying out the wrecked car is played by a stuntman with an inflating cape. The pillars are miniatures with the train being pulled through them by wires, but a computer added all the smoke and flying glass.


Train Crashes from Gen Z Perspective

Demolition of the underground parking lot in Batman Begins


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