This New York Times article discusses the transit realism of the Taking of the Pelham 123 remake (a movie about a hijacking of a NYC subway car):

Accomplishing this feat of relative realism in a place so inhospitable to most human endeavor, much less moviemaking, was possible largely because New York City transit officials — who must balance train schedules with shooting schedules — decided to pull out most of the stops for the production and granted unusual access to busy platforms like that of the Flushing line at Grand Central Terminal, where the first hijacking scene takes place.

“We thought, ‘This is our movie — it’s about New York City Transit — and we really wanted it look great,’ ” said Alberteen Anderson, director of film and special events for M.T.A. New York City Transit, whose office has helped arrange several complex subway shoots, often to see the movies made from them, like “Money Train” and “The Cowboy Way,” end up as clunkers.

If you’re a fan of the NYC subway, I suggest reading the whole thing. From the previews I’ve seen for the new Pelham, it has me worried that it’s going to lose most of the humor that made the original such an enjoyable film. I guess I’ll have to watch and see.

So I’ve been thinking, what are the best transit movies? I loved the original Pelham. The French Connection had a few great subway moments, including Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle car chasing an elevated B train in a wild – and illegalscene. One of the best movies of any sort. Speed was a transit movie, but I can’t say I liked it. Any thoughts? What’s your favor transit, train or bus movie?

This will be my last post here for a long time. I’m retiring from STB to free up time to spend on my other endeavors. I started the blog two years ago with no idea what would come next. I’m really proud of the what the blog has become, and it’s been a real joy to write for such a smart audience and read such thoughtful discussions. I am sure the discussions will continue unabated and I look forward to reading more great posts from the other contributors here and more lively, informative discussions in the comment threads.

35 Replies to “Transit Movies”

  1. good luck and thanks for your great work here Andrew. i’ve really enjoyed your contributions on this blog.

    in terms of great transit movies, Kontroll, out of Hungary, is a movie about subway ticket inspectors (“control” as they are known in many european countries) and how the everyday grit and violence they encounter begins to affect their mental state. filmed in the budapest subway system, it’s actually a really good movie. you can pick it up at on 15th video and i’m sure scarecrow has it but i’m not so sure about other video shops in the city.

    thanks again Andrew. all the best.

  2. Don’t forget the [bad] movie “Assasins” … where they made our monorail appear to be a full-fledged transit system

    1. Alan Rudolph’s Trouble In Mind used interesting lighting and camera angles to cast the monorail as surreal and just-out-of-reach of the citizens of the grungy and corrupt “Rain City.” Obviously a metaphor, so read into it what you will. (The Seattle Asian Art Museum stood in for a gangster’s mansion, and the terrific soundtrack was by Mark Isham and Kris Kristofferson, with vocals by Marianne Faithful.)

    2. This reminds me of the movie “Paycheck,” which was set in Seattle yet features a fight scene in a subway tunnel.

      1. yea … but that movie was in the future … so you could imagine that one might be built …

  3. Movie:
    Titfield Thunderbolt – A humourous movie where railfans take over the village’s rail service, against the bus company’s resistance, when British Rail decides to abandon the line.

    TV Episode:
    The Avengers – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
    Two enemy agents plot to blow up the Prime Minister as he travels by train. Full of quirky characters including a railfan who bought a signal house.

  4. Thank you for starting this wonderful blog, Andrew. I wish you the best in your other endeavors.

    Oran Viriyincy

    1. Oran used the word wonderful, and wonderful it is indeed. Thanks for your efforts, all the best in the months and years ahead.

  5. I loved the scenes in the Bourne Identity – TGV in the Alps and the tram in Zurich.

  6. Don’t forget the 1985 Luc Besson (Léon, La Femme Nikita) movie, Subway. It takes place entirely in the Paris Metro syetem, and stars Christopher Lambert and Jean Reno.

  7. The Bourne trilogy had some rather intense transit moments, most notably the sniping of a poor reporter in Waterloo station in London at rush hour.

    US Marshals (a Tommy Lee Jones vehicle) has a fantastic aerial shot of the bad guy (Wesley Snipes, if I remember) jumping onto the top of a Metro-North commuter train at Harlem-125th St in New York City. The shot zooms out to show a substantial portion of the Manhattan skyline.

    Mission Impossible and the TGV. Enough said.

    One of the best scenes in Trading Places took place in a train berth and it involved voodoo, a briefcase full of decoy documents, and lederhosen. Hmm.

    But nothing can possibly best the subway episode of Seinfeld. Jerry’s attempted trip to Coney Island takes a hilarious turn, George’s day goes south when he is tricked and robbed, and Kramer wins big at the horse track. (This episode came from the 3rd season of Seinfeld, which also has the classic Parking Garage episode.)

  8. Thanks Andrew, thanks for everything. Don’t know what I would’ve done during the 2008 Snowpocolypse without this blog publishing updates

    And thank you for saying Speed isn’t the greatest, because it’s not.

    Jessica Clark

    1. Keep thinking I’ll find the right thing to say. Not happening, so with respect to Jessica’s remarks, dittos friend ;=

  9. Science fiction films have frequently used futuristic subways and monorails to help set the tone, and Gene Roddenbury’s Genesis II went over the top with a world-girdling high-speed “Subshuttle.” Genesis II wasn’t a transit movie per se, but the Subshuttle was a key plot device. TV Guide even published a feature article on the Subshuttle, with photos and behind-the-scenes details on how the Subshuttle was operated and filmed to make it look so authentic. The opening credits of a second film, Planet Earth, features a number of shots of the Subshuttle in action. It was a pretty interesting concept for its time, and today it’s fun to look back at the future.

  10. Silver Streak? Strangers on a Train? Sliding Doors? The Matrix also has some scenes set in subway stations.

  11. Pelham is famous, but nowhere near as much fun as standing at the front of the train. If anyone has a link for a good cabride video, that I would like to see.

    I thought Kontroll was one of the best video rentals I ever got. Your children won’t like it.

    Strange to say. the best subway movie I’ve ever seen was also so triple-x that I won’t describe it here. Suffice it to say that the entire movie takes place on the subway train or in the station, and it’s the real subway, not a stage set.

    Something in the same vein are the old Flash Transit videos from the late 90s. Some of them take place on buses, some on streetcars. The shooting is pretty much continuous, so even though the camera isn’t pointed out the window you definitely have the feel of a transit ride.

    Good dramatic movies about trains or subways are hard to find.

    Sorry to hear Andrew is shifting focus. This blog has punched way above its weight and we’ll all have to work harder to keep it as good as it has been.

    1. Counterpoint to “Taken for a Ride” is Cliff Slater’s researched essay at http://www.lava.net/cslater/TQold.HTM , “General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars.”

      “This article makes the case that, GM or not, under a less onerous regulatory environment, buses would have replaced streetcars even earlier than they actually did.”

  12. Thanks Andrew! I have been enjoying STB ever since moving here. Best wishes in your endeavors.

  13. I think 18 June would be a more fitting date for you sign off. Maybe you could write one last post on that date when Seattle reaches a milestone.

  14. Another transit movie of note is the Australian film Malcolm (1986), set in Melbourne. A recluse with a knack for mechanical things loses his job at the tram depot after being caught driving a one-man “tram” built from parts at the depot! To make ends meet, he takes in a boarder, who turns out to be a career bankrobber, and ends up recruiting the title character into robbing a bank by remote control! Hilarious from beginning to end. A must-see.

  15. Sunday’s Seattle Times‘ “Scarecrow suggests” recommends “a few of our favorite movies about subway- or train-related skulduggery.” And I somehow managed to overlook one of my all-time favorites, Alistair MacLean’s Breakheart Pass, a whodunit/actioner set entirely on a train with a terrific steam locomotive (and filmed in Idaho). And be sure to check out Malcolm, recommended above by Brent. It’s definitely as inventive, original and hilarious as he says!

  16. I finally saw the new Pelham 123 movie in the last few days and found it to be a terrifically exciting movie, and not to be missed by transit fans.

    In one scene, the Mayor of NYC is met on his normal subway commute by aides to be told about the subway hijacking. He is offered a “fast” ride in a police vehicle to the subway operations center, but decides to stay on the train because it will be faster. When his aides want the train to skip all the stops on the way to the ops center, the other passengers grouse, and the ever-responsive-to-the-voters Mayor orders his train to make all regular stops.

    There is another “I choose transit” scene later in the movie. In other scenes, the inability of automobiles to move quickly in The Big Apple is illustrated dramatically.

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