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Film: Unstoppable

We're not just talking about a train, we're talking about a missile the size of the Chrysler Building!
Connie Hooper, aptly summarizing the plot

Remember those math problems, where train A leaves station A at 45 MPH, and train B leaves station B at 35 MPH, and if the stations are 60 miles away from each other, when will they pass?

Well, those math problems just got a lot more exciting.

Unstoppable is a 2010 action film starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson, and directed by Tony Scott. It's got a fairly simple plot — a train loaded with hazardous chemicals loses its driver and runs unmanned across rural Pennsylvania, and train engineers Frank Barnes (Washington) and Will Colson (Pine) have to stop it before it reaches a tight curve and derails in the middle of the large town of Stanton — which just so happens to be Will's hometown.

What makes the film is the chemistry between Denzel's grizzled veteran Frank and Chris Pine's young rookie Will, as well as Tony Scott's eye for action and his adherence to the use of practical effects and stunts as opposed to CGI for the action sequences. Critics and viewers generally liked it, with a 6.9 on IMDb, $81 million in box office, and an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.

This 2010 film has examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: Will gets his right foot crushed while coupling up engine 1206 to the runaway 777's end.
  • Badass: Frank, Will, and Ned.
  • Badass Bystander: The FRA inspector Scott Werner was scheduled to give a talk to the schoolkids. He is nevertheless able to give concrete, helpful information.
  • Badass Longcoat: Ned's leather trenchcoat.
  • Bald of Awesome: Frank.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Nicole is this for Frank.
  • California Doubling: Averted and played straight. The movie is set in Pennsylvania and filmed there as well as eastern Ohio and West Virginia.
    • And some of it was filmed in upstate New York, too. Various place names they filmed in are used in the movie's graphics.
  • Call Back: While talking with the waitress in the diner at the beginning, Ned mentions that welding always requires precision. At the press conference at the end, when talking about driving Will to the front of 777, he says it required precision, so he felt like he was right at home.
    • Frank realizes that Will has accidentally cut in some extra rail cars (at least five, according to Frank) for their train. Later he insists that because of that, they're too long for a RIP track, which control verifies. When they eventually get the train onto a siding before the oncoming 777 collides with them, they get all of the cars to safety...except for the last one, which 777 obliterates.
  • The Cavalry: Ned to the rescue!
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Connie's head welder, Ned, ends up chasing the train with a police escort for the entire movie and doesn't come into play until the very end after you'd pretty much forgotten about him.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Note that the runaway train is colored a hellish red while the trains that attempt to stop it are colored a heroic blue.
  • Composite Character: Besides being based on the real people involved in the incident, Barnes and Colson's backgrounds were also combined with other real railway employees in Pennsylvania.
  • Conspicuous CGI: Averted due to the minimum usage of CGI. In fact, the oil farm in Stanton is done well enough that you won't notice it isn't real unless you know it doesn't exist in Real Life.
  • Coolest Club Ever: This movie manages to turn a Hooters into this!
  • Cool Old Guy: Frank.
  • Cool Train: The film turns a freight train into a angry behemoth.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Galvin, who refuses to do anything about the train while it's running through unoccupied terrain and then implements plans to derail (or that could potentially derail or make explode) the 777 right in the middle of towns (which would then expose them to molten phenol, among other hazardous materials), and tells everybody to do as he says or they will be fired, ignoring their (relatively more sensible) ideas. He cares more about the company than civilian (or even employee) lives.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: The plan to use dynamic braking to stop the train by coupling to it from behind only 'sounds' mad. But the movie explains the physics behind it perfectly, so it makes total sense to anyone with even a passing familiarity with physics.
    • Played straight and then (somewhat amusingly) averted with Galvin's plan to stop triple 7; by having Judd Stewart attempt to slow it down while another employee is lowered down onto the moving train from a helicopter. It doesn't go quite as planned.
  • Determinator: Frank, in pursuit of 777. Lampshaded somewhat when he tells Will that he gives up too easily.
  • Disaster Movie: Arguably. However, the main goal isn't escaping the disaster, but preventing it.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: "1206, go faster."
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Bloody foot? Duct tape it!
  • Easily Forgiven: Will by Darcy at the end.
  • Everybody Lives: Almost. Only one person in the movie dies: Judd, when his engine blows up after failing to slow down Triple 7.
  • The Everyman: Frank and Will.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Truth in Television — short of putting on the brakes or derailing, nothing stops a train.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire film happens over the course of a few hours.
  • Failsafe Failure: The failure to hook up the air brakes on the rest of the train means that when the "dead man's switch" kicks on, only the locomotive brakes would be active, and that's not enough to stop the train. Like the rescue engine's brakes burning up shortly after it coupled and tried to slow the runaway.
  • Fake Static: Used by Frank to end the conversation with Galvin before Galvin can order them not to try their plan.
  • Fanservice:
    • Frank's daughters work at Hooters in order to pay for college. You know what that means... multiple shots of sexy Hooters girls!
    • In the first five minutes we are treated to Chris Pine lying on a couch in his undies.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Subverted!
  • Fauxshadow:
    • Frank's death. He has a picture of his daughters in the train, he retires in three weeks, he calls his daughters to tell them he loves them before chasing 777, and before he leaves to start manually turning on the freight cars' brakes, he says to Will, "Don't get sentimental on me; it makes me feel like I'm gonna die." However, he survives to the end.
    • This quote, from Frank to Will: "This isn't training. In training they just give you an 'F'. Out here, you get killed." Will doesn't die.
  • First Day from Hell: Will.
  • Flashed Badge Hijack: Parodied. Ned waves his railroad ID to some police officers and asks for an escort. They point out it identifies him as a welder. It does work, though, since Ned knows Connie and the officer has spoken to her. About a dozen cars provide escort.
  • Foreshadowing: When 1206 attaches to its train at the beginning, Will brings the engine in a bit too fast and it bangs hard against the cars. When hooking 1206 to the back of 777's train, Will misjudges the speed again and 1206 hits the back car too hard, breaking it open a little and sending grain flying everywhere. The poor visibility eventually leads to Will getting his foot crushed and almost falling off the train.
    • The song playing over Ned's introduction scene: "I can get you where you need to go..."
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Everyone forgets about Judd Stewart and his sacrifice! What a hero.
  • Hate Sink: Galvin
  • High Concept: A Runaway Train is loaded with dangerous chemicals.
  • Hollywood Restraining Order: Will has one against him by his wife Darcy.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Dewey first fails to hook up the train's air brakes before moving it, then he jumps out of the cab with the train still moving in order to switch the tracks. The end reveals that he was fired for this, and is now working fast food.
    • When the train suddenly speeds up, instead of thinking to jump onto the rear staircase of the locomotive, Dewey tries to outrun the rapidly accelerating train to get to the front staircase.
    • Dewey and Gilleece report that the runaway train is only traveling at 10 mph, even though it very clearly accelerated after Dewey left it (which is precisely why his stupid plan above didn't work). It even audibly spooled up to full power while Dewey was right next to it.
    • Will's reaction to his wife's suspicious texting. Sure, Will, bring a gun with you to have a threatening chat WITH A POLICE OFFICER.
    • Galvin's strategy of attempting to slow 777 by having another train bash it from the front while simultaneously trying to land a marine on it. Predictably, the poor bastard is flung like a rag doll the second the two trains hit each other, at the worst possible moment. It would have made much more sense to simply put the marine on the rescue locomotive and have it couple to the front.
    • Why didn't either Will or Frank think to use the railcar hand brakes miles before the curve? Or, for that matter, toast 1206's brakes before the curve?
      • In fact, why didn't either of them climb the other cars to get to the lead train? Even if they got past the curve, they'd still be on a runaway train.
    • Who puts gigantic oil storage tanks right under a perilously curved section of track?
    • The crowd surrounding the site in which the 777 was going to be derailed.
  • Indy Ploy: Pretty much every attempt to stop 777. Notably, several of these fail, and others require more Indy Ploys on top of them when something goes wrong.
  • Inspired By: The "Crazy Eights" train incident in Ohio in 2001. Story can be found on abcnews.go.com and on Wikipedia.
  • Irony: A train of elementary schoolers heads to a depot to learn about rail safety... and almost gets hit head-on by an explosive runaway.
  • Just Train Wrong: The producers apply a little Artistic License and alter locomotive road names, cab numbers and some reporting marks on the freight cars. Other than that, it's refreshingly absent. Most everything you see is a real locomotive on real active track moving a real train. The producers also bought several real (albeit retired and partially-scrapped) engines to use for filming.
    • Weirdly, the only real example of it wasn't one of the trains, it was a signal, which was ringing loudly and flashing right before Dewey's Hi-Rail truck clips it and knocks off its door. Position-light signals don't flash between aspects (though sometimes they DO blink), and no trackside signal actually has a bell - engineers wouldn't hear it anyway.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Kids in Peril subplot at the beginning of the movie. It was mostly played for laughs, though there were a few scary moments when the kid's train was approaching the siding, with the runaway in sight and bearing down rapidly on them.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The film's tagline is, "1,000,000 tons. 100,000 lives. 100 minutes." The film is almost one hundred minutes long.
  • Lucky Seven: Horribly, horribly subverted. While it's far from a source of good luck, it's stopped and there's a Happy Ending.
  • Made of Explodium: Justified: The train itself, thanks to the content of some of its railcars. Somewhat less justified: The first attempt to slow the runaway put two engines in front of it, to try and force the whole megillah onto a siding. The runaway jumped the switch, the uncoupled rescue engines didn't; the resulting impact derailed the rescue engines, which exploded, killing the engineer aboard. While the tanks are filled with volatile diesel fuel and rupturing them can cause fires and explosions, locomotives normally don't go up like Roman Candles when they heel over.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Averted. In a distance shot of 777, there's a very distinct Midwest woodchuck crossing the tracks.
    • Surely that was a badger?
  • Mission Control: Connie and the FRA guy back at the master yard tower wind up being this for Barnes and Colson.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Chris Pine and Denzel Washington sharing a screen? Yes, please.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Advertised as a "kids in peril" film where a runaway train is going to run into another train with young students onboard and Washington and Pines characters were going to make a Heroic Sacrifice and be Big Damn Heroes. The kids are Put on a Bus 15 minutes into the film and were never in any real danger.
  • Nitro Express: Although here the heroes are attempting to stop a vehicle full of explosives, rather than transport it safely.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Who thought it would be a good idea for a dangerous railway curve to go right through an oil storage facility?
  • No Respect Guy: Averted in the film but the real life people were given t-shirts and gift vouchers.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Connie brushes off a call from Ned; later on he returns the favor.
  • Number of the Beast: Narrowly avoided, though you can tell they were thinking of this trope.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Played straight with Galvin but averted with Kevin Corrigan's character, Inspector Werner, who realizes he can do more good trying to help the situation than rattle off safety code violations.
  • Oil Storage Tanks of Doom: If a train goes through the elevated tracks of the Stanton Curve at too high of a speed, then train will derail and crash into the industrial oil storage tanks below. Given some of the cars of 777 are carrying molten phenol, this would be bad.
    • The "Stanton Curve" is actually a real stretch of track in Bellaire, Ohio. Thankfully, there are no oil tanks there in real life.
  • Oh Crap: The look on Connie's face when Dewey informs him the throttle on 777 was set to notch 8 (full throttle) just before he lost it. The look on the engineer's face on the schoolkids' train just screams this, when he sees 777 round a curve in front of him.
  • Outside Ride: At the film's climax, Will jumps from 1206 into the back of Ned's pickup, who then accelerates to 777, allowing Will to jump onto it and stop it.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted and played straight. The police clear the crossings before 777 approaches, and give Ned an escort to chase down the train. However, their attempt to put a Marine on the train fails, and while they attempt to shoot a safety switch to cut off 777's fuel supply, they stop when they realize that it's too close to the actual tank. The police clear out an entire town so that the portable derailer can be used, but the derailer fails. A police car also rolls over.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Will's marital problems are mostly caused by him being a Crazy Jealous Guy in the worst possible way, but the fact that his wife wouldn't tell him about a casual acquaintance is what set him off.
  • Practical Voice Over: Scene transitions later in the film are often covered by snippets of the sort of continuous live TV coverage, with a reporter explaining what just happened and/or is about to happen or why the most recent plan to stop the train failed.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Yup. There's a scene where a little girl looks both ways at a crossing just before 777 barrels past (she's okay), and another where a truck with a horse trailer gets caught on the tracks, and the people try to get the horses off the tracks before 777 hits them (the people are okay and the horses are okay; the trailer gets completely destroyed).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The "Crazy Eights" runaway train incident that the movie is based on had an even more improbable set of circumstances then the movie's runaway train. Sometimes, reality is its own plot hole.
    • It's pretty funny to first look up the real story, then browse the internet for commentary based just on the previews, with people making fun of how ridiculous and obviously contrived the idea was. It's even funnier to see threads people critcizing particular aspects of the movie after they got to see the entire thing, and thus had no excuse for not being able to figure out that the stuff they were criticizing really happened.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Connie does everything she can to help Will and Frank slow 777 down, even against Galvin's orders.
  • Retirony: Frank was being forced into early retirement by the train company; he'd received his 90-day warning notice 72 days ago. He lives, though.
  • Right Men In The Wrong Place: Will and Frank end up chasing 777 by pure circumstance.
  • Runaway Train: Duh. It's not The Movie, though; there's already a movie called Runaway Train.
  • Say My Name: Connie and Will's wife, during some of the tenser moments when things are entirely in the hands of the men on the ground. There's really nothing else they can do.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Judd; also known as the only person to die in the whole movie.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Frank and Will when Galvin tells them that if they go on with their plan, they'll be fired. Frank is already near forced retirement, while Will is flippant about the threat.
  • Shout-Out: To Silver Streak - an AWVR official named Gene Devereaux is interviewed at one point. Gene Wilder starred in Silver Streak, and the villain was named Roger Devereaux.
  • Shown Their Work: Most of the railroad physics and procedures are spot-on, and followed the Crazy Eights incident fairly faithfully.
  • The Smart Guy: FRA inspector Scott Werner.
  • Stealth Pun: Breaking News! Frank climbing from car to car to activate their brakes.
  • Stock Sound Effects: the instantly-recognisable sound of a locomotive horn is heard at several points for effect, even at times when it makes no sense for any locomotive to be sounding its horn.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: What would happen if 777 crashed, due to the molten phenol in the tank cars.
  • Tempting Fate: "Will it work?" "As long as their brakes hold out." Approximately ten seconds later, there's a Gilligan Cut.
  • Threat Backfire: Galvin threatens to fire Frank if he tries to chase down the runaway train. Problem is, Frank was 18 days away from getting laid off, so he doesn't care if he loses his job a little earlier than he was planning.
  • Throwaway Country: The town of Arklow was where Galvin wanted to setup the portable derailer.
  • Tim Taylor Technology: Subverted. Gunning the locomotive full throttle in the opposite direction after it's been hooked up to the speeding train would only cause it to lose its grip on the tracks as the main train pulls it along. Alternating power between directions will slow the train down more effectively.
  • Token Conflict: Will's relationship with Darcy could be excised from the film with little to no impact on the rest of it.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Despite the fact that the train was said to contain some seriously hazardous and flammable material, during both times when derailment of the train was likely (the second time it would have fallen into flammable oil drums), crowds of people were nearby watching instead of getting the hell out of Dodge.
    • There was a minor scene where a little girl was standing too close to the train tracks when the train came rushing by.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Averted.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The trailers hype the connection to a 2001 runaway train; the actual runaway train went through northwest Ohio, and there were no casualties. And the actual train went no where near 70 mph, more like 45 at the most. Two of the film's failed attempts to stop it were also tried in real life (using derailers, and shooting the exterior stop button). The ultimate solution was similar, albeit not effected so dramatically close to a populated area. The train that did the job was driven by an engineer with 31 years' experience (28 in the film) and a conductor with a year's worth (in the movie, it's his first day). The guy who actually got in and stopped it was not the young conductor, and he only had to catch up with a train slowed down (by the coupled engine) to 11 MPH. So yeah, real life ignores the Rule of Drama repeatedly.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Connie.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Frank is able to retire with full benefits and pension, Will reunites with his estranged wife and has a second kid on the way, Connie gets promoted to Galvin's old position, the Marine dangling from the helicopter who got injured went on to make a full recovery, and Dewey got fired for his blunder and is now working in fast food. So, they all lived Happily Ever After (except Dewey and Galvin).


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alternative title(s): Unstoppable
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