Train journeys provide a number of advantages for plotting a thriller. They are an enclosed space with a sense of claustrophobia, uncomfortable proximity to strangers with several good justifications for why people can't leave
. Long distance train journeys take several days during which the train is locked into a course going through wild terrain with no reception. This may or may not be the best time to commit a murder but it's a damn good time to write about one.
Thus it is that several works create thrillers set around a train. Despite all the advantages noted above, there may need to be adjustments made. Sometimes you just need that extra space or cubby holes to hide in so they'll make use of those places on trains people won't normally see, the kitchen cart and luggage compartment. If train companies have made any security measures to stop people walking off the back door or getting onto the roof, they won't be in this film.
The train no longer has to be part of the whole work. You might have a train based episode in a series but it won't be much of a Bottle Episode
since it requires a new set and extras. There may be brief departures from the train but the time spent on the train should be enough to set up enough plot elements to stop people wandering too far or going to get help.
Plane based thrillers...are almost exactly identical but they're covered by Death in the Clouds
. Compare Train Job
. May occasionally but not frequently contain a Traintop Battle
, most likely as a climax.
Not to be confused with dancing to Michael Jackson
on a train.
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Anime & Manga
- Fullmetal Alchemist has a terrorist attack inside a train.
- Baccano!'s "Pussyfoot Express" plotline has several criminal plans clashing at each other.
- Soul Eater: episode 30 of the anime, "The Red Hot Runaway Express". Kid, Patty and Liz have to board the speeding train and fight an enemy on board for possession of a magical artifact, while a third party outside is fighting both sides.
- The Sin City short story "Wrong Track" features a man who thinks he has gotten lucky by finding a lover on a train. It turns out, she is an assassin who snaps his neck and throws him off the train.
- One issue of The Tomb of Dracula had the count doing his thing on a moving train. Coincidentally, the vampire killers after him are also on the train.
- Hitchcock's spy thriller The Lady Vanishes. A old lady who had befriend a young woman on a train vanishes. This added a psychological element because everybody else denies seeing the old woman and there's no apparent way they are all in a conspiracy. One them is a nun and two of them are English toffs who don't want to be held up and miss the cricket.
- The Gene Wilder- Richard Pryor film Silver Streak has Wilder's character see a man thrown from a train. The film doesn't stay on the train, in fact he meets Pryor's character off the train, but in that first stretch he gets set up for the crime which means that he gets isolated from society and has to get back onto the train to solve the issue himself.
- Transsiberrian takes the elements of this trope to the extreme. It's the longest train journey in the world against some of the most famously inhospitable territory involving Americans travelling from China to Moscow. In order to work in some believable chase and action sequences they don't stay on the same train but they stick to their guns and have them steal a section of train.
- The 1946 Sherlock Holmes film Terror By Night has the detective solving a case of murder and a theft of an priceless diamond in a train. The film was touted with the Tag Line "One Way Ticket To DEATH!"
- The original Under Siege was a well known example of Die Hard On A Boat so for the sequel they went for Die Hard On A Train Based Thriller.
- An alien from ancient times is set loose on a moving train in Horror Express (starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas).
- The Slasher Movie Terror Train has a killer extracting revenge on a train full of masked partiers.
- In Runaway Train, tension is building between a train operator and the two escaped convicts who hijacked the vessel made of four locomotives.
- A significant portion near the end of From Russia with Love takes it place in a train, where the The Dragon finally makes his move to kill James Bond.
- Snakes from a victim of a curse start attacking people on train onroute to L.A. in Snakes on a Train.
- Train, where the eponymous vehicle turns out to be operated by organ snatchers.
- The Cassandra Crossing: A terrorist breaks into a NATO lab in Geneva, accidentally infects himself with an artificial virus, and escapes on a transcontinental express train. A US General Ripper finds out about this incident and orders the train not only sealed but rerouted to Poland and dropped into a gorge, all thousand passengers aboard killed, and any evidence of this top-secret biological weapon outside the lab destroyed that way.
- Murder on the Orient Express. Murder = thriller. The Orient Express = train. Bear in mind it comes from the same author who mastered the Nasty Party and uses it in much the same way for the purpose of subverting one of the big conventions of that trope.
- Another Agatha Christie work, The Mystery of the Blue Train, also deals with a homicide on board a train, though unlike Orient Express, the entire novel does not take place on the train. (It's an expanded and relocated version of "The Plymouth Express" in Poirot's Early Cases, which of course is another example.)
- Also 4.50 From Paddington - the story opens with Miss Marple's friend witnessing a murder on a train running next to hers, and the first mystery to be solved is why there is no body to be found on the train or even lying in ground near the tracks where it might have been thrown from the train.
- Short story "The Napoli Express" is Lord Darcy's version of Murder on the Orient Express.
- The Solar Pons story The Adventure of the Orient Express.
- The Phryne Fisher novel Murder on the Ballarat Train.
- Timothy Zahn's Quadrail Series is this setting IIIN SPAAAACE!
- Alexey Tolstoy's story The Beautiful Stranger is a spy thriller on the Express.
Live Action TV
- Chuck season 3, episode 14, Chuck vs. the Honeymooners. Chuck and Sarah are on a train and see an ETA member and try for an impromptu mission using the other passengers' items as gadgets.
- Laverne and Shirley - "Murder on the Moosejaw Express."
- On SCTV there was a parody sketch of Orient Express called "Death Takes No Holiday," featuring John Candy as Hercule Poirot uttering the immortal lines, "Someone abord zis train is a Murderer! — Perhaps even ze Train Itself ... IS A MURDERER!
- The Benny Hill Show has a Murder on the Orient Express sketch once using various US TV detectives (Kojack, McCloud, etc.) along with Hercule Poirot (all played by Benny Hill).
- The Goodies parodied this trope in "Daylight Robbery on the Orient Express''.
- The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries did this in "Mystery on the Avalanche Express".
- Quantum Leap: "Honeymoon Express"
- The Murder, She Wrote move South by Southwest begins as a version of The Lady Vanishes, with Jessica on a train to El Paso.
- The episode "Murder Takes The Bus" has most of the trappings of a Thriller on the Express, only...
- Call of Cthulhu supplements Fearful Passages ("The Iron Ghost" adventure) and Horror on the Orient Express both have train-based adventures.
- TSR's Top Secret, adventure TS005 Operation: Orient Express. A set of espionage adventures that occur on the famous title train.
- The Last Express. The Pre- World War 1 Orient Express setting gives it a very Christie feel and then it actually tries to use some of the same setting advantages that you might get in other media using this trope by having the game take place in real time.
- Chapter 6 of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a Breather Level that largely takes place on the luxuriant Excess Express. You get roped into solving a mystery that follows this formula during the three-day trip, and, except for a brief rest stop at an abandoned station, is totally devoid of actual fighting until the Traintop Boss Battle on the last day.
- It also averts the lack of security normally present in these stories—the train staff refuses to let Mario into restricted areas, let alone outside the train. The boss battle is on the traintop because the boss had already captured everyone on the train except the conductor, leaving an unobstructed path out.
- The Ecliptic Express level in Resident Evil 0 has zombies (naturally) and a giant scorpion onboard.
- The game Chase The Express/ Covert Ops Nuclear Dawn is sort of a clunky Metal Gear Follow the Leader set on a trans-European train that will launch a nuke when it reaches its destination - although unusually for this type of story, there are a few stages that take place on a different train running adjacent to the main one.
- The Ruby Gloom 2-parter "Last Train to Gloomsville" parodies just about every train-thriller cliche to the max.
- The Looney Tunes short Boston Quackie takes place on board 'Le Cloak and Dagger Express'.
- The King of the Hill episode "Strangeness on a Train" has Peggy set up her birthday party on a disco-themed murder mystery play on a train. When her streak of unlucky birthdays leads to the mystery getting spoilednote , Hank tries to cheer her up, which leads to their having sex in the bathroom. Kahn discovers the "evidence" and starts a new mystery to try and figure out who it was, as Hank and Peggy desperately try to prevent it.
- Danger Mouse On The Orient Express takes place on said train, where DM and Penfold must retrieve a document that would allow Baron Greenback to raze all of Europe's tourist attractions and lure tourists to his (shudder!) museum of Barry Manilow record sleeves.
- The Bugs Bunny cartoon Wild And Wooly Hare climaxes with Sam and Bugs playing chicken with trains.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode MMMystery on the Friendship Express is about an investigation into who ate the cake Pinkie Pie was guarding. Much spoofing of mystery tropes ensues.
- The Adventure Time episode "Mystery Train".
- The Total Drama Action episode "Get a Clue".