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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Movies for all modes of transportation.
Here are some picks for movies that feature notable planes, trains, and cars. I’ve tried to curate an eclectic mix of selections that include big budget blockbusters, anime, Hollywood classics, and more — hopefully something for everyone.
Air Force One (1997)
Russian terrorists conspire to hijack the aircraft with the president and his family on board. The commander in chief finds himself facing an impossible predicament: give in to the terrorists and sacrifice his family, or risk everything to uphold his principles — and the integrity of the nation.
For an action movie, a lot of the action in this is really relaxed. Regardless, you get exactly what you sign up for from start to finish. Harrison Ford, the essence of a leading man whose resume includes doctors, professors, and detectives turned to a reasonable choice for a 55 year old white man in 1997: The President of the United States. President James Marshall’s unflinching commitment to both his country and his family send him toe-to-toe with excellent character actor Gary Oldman, whose performances in JFK, The Professional, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula proved he could portray a striking villain. It’s largely formulaic, but the performances lift it up past mediocrity.
Red Eye (2005)
A woman is kidnapped by a stranger on a routine flight. Threatened by the potential murder of her father, she is pulled into a plot to assist her captor in offing a politician.
If you’re looking for a bad movie night, look no further. This one definitely reaches into guilty pleasure territory, so it can be a total blast with a group of friends. Rachel McAdams was fresh off a run that included both Mean Girls and The Notebook and Cillian Murphy’s most recent turn was as Gotham City rogue, The Scarecrow, in Batman Begins. Pair these performers on the up-and-up with legendary director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) and you’ve got a recipe for success, right? Nope! The screenplay is unexceptional and doesn’t give much for these folks to work with, but it’s solid enough for the 85 minute run time and surprises you a few times.
I do seem to be in the minority here — it boasts a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you’re looking for either a “so bad, it’s good” flick or what others consider to be a solid thriller — you could probably find it here.
The Wind Rises (2013)
A lifelong love of flight inspires Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, whose storied career includes the creation of the A-6M World War II fighter plane.
If there’s one thing Studio Ghibli consistently delivers on, it’s the visuals. This film does not disappoint. It is gorgeous. From time to time, it can be a little drowsy, but a film so dreamy can do that to you. In fact, it’s all about dreams. Horikoshi dreams about Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni. He dreams of big, larger, faster, more economical airplanes. He dreams of a better future.
Between all of this and much more, they try to pack so many large ideas in about two hours. There isn’t enough screen time to include it all, so some musings are unfairly shortened. You could argue that it is poor pacing, but I found it commendable. And if some ponderings can’t wrap up before end of the runtime, they may linger with you for days to come — which was my experience.
This has a little bit for everyone: anime fans, history geeks, aviations nerds, fans of romance and fans of beautiful art. Check it out.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder — a theory that he plans to implement.
Alfred Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense for good reason and his virtuosity is on full display here. If he can make the tediousness of tennis, carousels, and sunlight totally electrifying — you know you’re in good hands.
I may be cheating adding this to the list because very little of the movie actually takes place on a train, but I couldn’t stop myself from including it because I enjoyed my time with it so much. Very little can be said without spoiling its many twists and turns so just trust this Farley Granger leading Hitchcock picture raises the bar on the first collaboration, Rope, which is another excellent thriller.
In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.
The world now knows auteur Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho as the visionary behind Parasite which dominated at the Academy Awards last year. He was making exceptional work long before his international acclaim, but his first English language foray was 2014’s Snowpiercer. A bitter look at both classism and the future of the world, Bong was exploring the themes present in Parasite long before that masterwork.
With an ensemble cast that includes some of Bong’s repertory, a serviceable leading performance from Chris Evans and terrific over-the-top performances from Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill (her best), the performances contrast the well choreographed action to give both action fans and acting students a little bit of everything.
The 15:17 to Paris (2018)
In August 2015, an ISIS terrorist boarded train #9364 from Brussels to Paris. Armed with an AK-47 and enough ammo to kill more than 500 people, the terrorist might have succeeded except for three American friends who refused to give in to fear. One was a college student, one was a martial arts enthusiast and airman first class in the U.S. Air Force, and the other was a member of the Oregon National Guard, and all three pals proved fearless as they charged and ultimately overpowered the gunman after he emerged from a bathroom armed and ready to kill.
Rare for a biographical film, this movie is notable because because these three men (Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone) all play themselves.
The experiment of casting these heroes as themselves is, unfortunately, a failed one. Coupled with the lack of a musical score and a colorless screenplay, this all comes across like a mediocre student film. And this movie is directed by Clint Eastwood.
But this is not the Eastwood of Dirty Harry — this is the Eastwood of the 2012 Republican National Convention. This Clint is familiar to fans of American Sniper and Richard Jewell.
Compare this to the similar work Paul Greengrass did on United 93 and the like and see that there are ways to do this that don’t lean into the jingoistic.
That being said, I’m sure many people will like this movie. Fans of Clint’s other work in his 70s and 80s, mainly.
The Car (1977)
The fictional Utah community of Santa Ynez is being terrorized by a mysterious black coupe that appears out of nowhere and begins running people down. After the car kills off the town’s Sheriff, it becomes the job of Captain Wade Parent to stop the murderous driver.
In the wake of Spielberg’s eternal classics Jaws, the world saw more than a few Jaws ripoffs. Beyond the plethora of shark movies, we also got more than a few flicks that tried to mask their inspiration. What’s further away from sharks in New England than a self-driving mysterious car in Utah? Don’t be fooled — this one is Jaws all the way.
It clearly has a quarter of the competence as Spielberg’s inventive work (with a touch of his Duel) as it’s pretty cut and dry. But you can’t ask a ton from a movie where a driverless car kills people years before Stephen King’s Christine.
If you’re looking for B-movie schlock, look no further.
Days of Thunder (1990)
Talented but unproven stock car driver Cole Trickle gets a break and with the guidance of veteran Harry Hogge turns heads on the track. The young hotshot develops a rivalry with a fellow racer that threatens his career when the two smash their cars. But with the help of his doctor, Cole just might overcome his injuries– and his fear.
Just as ridiculous as you remember, this flick is the perfect storm of insanity. Everyone knows NASCAR is an outrageous sport, but its natural intensity has never seemed to translate well to film. It often feels farcical when brought to the silver screen, but Days of Thunder embraces the insanity.
Tom Cruise is perfectly over the top and the genuineness played by Robert Duvall and Nicole Kidman create tonally contradictory moments that will bust a gut. Meanwhile, Hans Zimmer delivers a score that accentuates the velocity of the stock cars beyond realism. It also ends with arguably the greatest freeze frame of all time. It’s A-list B-movie heaven.
After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce to try to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.
Nearly 25 years after its release, David Cronenberg’s Crash has…uh…crashed back onto the scene recently thanks to simultaneous boutique Blu-ray releases from both Arrow Video and the Criterion Collection. Largely underground since its initial release, it’s now reaching a wider audience. But can the general public handle two hours of people getting off to car crashes?
Definitely not one for the faint of heart or stomach, this film encountered trouble with review boards, festival audiences, and distributors that lead to a modest $23.2 million return despite boasting strong performances from household names James Spader and Holly Hunter. It’s clear why many avoided it upon its initial release — IMDB labels it “severe” in the categories of both Sex & Nudity and Violence & Gore. I couldn’t say I enjoyed the film as anything other than thought-provoking, but I’m also not a Symphorophiliac. If you are or think you could be, this is the film for you. But then again, you’re probably one of the few that already knew about this one.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.