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Train Check

The NYC subway in the movies: A retrospective

  • 02 October 2014

Today, NY’ers, marks the 40th anniversary of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Not that Denzel dreck from ‘09. The original. Robert Shaw. Walter Matthau.

It’s a suspense classic in which gun-toting hijackers take over a downtown 6 Train.

They threaten to begin executing one hostage per minute unless they get one million dollars (about $5 million in inflation-adjusted bullion).

Fun fact: after that film, the Transit Authority banned any train leaving Pelham Station at 1:23. This is true.

Cue a spirited discussion in our newsroom about movie subway scenes — iconic moments set against the backdrop of our charmingly urine-scented mass transit system.

And so here, we’ve compiled them: The 15 Best NYC Subway Scenes in Movie History. Enjoy.


15. Subway Stories (1997)

An underrated collection of vignettes produced by HBO from tales submitted by actual New Yorkers. Our fave: Denis Leary talking trash and running over high heels as a homeless panhandler.

14. Midnight Meat Train (2008)

So much deliciously gory train murder here, but it’s tough to beat a POV shot from the perspective of a head that’s just been separated from its body by Vinnie Jones.

13. “Crocodile” Dundee (1986)

Less believable: that New Yorkers willingly relay a heartfelt conversation from one end of a crowded platform to the other, or that an Australian in cowboy boots walking across the tops of people’s heads results in a joyous, cheering crowd? We still can’t decide.

12. Ghost (1990)

Lesson: the restless spirits of those pushed onto the subway tracks are PISSED. But if you’re as handsome as Patrick Swayze, they’ll teach you to move physical objects from the netherworld.

11. Death Wish (1974)

Charlie Bronson answers the age-old question of what to do when accosted by knife-wielding thugs in the most badass way possible: by dealing out hot lead sandwiches with zero hesitation and then strolling off the train like it ain’t no thang.

10. The Warriors (1979)

Remember when subway stations used to have bathrooms? And gangs in coordinated outfits staged all-out battle royales in them? We neither, but damn it looks like it was awesome.

9. King of New York (1990)

Christopher Walken teaches prospective muggers not to bring a knife to a gunfight before flipping them a roll of cash and attempting to hire them. NYC power move, yo. Bonus: young Harold Perrineau (aka Michael from Lost) as lead hooligan.

8. Shame (2011)

Michael Fassbender, pulling off a lascivious subway stare so blatant it honestly might get even Michael Fassbender himself maced in real life.

7. Cloverfield (2008)

This is why you don’t walk into the subway tunnels. Pro tip: when the rats run, you better get to steppin’ as well.

6. Men In Black II (2002)

Will Smith and a 600-foot train-eating worm show exactly what it takes to get New Yorkers up and moving to the next car.

5. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

In yet another example of Dealing With Train Toughs 101, Al Pacino disarms a hoodlum with intimate knowledge of his wife’s affair before sending him off to murder her and her lover. The Devil is such a dick.

4. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

A masterpiece of underground tension begins with the most straightforward hijacking of all time: "I'm taking your train." 

3. Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)

When are terrorists gonna learn that they’re no match for Detective John McClane, especially when he’s paired with a jive-talkin’ Samuel L. Jackson? Bring it on, ISIS.

2. The Matrix (1999)

Never explicitly stated as New York, but Mr. Anderson’s climactic, bone-crushing brawl with Agent Smith takes the two spot regardless.

1. The French Connection (1971)

Detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) commandeers a civilian’s Pontiac LeMans to pursue an elevated D Train on which a hitman is trying to escape. One of the greatest chase scenes in cinema history, shot — unbelievably – with no permits.

Nota bene: Something you think we left out? Something we included you think we should't have? Generally just want to argue? Tweet us: @InsideHook.

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