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Runaway Train

Promotional movie poster for the film
Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
Produced by Richard Garcia
Yoram Globus
Menahem Golan
Robert A. Goldston
Mati Raz
Henry T. Weinstein
Robert Whitmore
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima (story)
Hideo Oguni (story)
Djordje Milicevic (screenplay)
Edward Bunker (screenplay)
Paul Zindel (screenplay)
based on a screenplay by
Akira Kurosawa
Starring Jon Voight
Eric Roberts
Rebecca De Mornay
Kyle T. Heffner
John P. Ryan
Music by Trevor Jones
Alan Howarth (uncredited)
Cinematography Alan Hume
Editing by Henry Richardson
Distributed by The Cannon Group Inc.
Release date(s) 6 December 1985 (limited) 17 January 1986 (wide)
Country United States
Language English
Budget unknown
Gross revenue Domestic:
$7,936,012 [1]

Runaway Train is a 1985 film which tells the story of two escaped convicts and a female train worker who are stuck on a runaway train as it barrels through snowy desolate Alaska. It stars Jon Voight as Oscar "Manny" Manheim, Eric Roberts as Buck, John P. Ryan as Associate Warden Ranken and Rebecca De Mornay as Sara.

The movie was written by Edward Bunker, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Djordje Milicevic, Hideo Oguni and Paul Zindel. It was directed by Andrei Konchalovsky.



The film simultaneously follows the escape of two prisoners, the efforts of a train dispatching office to safely stop the out-of-control train they are on, and the hunt by their warden to recapture them.

Jon Voight plays Oscar Manheim (a.k.a. Manny), a convicted bank robber and hero to the convicts of 'Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison', Alaska, USA. Driven and highly aggressive, after two previous escape attempts the doors to Manny's cell have been welded shut for three years. As the film begins a court order compels Manny's nemesis, Stonehaven's vindictive Associate Warden Ranken (John P. Ryan), to release him back into the general prison population, at which point Manny sets his next escape plan into action. Buck (Eric Roberts) is another convict (convicted of statutory rape) who due to his position in the prison's laundry room is recruited to smuggle Manny out in a laundry trolley. Somewhat naive and unintelligent, Buck decides to escape with Manny (who reluctantly allows Buck to join him) and after a freezing cross-country hike (involving a 300 ft drop into a river and subsequent swim) the two hop on board a consist of four locomotives at a remote Alaskan rail yard.

Just as the train is set in motion however, the elderly engineer suffers a heart attack. In attempting to stop the train and get off, the engineer does not close the throttle, instead pulling on the conductor's emergency brake lever, before collapsing off the still-moving train. Consequently, although the brakes apply, the locomotives overpower them, and the brake shoes burn off, making it now impossible to stop the train. Neither the two convicts nor the only railway worker left on the train, a locomotive hostler named Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), are aware of their situation (the convicts due to taking refuge inside the 4th engine's toilet compartment, Sara due to being asleep in the 2nd engine).

As the train accelerates, dispatcher Frank Barstow (Kyle T. Heffner) is alerted to the situation. Unaware of the failure of the brakes on the train, Barstow authorises employees at the rail yard to allow the runaway out onto the main-line, believing that the railroad's computer-controlled signalling system will trigger a brake application on the locomotives. Immediately after this decision is made, the last of the brake-shoes burn out and the dispatchers realise the severity of their situation, forcing them to keep the tracks clear for the runaway while formulating a further course of action. However, after the runaway collides with the tail-end of a freight-train that was caught in the act of moving out of its path, and learning that the train's excessive speed will most likely collapse an elderly trestle some miles ahead, Barstow's superior orders him to derail it, believing that no-one is alive on the engines.

As the runaway nears a junction, Barstow reluctantly radios an on-site signal maintainer to manually change a switch and derail the train. Upon doing so however the signal maintainer hears a now-conscious Sara blowing the whistle on the approaching engines and reports this information in. Realising someone is indeed alive on the train, Barstow orders a reversal of the switch, allowing them to continue onwards towards the aging Seneca trestle, where emergency workers are gathering in expectation of a disaster.

In hot pursuit of his escaped convicts, Warden Ranken concludes that his two escaped convicts are escaping by rail after the state police discover prison clothes at the rail yard Manny and Buck departed from. Meanwhile, the two fugitives have found Sara on board when she climbs back to the fourth engine in the belief she'll be safer in a possible collision at the rear of the train. Now aware of their situation, the three attempt to stop the train by getting to the lead engine and pressing its emergency fuel cutoff switch. Sara informs them that they can't get to the lead engine because the second locomotive is a streamlined F-unit with no forward catwalk, and that its nose door, which would normally allow access to the lead engine, is jammed. At her suggestion however, they are able to slow the train by disconnecting the electrical bus link cables supplying commands to the two rear locomotives, shutting them down. Unintentionally, this slows the train enough that it is able to safely cross the Seneca trestle.

However, the dispatchers are forced to divert the train onto a branch after determining its only five-minutes away from a head-on collision with a passenger train. This is only a brief respite as further ahead the branch negotiates a tight curve adjacent to a chemical plant, and that even at its reduced speed the runaway is likely to derail on this curve and trigger a major chemical release. His hand forced, Barstow agrees that they must switch the runaway onto a stub-ended siding and crash it there, sending the three people on the train to almost certain death, rather than risk a catastrophic chemical spill and explosion. Immediately prior to this, Warden Ranken, having arrived at railroad control, makes a mental connection between his escaped convicts and the runaway, coercing Barstow's assistance in chasing down the train by prison helicopter.

Manny shows an increasingly violent streak throughout the film and repeatedly asserts his dominance over Buck, while Buck is portrayed more as a victim of circumstances and not very intelligent. This culminates when Manny forces Buck to attempt a second suicidal scramble around the outside of the second engine's nose (Buck already having tried once and failed). Sara's intervention on Buck's behalf forces an armed face-off between the two convicts where both Manny and Buck are forced to confront Manny's bestial nature. Emotionally broken, all three slump into a fatalistic depression, only broken when Ranken's helicopter catches up with the train.

Spurred on by the appearance of his arch-foe, aware that they are now on a dead-end spur, and resolved not to return to prison, even if it means his own death, Manny makes a perilous leap to the lead engine, and in a struggle with Warden Ranken (who has successfully boarded by helicopter), handcuffs him inside the cab. To the music of the second movement of Vivaldi's Gloria in D (Et In Terra Pax) Manny then uncouples the first engine from the rest of the train, thereby shutting down the second engine and leaving Buck and Sara safely behind, but does not stop the lead engine despite Buck's screamed pleas. With Ranken unable to escape, Manny climbs onto the roof of the lone engine in the freezing cold and blowing snow, his arms stretched out in a cruciform shape, ready to meet his end.

After a series of cross-cuts of Buck and Manny's fellow inmates mourning in their cells at Stonehaven, the film fades to white and closes with an on-screen quote from William Shakespeare's Richard III:-

"No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast."



The film received generally positive reviews, and enjoyed an 86% "fresh" rating on as of February 2009.[2] Janet Maslin, writing for the New York Times, felt that much of the film was absurd but that Jon Voigt's performance was excellent, and she credits the film for "crude energy and bravado".[3]


Akira Kurosawa wrote the original screenplay intending it to be his first color film following Red Beard, but difficulties with the American financial backers led to it being shelved.[4]

The Alaska Railroad decided that their name and logo would not be shown. The filming took place near Portage Glacier, Whittier and Grandview.

The prison scenes at the beginning of the movie were filmed in Deer Lodge, Montana, and some railroad yard scenes were filmed in Anaconda, Montana.

The runaway's locomotive lineup in the movie was Alaska Railroad #3010 (an EMD GP40), #1500 (an EMD F7) and two EMD GP7s, 1801 and 1810. During their Alaska Railroad service the GP7s had had their short hoods chopped but for the film were fitted with mock-up high-noses.

The locomotives used in the film have gone their separate ways:

  • ARR GP40-2 #3010 is still active on the Alaska Railroad, painted in the new corporate scheme.
  • ARR F7A #1500 is now at the Alaska Transport Museum in Anchorage, AK.
  • ARR GP7u #1810 was sold to the Oregon Pacific railroad and operated as OP 1810. In 2008, the unit was sold to the Cimarron Valley Railroad and is permanently coupled to former OP Slug #1010.
  • ARR GP7u #1801 was sold to a locomotive lessor in Kansas City, MO, then sold to the Missouri Central Railroad and operated as MOC 1800. MOC became the Central Midland Railroad in 2002 and the unit was then sold the Respondek Rail Corp of Granite City, IL and is used as a plant switcher for Center Ethanol in Saguet, IL as RRC 1800.
  • The Lead locomotive on the train that was hit by the runaway was led by ALCo/GE MRS1 #1605. This unit had been retired in 1984, two years before filming started. The unit has since been cut up for scrap.
  • Sequences set at the rail yard, shot on the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railway in Montana, used local locomotives from the BA&P fleet along with former Northern Pacific F9 #7012A rented from the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.
  • GP7 #1810 subsequently appeared in another motion picture, Under Siege 2 alongside human co-star Steven Seagal.

Richard (Rick) Holley was killed during the filming when the helicopter he was piloting hit power lines on the way to a location shoot in Alaska. The movie is dedicated to him during the opening credits.

The film also has similarities to an earlier Hindi film, The Burning Train (1980).


It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Jon Voight), Best Supporting Actor (Eric Roberts) and Editing.

The film was entered into the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.[5]


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