Unstoppable (2010 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Scott
Written byMark Bomback
Produced by
CinematographyBen Seresin
Edited by
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • October 26, 2010 (2010-10-26) (Westwood)
  • November 12, 2010 (2010-11-12) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[3][2][4]
Budget$85–100 million[5][6][7]
Box office$167.8 million[7]

Unstoppable is a 2010 American disaster action thriller film directed and produced by Tony Scott, written by Mark Bomback, and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. It is based on the real-life CSX 8888 incident, telling the story of a runaway freight train and the two men who attempt to stop it. It was the last film Scott directed before his death in 2012.

The film was released in the United States on November 12, 2010, by 20th Century Fox. It received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $167 million against a production budget between $85–100 million. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing at the 83rd Academy Awards, and for Best Action Movie at the 2011 Critics' Choice Movie Awards, but lost to Inception in both cases.


As a result of a botched switching operation by yard hostlers Dewey and Gilleece in an Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad (AWVR) classification yard in Northern Pennsylvania, an AWVR train led by locomotive 777 (Triple 7) leaves the yard unattended, heading south at full speed down the main line. Believing the train is coasting, yardmaster Connie Hooper orders Dewey and Gilleece to pursue the runaway train, and also instructs lead welder Ned Oldham to get ahead of the train in his pickup truck and switch it off the main track. When Ned arrives to find that the train has already passed, the crew realize it is running on full power. As Dewey and Gilleece unsuccessfully attempt to board the runaway train, Connie alerts Oscar Galvin, VP of Train Operations, and coordinates with Pennsylvania state police to block all level crossings.

Federal Railroad Administration inspector Scott Werner, while visiting Fuller Yard to meet with students on a Railroad Safety Campaign excursion, warns that eight of the runaway's 39 freight cars contain highly toxic and flammable molten phenol, which would cause a major disaster should the train derail in a populated area.

Galvin, believing he can save the railroad money, rejects Connie's suggestion to derail the runaway on unpopulated farmland, and sends veteran engineer Judd Stewart by lashing the train behind two locomotives, slowing it down enough for AWVR employee and U.S. Marine veteran Ryan Scott to descend from a helicopter to the control cab; his plan fails when Scott is injured and Stewart is killed. Upon realizing that 777 will derail on an elevated curve within a more heavily populated town of Stanton, Galvin now decides to derail it purposely just north of the smaller town of Arklow.

Meanwhile, in command of a northbound freight train led by locomotive 1206 are veteran AWVR railroad engineer Frank Barnes and conductor Will Colson, a new hire preoccupied with a restraining order from his wife Darcy. Frank and Will are ordered to pull off into a siding RIP track before the runaway train races by, smashing through their last boxcar. Frank observes that the runaway train's last car has an open coupler and proposes that they couple the runaway in reverse, and use the 1206's brakes to slow down 777 before it reaches the Stanton Curve, knowing the portable derailers set up outside Arklow would fail.

Upon reporting his plan to Connie and Galvin, the latter threatens to fire Frank, who informs him that he is already being forced into early retirement. Galvin also threatens to fire Will, as well as Connie when she speaks up for them, but they ignore Galvin and continue their pursuit. As Frank predicted, the train barrels through the portable derailers unhindered, to Galvin's horror. Knowing that Frank's plan is their only chance at preventing disaster, Connie and Werner take control of the situation from Galvin.

Frank and Will catch up to the runaway's trailing hopper car and couples into place, but Will's foot is crushed in the process. Will hobbles back to 1206's cab, and Frank tries to slow the runaway with the independent brakes but makes little headway with both 777 and 767 still under power. Will stays in the cab to work the dynamic brakes and throttle while Frank makes his way along the top of the runaway train's cars in a risky attempt to engage the handbrakes on each car. Eventually, 1206's dynamic brakes burn out and the train starts gaining speed again.

Using the independent air brake, Will coordinates brake timing with Frank by radio and they manage to reduce speed enough to clear the Stanton Curve. As the runaway picks up speed, Frank finds the path to the lead engine's cab impassable due to a large jump. Ned arrives in his truck on a road parallel to the tracks, and Will jumps onto the bed of Ned's truck. Ned races to the front of the runaway train where Will leaps onto the lead locomotive and finally brings the runaway train to a safe stop. Darcy arrives with her and Will's son and reunites with him, and Connie comes to congratulate the men, who are hailed as heroes.

Before the closing credits, it is revealed that Frank is promoted and later retires with full benefits. Will is reconciled with Darcy, who is expecting their second child, recovers from his injuries, and continues working with AWVR. Connie is promoted to Galvin's VP position, while it is implied that Galvin was fired for his poor handling of the incident. Ryan makes a full recovery, and Dewey, who is held liable for causing the incident, is fired from his job and goes on to work in the fast food industry.


  • Denzel Washington as Frank Barnes, a veteran railroad engineer.
  • Chris Pine as Will Colson, a young train conductor.
  • Rosario Dawson as Connie Hooper, the yardmaster of Fuller Yard.
  • Ethan Suplee as Dewey, a hostler who accidentally instigates the disaster.
  • Kevin Dunn as Oscar Galvin, vice-president of AWVR train operations.
  • Kevin Corrigan as Inspector Scott Werner, an FRA inspector who helps Frank, Will, and Connie.
  • Kevin Chapman as Bunny, a railroad operations dispatcher for Fuller Yard.
  • Lew Temple as Ned Oldham, a railroad lead welder.
  • T. J. Miller as Gilleece, Dewey's conductor, also a hostler.
  • Jessy Schram as Darcy Colson, Will's estranged wife.
  • David Warshofsky as Judd Stewart, a veteran engineer and Frank's friend, who dies in an attempt to slow the runaway train.
  • Andy Umberger as Janeway, the president of AWVR.
  • Elizabeth Mathis as Nicole Barnes, Frank's daughter who works as a waitress at Hooters.
  • Meagan Tandy as Maya Barnes, Frank's daughter who works as a waitress at Hooters.
  • Aisha Hinds as a Railroad Safety Campaign coordinator in an excursion train to Fuller Yard for a field trip designed to teach schoolchildren about railroad safety.
  • Scott A Martin as Brewster Dispatcher, a railway dispatcher guiding Frank and Will on the tracks to safety.
  • Ryan Ahern as Ryan Scott, a railway employee and US Marine veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is injured in an attempt to stop the runaway.
  • Jeff Wincott as Jesse Colson, Will's brother whom Will is living with at the start of the film.



Unstoppable suffered various production challenges before filming could commence, including casting, schedule, location, and budgetary concerns.[8][9]

In August 2004, Mark Bomback was hired by 20th Century Fox to write the screenplay Runaway Train.[10] Robert Schwentke signed on to direct Runaway Train in August 2005, with plans to begin shooting in early 2006.[11] In June 2007, Martin Campbell was in negotiations to replace Schwentke as director of the film, now titled Unstoppable.[12][13] Campbell was attached until March 2009, when Tony Scott came on board as director.[14] In April, both Denzel Washington and Chris Pine were attached to the project.[15]

The original budget had been trimmed from $107 million to $100 million, but Fox wanted to reduce it to the low $90 million range, asking Scott to cut his salary from $9 million to $6 million and wanting Washington to shave $4 million off his $20 million fee.[16] Washington declined and, although attached since April,[17] formally withdrew from the project in July, citing lost patience with the film's lack of a start date.[9] Fox made a modified offer as enticement, and he returned to the project two weeks later.[17][18][19]


Production was headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the fictional "Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad" depicted in the movie is headquartered. Filming took place in a broad area around there including the Ohio cities of Martins Ferry, Bellaire, Mingo Junction, Steubenville, and Brewster,[20] and in the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh,[21] Emporium, Milesburg, Tyrone, Julian, Unionville, Port Matilda, Bradford, Monaca, Eldred, Mill Hall, Turtlepoint, Port Allegany, and Carnegie,[22] and also in Portville, New York and Olean, New York.[23] The film was the most expensive ever shot in Western Pennsylvania.[24] until The Dark Knight Rises.

The Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad's Buffalo Line was used for two months during daylight, while the railroad ran its regular freight service at night.[25][26] The real-life bridge and elevated curve in the climactic scene is the B & O Railroad Viaduct between Bellaire, Ohio and Benwood, West Virginia.[27]

A two-day filming session took place at the Hooters restaurant in Wilkins Township, a Pittsburgh suburb, featuring 10 Hooters Girls from across the United States. Other interior scenes were shot at 31st Street Studios (then the Mogul Media Studios) on 31st Street in Pittsburgh. Principal photography began on August 31, 2009,[28] for a release on November 12, 2010.

Filming was delayed for one day when part of the train accidentally derailed on November 21, 2009.[29]

CP #9777, a GE AC4400CW locomotive, was used to film early scenes. Photographed in 2010 after the locomotive was repainted.


The locomotives used in the movie were borrowed from three railroads: the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (W&LE), and the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad (SWP).[30][31]

Four GE AC4400CWs leased from CP were used to depict the locomotives used on the runaway train, 777 and trailing unit 767. CP 9777 and 9758 played 777 and 767 in early scenes, and CP 9782 and 9751 were given a damaged look for later scenes.[32] These four locomotives were repainted to standard colors in early 2010 by Canadian Pacific following the filming, but the black and yellow warning stripes from the AWVR livery painted on the plows of each locomotive were left untouched (except for 9777's plow) and remained visible on the locomotives.[33][34]

Most of the other AWVR locomotives seen in the film, including chase locomotive 1206, and the locomotive consist used in an attempt to stop the train, 7375 and 7346, were played by EMD SD40-2s leased from W&LE. 1206 was depicted by three different SD40-2s: W&LE 6353 and 6354, and a third unit that was bought from scrap and modified for cab shots. 6353 and 6354 were returned to the W&LE and painted black to resume service, but 6354's windshield remains jutted forward from the AWVR livery.[35] Judd Stewart's locomotive consist 7375 and 7346 were played by W&LE 6352 and 6351, which also played two locomotive "extras" (5624 and 5580), wearing the same grey livery with different running numbers.[32] The Railroad Safety Campaign excursion train locomotive (RSC 2002) was played by a SWP EMD GP11 rebuilt from an EMD GP9. The two passenger coaches carrying schoolchildren were provided by the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society in Orrville, Ohio.[36]

Locomotive type Real life owner Real life numberboards Featured
AC4400CW CP CP 9777[37] & 9782[38] AWVR 777
CP 9758[39] & 9751[40] AWVR 767
EMD SD40-2 W&LE W&LE 6353[41] & 6354[35] AWVR 1206 & 9705
W&LE 6352[42] AWVR 7375, 5624, & 6032
W&LE 6351[43] AWVR 7346, 5607, & 5580
EMD GP11 SWP SWP 2002[44] RSC 2002


Unstoppable was inspired by the 2001 CSX 8888 incident, in which a runaway train ultimately traveled 66 miles (106 km) through northwest Ohio. Led by CSX Transportation SD40-2 #8888, the train left Stanley Yard in Walbridge, Ohio with no one at the controls, after the driver got out of the slow-moving train to correct a misaligned switch, mistakenly believing he had properly set the train's dynamic braking system, much as his counterpart (Dewey) in the film mistakenly believed he had properly set the locomotive's throttle (in the CSX incident, the locomotive had an older-style throttle stand where the same lever controlled both the throttle and the dynamic brakes; in fact, putting on "full throttle" and "full brakes" both involved advancing the same lever to the highest position after switching to a different operating mode. Thus if the engineer failed to properly switch modes, it was easy to accidentally apply full throttle instead of full brake, or vice-versa.)

Two of the train's tank cars contained thousands of gallons of molten phenol, a toxic ingredient used in glues, paints, and dyes. The chemical is very dangerous; it is highly corrosive to the skin, eyes, lungs, and nasal tract. Attempts to derail it using a portable derailer failed, and police had tried to engage the red fuel cutoff button by shooting at it; after having three shots mistakenly hit the red fuel cap, this ultimately had no effect because the button must be pressed for several seconds before the engine would be starved of fuel and shut down. For two hours, the train traveled at speeds up to 51 miles per hour (82 km/h) until the crew of a second locomotive, CSX #8392, coupled onto the runaway and slowly applied its brakes. Once the runaway was slowed down to 11 miles per hour (18 km/h), CSX trainmaster Jon Hosfeld ran alongside the train, and climbed aboard, shutting down the locomotive. The train was stopped at the Ohio State Route 31 crossing, just south-southeast of Kenton, Ohio. No one was seriously injured in the incident.[45][46][47][48][49]

RSC 2002 was inspired by a CSX Operation Lifesaver passenger train, which was turning around at Stanley Yard and was preparing to head back south after having traveled north from Columbus to Walbridge using the same track CSX 8888 was now on. CSX ended up having to bus the safety train's 120 passengers back to the cities at which they had boarded, including Bowling Green, Findlay, and Kenton.[50]

When the film was released, the Toledo Blade compared the events of the film to the real-life incident. "It's predictably exaggerated and dramatized to make it more entertaining," wrote David Patch, "but close enough to the real thing to support the 'Inspired by True Events' announcement that flashes across the screen at its start." He notes that the dead man switch would probably have worked in real life despite the unconnected brake hoses, unless the locomotive, or independent brakes, were already applied. As explained in the movie, the dead man's switch failed because the only available brakes were the independent brakes, which were quickly worn through, similar to CSX 8888. The film exaggerates the possible damage the phenol could have caused in a fire, and he found it incredible that the fictional AWVR freely disseminated information such as employees' names and images and the cause of the runaway to the media. In the real instance, he writes, the cause of the runaway was not disclosed until months later when the National Transportation Safety Board released its report, and CSX never made public the name of the engineer whose error caused the runaway, nor what disciplinary action was taken.[51]


The film score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and the soundtrack album was released on December 7, 2010.


Unstoppable premiered at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles, on October 26, 2010. It was released in theaters in the United States on November 12, 2010.[52]


A trailer was released online on August 6, 2010.[53] The film went on general release on November 12, 2010.

Home media[edit]

Unstoppable was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 15, 2011.[54]


Critical response[edit]


On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 87% based on 193 reviews, with an average rating of 6.92/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "As fast, loud, and relentless as the train at the center of the story, Unstoppable is perfect popcorn entertainment—and director Tony Scott's best movie in years."[55] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 32 critics.[56] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an "A-" on an A+ to F scale.

Film critic Roger Ebert rated the film three and a half out of four, remarking in his review, "In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film."[57] Vanity Fair summed it up as "a surprisingly well-made action movie," but quickly forgettable.[58]

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers -- despite a confessed initial skepticism, and giving it only three stars -- found that "Your head will spin... palms will sweat... nerves will fry," calling the film "a bang-up ride that [will] wring you out."[59]

Midwest Film Journal reviewer Nick Rogers concurs: "a terrific thrill ride" and "nail-biting fun," with "sobering steel-city woes... blue-collar anxiety," uplifted with "can-do optimism and work ethic."[60]

The Globe and Mail in Toronto was more measured. While the film's action scenes "have the greasy punch of a three-minute heavy-metal guitar solo", its critic felt the characters were weak. It called the film "an opportunistic political allegory about an economy that's out of control and industries that are weakened by layoffs, under-staffing, and corporate callousness."[61]

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis dismissed it as "largely forgettable," with "transitory... pleasures, limited to the actors... and... moments of beauty [or] strange comedy." But it credits "cinematographer Ben Seresin and... ace sound technicians" for creating "an unexpectedly rich world" of trains and landscapes. The reviewer ridicules the movie scene of a cop shooting at the train, trying to "hit an emergency stop button," as "a ridiculous image, openly laughable... [an] outrageous, excessive [director's] flourish" -- apparently unaware it actually happened in the real-life CSX 8888 incident.[62]

But another Times reviewer, A.O. Scott, said "the charm of this movie... is its simplicity," focused on "an engineering problem... solved at top speed... by... a handful of professionals" -- calling the film's "absorption in practical matters... exhilarating" -- praising its absence of "subtext... larger meaning... political implications or psychological mystery."[63]

Director Quentin Tarantino highlighted the film in a January 2020 episode of the Rewatchables podcast, and included it in his list of the ten best of the decade.[64] In June 2021, he named it one of his favorite "Director's Final Films".[65] Christopher Nolan also praised the film (particularly its use of suspense), citing it as an influence for his film Dunkirk.[66]

Railroad media[edit]

The editor of railroad industry journal Railway Age — having only read press releases and previewed the movie trailer — panned it as having "...stretched the truth for dramatic effect... [to produce] an entertaining diversion from reality... highly exaggerated."[67]

Trains magazine's reviewer says the film is "not a train movie;... It’s an action movie..." that "delivers" as "visceral action entertainment" -- not "railroad propaganda." However, the review credits the film for depicting "most... working-day railroaders [as] safety-conscious...," trying to do "the right thing," adding "the railroad atmosphere is abundant," with "terminology [that] rings true," despite the "improbable" story. The review acknowledges several similarities between the film and the real-life runaway CSX 8888 event, but notes the film is full of Hollywood exaggerations and clichés. The review reports that the film uses special effects only "sparingly," emphasizing "those are real [locomotives] being raced, blown up,... reined in."[68]

Box office[edit]

Upon its debut, Unstoppable promptly took the box-office lead in 40 countries around the world, with an $18.2 million opening weekend -- premiering as the most successful film that weekend in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia -- coming in second in North America and Germany.[69]

Unstoppable was expected to take in about the same amount of money as the previous year's The Taking of Pelham 123, another Tony Scott film involving an out-of-control train starring Denzel Washington. Pelham took in $23.4 million during its opening weekend in the United States and Canada.[5] Unstoppable had a strong opening night on Friday November 12, 2010, coming in ahead of Megamind with a gross of $8.1 million. However, Megamind won the weekend, earning $30 million to Unstoppable's $23.9 million.[70] Unstoppable performed slightly better than The Taking of Pelham 123 did in its opening weekend. As of April 2011, the film had earned $167,805,466 worldwide.[7][71]


Unstoppable was nominated for Best Action Movie at the 2011 Critics' Choice Movie Awards, but lost to Inception.[72] It was also nominated for Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie – Action.[73]

The film was nominated in the Best Sound Editing (Mark Stoeckinger) category at the 83rd Academy Awards, but lost.[74] However, it won in that category in the 2010 Satellite Awards,[75] where it was also nominated for best cinematography, visual effects, film editing, and original score.[76]

See also[edit]


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