Stuff We Love: That flaming train scene in Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds

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Nov 7, 2017, 5:58 PM EST (Updated)

I'll admit it, I'm not too fond of flying on airplanes and try to avoid them as much as I can, opting instead for the relaxing rails of Amtrak whenever my travel needs require venturing beyond county borders.

But one particularly unsettling scene in Steven Spielberg's loose adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds often has me feeling pangs of anxiety as the conductor waves the "all clear" sign and the choo-choo chugs from the station.

I'm talking about that insane flaming train that streaks down the tracks with red-orange fire erupting from its roof and windows as traumatized onlookers watch in horror from a railroad crossing.


Starring Tom Cruise, War of the Worlds was released in the summer of 2005 and made a solid $591 million worldwide after its theatrical run. Critics and audiences were mostly kind to its retelling of the classic invasion tale, although I still want to know where the son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) went after the rebellious high-schooler decides to join up with trained military personnel and fight the alien tripods!

Though containing a ridiculous "Hey, look at the birds" ending, the sci-fi film displayed some excellent digital effects by Industrial Light & Magic, shocking vaporized victims fleeing the assault, masterful machine concept art by Doug Chiang, and a somber, menacing score by the Academy Award-winning composer John Williams.


Following the initial wave of tripod attacks, with the three-legged nightmares tromping around the boroughs blasting sizzling heat rays upon suburban New Jersey, citizens are evacuating in panic. Stopped at an activated crossing gate, the mob of people is suddenly doused with ash, soot, and sparks as a commuter passenger train rockets down the rails spewing raging flames from every orifice and aperture.

It's a brilliant visual jolt that resonantes as well as anything seen in the entire movie and perfectly summarizes the further calamities to come as the ruthless attack advances.

Have a peek at this wild WTF moment from War of the Worlds and tell us if this scene singed your eyebrows when you first saw it in theaters. All aboard!

(* Concept art painting above by Bill Mather)

And just to prove that this kind of thing happens in real life (sorta), check out this CN freight-train locomotive blowing a turbo alongside the highway!

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