Off the Rails (film)

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Off the Rails: The Darius McCollum Story
Off the Rails 2016 Film Poster.jpg
Directed byAdam Irving
Produced byGlen Zipper
Adam Irving
Written byAdam Irving
Tchavdar Georgiev
StarringDarius McCollum
Music byDuncan Thum
Steve Gernes
CinematographyAdam Irving
Edited byAdam Irving
Tchavdar Georgiev
Zipper Bros Films
Distributed byThe Film Collaborative, Passion River Films, Journeyman Pictures, Sundance Now
Release date
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited States

Off the Rails: The Darius McCollum Story is a 2016 American documentary film about Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger's syndrome who was jailed 32 times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes. The film was written, directed and produced by Adam Irving. It was nominated for a 2016 Critics' Choice Documentary Award for Best First Documentary Feature.

A Hollywood narrative film based on McCollum's life story is in development, announced in 2016 and tentatively titled Train Man, with Julia Roberts set to star as McCollum's attorney.


As a boy in Queens, New York in the 1970s, Darius McCollum found sanctuary from school bullies in the subway. There he befriended transit workers who taught him to drive trains. By age 8, he memorized the entire subway system. At 15, he took unauthorized control of a packed train and drove it eight stops by himself, making all the stops and announcements.[1][2][3] Over the next three decades, McCollum commandeered hundreds of trains and buses, staying on route and on schedule, without ever getting paid. He attended transit worker union meetings, lobbying for better pay and working conditions for a union he didn't belong to.[4][5]

McCollum has Asperger's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by social impairment, repetitive behaviors, and an intense interest in one subject.[1] Although he never damaged any property or hurt anyone,[6][7] he has spent 23 years in maximum security prison for transit-related crimes.[8] He has been arrested 32 times, most recently in November 2016.[4][9]

Background and production[edit]

Director Adam Irving initially read about McCollum's transit-related escapades by happenstance on Wikipedia and thought it would make a good subject for a documentary.[6][7] After doing more research on McCollum, Irving flew to New York to meet with Jude Domski, who wrote and produced a 2003 play about McCollum called Boy Steals Train. Domski helped Irving get in touch with McCollum, who was in jail at Rikers Island in New York. Over the next six months, Irving and McCollum exchanged about 100 letters and phone calls before Irving visited him at Rikers in March 2013.[6][9][10] Filming commenced six months later, following McCollum's release from prison.[9] Irving directed, produced, shot and edited the film, which took three years to complete.[8]


Off the Rails premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina on April 7, 2016.[7] Its international premiere was on May 4, 2016 at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto.[11] Its European premiere was at London's Raindance Film Festival on September 23, 2016.[8]

The film's international theatrical release began in Toronto on October 7, 2016,[12] followed by its domestic release in Los Angeles on November 4, 2016.[13] On November 18, 2016, it opened at the Metrograph Theatre in New York.[4]


Off the Rails was nominated for a 2016 Critics' Choice Documentary Award for Best First Documentary Feature,[14] and won top honors at nine film festivals in 2016, including DOC NYC (Metropolis Competition Grand Jury Prize Winner),[15] Newport Beach Film Festival (Jury Award for Best Documentary),[16] Woods Hole Film Festival[17] and DOCUTAH.[18]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a perfect 100% "Certified Fresh" score with an average rating of 8/10 based on 20 reviews.[19] On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 80 out of 100 based on 7 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[20]

New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger called the film "an assured and thoughtful debut" for first-time director Adam Irving, designating it a New York Times Critics' Pick.[1] Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan called Off the Rails "an excellent documentary."[13] The Hollywood Reporter labeled it "offbeat" and "enjoyable,"[3] while Variety singled out the film's "quirky electronic score," calling it "a notable plus in the [film's] well-assembled package."[5] Sam Weisberg of The Village Voice ranked Off the Rails as the sixth-best film of 2016.[21]

Narrative version[edit]

On March 14, 2016, Variety reported that McCollum's story was in development as a narrative film adaptation tentatively titled Train Man, to star Julia Roberts as his attorney Sally Butler.[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Neil Genzlinger, "Review: In 'Off the Rails,' an Eager Conductor Stalks New York's Transit System," New York Times, November 17, 2016.
  2. ^ Wolfgang Saxon, "Riders Unaware as Boy, 15, Operates Ind Train," New York Times, January 31, 1981.
  3. ^ a b John De Fore, "'Off the Rails': Film Review," The Hollywood Reporter, May 31, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Elise Nakhnikian, "Asperger's, the MTA, and the Criminal Justice System: Talking to Off The Rails director Adam Irving," Brooklyn Magazine, November 15, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Dennis Harvey, "Film Review: 'Off the Rails'," Variety, November 11, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Lauren Wissot, "Five Questions with Adam Irving, Director/Producer/DP, 'Off the Rails'," International Documentary Association, May 3, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Kiah Fields, "'Off the Rails' Director Adam Irving Talks Darius McCollum, New York's Notorious Transit Imposter," The Source, April 27, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Damon Wise, "'Off the Rails' Director Adam Irving on Strange True-Life Story That Could Win Julia Roberts Her Next Oscar," Variety, September 26, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Sara Stewart, "Meet New York's beloved mass transit bandit," New York Post, November 17, 2016.
  10. ^ Dan Rivoli, "The story of Darius McCollum, NYC's notorious transit thief, to screen at Lower East Side's Metrograph theater," New York Daily News, November 13, 2016.
  11. ^ Linda Barnard, "Hot Docs documentary Off the Rails pursues tale of a man obsessed by New York Transit," Toronto Star, May 5, 2016.
  12. ^ Brad Wheeler, "What documentary director Adam Irving is watching," The Globe and Mail, October 6, 2016.
  13. ^ a b Kenneth Turan, "'Off the Rails'" reveals a life devoted to, and imprisoned by, a mass-transit obsession," Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2016.
  14. ^ Pete Hammond, "'13th,' 'O.J.: Made In America' & 'Gleason' Lead Nominations For First Critics' Choice Documentary Awards," Deadline Hollywood, October 10, 2016.
  15. ^ Sarah Modo, "And the Award Goes to…" Doc NYC, November 17, 2016.
  16. ^ Kathleen Luppi, "'Embers' and 'Off the Rails' among Newport Beach Film Festival winners," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2016.
  17. ^ Scott Feinberg, "'Off the Rails,' Doc Version of Upcoming Julia Roberts Drama, to Get Oscar-Qualifying Run," The Hollywood Reporter, August 31, 2016.
  18. ^ Brian Passey, "DOCUTAH documents tragedy, laughter," Detroit Free Press, September 12, 2016.
  19. ^ Off the Rails at Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed February 8, 2017.
  20. ^ Off the Rails at Metacritic. Accessed February 8, 2017.
  21. ^ Sam Weisberg, "Film Poll 2016," The Village Voice, 2016.
  22. ^ Ramin Setoodeh, "Julia Roberts to Star in Crime Drama 'Train Man'," Variety, March 14, 2016.
  23. ^ Gregg Kilday, "Julia Roberts to Play Real-Life Lawyer in 'Train Man'," The Hollywood Reporter, March 14, 2016.

External links[edit]