Unstoppable (2010 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tony Scott|
|Written by||Mark Bomback|
|Music by||Harry Gregson-Williams|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$167.8 million|
Unstoppable is a 2010 American disaster thriller film directed and produced by Tony Scott, in his final film as director before his death in 2012. It stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and is loosely 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.
The film was released in the United States and Canada on November 12, 2010. It received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $167 million against a production budget around $90 million. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing at the 83rd Academy Awards, but lost to Inception.
While moving an Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad (AWVR) train pulled by two AC4400CW locomotives, #777 and #767, at the Veteran AWVR trainyard in the fictional city of Fuller, Pennsylvania, the two railroad engineers, Dewey and Gilleece, take ill-advised shortcuts and accidentally allow the train to leave the rail yard on its own power without the air brakes engaged. Initially believing the train to be coasting, yardmaster Connie Hooper orders Dewey, Gilleece, and chief welder Ned Oldham to drive and catch up to the train to stop it. When Oldham finds that the train has already passed where it was supposed to be, they realize that the train is running on full power and now poses a dangerous threat. Dewey and Gilleece manage to catch up to 777 using a high railing truck but fail to board the train in time. Hooper alerts Oscar Galvin, director of operations for AWVR, and also instructs the local and state police and sheriffs to secure all the grade crossings to prevent injury. Visiting Federal Railroad Administration safety inspector Scott Werner warns that eight cars being pulled by 777 contain highly toxic and highly flammable molten phenol, which would be a major disaster if the train should crash or derail in a populated area. Triple 7 is also filled with around 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel, which poses another serious threat. News of the runaway train soon becomes a media event.
Hooper suggests they purposely derail the train, but Galvin disagrees and believes they can safely stop the train by lashing it behind two slower-moving SD40-2 diesel locomotives helmed by veteran engineer Judd Stewart, which would slow it down long enough for AWVR employee and former U.S. Marine Ryan Scott to descend via helicopter to 777's cab and stop the train manually. Though the lashing initially works, a sudden hard bump as a result of Stewart applying the lash-up’s brakes injures Scott and renders him unconscious. In an attempt to get 777 off the main line, a switch to a siding is thrown down the tracks. Stewart is unable to slow down 777 sufficiently enough to take the siding, and the two SD40-2s end up derailing while going into the siding, causing them to explode, ultimately killing Stewart in the process. Due to its high speed, 777 goes over the switch without going into the siding or derailing, and continues down the main line. They realize that 777, traveling at its current speed, will certainly derail on "Devil's Curve", a tight, elevated portion of track in the middle of the city of Stanton, and would supposedly crash into a large fuel depot near the curve on the eastern side of the state. Plans are made to purposely derail the train outside the town of Arklow using multiple portable derailers.
Meanwhile, retiring AWVR engineer Frank Barnes and conductor Will Colson, a new hire looking to turn his life around after an incident with his now estranged wife, are pulling several cars with SD40-2 locomotive #1206 from Stanton. Though originally aware of 777 coasting away from the Fuller train yard, they are ordered at the last minute to pull into a Repair-In-Place track, making it just in time as 777 races by and clips the last few cars they are pulling. Barnes observes that the last car on 777 has an open coupler, which means that if they could catch up to the train, they could couple their engine to 777 and use their own brakes to slow the train before it reaches Stanton. As Colson unhitches their cars to give them the best chance of catching up, Barnes reports his plan to Hooper and Galvin and warns them that the derailing idea will not work given 777's momentum. Galvin then threatens to fire Barnes if he continues. Given that AWVR has already given him a forced early retirement notice, Barnes ignores Galvin and sets 1206 on course to catch up with 777. As 777 passes Arklow, police attempt to shoot the fuel shutoff switch on the engine, but fail to hit it. As Barnes predicts, the train barrels through the derailers without slowing down or derailing. Hooper and Werner fully support Barnes's plan and take over control of the situation from Galvin.
Barnes and Colson catch up to 777 and attempt to engage the coupling. Their attempts to connect with 777 cause the seal on the last grain car of the consist to break and leak grain at a blinding rate. Colson then notices the locking pin on the coupler is not engaged. He attempts to kick it in but the pair again hit 1206 and Colson gets his right foot crushed in the process. However, he is able to hold on enough to fully engage the locking pin. Barnes then begins to work his way across 777’s consist to its cab, manually engaging the brakes on the freight cars along the way, while Colson engages 1206's dynamic brakes, which initially slow down 777, but would prove to be no match for 777's speed. They are able to reduce the speed slow enough to clear the Stanton Curve without derailing by using the independent brake, but 777 remains out of control and threatens to crash into the Stanton train yard. Despite attempting to reach the locomotive by jumping on the cars, Barnes finds his path blocked to 777's cab, but Oldham arrives in his truck with a police convoy and drives on a road parallel to the tracks. Colson jumps to Oldham's truck, and Oldham drives him up to the front of 777, allowing Colson to get into the cab and engage the brakes. 777 is safely stopped before it reaches the end of the line.
Barnes, Colson, and Oldham are heralded as heroes, with Barnes retiring (with full benefits) and Colson reuniting with his wife and child. Hooper is promoted to Galvin's former position for her leadership, Ryan Scott recovers from his injuries, and Dewey goes to work in the fast food industry, indicating that he was fired.
- Denzel Washington as Frank Barnes, a veteran railroad engineer
- Chris Pine as Will Colson, a young train conductor
- Rosario Dawson as Connie Hooper, a train yardmaster
- Lew Temple as Ned Oldham, a railroad lead welder
- 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 Scott Werner, an FRA inspector who helps Frank, Will, and Connie
- Kevin Chapman as Bunny, a railroad operations dispatcher
- T. J. Miller as Gilleece, Dewey's friend, also a hostler
- Jessy Schram as Darcy Colson, Will's estranged wife
- David Warshofsky as Judd Stewart, a veteran engineer who dies in an attempt to slow the runaway
- Victor Gojcaj as Groundman, a railroad ground specialist
- Meagan Tandy and Elizabeth Mathis as Maya and Nicole Barnes, Frank's daughters who work as waitresses at Hooters
- Ryan Ahern as Ryan Scott, a railway employee and US Marine veteran of the war in Afghanistan who attempts unsuccessfully to board the runaway from a helicopter
- Aisha Hinds as Railroad Safety Campaign Coordinator
- Jeff Wincott as Jesse Colson, Will's brother who helps him on his family situation
In June 2007, 20th Century Fox was in negotiations with Martin Campbell to direct the film, and he was attached as director, until March 2009 when Tony Scott came on board as director. In April, both Denzel Washington and Chris Pine were attached to the project.
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. Washington declined and, although attached since April, formally withdrew from the project in July, citing lost patience with the film's lack of a start date. Fox made a modified offer as enticement, and he returned to the project two weeks later.
Production was headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the fictional railroad depicted in the movie, the "Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad," is headquartered. Filming took place in a broad area around there including the Ohio cities of Martins Ferry, Bellaire, Mingo Junction, Steubenville and Brewster, and in the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh, Emporium, Milesburg, Tyrone, Julian, Unionville, Port Matilda, Bradford, Monaca, Eldred, Turtlepoint, Port Allegany and Carnegie, and also in Portville and Olean, New York. 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. The real-life bridge and elevated curve in the climactic scene is the B & O Railroad Viaduct in Bellaire, Ohio. 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. Filming began on August 31, 2009, for a release on November 12, 2010.
Filming was delayed for one day when part of the train accidentally derailed on November 21, 2009.
The locomotives used on the runaway train, 777 and trailing unit 767, were played by GE AC4400CWs leased from the Canadian Pacific Railway. CP #9777 and #9758 played 777 and 767 in early scenes, and CP #9782 and #9751 were given a damaged look for later scenes. These four locomotives were repainted by Canadian Pacific in standard colors following the filming, but the painted pilot warning stripes from the AWVR livery were left untouched and remained visible on the locomotives. The plow on 9777 appears to have been repainted black as of 2013.
Most of the other 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 the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway. #1206 was played by three different SD40-2s: W&LE #6353 and #6354, and a third unit that was bought from scrap and modified for cab shots. 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. The excursion train locomotive (#2002) was played by a Southwestern Pennsylvania Railroad Paducah-built EMD GP11 rebuilt from an EMD GP9. Passenger coaches carrying schoolchildren were provided by the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society.
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 the Walbridge, Ohio, rail yard with no one at the controls, after the hostler 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.
Two of the train's tank cars contained thousands of gallons of molten phenol, a toxic ingredient of paints and dyes harmful when it is inhaled, ingested, or brought into contact with the skin. Attempts to derail it using a portable derailer failed, and police were unable to shoot out the fuel release valve, instead hitting the fuel cap. For two hours, the train traveled at speeds up to 51 miles per hour (82 km/h) until the crew of a second train 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 just southeast of Kenton, Ohio. No one was seriously injured in the incident.
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 let the train slip, nor what disciplinary action was taken.
The film score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and the soundtrack album was released on December 7, 2010.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2010)
A trailer was released online on August 6, 2010. The film went on general release November 12, 2010.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2013)
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on 177 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. 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." Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Film critic Roger Ebert rated the film three and a half stars out of four, remarking in his review, "In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film." In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis praised the film's visual style, saying that Scott "creates an unexpectedly rich world of chugging, rushing trains slicing across equally beautiful industrial and natural landscapes."
The Globe and Mail in Toronto was more measured. While the movie'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."
Unstoppable was expected to take in about the same amount of money as 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. 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. 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. 
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One person close to the production said "Unstoppable" cost about $100 million after the benefit of tax credits, though another person close to Fox said the final budget was closer to $85 million.
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