With the release of Unstoppable in August 2009, Tony Scott and his longtime collaborator/actor Denzel Washington said goodbye to the theatres where they had remade The Taking of Pelham 123.

This was a daring move. Trains played major roles in both The Taking of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable. The critics were not on board with the remake of the 1974 crime drama. The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin described it as “bracingly horrible.”

Former New York mayor Ed Koch expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision in an article for The Atlantic. Even though it had a much larger budget than The Hangover, the 2009 film Pelham only earned $70 million domestically on a $100 million production budget.

Pictures of the Real Frank Barnes and will Colson

Pictures of the Real Frank Barnes and will Colson

Denzel and Tony wanted to prove they could do it right, Lew Temple explains. The actor who plays Ned in Unstoppable, a New Orleans native, has said that he was “concerned that [Unstoppable] was going to be the rural Taking of Pelham. Just the opposite, in fact.

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Unstoppable is an old-school action-adventure film based on the May 2001 CSX-8888 incident. The movie, which was released in theatres in November 2010 and was nominated for an Oscar, follows a group of railroad workers as they struggle to stop a driverless train.

Washington plays Frank Barnes, a seasoned train engineer, in this, their fifth joint effort. Chris Pine, hot off his role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, plays new conductor Will Colson. The first shift of a new employee on another train quickly becomes a rescue mission.

The film follows the 777 as it races through the Rust Belt, switching perspectives between Barnes and Colson and their compelled partnership, the two idiots responsible for the train’s disappearance (Ethan Suplee as Dewey and T.J. Miller as Gilleece), the cowboy pursuing the train (Temple’s Ned), the corporate fixer (Kevin Dunn as Galvin), and the yardmaster (Rosario Dawson as Connie), who must coordinate the rescue.

Kevin Corrigan, as federal inspector Scott Werner, has picked the most tense day to check in, and Kevin Chapman, as dispatcher Bunny, is also at the controls with Connie.

When the 777 accelerates to full speed, a passenger car filled with schoolchildren is almost slammed by the train. It later rips in half a horse trailer that got stuck on the tracks. Barnes and Colson narrowly avoid being run down by the 777 in the 1206. To slow down the creature, Barnes decides to chase it, and the chase is on.

All of this takes place in a little 98 minutes. Once the editor Chris Lebenzon learns this, he exclaims, “Goddamn, we got it down to that?” Nine of Scott’s 19 films had Lebenzon’s involvement, and he was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Top Gun and Crimson Tide.

Each film has a single objective: never give the viewer a chance to recover their breath. “Chris, I don’t want the viewers to relax,” Lebenzon recalls Tony saying at the start of every film.

By this point, “[Scott] had gotten better at trimming down his films. Some filmmaking auteurs see the footage they produce as priceless. They feel a stronger connection to it than they should. To paraphrase Tony, “OK, take that out, let’s get to the substance of it,” after he read Unstoppable.

Scott said at the time to Entertainment Weekly that Unstoppable was “the most risky movie I’ve ever done” due to its extensive use of live-action stunts. But the end product was a critical and commercial success.

Unstoppable was on for 17 weeks in the United States. The film’s global gross is around $200.3 million, which is approximately $20 million more than Scott fan favourite Man on Fire and approximately 18 million more than The Taking of Pelham 123 when adjusted for inflation.

Even with its commercial success, Unstoppable is a sombre reminder of Scott’s suicide in August 2012. Scott had apparently gone on location scouting for Top Gun 2 with Tom Cruise a few days earlier. Scott was considering a wide variety of projects, including a sequel to the smash movie from 1986.

“The more projects [Scott] had juggling, the better chance he could have one made,” Lebenzon says. Tony was irritated when he was forced to do nothing. He was continuously talking about how “every 18 months I want to be in production.”

Mark Bomback, who wrote the screenplay for Unstoppable, notes that despite Scott’s prolific output, the director was careful in his craft and possessed of enormous enthusiasm and loyalty.

“Tony had the special gift of making everyone feel like they were of great importance to him,” adds Bomback. He was like your naughty uncle. He kept grinning, but he never gave in. He put in more hours than anyone else in the crew.

To this day, Unstoppable is a refreshing burst of energy that accurately portrays the tough, blue-collar lifestyle and inherent perils of the railroad industry. Scott almost didn’t direct what is arguably his most intense film.

Bomback was first contacted by producer Julie Yorn in 2004 after she read an article he wrote on the CSX-8888 fugitive train. In May 2001, a 47-car train carrying thousands of gallons of poisonous liquid phenol rolled out of its Ohio yard as the engineer got off to align a railroad switch, an event that became known as the Crazy Eights Incident.

As the train picked up speed, the engineer was unable to re-board. Despite numerous attempts, the train was not derailed. Explosions, severe burns, and ecosystem contamination could have resulted from releasing the chemicals on board.

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Jess Knowlton, a seasoned engineer, and Terry Forson, a relative newcomer to the conductor’s seat, were in charge of a northbound freight train when they saw the 8888 speed by. They then gave pursue. By coupling their train to the 8888’s trailing railcar and using dynamic brakes, Knowlton and Forson brought it to a halt.

Bomback, inspired by the essay, proposed making a film in the vein of Jaws and The West Wing. Making a monster movie in the style of Aaron Sorkin wasn’t the plan; rather, “intercutting between story lines that were all converging on the same issue,” as Bomback puts it, was the way to go.

Bomback developed the script after selling the idea to 20th Century Fox, and it was widely acclaimed. “The studio virtually didn’t have any notes,” he explains. The studio head at the time, Tom Rothman, called to say that this script was his personal favourite. Everything was going too smoothly.