Film Review: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Release Date: December 1st, 1903
Directed by: Edwin S. Porter
Written by: Edwin S. Porter, Scott Marble
Cast: Alfred C. Abadie, Broncho Billy Anderson, Justus D. Barnes, Walter Cameron

Warner Bros. (as Edison Manufacturing Company), Kleine Optical Company, 12 Minutes (at 18 frame/s)


Lately, I have been going back to the films that started it all. I want to look at where this great art form came from and to explore some of the earliest films that made an impact on pop culture. The Great Train Robbery was a massive success, for its time. Back then, a twelve minute film was like an epic.

What makes this film so important, is that it was a huge achievement in capturing action. It was also one of the first films to have an actual plot. It helped launch the action, adventure, heist and western film genres.

The film had a budget of $150, which it made back fairly quickly, as it opened at Huber’s Museum in New York City and was then exhibited at eleven theaters throughout the city before expanding out even further. Thomas Edison’s people, a true marketing machine of its day, touted the film as “…absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made.” They weren’t wrong, by the way.

The Great Train Robbery was really one of the first blockbusters and was the most popular silent film of its time until the release of The Birth of a Nation, twelve years later.

This film inspired many directors and several auteurs have made homages to it within their own works. For instance, Martin Scorsese mimics the final shot of this film in his hugely successful Goodfellas, where the main character points his gun through the fourth wall, at the audience, and shoots. Additionally, the scene in Goodfellas where the mobster shoots at the feet of the waiter, making him dance, is a sort of recreation of the scene in The Great Train Robbery where trigger happy locals cause the Eastern stranger to dance, dodging gunshots towards his feet.

The Great Train Robbery is one of the most significant films ever made and without its existence, who’s to say how the film industry would’ve evolved. This, alongside A Trip to the Moon, really allowed motion pictures to take shape and have a deeper meaning.

Rating: 8/10