It Might Seem Legit, But "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" Is Totally Fictitious

This Remake of the 1974 Original Is Entirely Fictional

An underground scene from "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.".

"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" (2009) makes no claims that it's a true story or based on a true story. This lightning-paced thriller of a remake about the hijacking of a New York City subway train is as entirely fictitious as the original film, released in 1974, which starred Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, and Martin Balsam.

Great movies are often based on intriguing documentaries or true stories that have never been filmed -- "based on" means the story is mostly true but the producers have taken some creative license in dialogue, characterization, and sequence of events. 

Some prominent recent examples of movies based on true stories are "The Wolf of Wall Street," "12 Years a Slave" and "Dallas Buyers Club," all from 2013, and "The Revenant" (2015) and "The Free State of Jones" (2016).

"Pelham 123": True Story or Fictional?

There's not even the hint of a suggestion that the film's based on even a sliver of a true story. And that's a really good thing. New Yorkers don't need terror in the subway, and it would be terrible, indeed, if real life were to follow the fiction of "Pelham."

But the film achieves such a high degree of authenticity that you might, when you next set foot on a subway train, find yourself keeping a more watchful eye on what's going on around you.

In fact, the 2009 remake of "Pelham" actually has a much higher degree of authenticity than the original; while the original version was shot mostly at Grand Central Station, the remake was actually (and uniquely) filmed in authentic subway cars in the subway's fearfully dark and always busy underground tunnels.

To qualify for their full underground access passes, director Tony Scott stars Denzel Washington and John Travolta, Luis Guzman and the others working on the movie had to take the New York City Transit Authority's eight-hour course required for anyone who's going to walk on the tracks. The training course, which is not available to the public, entails much more than rider etiquette.

As a result, the film, which clearly transgresses rider etiquette, takes you -- the viewer as a tourist -- to the depths of places you could not actually go. And, no, there will not be "Pelham 1 2 3" tours of the subway. So for access, you'll just have to board "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," which is one helluva thrilling ride. Sample it with the trailer.

Another Denzel Washington movie, "Unstoppable," takes place on a standard railroad train, and this film is legitimately based on a true story.