This website's Main Pages (click to go there)   Home 主页    Current Update 当前更新    Resources 学习资源    Photos 影集 

  Links 友情链接    Things We've Written 我的文集   Special Features 本站特色    Site Map 本站导航    Real World 英语写作 

I've stopped updating this website, though it's pages will remain for a while. See "current update" for details.

Visit instead: wp.krigline.com and EFLsuccess.com

EFL Movie Study Guides (for English learners)

Sister-pages:   Home Up Baby's Day Out Air Bud--World Pup American Tail Ben-Hur Chariots of Fire A Christmas Carol Cool Runnings Ever After Facing the Giants Family Man Far and Away Fantastic Voyage Fiddler on the Roof Finding Forrester Finding Nemo Finding Neverland The Flaw Ghost & Mr Chicken Greatest Story Ever The Grinch Groundhog Day Gua Sha Treatment Home Alone House MD--pilot House MD--maternity House MD--Christmas Jungle Book Last Holiday Lost Worlds Narnia Narnia--Caspian October Sky (temp) Oct Sky Patch Adams Paulie Return of the King The Robe Rudy Russians are Coming Sand Lot (1) Secondhand Lions Sherlock-Blind Banker Snoopy's Christmas Steel Magnolias Titanic Unstoppable White Christmas Wonderful Life

(▲ Links to the pages at the same level as this page. If you can't see the label, put your mouse over a button and look at the bottom of your browser.)

EFL Movie Study Guide for: Unstoppable

from www.krigline.com   www.krigline.com.cn


Story:  Is it ever okay to “bend” company rules a little? Being a bit late for work, or chatting with friends while at work—these never hurt anyone, do they? This movie (based on a true story) shows that little things can create huge problems. After an “unfortunate combination of human error and bad luck” produce a runaway train, we get a thrilling ride with two railroad employees who choose to disobey company bosses, risking their lives to save a town from the train’s toxic cargo. (2010; Oscar; Denzel Washington, Chris Pine; 20th Century Fox; action, thriller; PG-13; 98 min)

Tagline: 1 million tons of steel. 100,000 people at risk. 100 minutes to impact. With an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train barreling toward a city, a veteran engineer and a young conductor race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe.

Setting: Train tracks running through Pennsylvania’s countryside and small towns, 2010

Note: See “Interesting facts” at the end of this Study Guide for more info about the film, actors and "real events" that inspired the movie.  Blue type and/or * indicate key things for my students. Underlined terms are explained in the vocabulary section.


People and proper nouns:

Will Colson: a “yellow vestrookie conductor with the train company

Frank Barnes: a 28-year veteran engineer

Dewey, Gilleece: men whose work is moving trains around in a train yard

Connie Hooper: black woman who manages the yard where Dewey works

Oscar Galvin: VP (Vice President) of Operations for the train company (Connie’s boss, but of course he has bosses above him)

Scott Werner: Federal Safety Inspector, who has come to talk to the children about railroad safety

HazMat: abbreviation for “hazardous materials” such as oil or combustible chemicals


As the story opens, we learn about the main characters. Because of a court “restraining order,” Will can’t come near his wife and son. Frank and other long-time railroad employees are getting fired so that the company can save money by hiring young workers like Will. Frank takes his job seriously, but for Will, it’s just a new job. There is obvious tension between older and younger workers.

While Frank and Will work in one part of Pennsylvania, other railroad employees are creating space in the yard for a special train for children, who are learning about railroad safety. But an engineer “bends” company rules, jumping out of his engine to change a switch; unfortunately, he can’t get back in, and soon we have a “missile” speeding down the tracks with no driver. It is carrying toxic chemicals, and threatens the safety of many PA towns.

   News helicopters and reporters give people “live” pictures of the train, and explain the danger. Then railroad officials estimate that if they intentionally derail the train, it could cost over $100 million, plus destroy the value of the company’s stock. Instead, they come up with a plan to use a chopper to get an engineer onto the train, but it doesn’t work. Another failed plan was to use guns to shoot a tiny "stop button" as the train sped by. Later, when they try to derail the train, that doesn’t work either.

Meanwhile, Frank and Will are on the same track; the two trains are heading for each other, but Frank is a long way from a safe place to stop. After their trains narrowly miss each other, Frank and Will defy their boss, and chase the train. They are risking their lives to save all the people (including family members) in Stanton, which would be destroyed if the speeding train falls off the tracks at a sharp curve in town.


Nouns/verbs (vocabulary): (* means key vocabulary for my students!)

*to can (canned): to fire from one’s job (“Jane was canned last week for always coming in late.”)

*cargo: goods that are being carried by train, airplane, etc.; freight ("What are we worried about in terms of cargo?")


*to coast: to keep moving without aid of power (“My bike chain fell off, but I can coast to the repair station.” “Don’t just coast through life; think, plan, and take control!”) If a train is a “coaster” it is slowing down, without a driver, but this train isn’t a “coaster”—its motor is speeding up.

*collateral (damage, benefits): (adj) happening at the same time, and esp. damage to property or innocent people in a war or man-made disaster

*combustible: able to burn, esp to produce heat or an explosion

conductor: the train worker who is in charge of a train—where it goes, paperwork, etc.

to decimate: to destroy a large part of sth

to derail: literally, to go off the track/rail, but figuratively to spoil a plan or process (“Mr. Gray’s attitude derailed our contract negotiations.”)

engineer: the train worker who operates/drives the train

*to gauge=to measure (especially in relation to a specific size/volume/distance/etc.) (“I’ll stand in front of the car to help you gauge the distance to the wall.”

mph=abbreviation for "miles per hour", a common measure of speed (60 mph=100 km per hour)

*to patch: to fix, by joining things together (to “patch in” means to electronically include a third person in a phone/radio conversation)

ramp: a triangle-shaped device/slope, that makes it easier for a car (cart, wheelchair, etc.) to move up or down (such as to drive onto the sidewalk); ("The derailer works like a ramp.")

RIP track: “repair in place” siding; a short section of railroad track on which equipment can be parked when the need for maintenance/repairs is not serious enough to require a trip to a formal repair shop

*rookie: a new worker, esp. someone in his/her first year on the job (“Every day, veterans are canned and rookies are hired because their wages are lower.”)


throttle: equipment that controls fuel, and thus the speed of an engine (“full throttle”=full speed)

*veteran/vet: someone with a lot of experience in a specific job or activity, or anyone who has been in the army, navy, etc.

yard or train yard: a “storage” place where engines and train cars wait to be directed elsewhere




*“to have a thing for sb”: to have a crush on someone, or quietly/secretly want a closer (sexual) personal relationship

“to play chicken” (“chicken”=afraid): a stupid, dangerous 1950s “game”, where two drivers would drive toward each other—whoever turned first (to avoid a crash), lost the game

“to serve me with”: to give (me) an official document that I’d rather not have (like when a lawyer gives you divorce papers)

*“Bail!”: (short for “Bail out”) immediately stop doing what you are doing and get away (“The pilot bailed out, jumping from his airplane after it was destroyed by the enemy.”)

“Cut me some slack”: “Give me a break”; “Overlook this mistake, okay?”

*“I’m not at liberty to give you that information.” Polite “business talk” when refusing to answer someone’s question.

*"It's your call." "This is your decision; it is up to you to decide." This is sometimes used to give someone the authority to decide what would normally be decided by a superior.

*“the kicker” (AmE): a strange ending to a story or event

“(my/your) ass” (slang, offensive; one of several meanings!): someone specifically and personally [“It’s my ass”=I, personally, will get in trouble for this stupid mistake. “I’ll save your ass”=I’ll do this to protect you, personally, from the consequences of this stupid mistake]

"We can use all the help we can get." This is used to say "yes" to an offer to help or suggestion that might help

“yellow vest”: this refers to the “safety vest” that train rookies have to wear, which lets everyone know they don’t have much experience. It is not unusual to require “new” workers to identify themselves, especially when a job is dangerous


Conditional Sentences

Everyone should know how to write correct conditional sentences with “if…then…”: you need to use the  “past perfect” tense. had+past participle (see below)

1. If Will had kept his phone off, then his train would have fit into the siding.

2. If Dewey hadn’t gotten out of the cab, then the train wouldn’t have gotten out of control. (trains can’t “lose control”, but people can…)

--past participle [countable] technical: the form of a verb used with the verb 'to have' in perfect tenses (for example, 'I have eaten'), or with the verb 'to be' in the passive (for example, 'it was changed'), or sometimes as an adjective (for example, 'a broken leg')

had been, had called, had obeyed, hadn’t risked, had sped,
had trusted, had arrived, had fallen, had set, had seen…

Note: Most pp are regular (risk, risked, have risked; call, called, have called; leave, left, left), but some pp are irregular (swim, swam, have swum; set, set, set; get, got, gotten; fall, fell, fallen; see, saw, seen)

Note: For this assignment, I may also accept modal conditional sentences, that use a modal plus have instead of had. Example: If the leaders could have seen the future, then they would have made fewer mistakes.


Sentences/dialogs from the movie: (only a few of these came from IMDB, but imdb's website is a great place to find movie facts and more)

1.   (Will, a rookie, introduces himself and gives papers to Frank, saying that they will be working together today. As Frank looks at the train’s papers, two other workers stare at Will.)

      Will: Is there a problem?

      One: No problem. I just don’t like working at a damn day-care center.

      Will: Well, I don’t like working at a retirement home, so…

      (Frank breaks up this hostility, and tells Will to meet him on “the wagon”, i.e., the engine.)

      Two: You know that punk’s union, right? (He complains that Will got hired because his uncles and brother work for the company.)

      One: That figures. Here, they are canning people every day, but if you have the right last name and a rookie’s paygrade… you’ve got a job.

2.   Bunny: Dewey, Gilleece. Sorry to break up charm school, but what the hell is that beast still doing on D-16? I told you I need that track clear.

      Gileece (he and his coworker are eating and chatting): Relax, buddy. We were just about to move it.

      Bunny: Like hell you are. I’ve got 150 school students coming in on some field trip on D-16. I need that track clear. [The “field trip” is called Railroad Safety Campaign: a not-for-profit program designed to educate children about railway safety.]

3.   Bunny: What’s taking you so long?

      Dewey: It’s a 39-car consist. The thing’s a half mile long. Gilleece, can you believe this shit?

      Gilleece: Hey, hold up. You forgot to tie the air in from the point.

      Dewey: Yeah, so?

      Gilleece: So, you don’t have any air brakes.

      Dewey: You can tie the hoses once we got her parked and Bunny’s quit his bitching.

      Gilleece: Okay.

4.   Frank Barnes: How long have you been out of training?

      Will Colson: About four months. How long you been railroading?

      Frank: 28 years.

5.   Friend (on the phone): Looks like you got a break. The lawyer called. They’ve moved your hearing up to this morning.

      Will (not happy): That’s great, but did you tell him I’m working? I can’t come in.

      Friend: He said no problem, man.

      Frank (annoyed because Will is on the phone instead of doing his work): Are we ready to pull out, or what?

6.   Gilleece: You’re at 29 cars. You got 10 to go. You’re good. (Dewey can’t answer because he is messing with the radio, changing the battery—which should have been done earlier) Dewey? Dewey?

      Dewey: Hold your horses.

      Gilleece: What’s wrong?

      Dewey: Damn trailing point switch. The track’s aligned for D-16.

      Gilleece: What’s your stopping distance?

      Dewey: At least 20 cars to a stop. Damn it!

      Gilleece: Okay, so we back it up and lose a little time.

      Dewey: I’m hopping out.

      Gilleece (running up): Do not get out of that cab, man!

      Dewey: Don’t worry…

      (Somehow, the train’s auto switch kicks in after Dewey leaves the cab, the train speeds up, and Dewey—who is overweight—can’t catch up. Other workers laugh at Dewey as the train speeds down the track without a driver.)

7.   (Will makes another little mistake. Frank is polite, but annoyed.)

      Frank: Like I said, if you don’t know something, just ask.

      Will (nonchalant): I got it. Whatever.

      Frank: Excuse me?

      Will: This shit. This “let’s make the new guy prove himself” bullshit. I gotta tell you, I’ve heard it before and it gets old real fast.

      Frank: Well, that’s how it is at the retirement home. The company wants to get rid of us old heads. They give all the jobs to you new guys, you “yellow vests”.

      Will: I’m not trying to take anything from anybody.

      Frank: As reassuring as that is, a lot of guys don’t see it that way.

8.*   (Connie arrives a bit late because she had to pick up boxes of doughnuts for the kids--see #2. Someone on the phone calls Dewey’s train a “coaster.”)

      Connie: How the hell did this happen?

      Dewey: It just got away from me.

      Connie: It got away from you? It's a train, Dewey, not a chipmunk! [a chipmunk is a small pet]

      Dewey: I had to leave the cab to throw a switch.

      Connie (in disbelief): You left the cab?

      Geleece: Yeah, and it gets worse. The air brakes weren’t tied on.

      Connie: We’ve got an unmanned train rolling into opposing traffic with no brakes, is that what you’re telling me?

      Dewey: I set the independent brakes. That’ll for sure stop it.

      Connie: How fast is it going?

      Dewey: No more than 10 miles per [hour]. (about 12 km per hour)

      Connie: Okay. Jump on the hi-rail and go after it. NOW! (to a dispatcher) Call the field trip. I don’t care where they are, they need to get into the nearest siding.

      (A “hi-rail” is basically a truck that rides on rails instead of the road. Next, Connie calls Ned—who is always late for work—and tells him to “throw a switch” that will put the “coaster” onto a siding. They don’t know yet that it is going too fast, and getting faster.)

9.   Frank: Married?

      Will: Yeah. Well, sort of. It's a long story.

      Frank: We got a long day.

      Will (after a pause, because he doesn’t want to talk about it): How about you, you married?

      Frank: Short story. Once. Got two beautiful daughters, though; 18, 19. They are both waitressing, trying to work their way through college.

      Will: Yeah? Where at? (i.e., which restaurant do they work at?)

      Frank: Hooters. That’s right, Hooters. Wipe that grin off your face.

      Will: I’m a fan.

      Frank: You’re blushing. (both laugh) I’m used to it.

      (Hooters is popular with men because they only hire beautiful women—who wear sexy uniforms. Frank means that a lot of people make jokes about where his daughters work, but Hooters waitresses make a lot of money from tips.)

10.  Connie: Who the hell are you?

      Scott: I’m here for the Railroad Safety Campaign. Scott Werner, FRA Region 2, Federal Safety Inspector. I’m supposed to give a presentation to the children.

      (Connie is upset that a “stranger” is in her office during this unpleasant situation, so she not-so-politely pushes him out of her office and asks Bunny to help Scott get to the right place for his presentation. But later, he helps out by giving important information.)

11.  (When Ned arrives too late to throw the switch, Connie figures out that the train is not a coaster, it is “under power.”)

      Connie: I need you to rally every cell in that brain of yours. When you applied the independent (brake), was the throttle in the forward position?

      Dewey: Yeah. I had to get it moving. The throttle was in notch 8, full power. It was 39 cars!

      Connie: Ned, get back in your car and follow the main line. I want a set of eyes on that train.

      Ned: You’ve got ‘em. Roger that.

12.  (Will is on the phone again, getting bad news. His friend says the judge “was a real hard-ass” and thus “the restraining order is being continued for another 30 days.”)

      Frank: Will, pick up the radio! Are you there? Get off the phone, knock off the hand brakes, get up here. It’s time to go. We got work to do.

      Will: Copy

13.*  (As they pull out of the yard, Frank sees that Will made a mistake while on the phone. He “cut in”—included—too many cars. They argue about it, but Will knows it is his fault.)

      Will (angry): I’ve had my training! All right?

      Frank: Yeah, but we’re out here in the real world. This ain't training. In training they just give you an F. Out here, you get killed.

      Will: I screwed up, okay?

      Frank (calm): Yes, you did. (Will suggests that they go back.) We can’t stop out here on the main line. We’re more than a mile out on the main, more than a mile to the next stop… We’ll just green sheet it (admit the mistake) and roll on.

      Will: Come on, if we green sheet it, it’s my ass. Cut me some slack?

      (They argue some more; Will says it’s “his train” because he’s the conductor, but Frank refuses to turn back because he doesn’t want to be late. Then he starts laughing, which makes Will angry again.)

      Will: Something’s funny? What are you laughing at?

      Frank: Because it’s funny. You’re a funny guy. Well-trained, but funny.

Dialogs (continued)

14.*  News announcers: More word on that runaway freight train in rural Pennsylvania… 777 left Fuller Yard in northern PA (Pennsylvania) sometime before 8:00 a.m. this morning, and no one was onboard…. The engineer, they say, made an error in controlling the train. Before leaving the locomotive [to change a track switch], he intended to apply the independent brakes. And then by the time he realized his mistake, the train was going too fast for him to climb back on. We’re being told now by a spokesperson for the Public Utilities Commission that this employee will be held accountable.

15.*  (Connie’s boss calls back, probably after seeing the news.)

      Galvin: Damn it. How could this happen?

      Connie: It’s an unfortunate combination of human error and bad luck.

      Galvin: Luck? I was a yardmaster for 10 years, Ms. Hooper. Luck has no business in a rail yard. What are we worried about in terms of cargo?

      Connie: Eight cars are carrying a chemical called molten phenol. Not sure what that is…

      Scott (interrupting the conversation): It’s used in the manufacture of glue. Very toxic. Highly combustible.

      Galvin (sarcastically): Terrific. Hooper, get state police back on the line. Make sure they got a HazMat team briefed and ready. And ask them to put a spotter chopper over 777.

      (There is some chatter about how they are going to stop it. Galvin isn’t sure, but is working on it.)

      Connie: This train is half a mile long and is traveling at speed into population with eight freight cars of hazardous chemicals and 5000 gallons of diesel fuel. Sir, we’re not just talking about a train here. We’re talking about a missile the size of the Chrysler Building.

      Galvin: So, what is your point, Ms. Hooper?

      Connie: My point is, after it crosses through Findlay, there’s about 12 miles of vacant farmland, but after that, it’s nothing but town after town all the way to Stanton. We have a very limited window (of opportunity) here.

      Galvin: So, what are you suggesting we do, derail it?

      Connie: Yes sir, I am. While we still can. [awkward pause]  Mr. Galvin, I understand that’s gonna cost the company a lot of money…

      Galvin (angrily):  Do you think? Ms. Hooper, we’re not gonna intentionally destroy one of our own trains, not when we can still stop it.

      Connie: We can avoid a lot of collateral damage…

      Galvin: Now I'm going to extend you my last ounce of good will and pretend this conversation never happened! [Hangs up]

      Connie (to Scott): He thinks I'm worried about my job.


Discussion (Part 1; after the horse trailer is destroyed--about 37 min; there are more questions later):

D1.* Review dialog 15. What is Connie worried about? What do you think about her suggestion?

D2.* What are the positive and negative aspects of making rookies stand out (such as by wearing a “yellow vest”)?

D3. Many employees use phones, play computer games, send short messages, check “Facebook” or "Wechat", and chat with co-workers during work hours. Discuss the impact of these things on one’s company, relationships and personal life.

D4. Many people think that companies or schools have too many “useless rules.” Make a list of the “useless little things” that employers (or teachers) require workers (students) to do.

D5. (If you haven't seen the end already...) What do you think they should do to stop the train?


16.*  (In the strategy meeting, a lawyer says that if they derail it, it will be a major disaster. If even one of those HazMat cars blows up, “it could easily decimate an entire town.”)

      Lawyer: Environmental liability, track damage, car and locomotive loss. We’re looking at a projected cost easily over $100 million.

      Someone on a golf course (likely the company president or owner): And the resulting stock devaluation?

      Lawyer: Our projections indicate it could be in the 30 to 40% range.

      Golfer: I say we go with Mr. Galvin’s option.

      (We cut to a shot inside the empty cab, and see that the speedometer reads over 70 miles per hour; over 110 km/hr.)

17.  Scott (watching the red lights on the map): So, the red means?

      Bunny: Tripple-7 blew through a signal. Everything in red means trouble on the mainline.

      Scott: That's a lot of red!

18.*  (Connie, Dewey and other railroad employees learn about the “rescue” attempt while watching the story on TV. Announcers—and Connie—have not been told what the company is trying to do, so they just describe the action.)

      News announcers: By the activity level behind me, it is evident that a plan to stop the runaway train is underway, but so far, no one at AWVR is commenting… We just witnessed AWVR employee Ryan Scott boarding one of the rescue helicopters. He is a 22-year-old Marine vet who has just returned from Afghanistan. …It looks like they are putting an engine in front of 777 in an attempt to slow it down… Incredibly dangerous… Wow! I can’t believe how crazy that was…

19.  Connie (to Frank): Give it all you’ve got. (to Bunny) Get Galvin on the line. Tell him we’ve got two guys on the main line about to play chicken with our train.

20.*  [Frank realizes that the “portable derailer” won’t work—777 is going too fast. He also knows that 777 will likely destroy Stanton, where his (and Will’s) family lives. So he decides to try to stop the train himself by coupling (attaching) to the back (“grab it by the tail”), and slowing it down. Will thinks it’s too dangerous.]

      Frank: Are you in or are you out?

      Will: You want to get yourself killed, you do it alone.

      Frank: You know what? Ask your wife what she thinks.

      Will (thinking about his wife’s safety): Wait!

      Will: If you're right and that derailer fails, what are the odds it makes it to Stanton?

      Frank: You saw the train, what do you think?

21.*  (When Mr Galvin learns that Frank wants to try to “grab it by the tail”, he discusses this with Frank for a minute and then commands him to bail.)

      Galvin: I am not going to jeopardize any more property or personnel just because some engineer wants to play hero! Now you stop your pursuit or I will fire you!

      Frank: [chuckles] Fire... You already did.

      Galvin: Already did what?

      Frank: You've already fired me. I received my 90 day notice in the mail, 72 days ago. Forced early retirement, half benefits.

      Galvin: So, you’re going to risk your life for us with three weeks left.

      Frank: Not for you. I’m not doing it for you.

      Will: Frank, let me see that thing (the mic). Mr. Galvin, this is Will Colson, your conductor. I’m letting you know, we're going to run this bitch down.

      Galvin: Maybe you didn't hear what I just said, Colson. I will fire you!

      Will: Well, that's too bad. I was just starting to like this job.

      (Galvin is very angry. Frank cuts off the conversation. Then Galvin tells Connie…)

      Galvin: This is your headache now, Hooper. Now you get them off the main (line), or consider yourself shit-canned, too! (He slams the phone to hang up.)

      Connie (to herself, talking about Will and Frank): I like them.

22.*  Frank: What did you say your wife’s first name was?

      Will: Darcy.

      Frank: So, what was the long story you didn’t want to make long?

      Will (reluctantly): I come home from work two weeks ago and she’s texting on the phone. I ask her who with, she says, “Nobody.” I say, “Let me see the phone.” She says no…. There’s this guy we both went to school with. He’s a cop; he’s a PA state trooper. And he’s always had a thing for Darcy, going way back.

      Connie (interrupts, on the radio): You better step on it. (i.e., you need to go faster if they want to catch 777)

      Frank: I'm stepping on it, in it, around it and through it, Connie. Thank you. Over.

      Will (continuing his story): …eventually I grabbed for her phone. I scared her—but I didn’t hit her. Anyway, I drive to this guy’s house and tell him we need to talk, let’s take a ride. He jumps in my truck and starts in with, “You got it all wrong. We’re just friends.” Then he stops once he sees the gun I got sitting on the dash.

      Frank: Oh!

      Will: I look him in the eye and say, “She’s my wife. You find a new friend.”

      Frank (in disbelief): You pulled a gun on a cop?

      Will: You want to hear the kicker?

      Frank (eagerly): Yes, I do.

      Will: It wasn’t even him that was texting her. It was my sister-in-law. Anyway, by the time I got home an officer was waiting to serve me with this restraining order.

23.  Galvin (after seeing on the news that Frank/Will are still following 777): Did I or did I not tell you to get 1206 off the main?

      Connie: I asked them nicely.

24.  FRA Official (explaining on TV what a derailer does): It works like a ramp. This piece here will lift the flange and pull it outside the rail. That will cause the train to flip over on its right-hand side.

25.  Galvin (after 777 rips through the derailers): What in the hell was that?

      Connie: That was 10 million pounds of train, Mr. Galvin! And this is the sound of me saving your ass! (She gets on the radio and tells Franks that he was right; the derailers didn’t work, so it is up to him to save Stanton.)


Discussion (Part 2) (after the derailers fail--65 minutes)

D6. Make a list of the ways phones or communications equipment helped or harmed the situation in this film.

D7. On several occasions, Connie’s office is unable to get information from her boss’s office (Mr. Galvin). Why? Are Chinese companies like this (or do they include those “below” them in major decisions)? What do you think about this?

D8.* Compare Connie’s English with the English of Jamal’s friends (in Finding Forrester). What do you think the script writers were trying to tell us, by the actors’ use of English?

D9. What did people in the film call each other, when and why? (First name, last name, last name and title, nickname, etc.)


26.*  News announcer: We’re bringing you live coverage right now on what could very well result in one of the worst disasters in the history of the state of Pennsylvania. Now, the particulars (details) are still being examined, but authorities are far more focused on the potential destruction that would result if train 777 were to derail in Stanton (population 752,000). …They’ve devised an ambitious plan to bring it to a stop. A single locomotive moves in from behind, catches up, hooks up and then brakes in an effort to slow it down.

      (Later, Connie says they have FRA guys on the ground, ready to hop aboard as soon as Frank gets it under 20 mph.)

27.  Will: So, what’d you mean about being married once?

      Frank: Alice, my wife; she died of cancer. Four years ago.

      Will: I’m sorry.

      Frank (very sadly): Me, too. Me, too. Every night, I’d come home, tell her about my day, where I’d been, what I hauled, (looking at Will) who annoyed me.

      Will (laughing): I guess I would have made the evening report, huh?

      Frank: Yes, you would have made it, definitely. (both laugh; then after a pause) You should call your wife.

28.  (As they catch up, Will volunteers to go outside—at 70 miles per hour—and give Frank hand signals to help him to gauge the distance. Frank seems grateful. They have begun to respect each other as coworkers.)

      Frank: And take that vest off, too. I don’t want to look out this window and see you in that yellow vest. It’ll freak me out.

29.  (The train isn’t slowing down enough. Franks tells Connie “it’s going to be coming in real hot”; i.e., too fast. Will asks if they should use the manual brakes on the cars. Since he is now injured, Frank puts Will in the driver’s seat and he heads outside. Will gives a worried look to Frank]

      Frank: Hey, don't get sentimental on me. Makes me think I'm gonna die.

      (Frank goes from car to car, setting the brakes. But eventually, the gap between cars stops Frank from getting to the engine.)

30.  (A short while later, there is a press conference. Ned is in a suit, trying to sound important. Frank and Will are talking to each other.)

      Frank (to Will): I just got off the line with corporate. “Debt of gratitude” blah, blah, blah.

      Will: Same here. Felt pretty good, actually.

      Frank: Yeah, it did, actually. (both laugh)

      Will: What’d they say about your job? (i.e., do you still have to retire?)

      Frank: They said it’s mine if I want to keep it.

      Will: They’d be stupid not to give it to you.

      Frank: Yeah, that’s what I told them. (both laugh) I said they better think about giving me a better one, too.

      Connie (walking up to Frank and Will, who have never met her before): Sorry, I was wondering if you could help me?

      Frank (recognizing her voice): Connie?

      Connie: I can't decide which one of you I'm going to kiss first.

      Frank: ME! [all three of them laugh happily]

      Will: Problem solved, go get ‘em Connie.

      Connie: All right, bring it on…


Discussion (Part 3--end):

D10. List all of the factors (big and “little things”) that contributed in some way to this near-disaster.

D11. When Frank and Will were facing the strong possibility that they were about to die, what did they do (who did they call or try to call)? Why? What did they say? If you had received such a call, how would you have felt? Do you think they should or should not have made these calls?

D12.* Discuss the way the news media covered this event, and how it would have been different in China. When did the news helicopters help, and when did they add danger? Is “live coverage” a good or bad thing?

D13.* Frank admits that he’s risking his life, even though he has been “fired” (in three weeks he must retire). Likewise, Connie and Will openly risk being fired. Why? Who or what makes these people act this way? What do you think about this ancient quote: “No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friends”? Who do you think said it? Is it true? Explain how it relates to this story.

D14. Dewey and Frank both broke the rules; one caused the problem and the other solved it. Discuss when it is okay to “bend” the rules, and the role of obedience at work.


Interesting facts (adapted from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0477080/trivia)

The film is inspired by the "Crazy Eights" unmanned train incident in 2001. The train, led by CSX engine SD40-2 #8888, left its Walbridge, Ohio, rail yard and began a 66-mile (106 km) journey through northwest Ohio with no one at the controls (for reasons like those in the film). Two of the real train's tank cars also contained thousands of gallons of molten phenol, similar to the fictional 777.

The film had a $100,000,000 budget and grossed $167,805,466 worldwide. Twentieth Century Fox asked Denzel Washington to reduce his standard fee of $20 million to $16 million, and asked director Tony Scott to cut $3 million from his usual $9 million fee.) Denzel later withdrew from the film, but after two weeks of “undisclosed” negotiations he returned.

Although it was sometimes hard to tell, Chris Pine performed all of his own stunts. Denzel Washington had seven stuntmen, in part due to “insurance concerns” and Denzel’s fear of heights. But director Tony Scott said that when you do see Washington on a tanker car, that's really him.

Several times, you can see that the actors cussed but you hear something different (this is called an overdub). For example, Ned looks like he’s saying “fucking up” but we hear “You guys are always screwing up.” Similarly, “Goddamn” was changed to “damn” a few times in the theater version. These changes were probably made so the film could get a PG rating instead of an R rating.


How does this compare to the "true" story? (adapted from Wikipedia, 2013)

When the film was released, an Ohio newspaper compared 777 to "Crazy 8s"--the real-life incident (you can Google "CSX 8888 incident"), which happened in NW Ohio. Train 8888 was unmanned for similar reasons, two cars contained molten phenol, derailers didn't work, and the police were unable to shoot out the fuel release valve. After two hours (going up to 51 mph/82 km/h), it was finally coupled to a second locomotive; after braking it down to 11 mph, a trainmaster ran alongside and jumped on to stop it. No one was seriously injured.

The newspaper's David Patch wrote about the film: "It's predictably exaggerated and dramatized to make it more entertaining, 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 (designed to stop unmanned trains) would probably have worked in real life despite the unconnected brake hoses, unless the locomotive brakes were already applied. The film exaggerates the possible damage the phenol could have caused in a fire, and he found it incredible that the fictional AWVR freely gave out information to the media about the accident or employees involved. 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 the train company never made public the name of the engineer whose error let the train slip, nor what disciplinary action it took.

Unstoppable Written Assignment


English/Pinyin Name: ___________________________ ID: _____________ Class: ___

English/Pinyin Name: ___________________________ ID: _____________

Unstoppable Movie Report


Work with your partner to complete this assignment. You two will get one grade, so be sure both of you are satisfied with the answers/grammar/etc. (After you write it, you can also ask other friends to carefully check grammar/spelling/etc. I will mark this thoroughly, and you will probably have to do a revision!) Use your own words, not something from this webpage or elsewhere on the Internet. It must be typed and double-spaced, using a 12-point Arial or Times New Roman font. Each answer should have more than one sentence. You should FILL one whole page, but do not use more than one page. Due at the start of class, as assigned.


1. Describe one of the main characters. (Frank, Will, Connie, Galvin, Dewey or Ned; talk about their personality/characteristics, not what they DO in the film. And do not simply give me a physical description.

(1a) a simple description [NAME was a young man (old woman, etc.) who...--then use an interesting verb like wants/needs/hates/dreams...); (1b) tell me about his/her character or personality; (1c) why is he/she important to the story?


2. Choose TWO of the following: 

2a. List several of the ways that phones or communications equipment are “factors” in this story (e.g., “Forest spoke to his wife by phone; Dan used a two-way radio; they heard news on the TV; Mr. Brown phoned…”). Then either write a “company policy” regarding the use of mobile phones (where you hope to work someday), or write a few sentences talking about the “responsible/irresponsible” use of private phones (during and/or after work—review conversation 22 if necessary).


2b. Explain, from an economics point of view, the dilemma companies face as workers get older. Some of the factors you might consider include wages, benefits for retirees, insurance fees, ability to think fast/clearly, and experience (but you can write about others too!).


2c. Tell me about your favorite part of the film. (Each partner will write two to three sentences)


2d. Write several “If… then…” sentences, telling me what would have happened if a “small problem” had not happened (sentences should use past perfect tense, and be about this film!). See the "conditional sentences" section above. ("Several" means "as many as it takes to fill the page"!)

--example: If Jamal had followed Forrester’s rule and left the essay in the apartment, then Crawford would not have accused Jamal of plagiarism.

NOTE: You do not need to include the above instructions (they take up space, and you have only one page!); just use the numbers (1, 2a, 2c, etc.) before each answer. In general, we talk about movies in the past tense. For example: I liked the scene when Forrest Gump gave Bubba’s mother a lot of money, because…


Note to teachers using this film: I stop after 37 minutes, where the horse trailer is destroyed; then break the film into two additional pieces (about an hour of the film remains) to give us plenty of time for discussion, role-playing the dialogs, etc. It is a total of 1:35 from start to credits. I like this film because it is fast-paced and raises a lot of good questions to discuss. Furthermore, although there are many good dialogs to "role play" in class, even students with weaker English levels can enjoy the film's action. When "role playing" dialogs in class, I appoint a "narrator" to read things in parentheses, and encourage students to read with emotion. At the emotional moment when Stewart is killed in the lash up, I stop the film when looking at Dewey and say: If you don't remember anything else about this film, remember this face. When he was goofing off or ignoring company rules at work that morning, the last thing he imagined was that he would kill someone today; remember that whenever you are tempted to think that it is OK to be careless or distracted at work. Our class discussions about many aspects of the film are also very lively!

Some answers to discussion questions

D6. list the ways phones or communications equipment helped or harmed.

--Walkie talkies (1) allowed the yard master to direct employees to a need, (2) distracted Dewey when he was changing the battery, (3) allowed Frank and Will to talk some distance apart…

--Mobile phones (1) allowed Connie to direct Ned to an unexpected location, (2) verified that the train was under power, and allowed Connie to give Ned/Dewey further directions, (3) distracted Frank RE the girls’ birthday, (4) distracted Will RE the restraining order, (5) added emotional pressure when Frank’s girls and Will’s wife didn’t answer, (6) distracted Will, causing him to cut in the wrong number of cars and become more defensive, (7) caused (?) the trouble between Will and his wife.

--Two-way radios let the yard master warn the kids train and Frank about the unmanned train (and later kept Frank in touch with Connie).

--A speaker-phone allowed Galvin to communicate with Connie and the Inspector at the same time.

--The office intercom allowed Connie to talk to Bunny easily.

--TVs informed the public, and sometimes the rail company, about the train’s location; they also affected the relatives of those involved (esp. Franks girls and Will’s wife); they (plus radio?) would also have broadcast parts of the ending press conference. But TV news programs rarely give a complete view of the story—they make everything sensational. TV choppers also seemed to interfere at times with the process, sometimes affecting safety.

D7. Perhaps Galvin thinks there is nothing Connie can do; perhaps he’s upset because Connie’s workers created the problem. Maybe this company just expects all decisions to be made “higher up” and not “on the field.”

D10. Attitude toward rookies due to the “fire veterans” company policy; inexperience; mobile phone use (Will); personal problems outside work (Will); chatting instead of working (Dewey, Gilleece, Ned); not following procedure (Dewey—brake connections, leaving the cab, messing with the radio battery); people seeing their work as too “routine”; personal health issues (Dewey is out of shape); late for work (Ned, Connie?); “public relations” distractions (buying doughnuts for the kids); picking up too many cars (Will); inaccurate signage (siding length); management not talking to subordinates; profit over public safety; news helicopters too close (noise and wind, esp during first rescue attempt)…

Some “if…then…” starters:

--If the truck driver had not been messing with his radio…

--If Will had not been on the phone when they picked up the zinc cars…

--If Dewey has quickly obeyed the yard master to move 777…

--If two engineers had been on the train that blew up, then one could have…

--If the news chopper hadn’t been blowing grain in Will’s face, then…

See our Website Standards and Use Policy regarding the sources of definitions used on this website.


This resource was created for our students under our understanding of "fair use" for educational resources. 

This page does not imply any consent from or relationship with the publisher(s) or producer(s). 

2014 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use.

 (see Website Standards and Use Policy)


Back to EFL Movie Study Guides index page

Click in the boxes below to go to some of our most popular pages. If you get lost, just click "Home."

(There is a "search" box on the home page)


Site map (To search within any page, type "ctrl + f")

Current Update

& how to contact us

Resources  for students & teachers

Links for English Learners

EFL Movie Study Guides

Better Writing Study Guide

Our Students photos

Photo Index

South Carolina & USA photos

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Favorite Links

Things We've Written (articles)

Introduction to China

Life in China photos

Music Page & mp3 downloads

Archive Index

Real World Writing (my textbook)

See our Policy regarding the use of materials available at Krigline.com or Krigline.com.cn