• Country: United States
  • Initial release: December 7, 1903
  • Film Director: Edwin S. Porter
  • Running Time: 11 Minutes
  • IMDB Grade: 7.3

Crime and the Wild West have always been captivating themes in the world of cinema. One film that stands out as a milestone in the genre is “The Great Train Robbery” directed by Edwin S. Porter and released in 1903. This silent western film revolutionized filmmaking with its innovative approach to film editing and narration. In this article, we’ll explore the historical significance of “The Great Train Robbery,” its groundbreaking techniques, and its lasting impact on the film industry.

The Plot and Production

“The Great Train Robbery” follows the story of four bandits who stage a train robbery and are eventually pursued and defeated by a local posse. The film’s simple yet compelling narrative captivated audiences of the time. It was based on a play by Scott Marble and partially filmed in November 1903 at Edison’s New York City studio and outdoor locations in New Jersey. Despite its modest budget of $150, the film became a tremendous success, paving the way for longer movies and the establishment of permanent movie theaters.

Edwin S. Porter: A Pioneer in Filmmaking

Edwin S. Porter, the director of “The Great Train Robbery,” was a pioneering filmmaker known for his innovative use of cross-cutting, location shooting, and close-ups. He began his career as a camera operator at Thomas Edison’s company and later became one of the most successful early American filmmakers. Porter’s contributions to the art of filmmaking revolutionized the industry and laid the foundation for future directors.

Continuity of Action: A Breakthrough in Filmmaking

One of the most significant achievements of “The Great Train Robbery” was the establishment of continuity of action. In early silent films, maintaining a seamless flow of action was a challenge. However, Porter successfully combined related but noncontinuous shots into a cohesive sequence, creating a narrative with a layered sense of time. This technique, using 14 separate noncontinuous shots, was groundbreaking and set a new standard for storytelling in cinema.

Innovative Techniques: Cross-Cutting and Location Shooting

Porter’s use of cross-cutting, a technique in which shots from different locations are interwoven to show simultaneous action, added depth and excitement to “The Great Train Robbery.” This technique heightened the tension and allowed the audience to follow multiple plotlines simultaneously. Additionally, Porter’s decision to shoot outdoor scenes on location presented a challenge due to the handling and maneuvering of large cameras and equipment. However, the use of outdoor settings added an authentic and dynamic element to the film.

The Impact on the Film Industry

“The Great Train Robbery” was an unprecedented success and was shown in nickelodeons across the United States for many years. Its popularity encouraged the production of longer films and the establishment of permanent movie theaters. The film tapped into the public’s fascination with the Old West and the tropes associated with the genre, leading to the rise of Westerns as a staple in Hollywood. Its influence on future filmmakers and the development of film as a commercially-viable medium cannot be overstated.

The Legacy of “The Great Train Robbery”

“The Great Train Robbery” holds a special place in film history. It was one of the earliest American silent films to survive, and its innovative techniques paved the way for the future of storytelling in cinema. The film’s impact on the crime genre and Western films, in particular, is undeniable. Its inclusion in the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1990 solidifies its status as an essential film classic.


“The Great Train Robbery” remains a milestone in crime cinema, thanks to Edwin S. Porter’s visionary direction and innovative techniques. The film’s establishment of continuity of action, use of cross-cutting, and location shooting set new standards for the industry and influenced future generations of filmmakers. Its success propelled the development of longer films and permanent movie theaters. Today, we can still appreciate the groundbreaking nature of “The Great Train Robbery” and its lasting impact on the world of cinema.

1 Film Review

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  • One of the main accomplishments of “The Great Train Robbery” was the foundation of progression of activity. In early quiet movies, keeping a consistent progression of activity was a test. Notwithstanding, Porter effectively consolidated related however noncontinuous shots into a durable grouping, making a story with a layered feeling of time. This procedure, utilizing 14 separate noncontinuous shots, was pivotal and set another norm for narrating in film.