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10 Best Drug Movies of All Time

Updated October 11, 2016
7 min read

First things first. Through this article we do not intend to glorify substance abuse. It has one of the most horrific outcomes and thus, we condemn its use. Having said that, substance abuse has been the topic of many movies. Some glorify them, some disapprove them. Some even elucidate a flourishing economy out of the drug trade! Some of the modern-day stalwarts such as Sigmund Freud, Thomas Alva Edison, Richard Feynman have been known to consume drugs as it helped them to think better. From giving thrills of a lifetime to ruining lives, the power of narcotics knows no border.

We, at the Cinemaholic, came up with a list with such movies about drug addiction rules with the highs and lows of narcotics. Again, here is the list of top drug war movies ever made. Some of these are drug dealer movies, some in drug smuggling and trafficking, some are about drug cartels, and some are also about heroin addicts. You can stream some of these best drug movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

10. Blow (2001)

Two things stay with you when you watch ‘Blow’. George Jung’s constant reminiscence of his father and his mother’s disapproval of his profession. The second one becomes evident when his mother calls upon the police and rats him out from his hiding place and later refuses to let him visit his dying father. Fred Jung, George’s father is an honest man who never made it to the top despite his hard work, thus earning regular reprimands from his wife. While this becomes the foundation of George’s entry into the world of crime, it’s also an allegory of the drug ravaged America of the seventies. Released to lukewarm response, ‘Blow’ is an ultimate tragic tale of a father and a son, starring Johnny Depp, Ray Liotta, Franka Potente and Penelope Cruz. One of the underrated movies about drug addiction.

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9. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)

Consider this. You are traveling to Las Vegas with a buddy to cover an assignment as a correspondent. You’ve got camera, writing material and a boot full of cocaine, acid and other drugs. How trippy you think, you can get? Very trippy? Absolutely trippy ? Well to put in Raoul Duke’s own words – “It makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel. Total loss of all basic motor function. Blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue. The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. Which is interesting because you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can’t control it.” Starring Johhny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ is one hell of ride under drug.

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8. The Panic In Needle Park (1971)

A couple who come together due to chance and stay in for the common love of heroin. While the addiction takes charge in their individual lives leading one to prison and the other to prostitution, they drift apart eventually only to come back stronger. ‘The Panic In Needle Park’ is essentially a love story in the backdrop of a nation going into a slowly induced drug haze. Al Pacino in his major starring role made people notice of his acting chops. There is a scene where the couple are indulged in drug abuse and their pet puppy falls into the water. Many years later, Lars Von Trier directed ‘Antichrist’ had a sequence where the crawling baby falls off the ledge while the parents are making love. It’s a poignant scene evoking similar sentiments.

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7. Maria Full Of Grace (2004)

In the big bad world of drug trafficking, the players are aplenty and drugs change many hands before they end up with the users. While the drug mobilizes from places like Mexico and Columbia, it comes down to the mules who carry it. ‘Maria Full Of Grace’ is the story of those people who decide to be drug mules to fulfill their needs, without considering the dangers the trade brings in. The protagonist Maria, in order to ‘transport’ the heroin, swallows the drug pellets and uses her pregnancy as a ruse to avoid being x-ray scanned. When a fellow mule dies of the pellet rupturing inside her stomach, Maria steps up the game to save herself. It’s a drug trafficking story told from the point of view of the mule and not the trafficker himself.

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6. Scarface (1983)

‘Scarface’ is considered as Al Pacino’s one of the greatest acts on-screen and paeans can be sung about his performance without any question. But why are we including ’Scarface’ as one of the greatest drug movies, that’s the question remains to be answered. The rise and fall of the Cuban refugee Tony Montana is intertwined between the drug dealing and later his own descent into substance abuse. While ‘Scarface’ is famous for its tommy gun wielding sequences and extremely graphic violence, it also details the life of a drug trafficker coming to full circle.

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5. Traffic (2000)

Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’ is essentially a maze, where multiple characters through different storylines, tell the same story. It’s an amalgamation of three stories, where drug deals, its trafficking and its abuse impacts many lives including the ones fighting against and for it. Somewhere it’s a story of an upright cop fighting for his society’s poor children. Somewhere it’s a judge pressing strongly for a hardened drug law, only to lose his purpose upon knowing his daughter’s addiction. The success of the movie spawned four academy awards which included best director and best supporting actor.

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4. Easy Rider (1969)

‘Easy Rider’ tells many stories under a single story. At a minimalist’s view point, it’s a road movie where two buddies ride along the roads of countryside, while being under the influence of drugs. You dig a little deeper and it comes out with a tale of societal tensions across different communities and people’s perception about strangers. It becomes pretty evident from the scene at the diner, when the protagonists face humiliations from the town people for their appearances. While the drug abuse serves as the backdrop, it’s more of a soul-searching movie in the times of hate and paranoia.

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3. Trainspotting (1996)

Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ is a cult movie which tells a story of four friends and their tryst with addiction. Outrageous and bizarre are the only two words to describe it. A drug addict who wants to go clean, only to falter at each step due to his deepest of urge of getting high. Generously overdosed with humor, it tries to underline a fact with utter seriousness. And that is, despite the luxuries that life offers, the youth denies it with much aplomb. “And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

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2. Requiem For A Dream (2000)

Addiction is weird. For some, it’s a tryst with fame. For some, it’s an ultimate high through drugs. One can be addicted with anything, that is desired excessively by that entity. Visually enriching and equally disturbing, ‘Requiem For A Dream’ is one such audacious movie. Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece tells the story of four people and their addictions which ultimately turn their lives upside down. Aronofsky used rapid cut shots to showcase the edginess of the characters, to their path to getting high, which was pathbreaking.

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1. City Of God (2002)

‘City Of God’ is the story of drug trafficking and gang wars in the slums of Rio De Janeiro, explained in a vividly graphic way. In a way, it’s a movie belonging to the mobsters or the drug mafia that rules the poverty-stricken third world country such as Rio. Look closely, and you can draw parallels from a drug ravaged Nigeria or a civil war-torn Syria. Told from a perspective of a spectator, it is about one man’s rise and fall among the drug traffickers through two decades of crime.

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