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 most renowned personalities in human history such as Sigmund Freud, Thomas Alva Edison, and 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.
So we, at the Cinemaholic, have come up with a list of movies about drug addiction. Some of these are drug dealer movies; some are about drug smuggling and trafficking; some about drug cartels; and some about heroin addicts. You can stream some of these best drug movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
11. 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, it is one of the most underrated movies about drug addiction.
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10. 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 it 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 a ride under drug.
9. The Panic In Needle Park (1971)
‘The Panic in Needle Park’ is about a couple who come together by 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 impresses with 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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8. 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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7. Scarface (1983)
‘Scarface’ is considered to be one of Al Pacino’s greatest performances, and I doubt if anyone can question that. But why are we including ’Scarface’ as one of the greatest drug movies? That’s the question that 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 shooting sequences and extremely graphic depiction of violence, it also details the life of a drug trafficker coming to full circle.
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6. Climax (2018)
I went in with high expectations for Gaspar Noe‘s highly intriguing psychedelic thriller, ‘Climax’. While I wasn’t disappointed, I must say that it didn’t really hit me as Noe’s other films. And to me, ‘Irreversible’ still remains his best work to date. ‘Climax’ revolves around the members of a dance troupe who party hard in a secluded building. However, things take a turn when they find out that the sangria is laced with LSD. What follows is a shocking depiction of the inner animalistic side of human beings that drugs bring out. The film is noted for its unique visual aesthetics and narrative structure. It doesn’t really have a story and most of the scenes and dialogues are improvised by the actors themselves, which make for a unique cinematic experience.
‘Climax’ is quintessential Gaspar Noe. It’s violent, experimental, emotionally powerful and brutally honest. One could argue that the violence in the film, at certain places, is unnecessary. But I have always found Noe’s exploration of violence to be deeply philosophical and so full of meaning. There is no message that Noe conveys with the film regarding drug addiction. That’s not him. What he does here is portray a certain side of human beings that we never want to see. It’s him being at his most provocative. And like all of his films, he gets the best out of his actors. The performances are shockingly realistic and it is hard to believe that we are even watching a film.
‘Climax’, as I said before, is still not Noe’s best film, but it’s a wildly provocative, shocking depiction of the darkest sides of human beings. It’s one of those films that deserves to be seen and talked about, for it raises several questions regarding the influence of drugs in our social lives and our inability to resist the temptation. A must watch for staunch lovers of provocative cinema.
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 film received 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. It is about a drug addict who wants to go clean, but he falters at each step due to his 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 uses rapid cut shots to showcase the edginess of the characters, to their path to getting high, which was groundbreaking.
I haven’t been the biggest Aronofsky fan, to be honest. Some of his films are annoyingly self-indulgent, which is a shame considering most of them are extremely ambitious. But in ‘Requiem for a Dream’ everything comes together, and we get to see the director fully realize his vision. It’s a truly devastating film that explores the brutal realities of drug addiction. There are several moments in the film that haunt you for a long, long time. Aronofsky also flaunts his technical prowess as a filmmaker and gives the film a very distinctive tone.
Ellen Burstyn is brilliant as Sara Goldfarb, and delivers a performance for the ages. The other cast members are exceptional too, as they all slip into Aronofsky’s devastating world with astonishing ease. ‘Requiem For a Dream’ is not just a film; it’s an experience that deserves to be seen, felt and reflected upon. While it may turn out to be a deeply disturbing experience for you as a viewer, one must confront and try to answer the numerous questions that the film raises. I can guarantee that you’ll come out a different person after watching the film.
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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 about the mobsters or the drug mafia that rule several poverty-stricken Third World countries. Look closely, and you can draw parallels from a drug ravaged Nigeria or a civil war-torn Syria. Told from the perspective of a spectator, it is about one man’s rise and fall among the drug traffickers through two decades of crime.
‘City of God’ is one of the most unforgettable cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Right from that gripping opening scene to the devastating ending, I was in awe of the film’s raw energy. It is uncompromisingly forthright in its depiction of poverty, drug addiction and violence. There are several shocking moments in the film that stay with you for a long time, such as the foot shooting scene. The performances are brilliant, and the fact that the cast members were mostly residents of the favelas themselves added to the realism. Also, one can clearly see the influence this film has had on Anurag Kashyap‘s cult classic, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’.
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