We ate a lot of popcorn and drank a lot of pop to come up with our list of the 10 best drug addiction and alcohol movies of all time. Some of them are well-known, most are not on anybody’s favorite movies list. We chose them for their relevancy to the drug and alcohol content.
Though it’s a treatable disease, addiction to drugs and alcohol continues to ravage the lives of almost 24 million adults in the United States. Countless more millions suffer emotional trauma as they watch their loved one battle the illness and, in many cases, are powerless to stop the ensuing physical and mental decline. Research suggests that only about 11 percent of people who need treatment will get it, though advocates are trying to close that gap.
The cultural discussion about drugs and alcohol has evolved, but the conversation is certainly not new. It is then no surprise that artists, writers and directors, have steadily made films addressing these issues.
10 Best Movies About Drug Addiction and Alcohol
Flight, starring Denzel Washington as a commercial pilot, was released in 2012 and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Washington’s character, “Whip” Whitaker, successfully crash lands a plane full of passengers, but through the ensuing investigation must come to terms with his alcoholism and drug addiction. “Denzel didn’t get an Oscar nod for nothing,” wrote Entertainment Weekly, “His performance as an alcoholic airline pilot ensnared by his own heroics is a crash-and-burn epic.”
2) Requiem For A Dream
Requiem For A Dream, released in 2000 and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a dark examination of the role addiction plays in the lives of two different generations. The film, which stars Ellyn Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly and Marlan Wayans, was nominated for several awards and received critical acclaim. “Though the movie may be too intense for some to stomach,” wrote a reviewer on rottentomatoes.com, “the wonderful performances and bleak imagery are hard to forget.”
3) The Verdict
The Verdict, a 1982 film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Paul Newman, is a classic, flawlessly acted drama. A once prominent lawyer, Frank Gavin, played by Newman, has fallen into disgrace and become ambulance-chasing alcoholic that’s now faced with a case that might change his life. The Writer’s Guild of America ranks the screenplay 91 in their list of 101 greatest screenplays.
4) The Wolf Of Wall Street
The Wolf Of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 2013, the film is based on the real life exploits of Jordan Belfort, who’s portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Though funny in parts, the Belfort’s addiction to cocaine and Quaaludes eventually costs him his friends, family and freedom. Successful at the box office, reviews varied. “Epic in size, claustrophobically narrow in scope,” wrote Dana Stevens, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle.
5) Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, adapted from the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name, was released in 1998 and directed by Terry Gilliam. Though not a hit in theaters, the film has become a cult classic. Starring Johnny Depp and Benecio Del Toro, it’s described as a psychedelic journey through the late ’60’s. “What the film is about and what the book is about,” wrote Gene Siskel, “is using Las Vegas as a metaphor – a location for – the worst of America…”
Pollock, released in 2000, is a biopic about artist Jackson Pollock who had a lifelong struggle with binge drinking. Ed Harris, who received an Academy Award for his role as Pollock, also directed the film. The movie was a personal project for Harris that took 10 years to make and opened to positive reviews, still holding 81 percent “fresh” rating on rottentomatoes.com.
7) Drugstore Cowboy
Drugstore Cowboy, released in the late 1980’s and directed by Gus Van Sant, stars a younger Matt Dillon as the leader of a drug addled crew that robs pharmacies in the Pacific Northwest to support their drug habits. Dillon’s character, Bob Hughes, who’s based on the real life writer James Fogle, tries to find redemption before the end of the film. It is one of the few films on rottentomatoes.com to hold the rare rating of 100 percent fresh, indicating near universal acclaim.
Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and released in 1999, takes places in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. The cast of characters, played by A-list actors, such as Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who fatally overdosed on heroin in 2014, are all in search of happiness through on addiction or another. Roger Ebert referred to the film as owning a “kind of operatic ecstasy.”
9) Everything Must Go
Everything Must Go, directed by Dan Rush and Starring Will Ferrell, is based on Raymond Carver short story about the fictional character Nick Halsey, a salesman who loses his job of 16 years after getting blackout drunk at a conference in Denver. Halsey’s life continues to spiral out of control before it improves. Though the film opened to little fan fare, critics hailed the film, especially Ferrell’s performance.
Trainspotting, released in 1996 and directed by Danny Boyle, is based on the book of the same name by Irish writer Irvine Welsh. A very dark and comedic crime drama, the film’s protagonists struggle with a deep addiction to heroin. “Trainspotting is 90 minutes of raw power,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, “that Boyle and a bang-on cast inject right into the vein.”