Drugs make for gripping subject matter in Hollywood. Having been neglected in movies for much of the 20th century, drugs are now en vogue. Just look to Matthew McConaughey’s 2014 Oscar win for best actor in Dallas Buyers Club. However, that movie is just one in a long list of gripping tales from the murky world of drugs.
Being so fresh in recent memory, Dallas Buyers Club has not made the cut for this list of top five drug movies. Nor has the glamorized fictional portrayal of legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
Comedy weed-smoking capers have also been scratched out, as they deserve their own top-five list. What we are really seeking to examine is the influence that movies can have on the drug use of their viewers. Now, without further ado, here is the list…
The starting point is the hidden gem of the list. How many of you have actually seen this 2001 film in which Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp appears as a scrawny shadow of his normal self? Few people you encounter have ever seen Blow, yet it’s utterly compelling.
Johnny Depp stars as real-life cocaine smuggler George Jung, who was reputed to be responsible for importing approximately 85% of the US national cocaine supply. The film charts the rise of a young George Jung as he forms connections with the fearsome Medellín Cartel and Pablo Escobar.
There are few real-life drug tales capable of rivaling the fictional stories imagined by Hollywood, which brings us to an Oscar-winning best movie from 2000. Directed by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, Traffic features a huge cast of Hollywood names, including the likes of Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Torro, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Dennis Quaid.
Traffic played a huge role in highlighting the potential of multi-strand storytelling, in which multiple story threads appear initially unconnected but later come together as the movie develops. The story is utterly compelling because it charts the war on drugs from the side of US politicians and federal agents as well as that of Mexican politicians and drug cartel kingpins.
Requiem for a Dream
Along with being the ex-husband of Oscar-winning British actress Rachel Weisz, Darren Aronofsky is responsible for directing critically acclaimed films like Black Swan and The Wrestler. But before Aronofsky drew the attention of prominent film critics, he created one of the bleakest drug films ever made: Requiem for a Dream.
At a time when moviegoers were content with the likes of Mission: Impossible II, Gladiator, Castaway, Meet the Parents, and X-Men, Requiem for a Dream was truly going against the popcorn grain with its gritty subject matter.
The intense film starts innocently enough as we witness the burgeoning romance between Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly’s young lovebirds. Sadly, however, that’s as good as it gets. Heroin subsequently enters the picture and tears both of their lives apart in heart-breaking circumstances.
Despite being a Scottish movie with thick, authentic accents, Trainspotting is a must-see drug movie because it finely treads the line between good times and bad times. Originally written as a novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting should be a cautionary tale for the people of Scotland.
However, nearly 20 years after its 1996 release, Scotland still dominates statistical reports for being one of the worst countries in the world for drug crimes. The message was loud and clear back in 1996 – it’s just that most people though it was a joke.
The Basketball Diaries
The most unheralded on this list is a 1995 release starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg. The Basketball Diaries tells the real-life story of a once-promising schoolboy athlete named Jim Carroll, portrayed by DiCaprio.
Pressured by a litany of forces, both mentally and socially, Carroll fell into a downward spiral and turned to heroin and crime to escape his troubled existence. The Basketball Diaries highlights the frightening potential of heroin to snatch away the dreams of its addicts.
Influencing drug use
Where movies have a propensity for glamorizing drugs, how does the media influence drug use? For starters, you’re never going to see respected media outlets advocating the use of hard drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin. In contrast, there has been a laundry list of movies that have.
Blow makes some arrogant young men wish they lived a life more akin to George Jung, even though he went to prison. Trainspotting only served to make Scots feel like they should have more fun. Conversely, Requiem for a Dream and The Basketball Diaries did everything to highlight the unavoidable horrors of heroin-usage. Traffic fought to highlight the on-going ‘War on Drugs’, which has claimed thousands of lives.
There are hundreds of movies that can be accused of glamorizing their subject matter. But it’s reassuring to know that some movies exist to draw our attention to the destructive potential of hard drugs. While marijuana movies might be fun to laugh at, they just don’t ask tough enough questions of our society.