Substance Abuse Movies
We don't limit the substance abuse movies on this page to heroin movies, but heroin movies are a major subcategory of drug abuse movies. We also feature alcoholism and other drug abuse films on this page.
Shapiro is on the bottom rung of the cool kids in his private Manhattan high school graduating class. His active cannabis retail operation keeps him from becoming the top rung on the uncool ladder and provides him with a decent summer job. Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck of Drake & Josh) is at a crucial pre-college transition point, and for relief, he swaps 1/8 ounce bags of pot for shrink time with Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley). Luke also starts to spend a little time with Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), the doctor's daughter, and she kindly introduces his stoned ass to the joys of sex. Unfortunately, she's in it to fend of summer boredom while he has his heart on the line. It all takes place in 1994 New York, and you'll have to look real hard to see any chronological slip ups. Mary-Kate Olsen has a small part as Union, and Method Man is Percy the Jamaican wholesaler. This follows a typical coming of age trajectory, but the loopy Dr. Shapiro rescues it from the dustbin. 2008.
Requiem For A Dream
After a hundred emails, we finally got off our asses and found a copy of this drug film classic. It seems Mrs. Goldfarb's boy shoots a little heroin. Sometimes he sells his mom's TV to pay for his hobby. To raise a little cash, Harry and his friend Ti get into the retail drug business. They are very disciplined junkies and do not use a 100% of their own product, and soon they've got a nice trade going. Unfortunately, Harry's girlfriend becomes a good customer, which creates a few problems when the supply dries up. Meanwhile, Mrs. G (played incomparably by Ellen Burstyn) decides to lose a few pounds, and she gets a roaring amphetamine habit going. Things start to slide, and no one has anything to grip. You get to follow them down accompanied by an interlace of huckster evangelical TV vignettes and marvelous music. Set in my favorite part of Brooklyn, Coney Island. As always, find the unrated director's cut on DVD.
Jim Morrison is kind of synonymous with drug abuse, and Oliver
Stone skillfully blends substance abuse into this retro tale of a
somewhat popular 60's rock band. John A. put it this way: "There is
plenty of usage in it, and the tripping scene in the desert is a
wonderful recreation of the experience compressed for cinema.
I think the term "critically acclaimed" has often been applied to this superb film. Syd is an aggressive up and coming sub editor at a slick art photo magazine. She accidentally discovers her upstairs neighbor is a one time famous photographer Elsie Berliner, who has slid into a heroin haze. Syd gets her a new shot at reviving Elsie's career but gets dragged down as she helps Ms. Berliner get back up. Subtle and very sexy. Rated R. 90 minutes. 1999.
Joanne McKenna says this Angelina Jolie film belongs in this category. We haven't seen it, but we do know that it features nudity from both Angelina Jolie and Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet).
In hindsight, an awful lot of counter culture movies from the sixties were sloppy self indulgent junk. Maybe the audiences were too stoned to notice, but most of them now are merely confusing. Chappaqua is no exception. Pedigreed as a genuine hip film, it has an all star cast with William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Louis Barroult, Swami Satchidanandi, Ravi Shankar, the Fugs, and Paulette Pritchard. Essentially, Chappaqua is a cinematic translation of the drug rehab diaries of a spoiled rich kid, Russel Hawrith from Chappaqua, NY. Director Conrad Rook takes us on a trip through Times Square, Paris, and Central Park with lots of odd camera angles and double exposures. Essentially, we are watching Harwith's hallucinations as he goes through drug withdrawal at a posh Swiss clinic. Maybe I'm just jealous. It appears they had a great time filming this, and Rook concocted the story by splicing all his pointless footage together. I highly recommend it, and many thanks to all of you who brought this gem to our attention. 1966. B&W. 82 minutes. Unrated.
Withnail And I
Director Bruce Robinson's twisty vision of alcohol/drug abuse set in London during the late 60's. Withnail is played delightfully by Richard E. Grant. Withnail is a degenerate, perfume drinking, out of work actor who rooms with Paul McGann, the "and I" in the title. They live together in an indescribably filthy flat in Camden Town. The bilious pair are broke, cold, and unhappily sober when they decide it is time for a road trip. They persuade Withnail's gay aristocratic Uncle Monty to lend them his house in the country. Hendrix wails in the background as our sybaritic anti-heroes head out of town in a battered Jaguar. Life in the country leaves the budding thespians as cold and hungry as back home, but they do find the local pub to their liking. Uncle Monty turns up with food, drink, and designs on "and I's " ass. In time, they head back to town, only to find their encrusted apartment has been inhabited by a pair of drug buddies. The party continues unabated until "and I" gets an acting callback that sends Withnail into fits of jealousy. They part company in Regents Park zoo, where Withnail stays on to recite poetry to the wolves. Recommended by Nico, who called it "the substance abuse flick of all time. Much more than the life and times of an effete boho in 60's." Thanks to Nico and to Anthony Adler for their recommendation.
A druggie classic, starring Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Sam Elliot. Rush is directed by Lilli Zanuck. Leigh plays an undercover drug agent who works alongside Jason, who enjoys the product a bit too much. Eric Clapton did the superb score. 1990. Rated R. 2 hours. Recommended by Steve Holmquist. Thanks, Steve.
Dogs In Space
Dogs in Space is recommended by Yvette McCullough who tells us, "Dogs in Space is an Australian film that came out in the late 70's or early 80's, and starred the late INXS lead singer Michael Hutchins. He is a heroin addict who lives as close to the edge as you can get without falling over it. This is such a powerful movie! I swear it's the biggest reason I never got into drugs. I haven't seen it for about 15 years, and I have no idea where you could even find it, but if you do, it's a must see." Thanks, Yvette.
Shakes the Clown
Someone gave Bobcat Goldthwaite enough money to write, direct, and star in his own movie about an alcoholic birthday clown, whom all the children love. He's in love with Julie Brown, who plays a world class idiot but a kick ass bowler. Shakes has lots of self inflicted bad luck and loses his big shot as a TV host to Binky, who also tries to steal his girlfriend Lots of vomiting and stand up comics dressed as clowns. Look for Adam Sandler as Shakes' best friend. Also Robin Williams has a great bit part as a mime instructor. 1992. Rated R. 87 minutes.
A Hatful of Rain
Starring Tony Franciosa, Henry Silva Eva St.Marie, and Don Murray. Murray is an-ex soldier addicted to morphine, and Franciosa is the kind-hearted enabler trying to save him. DeSilva plays his pusher, who is nicknamed Mother. 1957. Unrated. 110 minutes. Synopsis written by and movie recommended by Mike Marley. Thanks, Mike.
A tightly woven story in four parts, all of which center around a drug deal that goes wrong. The clock keeps resetting as we pick up each character at a Los Angeles supermarket and follow them through an unusual 24 hours. Ronna (Sarah Polley) is a checkout girl who likes to walk on the wild side. Simon (Desmond Askew) is an English émigré drawn to Vegas' allure. Adam (Scott Wolfe) and Zack (Jay Mohr) are TV detectives and are enamored with themselves and with each other. Claire (Katie Holmes) is Ronna's friend who gets left as collateral in a drug deal. Very similar set up to Midas Alley. Lots of talent, lots of action, and quite entertaining. Directed by Doug Liman, and brought to our attention by Charlie Sinel. 1999. Rated R. 110 minutes.
Maybe this is a heroin cowboy movie, since the shootouts far outnumber the shoot ups. Lili Taylor is Micky, who runs a crew of young retail heroin salespersons with her boyfriend Dante ( Michael Rapport). They have a franchise for the discos and clubs in Miami, and they're doing fairly well until their ex-partner Gabriele is released from prison. He appears and disappears like the angel of the same name, and his dialog gets downright biblical at times. Gabriel even gets advice from God, who is portrayed ably by Isaac Hayes. This film jumps around like poor old Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, and it requires some effort to keep track of when and where you are. Tony Danza is the unconvincing mob boss who is the wholesaler for this disputative group of drug merchants. It all ends in a big shootout, unless of course that wasn't actually the beginning. Much of the tension gets resolved on the golf course because all professional drug lords enjoy the game. Lilli Taylor is not downright mean, but she's a believable badass. 1998. Rated R. 101 minutes.
Another Day In Paradise
Rosie and Bobby are pretty happy, robbing vending machines and shooting crank. Then they link up with the professional junky/criminal couple of Melvin and Sid (James Woods and Melanie Griffiths) who take them in as apprentices. It's a tough education, and you get to see every painful minute as they learn how to rob, shoot and shoot up. You know this story cannot end happily. Directed by Larry Clark. Natalie Gregson Wagner is Rosie and Vincent Karthersen is Bobby. 101 minutes. Rated R.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a total waste of your time. Hunter Thompson is fun to read, but his delirium does not translate onto film, not even with the help of Terry Gilliam. If you actually sat through this, check out Where the Buffalo Roam another senseless attempt to put Dr. Gonzo on celluloid, but this time with Bill Murray as Dr T. 1997. 98 long minutes. Rated R.
Directed and written by Daren Aronofsk, Pi is an obsession that is captured in black and white. Max Cohen (Sean Gullett) is a brilliant mathematician who is sought out by Wall Street and Hassidic Kabalists for his discover of the numeric meaning of life (47?). Max stared at the sun even thought his mother warned him not to, and. like Icarus, he pays the price for his pursuit for the ultimate knowledge. He takes an interesting host of drugs to quell his madness, but to no avail. A few days after you've seen this, you may realize it affected you. 1998. Rated R. B&W.
This Matt Dillon classic is an excellent introduction to the depredations of serious drug addiction. Drugstore Cowboy features the grandfather of substance abuse, William Burroughs, playing the role of a defrocked junkie priest. You can often find this one in the Cult Classics section of your video store.
Ben Stiller is the successful and stoned TV writer Jerry Stahlsbook in this sad biography. Jerry retells his story to Maria Bello over the course of 3 days in a cheap motel room. The film flashes back through the rise and fall of Jerry's career as heroin slowly strangled him. The drug scenes are realistic and increasingly desperate. Stiller does a great job with this demanding part. 1998. Rated R. "Ben Stiller as writer/junkie or vice versa" from Jason Koenigsberg who also promoted Midnight Express for entry on this page.
Sid and Nancy
How can you feel sorry for two self absorbed rock & roll junkies? This film is a spastic effort with lots of style and virtually no substance. Gary Oldham is the infamous member of the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious. He's great in this part opposite Chloe Web, Sid's American groupie girlfriend. Sid is a lost soul with marginal musical talents whose love of heroin is greater than his love of music and perhaps Nancy. There is a great scene where Sid and Nancy visit her family in New Jersey. All in all, this film is getting a little dated, but it still shines in spots. Directed by none other than Alex Cox. 1986. Rated R. 111 minutes.
The film that spawned the 60's drug culture, starring/directed by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda as two freewheeling bikers who traipse across America. Seeing it now, it's hard to imagine why this film caused such a commotion, but it's still kind of fun. 1969. 100 minutes. Rated R. Thanks to Dennis Burke for the suggestion.
A weird screen translation of the William Burroughs classic. An exterminator gets hooked on roach powder is some of the decipherable parts of the plot. Semi-autobiographical, the movie is at least as understandable as the book. This movie is not recommended for 95% of the population.
Days of Wine and Roses
Recommended by Bo, who said it is reminiscent of Leaving Las Vegas. Days of Wine and Roses is an early Blake Edwards film with a kick ass cast: Johnny Mercer, Jack Klugman, Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Lemmon & Remick prove that alcohol is also a solvent as they dissolve into their drinks and get down and out in San Francisco. 1962. Unrated. 117 minutes. Thanks, Bo.
A Mickey Rourke/Faye Dunaway film about the power alcohol can hold over people. John Majetic tells us this is a great record of depravity that rivals Drugstore Cowboy. Based on the true story of writer Charles Bukowski, who was always the life of the party. Brian Kirk says, "Barfly is a thinly veiled fictionalised portrait of Charles Bukowski's alcohol-soaked day-to-day-to-day-to-day. It starts with a bar brawl and ends on a similar 'function'. At least by the end of the story, the lead drunk is getting paid to live the low-life (as a writer). The characters, dialogue and incident in the script written by 'Hank' himself, make it a funny, lackadaisical and poignant trip 'round the block." Thanks, Brian. 1987. Rated R. 97 minutes.
The Bad Lieutenant
Do not watch this Harvey Keitell extravaganza if you're feeling depressed. Look for the uncut version. or you'll never know what Harvey does with the two girls from New Jersey.
You already saw this one, I know, but it has to be on this list. The toilet scene was definitely my favorite, thank God Smell-O-Rama never caught on. Don't you think the dead baby was too fake?
Jim Carrol's autobiography of growing up as a Catholic School basketball star. Even if you disliked Romeo & Juliet, Leonard DiCaprio makes a pretty convincing whining junkie. Jim Carrol did most of the soundtrack, and he even does a cameo role that's way too reminiscent of Drugstore Cowboy.
The Lost Weekend
Billy Wilder directed this classic film on a few days in the life of an alcoholic. Ray Milland won best actor in 1945 as the hopelessly drunken writer Don Birman, who is engaged to the ever faithful Jane Wyman. This raw portrayal of the ravages of alcoholism was a real eye opener for the country and won best picture and heaps of praise at a time when gritty realism was not a Hollywood by word. Still good. 100 minutes. 1945. Black and White. Unrated.
Under the Volcano
Have some Prozac handy after you watch this one. A down and out diplomat lives the life of a dog as an alcoholic stranded in Mexico in the adaptation of the Malcolm Lowry novel.
It's been a long time since this came out. Jason Koenigsburg wrote to say, "Lead character William Hayes (based on true accounts/story) is caught attempting to smuggle hash out of Turkey(?). Once sentenced to time, John Hurt's character is a pretty good heroin user." Thanks, Jason.
If you are one of the few people who have missed this Jimmy Stewart/Pookah movie please find a copy and watch it. It make a strong case for excessive drinking.
The Man with the Golden Arm
An Otto Preminger classic tale of a heroin addict played by Frank Sinatra. Considered very controversial when it was released in 1955, The Man with the Golden Arm may seem a little tame for today's audiences. 2 hours.
Jim Bach wrote to remind us of this high school classic. He says, "How about Reefer Madness? Reefer Madness was created in the 1950s by the government. Its intention was to scare kids off pot, but it actually turned out to be a comedy where a pot smokers turns crazy and kills someone."
Recommended by a few people, we have not yet found a copy. It sounds well worth your time.
A group of drug taking folks end up at a rave. We have not seen
it, but JohnA says you should .
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