Top 10 Good Movies About Addiction

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (Pi, The Wrestler)
Starring: Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Ellen Burstyn, Marlon Wayans

Called “one of the most disturbing movies ever madeby Entertainment Weekly, Requiem for a Dream is not for the weak of mind, spirit, or stomach. It follows the frenetic, spiraling demise of three Coney Island heroin junkies and a woman addicted to diet pills, in what has been lauded as the most accurate portrayal of addiction ever made. The strobe-like filming melts its viewers into what feels like a bad acid trip, as the characters’ simple dreams—a dress shop, a TV spot, a nest egg—slip further and further away.

Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly star as the (suspiciously good-looking) addicts whose hopes of a big score are slowly, painfully chipped away. Connelly and Leto’s initially sweet young love soon decays into prostitution and jail time.

Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar-nominated role as Leto’s elderly mother begins with a simple dream of being on her favorite television show; hope morphs into obsession and eventually into a pill-fueled hallucinatory nightmare in which her household appliances are closing in on her.

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Trainspotting (1996)

Directed by: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd

Where Requiem for a Dream never cracks a smile, Trainspotting is one seedy, yellow-toothed grin. Irreverent and chock-full of stellar performances, Danny Boyle’s early film documents the lives of a group of young Scottish heroin addicts. It features a killer soundtrack and one long sardonic monologue that begins, “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television,” and ends with “I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” This mantra has since graced the walls of college kids across the world, but it’s hard to argue that the film glamorizes drug use.

An emaciated, punked-out Ewan McGregor stars as the blue-collar Renton, who steals from his mother (and retirement homes) in order to feed his habit. He’s flanked by a troupe of equally grimy miscreants with names like “Sick Boy” and “Spud,” who spend their days brawling in bars and making weak passes at tart-tongued women.

The film is a sprawling, ugly series of anecdotes; at its lightest, we see Renton diving into “the worst toilet in Scotland” after lost suppositories; at its darkest, a baby dies from neglect; at its core, the film presses its fresh, jubilant face right up against the dirty, hairy underbelly of addiction.

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About Lu Fong

Lu Fong was a staff writer and blog editor for the Good Men Project in its formative years. As the requisite woman on staff, her hobbies included cleaning, cooking, knitting, fainting, and childbearing. Follow her on Twitter @lufong.

Comments

  1. Tom Matlack says:

    On this list my favorite is Traffic. My favorite not on the list is the classic, LEAVING LOS VEGAS with Nick Cage. Don’t love him in general but that movie captured what I think it is to be a drunk more than any other I have seen.

  2. I would have to add a few others to this list. “Crazy Heart” spoke profoundly on alcoholism, as well as on the dynamic of addiction in creative people. (I have a musician friend who joined AA after seeing it.)

    “Panic in Needle Park” with Al Pacino and Raul Julia offered heartbreaking performances on heroin addicts in NYC in the 70′s.

    “Jesus’ Son” is one of my all time favorite movies, not because of its heroin addict characters, but because it’s a nearly-perfect movie in every way. Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter and Dennis Leary are all amazing in this story that explores every aspect of addiction in a way that’s touching, unexpected and redemptive.

    There are so many good movies on addiction: Man with the Golden Arm, Days of Wine and Roses, Barfly, My Own Private Idaho, Spun…I suspect the list is long because most of us can relate to the nature of addiction. Even if we are not expressing addictive behavior in any of the “traditional” ways, we all know what it feels like to be helplessly compelled in unhealthy directions.

  3. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Those actually ARE all good– except for the ur-boring Naked Lunch and Kids. Glad you didn’t include any of the horrible “recovery” movies. I’m in a 12 step program, but I hate piety.

  4. Less Than Zero with Robert Downey Jr. should be on this list. Also, BLOW might be one of the best movies of all time, let alone one of the best movies about addiction–it’s a shame that it isn’t on here.

  5. “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” has about as much to do with addiction as “The Hangover.” Use, abuse and addiction are three very different things.

    “Leaving Las Vegas” & “Days of Wine & Roses” definitely should have been on the list, as mentioned.

  6. I have been trying to find the name of a movie I had seen a couple of years ago. It was a bout atwo guys doing heroin. One was black and the other was white. One guy breaks into a car but ends up with the owner who was a female. Anyway, they hit bottom and went to a dealer and asked for the drugs. They went to some bathroom and the black guy dies from a hot package. The other guy is scared to take his but his girlfriend ends up being arrested and the only way to free her is him going to jail. This movie was based in New york I think. If anyone can tell me the name, I would appericate it very much!!!

  7. “Liquid Sky” is a very stylized and haunting movie about heroin, music, fashion, ….and aliens!

    The violence was shocking and disturbing to me (in my adolescent phase)….still nauseating to me now that I think about it…

  8. Why only substance abuse? There are some fascinating movies about gambling addiction, my favourite being the little-seen (but deserving of a wider audience) Owning Mahowney starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    As well, while I haven’t seen it Shame was supposed to be an amazing movie about sex addiction.

  9. Clean and Sober is one of my favorites. I thought Michael Keaton did it very well.

  10. Say what you want about drugs, they make good movies.

    I like every one of these. Leaving Las Vegas deserves a spot, because Nic Cage’s character literally drinks himself to death.

    Good column

  11. Also “Spun”, about meth addiction. “Party Monsters” has almost every drug you can imagine people are addicted to then theres “Riding in cars with boys” depicts herion addiction and “Candy” with heath Ledger about cocaine addiction. Also “Smiley Face” is kinda about marijuana addiction but not really very funny though

  12. From another generation, but I think the modern genre begins with Days of Wine and Roses, which was Blake Edwards breakthrough film as a director. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must. For the literati, hard to ignore Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, first a stage play and then a motion picture. Harder to watch than Roses but it’s all there in the writing, fully rendered characters self destructing in near poetry.

  13. New book out about addiction and overdosing ” A Near death Experience: I Died and Came Back From Hell” Short and very inspirational just came out a must read!

  14. Barfly, 8 Million Ways to Die, Leaving Las Vegas and the winner in my book- The Lost Weekend…
    Honorable Mention- Days of Wine and Roses

  15. Ryk McIntyre says:

    No “Drunks”? or “Clean and Sober”? Not even “LOst Weekend”? Hmmmmmm

  16. Anonymous says:

    Candy with Heath Ledger

  17. John K. Anderson says:

    A solid list (top ten lists are hard!) and I was also happy to see Rush get some love. It’s a great movie and really kind of unknown. To broaden the list out to movies about other kinds of addiction Shame is simply a great movie, Owning Mahowny is an excellent movie about gambling addiction and Withnail And I is both one of the best comedies ever made and a great movie about an addictive and highly destructive friendship.

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