We’ve all heard the old public service announcements from the 1980’s and early 90’s “Just say no” and “winners don’t use drugs”, but unless you’re stuck in that period and still think Reefer Madness is a masterpiece documentary, you’ve hopefully woke up and laugh at that garbage. The amount of winners who have used drugs include Charlie Sheen (whose catch phrase is “winning”), the late Steve Jobs, who said dropping acid helped his creative streak early in his career, and of course Sigmund Freud whose cocaine use would rival Sheen’s. Those three are just a few examples of successful people who have used drugs.
With those success stories out of the way however, there are plenty of people who take drugs to a ridiculous extreme and turn their bodies and minds into chemical wastelands. Given the effect they can have on people it is no wonder that so many movies have been made about drug use and addiction. Interestingly, many of these movies glorify drug use. Scarface is the most notorious example, as Tony Montana (Al Pacino) achieves great wealth, only to lose it. Despite the coke-fueled ending, I doubt the film stopped anyone from doing blow.
There are however, plenty of movies that do not glorify drug use. Rather, there are a few that show a disturbing and terrifying reality faced by those who overdo it. Here are ten films that do not glorify drug use and will put you off drugs.
10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Admittedly, I started with Fear and Loathing because with regard to the theme of this article, it can go both ways. In some ways, the sports journalism/gambling adventure undertaken by Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo actually makes drug use (abuse) seem amazing. Hunter S. Thompson (the author) always said “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me”. He was a big fan of drugs, and would routinely snort cocaine all day. Some say it affected his brain in later life, and say that chronic drug use led to him blowing his brain out in 2005.
But enough about the greatest writer in the history of the craft, and back to the movie. There are plenty of scenes that are cause for fear with regard to drugs. The people changing shape when the Doctor and Duke walk into the casino upon their arrival in Vegas is creepy, and the scene with Dr. Gonzo trying to kill himself with a radio in the bathtub while White Rabbit is playing is unsettling, but Raoul Duke’s trip on adrenochrome is just intense enough to make me hesitant to try that particular substance.
9. A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly is a distopian, futuristic, partially animated flick that tells the story of a future United States in which a large percentage of the population is addicted to an extremely powerful hallucinogen, Substance D. The cast features Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder.
Reeves’ character, Bob, is an undercover cop who becomes addicted to Substance D while on assignment to take down Ryder’s character, Donna. Though it is an animated film, the cartoon-look does little to diminish the pain and frustration of drug abuse that can be seen on screen.
8. Sid and Nancy
This tragedy of a film tells the real-life story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Vicious was of course the bassist for the British punk band The Sex Pistols back in the late 1970’s. Sid and Nancy deals with the singer’s heroin-addled relationship with Spungen, which ultimately led to the breakup of the band, and indirectly to the death of the two young lovers.
To call their relationship a messed up, heroin fueled, spiral into the depths of hell, might not be strong enough wording. The two had an intense relationship to begin with, but frequent use of every hard drug under the sun, everything got worse over time. This film does a great job demonstrating how great things can be in the midst of a heroin buzz, but also how awful the come-down can be.
While most of the movies on this list focus on drug use itself as a horrible force in characters’ lives, 2001’s Blow tells the story of drug smuggler George Jung. Jung is played by Johnny Depp, who was praised for another outstanding role. Jung was a key figure on the American end of the cocaine trade during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
While Jung experienced great success in the smuggling game for years, he was ultimately thrown in prison multiple times, lost all his money and had a serious falling out with his wife and daughter.
6. Banshee Chapter
I’m a big fan of B-Grade horror movies, and Banshee Chapter didn’t blow me away by any means, but I enjoyed the story and got some very legitimate spooks throughout. It details some investigative journalists focusing their efforts on MK-Ultra, a secret CIA project that was experimenting with drugs and whether they could be used for mind control. LSD and other drugs were used. One of those drugs was dimethyltryptamine (DMT) according to the movie.
Throughout the movie, we learn that the type of DMT used, DMT-19 is actually a substance used by extraterrestrial beings to “wear people”. It’s a twisted movie and complete nonsense, but if you get into the fantasy, it might just scare the bejesus out of you. The people who take DMT in the movie, quickly start to shout that “it’s coming” and end up getting violently attacked by these entities.
5. Drugstore Cowboy
This 1989 film starred Matt Dillon as Bob, a drug addict whose habit led himself, his girlfriend and another couple to rob pharmacies. Tragedy hits the group when one of their friends overdoses, at which point Bob decides to get clean and stop using. While he is somewhat successful in leaving his former life, as a former friend begins to stalk him, and eventually robs and shoots him in his apartment while searching for a fix.
The story is a (somewhat) true to life autobiography of James Fogle, a career criminal from Wisconsin who wrote while serving jail time after a series of crimes in his youth.
While many people will argue that the British drug film Trainspotting is a comedy, and there are some laughter inducing moments, this is among the darkest, most profoundly disturbing comedies ever made. The film chronicles the lives of a group of heroin users in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ewan MacGregor plays Mark Renton, the main character, who struggles to get clean throughout.
Over the course of the story, a baby born to addicts dies of neglect, while neither the parents or their guests notice. A man fishes through a filthy toilet for a suppository, a man dies a horrible HIV/AIDS-related death, and Renton goes through a horrific bout of withdrawal after being locked in his bedroom by his parents.
3. The Basketball Diaries
In another true-to-life tale, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jim Carroll in the film adaptation of Carroll’s early life. As a basketball player in his teens during the 1960’s, Carroll became addicted to heroin at a young age, and the film centers around his experiences during that time.
DiCaprio’s character has numerous problems on his hands including an abusive coach, a dying friend and a budding heroin problem that eventually leads to his incarceration. If nothing else, The Basketball Diaries details the difficulties in life that can lead to drug use, but also illustrates the fact that heroin is also not the way to deal with these things.
2. Less Than Zero
This painful flick centers around the return of a young man who left for university. Clay, the main character, returns from school to find that his girlfriend and best friend have become addicted messes (and are sleeping together). Clay’s friend Julian, is in far worse shape than his girlfriend, Blair, and as it turns out, he is heavily in debt and prostituting himself to pay for drugs. His family has disowned him and (spoiler alert) he ends up dying while in withdrawal.
1. Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream starts out nicely enough. Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans play three relatively happy friends who have a demon, but still seem like functional people. Their demon, however, is heroin, and Leto’s character, Harry’s mother Sara becomes addicted to diet pills. The film then takes an awful turn for the worse
The movie quickly moves from four happy, smiling people to four desperate and increasingly volatile people, before completely spiraling into a devastating horror story that ends with one of the most uncomfortable scenes ever to make it into the final cut of a movie. I’d describe it, but it is a level beyond unsettling and is incredibly moving for all the wrong reasons. But at the same time, it is powerful enough that I’d be willing to bet that a few people who would have done heroin had second thoughts after that final scene. Go watch it if you have an awesome stomach, or a fetish for human suffering.