Top 12 Representations of Drugs in Films

It’s 20th of April today, also known as 420! So happy 420 and let’s get right to it!

Drugs are not a new topic in cinema. We’ve seen them from the moment Reefer Madness demonised marijuana. Or actually, maybe even earlier than that. Interestingly, the cinema has been always a mirror of a conversation which is taking place on the political scene. Are drugs bad? Are they good? Should we legalise them? What will happen if we do? What will happen if we won’t?

In the recent years I have noticed that with the legalisation of medical marijuana, more and more films show characters picking a joint over a can of beer. It’s interesting considering how much impact films had on the popularity of cigarettes in the past or alcohol for that matter.

I have my own opinion in this topic, which I don’t care to share. My intention is simply to present you with a number of interesting representations of drugs in films. By ‘interesting’ I don’t mean realistic or funny. I mean all sorts of things. What exactly? Let’s do it one at the time. Starting with…


12. Airplane!

Airplane! isn’t a drug-related film per se, but scenes where drugs are taken are definitely one of the most cult ones. Why? Maybe because they are play with the idea that something like coffee and cigarettes is easily comparable to glue and amphetamine (and aren’t they?), or maybe it’s because under the layer of a hilarious joke, it shows a much darker side of a drug addiction: it’s never a good time to quit anything.

11. The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s here not because of the overall treatment of drugs, or because of the car scene so well acted by DiCaprio you might be thinking he must had been on something. It’s because of the plane scene. About to be crashed, Jordan Belford and his accountant are sniffing the brains out of cocaine which they still have. If you’re going to die, you need to be high, they say. And this is what makes the drug addiction so scary. See, Airplane! for a lighter treatment of the same idea.

10. Bad Lieutenant

It’s all in Nicolas Cage. As much as Harvey Keitel version is much darker than Herzog’s film, it is Nicolas Cage’s performance that really does it. I can’t even remember which scenes he is on drugs in. Another example of a film which shows how fearless drugs make their characters feel.

9. A Scanner Darkly

This film takes its portrayal of drugs to the next level by presenting it with beautiful visuals, which recall some sort of trip on their own. But really, it’s about Robert Downey Jr. character and the mixture of glamour and disgust this film induces. Add his personal story to the mix and you can get really disturbed.

8. Trainspotting

The only reason why this film is so far on the list is because it’s my least surprising choice. If I were to pick one scene it would have to be the dead baby scene – not even the baby that walks on the ceiling, but the actual baby who dies. Straight away the mother’s grief is treated with heroin. Because what else is there to be done, right? Fucking terrifying.

7. American Psycho

I’m starting to think that this list might suggest I’m really against drugs, since all of the films here are some sort of warnings. American Psycho in my opinion most realistically shows how cocaine is a number one choice meal if you want to survive the high world. Yes, this is something literally every film on stock, money, millionaires and fancy suits says, but American Psycho shows this need internalised to its very edge. Does Patrick Bateman take cocaine and becomes more mad? Or is it cocaine that keeps him away from killing everyone (else)?

6. Pineapple Express

It’s to brighten up the mood. I will be watching this film tonight, most probably. Pineapple Express is my favourite high film. It’s funny, it’s about friendship and the scene when Saul and Dale get high with a catterpillar will warm your heart. The dopest dope I ever smoked.

5. 21 Jump Street

Ok, this list is no longer in any particular order, ok? So no, 21 Jump Street isn’t a better or more realistic representation of drugs than Trainspotting or I don’t know, Requiem for a Dream, but the way it shows how one phase turns into another is unmissible hilarious. It’s here so you can watch something tonight as a double bill with Pineapple Express. You’ll thank me later.

4. Requiem for a Dream

Watch with caution. Messed me up for years.


3. Enter the Void

I love this film. Yes, I do agree with all the criticism it gets. Yes, the whole plot is revealed in the first ten minutes of the movie. Yes, there’s more style and form to it than the quality of the story. Yes, yes, yes, but so what? It’s nearly three hours long and keeps your gaze still on the screen throughout. And it’s stunning. It’s so beautiful going back to the real word makes you miss it immediately. I guess that’s exactly what DMT feels like. So, bravo.

2. Christiane F.

I grew up on the book this film is based on, but I thought it was just my teenage taste which made me like it. A year ago I finally saw this film from the start to finish and I was shocked how unapologetic it was. It’s an exact adaptation of the book. The girl is definitely too young to be playing the role she is playing and it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s not a documentary. Abolutely terrifying, disturbing and most anti-heroin movie on this list.

1. Heaven Knows What

This film is probably the most underrated movie in the recent years, so see it instead of reading why you should. It doesn’t really tell a story. It doesn’t really have characters. It’s just a rubmle of some crackheads trying to get a fix. They walk around the city arguing, talking, planning, conspiring, getting high and then getting back to walking, arguing, talking, planning and trying to get high.

It’s a masterpiece.