Movies are powerful. They can make you cry, laugh, and even help you understand yourself better. The award-winning actor Nicolas Cage once said, “I may be alone in this, but I do sense the power of film, in that movies have the ability to literally change people’s minds.”
His sentiments are felt by many, including those who are experiencing or know someone experiencing addition. Movies about drug addiction and movies about alcoholism can increase understanding, compassion, and empathy. For those in recovery, these films can provide hope, optimism, and encouragement. We’ve compiled a list of 10 influential movies about addition that cover the topic well and are worth a watch.
This 1996 film is an excellent movie about drug addiction, centered around a man named Mark Renton. Mark is a 26-year-old with a heroin addiction, living with his parents and trying to get sober. Though based in the UK, it has received rave reviews worldwide, touching on themes of addiction, relapse, and poverty.
As a movie about alcohol addiction, this drama tells the story of a young mother and wife addicted to alcohol. Betty is ousted from her family, removed from her home, and separated from her children, who she fights to get back. It covers her struggle with alcohol, her mistakes along the way, and her greatest regrets in life.
- Half Nelson
This film was praised for portraying addiction differently, free from the typical stereotypes seen in movies about addiction. Ryan Gosling was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Dan; a history teacher addicted to crack. The infamous movie critic Roger Ebert praised this film for showing that a person who does one “bad” thing is not a “bad person.” Dan is a good guy and a great teacher who advises his students to “do as I say, not as I do.”
- When a Man Loves a Woman
Meg Ryan portrays a wife and mother whose drinking leads to alcohol addiction and her path to recovery. In this romantic drama, she goes to rehab and examines the impact alcoholism has had on her family.
In this 1998 film, Angelina Jolie portrays Gia Carangi; an American supermodel addicted to heroin. The film also goes back to her childhood (young Gia played by Mila Kunis) and the events leading up to her addiction. Gia also has AIDS, which eventually contributes to her death at just 26 years old.
- 28 Days
This movie about addiction takes a more accessible and entertaining approach. Starring Sandra Bullock, it tells the story of a young newspaper columnist who enters treatment after ruining her sister’s wedding. The accessible nature of this movie makes it widely recommended by both patients and addiction counselors.
- Requiem For a Dream
This movie is often shown in schools to show the darkest sides of drug addiction. The film is a psychological thriller following four Coney Island residents and their experience with drug addiction.
- Leaving Las Vegas
In this movie about alcohol addiction, Nicolas Cage plays Mike Figgis, who becomes suicidal after struggling with alcohol and losing his family and job. The film received rave reviews upon its release and won the actor an Oscar.
- Ben is Back
Released in 2018, the film tells the story of a 19-year-old opioid-addicted teen who returns home. His mother, played by Julia Roberts, never gives up on her son and is optimistic about his return. The film shares the struggle of coping with an addicted family member and the various approaches family members may take as well as the growing opioid crisis in America.
- Basketball Diaries
Leonardo DiCaprio portrays a high school basketball player and aspiring writer who loses his best friend to leukemia in this movie. To deal with his grief, he turns to heroin. He is eventually kicked out of his house, where he gets wrapped up in crime to fund his addiction. He is later arrested where he is finally able to get sober.
Though these movies can help people relate or better understand addiction, they are fictional stories. Research on movies about drug addiction has identified that most of these films contain stereotypes – the demonized user, the tragic hero, the comedic user, and the rebellious free spirit. The experience of addiction is personal, just as one’s taste in movies, but the topic of addiction is a real issue many Americans face. Despite these common themes and potential stereotypes, these 10 movies are impactful and powerful in their own way.