Bad Drug Movies We Love

By Joe Lynch 07/01/11

From Requiem, Trainspotting and Scarface to Drugstore Cowboy, Goodfellas and Boogie Nights, we all know the great films featuring drug abuse. That’s why we came up with a list of the less-than-greats that still hold a place in our hearts.

Gia (1998)

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Faye Dunaway

What it’s about: The true-life story of fashion model Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie), Gia tracks her sudden fame as a teenage model in New York and how the fashion world, the death of her agent and her struggle with her bisexuality, combined with her addiction to cocaine and heroin, led to an HIV-infected needle and death at age 26.  

Level of realism: Although this movie is made for TV, it was made for HBO—so it doesn’t shy away from showing the unglamorous side of Carangi as she scours the gritty alleys of New York desperate for a fix. And the pre-fame Jolie (who won a Golden Globe for the role) goes all out, delivering a tour-de-force performance with everything she’s got (just try getting the scene where she flings herself against the fence during a photo shoot out of your head). Then again, the fake-documentary interviews and nude lesbian scene between Jolie and Mitchell (with its sultry saxophone and slow-motion shots) are pure cheese.

Why we love it: Even if it is a bit made-for-TV dramatic at times, Jolie’s performance brings Carangi’s authenticity to life and it paints a realistic portrait of the dangers of drug abuse that exists.

Where the Day Takes You (1992)

Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Sean Astin, Will Smith, Ricki Lake, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan, Balthazar Getty

What it’s about: Hard drugs, prostitution, panhandling, back-alley violence... basically the city of Los Angeles, as seen through the eyes of cast-off teens. 

Level of Realism: The scenes where the troubled Little J (a scrawny Balthazar Getty) shacks up with an older man (Stephen Tobolowsky) he once had sex with for money are sad and convincing. Incidentally, Tobolowsky currently plays a teacher ejected for inappropriate behavior on Glee—what is it about this guy’s face that says “pervert” to casting directors?

Why we love it: It’s a movie about teens who are cast away by society and forced to lean on each other and their wits to survive on the streets. Never has homelessness seemed so sexy. Any movie that makes sex on a used mattress under an L.A. bridge seem appealing—versus nasty and disease-ridden—deserves due credit. Especially fun is a cast which includes a post-Goonies, pre-Hobbit Sean Astin, Will Smith winning a race in a wheelchair, Lara Flynn Boyle before she seemed loony tunes, Ricki Lake before she was a talk show host and Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan as a fatherly heroin dealer.

American Psycho (2000)

Starring Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux

What it’s about: A schizophrenic satire of so many things wrong with the 80s—ubiquitous street drugs, materialistic competition, soulless rock music and heartless Wall Street sharks (some themes are just timeless). 

Level of Realism: A Wall Street-er as a murderer isn’t exactly wholly realistic but the way it takes you into the insane, pitiless mind of Bale’s Patrick Bateman is wholly real in a delusional sort of way. 

Why we love it: Satirizing drug use isn’t easy but the scene where Theroux and Bale bicker over the potency of their cocaine in a bathroom stall only to be interrupted by the guy next to them shouting, “Would you keep it down? I’m trying to do drugs!” is a priceless example of Reagan-era self-centered cluelessness.  

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
joe lynch.jpeg

Joe Lynch is a freelance journalist and the Senior Editor at Billboard. You can find his writing in Entertainment Weekly, Yahoo TV and New York Magazine's Vulture. He previously wrote about Intervention for The Fix. You can find Joe on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.