What was the first movie you saw about drugs?
The film industry has always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. Sure, drugs may have inspired some of our favorite movies like Half Baked and Heavy Metal, but they also killed creative geniuses like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Farley, and Marilyn Monroe. Given the recent rise in the opioid epidemic in America, it's been kind of depressing to make movies about drugs these days. Recent releases like Ben is Back and Beautiful Boy take the war on drugs seriously and show how they tear apart families.
But drugs aren't always bad.
There are some movies that straddle the drug debate, hoover it up, and deliver a psychedelic high that we can all get behind. Movies like 2001, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and American Gangster are some such examples.
And while I totally think every school should show kids Requiem For A Dream to scare them straight, No Film School is no stranger to drug movies. We even ran a story on how the crew of Titanic all tried PCP once. But I recently came across some stunning statistics and infographic from Rebahs.com about drugs in movies and I wanted to share them all with you.
What's This Study on Drugs in Movies All About?
Rehabs.com definitely knows a thing or two about drugs in the real world. And if you have a problem, check them out. But today, I wanted to look at a study they did of the top 200 movies to feature drug use, as voted on by film fans on Ranker.com. Rehabs tabulated a lot of different statistics.
First up, who's doing what drugs in these movies?
It's no surprise marijuana is tops here. If you think about it, weed applies itself to every genre of movie. Since it's being legalized and decriminalized, it feels the lowest stakes of all the drugs. The myth of the gateway drug has subsided, so you can laugh at a grandma making weed tea in Grandma's Boy, but you can also wonder if it takes the edge off the worries of a character in Moonlight.
Cocaine comes in second place here, which I think is interesting. While cocaine is used in many dark comedies, you can feel the drugs getting more and more serious as you go down the list. In fact, as far as coke goes, a character does one line for laughs, and two lines to start having a problem. That's a whole different movie.
It's also interesting to point out the made up and non-descript entries on this list. Uppers, downers, and fictional drugs like WYFY also have cross-genre value.
No surprise, Roofies pick up the end of the list. Outside of The Hangover, which was made before #MeToo, there's really only one horrific way to use this joke. And people aren't laughing at that.
In fact, in today's culture, are drug movies even popular?
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=557usVRyJKY
What are the Top Drug Movies?
The answer is mixed. The below chart shows that while some drug movies are both popular and profitable, many lie in the middle. Honestly, even though the entire plot of The Hangover relies on them being roofied, I'm not sure I classify that as a "drug movie."
Also, look at the popular drug films mentioned like The Deer Hunter, No Country For Old Men, and The French Connection. Those movies definitely cover all the negative effects of drug use, but also they're more about the dealers and money. It's more like drug adjacent.
Platoon is the only one on that list that definitely is a movie about the use of drugs, and the "squares" who want to use war instead. Still, I do think it's important to look at how drugs factor into the plot. Generally, it's hard to get people out to the theater to see a movie about someone throwing their lives away to drugs. While we glorify movies where we see recreational usage, it's interesting that the best-reviewed ones aren't necessarily about the consequences of drug use.
It can be hard to convince an executive to make any movie, so, who's making the ones about drugs?
Who Makes the Most Drug Movies?
Finally, the genre breakdown we've been looking to analyze. When we talk about a movie's genre, we're talking about the category where you'd most likely find it on Netflix.
As I mentioned above, the money is in drug comedies, but if you're looking at the number of movies made, you're looking at dramas. That covers biopics, super sad movies, and probably some coming-of-age crossover where people are just taking their first tastes. Honestly, these people need to watch The Wire to get their loves right.
Who Directs the Most Drug Movies?
We love to talk about auteurs around here. Everyone's always giving credit to the director. But it's writers who do the most drugs! Again, just kidding! But there are a number of directors who occur on this list who have multiple films that deal with drugs.
The first is Darren Aronofsky, who made the only must-see drug movie, Requiem for a Dream. You might remember that movie from the reason I turn down every drug offered to me in Hollywood. There's also Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, and Larry Clark.
Spike and Smith definitely talk about marijuana and don't usually show the harsh consequences. Lee it appears goes out of his way to hit different drugs every time in each movie. Aronofsky also peddles the same variety, and aside from Noah getting hammered on the beach, has shied away from the consequences of drug use after his mic drop in the early 2000s.
Larry Clark scarred us all with Kids and continues to scar us with lots of other movies.
I also think it's safe to point out that all those guys usually write their own scripts as well. They're in control of the content. They have proven track records and can take chances when it comes to telling stories. That's something to think about when you put your drug movie out into the world, especially if you're trying to attract actors.
Who's Starring in Drug Movies?
I hate Johnny Depp. So go somewhere else if you want an opinion on him. The rest are interesting. I think you can see that they lend themselves to biopics about drug dealers, or scenes where drugs become recreational for their troubled characters. Also, they've all played famous drug dealers at one point or another.
And as we know, biopics are Oscar-bait.
Heather Graham and Evan Rachel Wood seem like such a small sample size for actresses. Also, it's crazy that Heather Graham just does coke in two movies and makes the list. It seems like there have to be other actresses that have done drugs in movies.
Also, sorry stoners, people aren't actually doing drugs in your favorite movies. Check out the video below for the explanation.
What's Next? Try Writing A Drug Trip!
I hope this analysis of drugs in movies helped enlighten some of your questions and ideas when it comes to your own work. We have a Free Screenwriting Seminar where you can write your own drug movies, or any other genre for that matter. So if you're trying to learn how to write a scene, or just working on your character descriptions, we got you covered.
Also, I know we had fun with drugs together, but try to be responsible.
Let us know your favorite drug movie!