Best Movies About Addiction & Recovery
Part 1 of a 2-Part Series
From light-hearted escape to heart-pumping popcorn adventure or thrilling romance, everyone loves a great movie! And, over the years, Hollywood has produced thousands which center around addiction. These types of movies make great melancholy narratives because (as anyone who has survived substance abuse knows), drama surrounds addicts. But which substance abuse-themed movies accurately portray addiction? While the following list is far from exhaustive, it includes seven of our favorites. That said, we do not endorse the treatments used or behaviors depicted. These are movies, not substance abuse treatment centers, after all.
Best Movies About Substance Abuse (Part 1)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
Starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, this classic feature chronicles the desperate life of a chronic alcoholic. Action follows a five-day drinking bout. Ahead of its time, the movie was credited for "amazing frankness" and "pulling no punches" about a topic most people avoided back in the day. Although critics disdain the associated melodrama, alcoholics and their loved ones know that binge drinking wreaks very real havoc on the drinker as well as everyone else in his immediate circle.
Days of Wine & Roses (1962)
Jack Lemmon plays an alcoholic who marries a young woman, played by Lee Remick, whom he introduces to booze, in the vain belief they could potentially share his passion together. Boosting a rare 100% score on the review site, Rotten Tomatoes, this movie does a great job depecting the destructive nature of alcohol addiction.
Less Than Zero (1987)
Before Robert Downey Jr's real-world battles with addiction became tabloid fodder, he expertly portrayed a college freshman with an out-of-control coke habit. The film is haunting not just because of Downey's portrayal of a free-basing addict but in James Spader's role as his dealer. Although light in the hope department, this movie might very well scare you straight.
Clean & Sober (1988)
Michael Keaton portrays a real estate agent who seeks treatment in an effort to avoid some of the consequences of his substance use. Roger Ebert says of the film: "Clean & Sober is not the story of an ideal recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, because Keaton is not an ideal candidate for recovery. He tells too many lies, especially to himself, and he doesn't much like to accept advice. He is still somewhat seduced by the notion that he can do some repairs on his old lifestyle, and it will still work." The film works because sobriety is rarely linear. Real people struggle and fall down and then get back up. This movie depicts that real-world struggle and offers hope.
When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)
This Meg Ryan/Andy Garcia vehicle exposes the truth behind what appears to be an idyllic marriage. Sometimes difficult to watch, the movie explores the ways that Meg Ryan's character's alcoholism impacts family dynamic. Spoiler alert; she agrees to go to rehab and gets clean.
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Based on a true story, this stars a young Leonardo DiCaprio as a talented New York City basketball player. The movie documents his descent from a promising young athlete to a heroin addict. A good reminder that drug and alcohol users hail from all walks of life, regardless of talent or privilege. Addiction does not discriminate.
28 Days (2000)
Sandra Bullock's character is forced into rehab after a series of alcohol-related destructive incidents. Even though she complies by attending group therapy sessions, she refuses to work the program. Eventually, she acknowledges the mess she has made of her life and commits to getting sober. This movie comes close to realistically depicting how people can find a new direction in life if they are willing to face the truth.
Check back next week, when we conclude this two-part series by discussing more addiction-and-recovery themed movies.