Hollywood has a knack for glamorizing controversial subjects and drug use is certainly one of them. Yet for every Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Trainspotting, there are also those films that will make you never want to touch drugs again.
Here are five movies that might drive anyone to sobriety.
The Basketball Diaries
This classic coming-of-age flick is based on the 1978 book by Jim Carroll, who compiled the story from diaries he kept between the ages of 12 and 16. Needless to say, any depiction of juvenile heroin use is unlikely to be pretty. But this tale of addiction, robbery, prostitution and death makes for one of the most chilling portrayals of drug use in any movie. Starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio, The Basketball Diaries features a particularly memorable recreation of heroin withdrawal.
Requiem for a Dream
As far as bleak drug movies go, Requiem for a Dream is probably the most popular of them all. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film chronicles four individuals and their struggles with addiction to drugs including amphetamine and heroin. Each character takes their own downward spiral into oblivion—the self-destruction, degradation and sexual exploitation on show really are as grim as it gets. Without giving too much away, the movie ends with each character in the fetal position. Like you probably will be after watching it.
Enter the Void
This experimental film by Gaspar Noe may not have rocked the box office when it came out in 2009, but it does boast some of the most stirring depictions of psychedelic drug use in cinematic history. Inspired by Noe’s experience with magic mushrooms and ayahuasca, this movie centers on a seedy Tokyo drug dealer named Oscar. Following several unsettling hallucinogenic visions, depicted from a first-person perspective, things get really twisted after Oscar is shot during a police raid. The ensuing events involve Oscar’s spirit hovering over the city in a DMT-inspired flashback sequence, in which he recounts the mishaps of his life. Void is graphic, frightening and will definitely make you think twice about doing psychedelics.
Panic in Needle Park
Jerry Schatzberg’s 1971 movie involves one of Al Pacino’s most underrated performances. It’s also one of the best depictions of the drug scene of 1970s New York City. Needle Park takes its name from a popular hangout for heroin users on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where much of the film’s action takes place. Pacino’s character is a heroin user named Bobby who falls in love with a woman named Helen. She soon gets hooked on heroin herself, and the ugliness that ensues takes the once-loving couple to the absolute depths of despair. This is not a movie for the faint of heart.
This chilling documentary was compiled from 20 years’-worth of filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s home movies. It tells his tale of growing up gay in Houston, Texas with a schizophrenic mother who visited mental institutions over 100 times in her life. Caouette’s own struggles to maintain his sanity began when a drug dealer friend of his mother gives him a joint at the age of 12. After smoking the joint, which was laced with PCP, Caouette develops a frightening dissociative disorder. The scary and surreal imagery used to illustrate his drug-induced delirium will stick long in your mind.
Learn more about the symptoms and side effects of drug use.