Anyone who likes to watch movies understands the capacity some movies have to connect with the viewer, and this is what often makes a film great. There have been several great movies over the years that have given us a glimpse into the life of an addict. The movies listed below are about addiction and recovery, and they help us see the destruction addiction causes, help us feel what the addict and their families feel, and help us hope for the character’s recovery. Below are our top ten movies about addiction and recovery.
James White. Released in 2015, this movie is the newest one on our list. It tells the story of a man, James White (played by Christopher Abbott), who has to learn to deal with sadness, tragedy, and responsibility in his life. In the movie, James faces the death of his estranged father, and then learns that his mother has cancer. James self-medicates with alcohol, and spends much of the movie drinking to numb his pain. Critics of this movie might wish for a less ambiguous ending, but most like how up close and personal the movie gets to this character as he struggles with addiction.
Flight. Staring Denzel Washington, Flight is about an airline pilot who must get his passengers to safety as their plane crashes. Whip Whitaker (Washington) later wakes up in the hospital and learns that he was piloting the plan under the influence of alcohol and cocaine and faces a lawsuit. The rest of the movie goes on to detail Whitaker’s attempts at sobriety, including joining Alcoholics Anonymous. The movie is a wonderful portrayal of learning to let go of an addiction.
Requiem for a Dream. Released in 2000, Requiem for a Dream reveals the inner workings of drug addiction. The movie is about four individuals who spiral out of control because of their addiction. We learn the dirty secrets of these addicts as they use drugs to feel loved, to connect with others, and to feel happiness. The movie is dark and full of despair, and accurately depicts the struggle with addiction.
Leaving Las Vegas. This movie is about an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter, Ben Sanderson. Sanderson, played by Nicolas Cage, is dealing with his wife and son leaving him, and drinks to numb the pain. Once things start to get out of control, Sanderson leaves everything and moves to Las Vegas, where he meets a young woman he connects emotionally with. This movie makes the viewer face the loneliness that accompanies addiction.
Trainspotting. Ewan McGregor plays the lead role in this film about Mark Renton, a heroin addict who, with a group of addict friends, is up to no good. Renton attempts to get clean, but must first break free from the control of drugs. The film is both graphic and dark, and is all about choices and their implications on one’s life.
Clean and Sober. This film from 1988, staring Michael Keaton, is about a real estate agent who is addicted to alcohol and cocaine. Keaton’s character, Daryl Poynter, wakes up one morning with a dead woman in his bed who suffered from a cocaine overdose. To avoid trouble with the law, Poynter checks himself into a drug rehab program, which ends up being the best thing for him. This film shows the gradual awareness and change that occurs during recovery.
28 Days. Sandra Bullock stars in this movie as Gwen Cummings, a woman who gets into an accident while driving drunk. Cummings is allowed to choose whether to go to prison or rehab, and she chooses rehab. During her time there, however, Cummings is uncooperative and denies she has a problem, until she finally begins to examine her life and the choices she has made. This film combines comedy with the very real issue of addiction and recovery.
Days of Wine and Roses. A film from 1962, Days of Wine and Roses brought the issue of alcoholism to light in a time when it was generally kept secret. Jack Lemmon plays Joe Clay, an alcoholic who falls in love with a young woman who drinks to connect with him. The two get married and begin a happy life together, but both become controlled by their own drinking. The couple try to break free from their alcoholism, but both continuously relapse. This film was ahead of its time when it was released, and still stands as an accurate portrayal of the control of alcoholism.
Basketball Diaries. In this movie, Jim Carroll (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a rising basketball star who turns to heroin to deal with problems in his life. Carroll loses his hope of playing basketball as he spirals out of control, and eventually loses everything and lives on the streets. With the help of a friend, Carroll battles back to sobriety.
When a Man Loves a Woman. Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia team up in this emotional story about a family struggling with alcoholism. Wife Alice Green (Ryan) suffers from alcoholism and tries to hide it from her family and friends. Husband Michael Green (Garcia) feels lost and helpless as he tries to help his wife and keep their young daughter safe. This film is painful, but shows the lengths a family will go to in order to help their addicted loved one.