Let me just start off by saying that “Drugs are bad, mmmmkay…” and being a drug dealer isn’t really something that should be celebrated…
However, this is a film site, this is a top ten list and Hollywood is littered with immoral, narcotic obsessed scumbags… Enough about producers though, what about the actors and the drug pedalling characters they have portrayed on the big screen…?
Modern cinema loves a good drug tale and we have seen everything from the cautionary to the straight up encouraging so just who are the top 10 drug dealers to have pushed their product on audiences across the world…?
played by Eric Stoltz
in Pulp Fiction
According to that reliable fountain of information Courtney Love, her late husband Kurt Cobain turned down the role of drug dealer Lance in Quentin Tarantino’s OSCAR-winning Pulp Fiction before the role eventually went to the man who was Marty McFly for a few weeks, Eric Stoltz.
Had Cobain not turned down the role, Love would have played Lance’s better half, human pin-cushion Jody, so goes Love’s tale anyway. But alas that didn’t happen, Rosanna Arquette took on Jody, and the scenes involving Lance and Jody didn’t become a complete farce.
Eric Stoltz’s Lance looks like he belongs as David Spade’s interpretation of a culprit on an episode of Cops – long unwashed hair, unshaved, dirty robe, clothes he no doubt slept in, eating cereal at night and I can’t remember what his choice of footwear was but I’d venture: one flip-flop.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that this heroin dealer is central to the most memorable of Pulp Fiction’s interwoven stories and helps to administer that cringe-inducing adrenaline shot to Mia Wallace’s heart as she lies prone on the floor of his bungalow.
Laid back yet paranoid (drugs will do that to ya’) Lance is not only part of the problem, he’s part of the solution.
played by Mickey Rourke
Jonas Ackerland’s 2002 directorial debut Spun has the hyperactivity of a three minute music promo for its entire hundred minute running time; if Ackerland wanted to capture the feeling of a crank binge then he certainly succeeded.
Spun was more miss than hit but features a performance from Mickey Rourke that proves that his supposed ‘wilderness period’ was more a case of Hollywood not taking any notice (let’s not forget he also did Sin City during the years he was supposedly dropping his pants for money).
As the cowboy hat wearing drug dealer known only as The Cook, operating a meth lab out of a motel room, Rourke is on fine form and gets the lion’s share of the film’s best moments, including one thought-provoking monologue about pussy (not the feline kind).
As the film jerks towards its finale, most of the speed-freaks at the centre of the tale get some much needed shut-eye but not The Cook – forced to move his lab when he burns down the motel room, he ends up operating from a run down trailer which he also manages to blow up, along with himself.
Imparting his wisdom and musings on his customers, and invariably anyone who’ll listen, The Cook is one of the more philosophical dealers on our list.
played by James Franco
in Pineapple Express
A stoner so perma-baked he makes Cheech and Chong look like girl scouts, Pineapple Express’ Saul Silver is one dealer who blatantly likes to mix business and pleasure.
James Franco picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Saul, dealer of the titular drug, who is forced to go on the run after his slacker buddy, and best customer, Dale (Seth Rogen) witnesses a murder committed by the awesome Gary Cole’s evil drug lord.
With Seth Rogen playing practically the same character he’s played in every film since The 40 Year Old Virgin, it is left to Franco to steal the show as the bunny-in-the-headlights Saul, he’s nervous, vulnerable and likeable which in a movie chocked full of ill-conceived, extremely unlikeable characters is a great achievement.
Franco got his break in Judd Apatow’s short-lived cult comedy Freaks and Geeks alongside many Apatow regulars (Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr) and if Pineapple Express is any indication, he should dip his toe in the comedy pool more often.
Jay & Silent Bob
Played by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith
[and other View Askew films]
When Kevin Smith became more and more successful and the View-Askewniverse grew, Jay and Bob had seemingly left their drug-dealing roots behind to go on adventures that involved trying to stop fallen angels from destroying the world and preventing a movie being made about themselves that they thought would suck.
But back in Smith’s guerrilla debut Clerks they were just simple, foul-mouthed (well, one of them) drug dealers pushing weed outside the Quick Stop. Such was the popularity of these two characters, they went on to appear in all but two of Smith’s films, including one which they were the stars of.
Ying and yang; Jay is loud and obnoxious, Bob almost mute and philosophical, yet somehow they have remained the best of friends, and are two of cinema’s most cult figures.
For sheer longevity, Jay and Bob deserve a spot alongside some of the more entrepreneurial dealers on this list.
played by Timothy Olyphant
Doug Liman’s Go was Pulp Fiction for Generation X – interweaving three stories into one sordid tale of sex, drugs and a dude who used to be in Grange Hill.
With an eclectic ensemble cast, Go achieved impressive critical, if not commercial, success. Out of all the impressive performances in this lightning paced black comedy though, it is Timothy Olyphant that stands out as menacing, Santa hat-wearing dealer Todd Gaines, in what was one of his first major roles, following his performance as Mickey “the freaky Tarantino film student” in Scream 2.
The Breakfast Club-referencing Gaines who quips that he “gives head before he gives favours” to Sarah Polley’s amateur drug dealer Ronna spends much of Go holed up with Katie Holmes in his apartment after demanding some ‘collateral’ in return for his drugs.
Gaines is a business man who may or may not be borderline psychotic but there are hints that he may not be all bad and, in what seems to be a common trait for big screen drug dealers, is quite the philosopher.
played by Wesley Snipes
in New JackCity
Usually, when I make a Wesley Snipes reference it is followed by a lame tax evasion joke but I shall try my best to refrain here as I discuss number five on my list.
Set on the streets of New York during the crack boom of the late 80’s-early 90’s, New Jack City paints the drug world in a truly grim light. As drug lord Nino Brown, Snipes has absolutely no redeeming qualities.
Directed by and starring Mario Van Peebles, New Jack City was a surprise success at the box office, in no small part thanks to Snipes’ charismatic Machiavellian turn as Nino.
Snipes had not ascended to the height of his fame when he made New Jack City but he stands out head and shoulders above his cast mates, who to be fair were Ice-T and Judd Nelson, and shows why he became a big star in the nineties and started earning the big bucks…
…I bet he had to pay a lot of tax on those earnings though… Oh wait…
(Damn it! So close…)
played by Gary Oldman
in True Romance
If there isn’t already a band out there named Drexl Spivey then there really should be. Out of everyone in True Romance’s awesome ensemble cast it is Gary Oldman’s faux-Rasta dealer/pimp Drexl Spivey that stands out as the most memorable character.
“What’s a Drexl?” Clarence asks Alabama at one point in Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s endlessly quotable film, well, Drexl is Alabama’s rather volatile pimp who has a nice sideline in suitcases full of coke.
The Drexl character is practically an extended cameo for Oldman but he hams it up for all it’s worth as the scarred, dreadlocked and extremely psychopathic Spivey.
Drexl Spivey is another incredible performance from one of Britain’s finest actors, who I personally think doesn’t get enough credit. It’s hard to believe that the man behind this abusive menace to society was also in the Harry Potter films.
played by Johnny Depp
George Jung is the only ‘real-life’ drug dealer to make the list. As a member of the infamous Medellin Cartel, Jung was supposedly involved in nearly all the cocaine smuggled into the United States during the 70’s & 80’s. His story was immortalised on film in 2001 with Ted Demme’s Blow.
Johnny Depp was tasked with bringing Jung to life on the big screen and does a fine job, giving a bold, swaggering performance as only Depp can. Depp’s Jung is surrounded by an eccentric cast of characters and the film boasts a nice supporting cast, including bizarrely, Pee Wee Herman himself Paul Reubens.
Jung’s story, much like our number one dealer, truly is a rags-to-riches tale, beginning his ‘career’ dealing pot he soon becomes Pablo Escobar’s go-to-guy and gains untold wealth and a vamp-ish Penelope Cruz for a wife. Crime doesn’t pay though and Jung eventually ends up captured and incarcerated for the rest of his days.
Demme’s film doesn’t condemn Jung for his criminal activities; it simply tells his story and gives the audience enough credit to be able to make up their own minds on one of the drug trade’s most famous sons.
In reality it is hard to find a redeeming quality in Jung, yet Depp brings enough to the role that you actually start to feel sorry for the guy – and it is this performance that makes Blow stand out rather than be consigned to live in mediocrity as just another cookie cutter film about the drug trade of the late 70’s – early 80’s.
played by Christopher Walken
in King of New York
Abel Ferrara’s King of New York was very nearly included on my recent Top 10 Gangster Films list but sadly I couldn’t justify leaving out any of the films that made the top 10 there.
I have such problem here though as King of New York’s Frank White is one of cinemas most memorable drug dealers, trumped only by the man who I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now is at number one.
Christopher Walken’s performance as drug lord Frank White is one of his best of all time, he is menacing, ruthless and brutal but still displays a great deal of that trademark Walken charisma.
White seems to think of himself as some sort of twisted, modern day Robin Hood, trying to fund a dilapidated Bronx hospital with drug money and remarking to narcotics cop Bishop that he “never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it”.
King of New York has a starry cast for an independently made film, with Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi and a brilliantly unhinged Laurence Fishburne all present, but it is Walken who engulfs the screen during his every scene.
Like much of Ferrara’s work the film courted controversy upon its release, but it has stood the test of time and in the almost twenty years since its release has become a cult classic. Much like our number one, King of New York has also been heavily referenced in hip-hop culture, with the Notorious B.I.G even referring to himself as “the black Frank White”.
played by Al Pacino
Who else could it have been?
No one enjoyed the fruits of his labour more than Tony Montana and his penchant for mixing business with pleasure probably led to a nose in worse shape than Daniella Westbrook’s.
I covered Scarface quite extensively in my aforementioned Top 10 Gangster Films list, but suffice to say, when discussing cinema’s most memorable drug dealers no one can realistically look past Montana as the most memorable.
The film has developed a massive cult following and Montana himself has become a cult hero, referenced in popular culture as regularly today as he was twenty-five years ago. Al Pacino brings Montana to life with an electric performance; you really get the feeling that Pacino has just stuck his face in a massive pile of coke every time he explodes onto screen.
Montana is ruthless, violent and makes his own twisted version of the American dream, Scarface is essentially a tragedy and as with all great tragedies Montana’s world eventually implodes but not before he gets his chance to utter one of cinema’s most famous lines, all together now: “say hello…”
Many movies have been made about drug addiction, but very few even bring up drug treatment cost and other addiction issues in real life.