10 Great Films About Addiction

Searing film dramas and dark comedies about addiction to make you think.

Michael Fassbender Shame
Momentum Pictures

Roger Ebert once wrote: "The movies make us into voyeurs." Great films allow us to sit down and become immersed in someone else's life, whether they're a crime-fighting superhero, someone in the midst of a mid-life crisis, or a detective on the case of a vicious serial killer.

But even with all the different genres, themes and historical events that cinema tackles on a day-to-day basis, perhaps none are as challenging as translating someone's mental health struggles and tussles with addiction onto the big screen.

Addiction is a very personal and internal experience, subjective to the person it's effecting, and translating that into a sympathetic, compassionate cinematic experience can be damn near impossible.

Many films about addiction miss the mark; they're tasteless, on the nose, and offer no hope or understanding. But, as is the case with the following films, many get it right without fault, crafting some of the most iconic, important and emotionally powerful stories in the process.

With that in mind, here are 10 great films about addiction, all of which tackle their subject matter with thoughtfulness, empathy and heart.

10. Traffic (2000)

Michael Fassbender Shame
USA Films

Traffic is a multi-narrative drama that looks at the drug trade from various different angles. Unlike others on this list, it's not only about addiction, but how drug addicts are effected by society and how the US government attempted to tackle the War on Drugs.

At the centre of the story, Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) attempts to infiltrate an illegal drug ring, and conservative judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) must come to terms with the fact that his successful daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) has slipped into drug addiction.

Traffic is an epic analysis of how many different aspects of society are effected by the drug trade, whether it's the families blindsided by their loved one's secret dependency or the moral public servants trying desperately to end the despair.

With a cast rounded out by Don Cheadle, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Topher Grace and Luis Guzman, as well as some Oscar-winning direction courtesy of Steven Soderbergh, Traffic is a must-watch drama even 20+ years on from its initial release.

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WhatCulture contributor and lover of all things Star Wars, Buffy, zombie, TV and movie. Usually found rambling about how Jack Nicholson is the greatest actor of all time and watching the same six shows on repeat.