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The 23 best films about cocaine

A history of cocaine at the movies

  • Mixmag crew
  • 22 May 2020

Just like its sweatier, ravier little cousin the MDMA film, the cocaine movie is very much a Hollywood sub genre all its own, albeit a more expensive and glitzy one that's often predisposed to violence.

Cocaine underpins a range of movies, from the gangster flicks that we all know and love through surreal comedies to counter culture classics that fly two fingers up at the establishment in search of hedonistic freedom.

Read this next: Freddie Mercury gave me my first line of cocaine

We've rounded up the very best cocaine films and listed them in chronological order for all your coke history buffs out there.

Enjoy and be warned – these films are somewhat addictive.

1969
Easy Rider

After completing a big coke deal, hippy duo Wyatt and Billie take off on motorbikes from LA to New Orleans, aiming to celebrate mardis gras in the city and then start a new life in Florida with their hard earned cash. A counter culture classic, Easy Rider is a relic of swinging 60s culture and a study of the freedom that money does and, maybe more importantly, doesn’t afford.

1972
Superfly

A blaxploitation classic with a soundtrack penned by legendary soul singer Curtis Mayfield, who released it as his third album. Super Fly, released in 1972, tells the story of pimp and coke dealer Youngblood Priest who’s looking for a way out of the drug business, only to be met with the problem of corrupt narcotic officers. The drug use involved was met with criticism at the time of release, but Super Fly was a landmark film for its largely non-white technical crew, the largest non-white technical crew of its time. A load of black businesses even ploughed money into its production costs. ‘Freeway’ Rick Ross, the infamous crack cocaine dealer who made hundreds of millions, claims Super Fly was one of his biggest influences in getting into the drug dealing game.

1983
Scarface

You know the scene. Al Pacino’s Tony Montana slumped in his leather chair, his pinstripe suit dusted with coke and a mountain of the stuff on the desk in front of him. It’s symbolic of Tony’s demise in Brian De Palma’s Scarface, quite possibly the most iconic film about cocaine ever. Tony’s both coke shotter and consumer in the ‘80s flick, which isn’t the best combo as most dealers will probably admit to. The film’s relationship with cocaine is so tight, the soundtrack even has a song dedicated to the stuff, courtesy of Debbie Harry’s ‘Rush Rush’.

1990
Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese bookends this list with seminal gangster flick Goodfellas and The Wolf Of Wall Street, released 23 years later. He can now add the fact that he’s directed two of the best cocaine movies of all time alongside the fact that Goodfellas is one of the gangster genre’s most seminal movies and widely thought to be his personal masterpiece. It chronicles the rise and fall of Henry Hill, an Italian-American gangster who was part of the Gambino mafia family, with masterful performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. And guess what Hill’s downfall is? Yup, the white stuff.

Read this next: Why is cocaine so strong - and where's it all coming from?

1990
King Of New York

Gangsters and cocaine go together like a very illegal version of peanut butter and jelly. We’ve included some epic examples in this list and there’s definitely space for King Of New York, which is powered by the New York coke trade and sees Christopher Walken’s character Frank White return to the city after a stint in prison to try and reclaim his status as, well, you know what the title of the film is…

1992
Deep Cover

Early ‘90s Larry Fishburne was a bad, bad man. The man who’d later become Morpheus in The Matrix became synonymous with eyes of steel, from playing the wise Furious Styles in Boyz N The Hood to undercover cop Russell Stevens in Deep Cover. His undercover role takes in shotting drugs himself as he makes his way towards Jeff Goldblum’s David Jason, the Los Angeles drug dealer he plans to take down. Also no big deal that two of the biggest rappers of the ‘90s - Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg - perform the film’s theme song.

1994
Pulp Fiction

Quite possibly Quentin Tarantino’s finest film and part of the three iconic films he released in the 90s, also including Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown (see below). It’s impact on film has been tremendous, with zinging performances from John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, who head up this darkly funny and often brutal crime drama in which cocaine (or lack thereof) plays a pivotal part in the plot.

Read this next: Why Human Traffic is still relevant today

1997
Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 flick centres around the title’s namesake, Jackie Brown, played by Pam Grier. An air stewardess, Jackie’s enlisted by Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson, to smuggle money from Mexico into the United States. The snag being that one time the suitcase contained cocaine as well as money, something Jackie’s unaware of when she’s intercepted by the ATF and arrested. Cue Jackie plotting to take down Ordell in a slick, stylish film featuring Kangol hats, a dodgy Robert De Niro moustache and a whole load of soul. Robert Forster, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Bridget Fonda and Michael Keaton also have star turns. Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson also picked up Golden Globe nominations.

1997
Boogie Nights

Enter Dirk Diggler! Paul Thomas Anderson’s voyage into the 70s porn industry sees a young Mark Wahlberg rocket from a nobody to a somebody quicker than you can say “Beneath those jeans”. Wahlberg’s character, real name Eddie Adams, lives the life of a sun-kissed LA pornstar but his love of partying and powder soon lead to him being undone (and we’re not talking about his jeans this time).

1998
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

Like many of our other protagonists here – the Trainspotting boys, Jordan Belfort et al – Raoul Duke will hoof anything he can get his hands on. The film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo classic more or less nails the brief, with Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro playing Duke, a journalist, and his attorney respectively. The pair are supposed to be covering a motorcycle race in Las Vegas but get sidetracked by an epic psychedelic adventure.

2000
American Psycho

A bloody head-fuck based on the controversial book of the same name by author Bret Easton Ellis. It’s all brick phones, posh suits, expensive dinners and top-of-the-range cocaine for Christian Bale’s character Patrick Bateman. The white stuff doesn’t always meet Patrick’s high standards, though. Racking up in a toilet cubicle and unhappy with the narcotics in his possession, Bateman says: “Definitely weak, but if we do enough of it we’ll be okay.” And he definitely does plenty of it throughout the film - and the book - as he slowly loses his mind and countless victims lose their lives.

Read this next: This is how MDMA reached the UK in 1988

2001
Blow

Based on the story of George Jung, a young guy from a small town in Massachusetts who ended up making a fortune in cocaine importation and mixing with a little-known coke fiend called Pablo Escobar. Johnny Depp plays George in Blow, an adaption of the book Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All, with Penelope Cruz starring as his wife Mirtha. Set in the US and Colombia, Blow is a rise and fall story full of piles of cash, quotes of “I can’t feel my face”, parental failure, greed and imprisonment.

2002
City Of God

No film out there paints Rio De Janeiro, Brazil quite like Fernando Meirelles’ City Of God. The 2002 flick won plaudits for its depiction of drug-related violence in the Rio suburb of Cidade de Deus in the ‘70s, a time when cocaine was on the rise in the city. Characters Rocket and Ze are the focus, the former a budding photographer, the latter falling into the drugs business and using Rocket’s photography expertise to increase his and his gang’s reputation. Both beautiful and brutal, it picked up four Academy Award nominations, including Best Cinematography. Watch it and you’ll see why.

2005
The Business

Who doesn’t love Danny Dyer? Oh, you don’t? Really? Why on Earth not? OK, he might have lost that boyish, pill-loving, ‘NICE ONE BRUVVA!!!’ charm of Human Traffic, but you can’t fault his mid-00s run of being a Proper Nawty Geezer on the silver screen. After his role as hooligan Tommy Johnson in The Football Factory, Danny teamed up with director Nick Love again to play Frankie in The Business. The impressionable Frankie goes from living a dead-end life in south London to living a life clad in prime ‘80s Sergio Tachhini clobber in the Costa del Sol. The lavish lifestyle was first funded by selling cannabis, then cocaine alongside his partner Charlie, played by Tamer Hassan. As always seems to be the case in these coke-happy films, the selling leads to snorting and it’s all downhill from there. That’s not to say Frankie doesn’t have the last laugh. Even if he did have to ruin his threads in a sewage pipe. A soundtrack featuring Blondie, Rick James, David Bowie, Loose Ends, Mary Jane Girls makes this a British ‘80s-set classic.

2004
Maria Full Of Grace

Maria Full Of Grace is one of the few films on this list that doesn’t glamourise the cocaine trade or its use as a recreational drug. The Colombian-US production follows a 17-year-old woman who quits her job at a gruelling flower plantation before finding out she’s pregnant and leaving her relationship and family behind to find a new life in Bogotá, where she gets roped into running cocaine to New York. She joins a group of women who are mules for a cartel and this bittersweet drama follows their fates when they touch down in the US.

Read this next: We went undercover in a Chinese MDMA factory

2013
The Wolf Of Wall Street

Probably the most infamous cocaine film of the last decade, The Wolf Of Wall Street features Leonardo DiCaprio in his prime as a ravenous stockbroker who works his way up the ranks to become one of the most fearsome – and corrupt – individuals on Wall Street. Directed by Martin Scorsese and also featuring a brilliant turn by Jonah Hill, there’s nothing morally upstanding about this movie and it features enough blow to sink a cruise ship full of toxic businessmen. Unshockingly enough it’s based on (and takes its name from) a memoir, that of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Watch out for this iconic scene.

2013
Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is the moving true story of Ron Woodroof, who founded the Dallas Buyers Club in Texas in 1988 to help people with AIDS treat their symptoms with drugs that were unapproved for use in the USA. His alpha personality as a cowboy, electrician and coke head is at odds with the community he begins to represent but he quickly turns into an anti-hero for the fight against aids. Matthew McConaughey gives one of his finest performances as Woodroof, with the actor embarking on an extreme diet to portray the physical deterioration of an AIDs victim.

2017
T2 Trainspotting

The long-awaited follow up to Danny Boyle’s legendary adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s equally legendary novel didn’t quite live up to the original but still caused quite the stir when it landed. Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud are so well loved that it was great to see them back together on the big screen and, despite the underwhelming nature of the results, the plot (which borrows heavily from Trainspotting sequel Porno) still provides an adequate romp around Leith and Edinburgh. A whole bevvy of substances are consumed throughout as we watch the four manbabies struggle to get their act together as they approach middle age.

2017
Kill Your Friends

Kill Your Friends is John Niven’s notorious novel about 1990s music industry excess that comes spiked with dark twists and turns. And – yup – tons of gak. The film adaptation stars Nicholas Hoult, who’s no stranger to a party scene thanks to his lead role in well-loved 00s teen sit-com Skins. It didn’t win any major plaudits upon release but worth a watch as the book is a firm part of UK music industry folklore.

2018
Climax

Would it be a Gasper Noé film without some kind of substance abuse? Climax sees a Parisian dance troupe descend into madness after someone spikes the punch with LSD at their post-rehearsal party. It’s inspired by a true story as well as Noé’s experience of the Paris vogue scene, and features ballroom star Kiddy Smile among a cast of dancers with no previous acting experience. The dialogue is largely improvised and Noé experimented with unusual filming styles, including long takes that last up to 42 minutes, to recreate the psychedelic experience. The cast were given free reign to interpret how to act while supposedly on drugs, with Noé saying the film is a study on how people respond to fear. It’s quite the bad trip, with a few of the characters doing bumps of coke to try and level out during the height of the madness.

2018
Sorry To Bother You

Lakeith Stanfield is the face of this brilliant satirical comedy in which a struggling white collar worker begins to climb the corporate only to find that the rewards wreck havoc with his life. The film descends into the realm of trippy magic realism when Stanfield’s character Cassius “Cash” Green takes a line of what he believes to be cocaine from the CEO of the telemarketing company he works for. Come for Stanfield’s predictably great performance and stay for the razor-sharp skewering of capitalism.

2018
Mandy

Want to watch Nicolas Cage hunt down a clan of supernatural bikers and the members of an psychedelic sex cult while high on uber strong LSD and cocaine? Course you do. Mandy is a kickass action horror that sees Cage’s character Red on a mission to avenge the murder of his girlfriend Mandy. It’s a classic revenge quest, complete with high body count and a chainsaw duel, but told with stunning, sumptuous cinematography. What it lacks in dialogue, it more than makes up for in atmosphere and adrenaline. Fans of the occult, B-movies and Nic Cage doing Nic Cage really well will dig this. It also has the last score by Jóhann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing.

2018
The Legend Of Cocaine Island

The title of this Netflix original is wild enough, the story is even wilder. Rodney Hyden, just a regular fella from Florida, hears about a stash - 70 pounds to be exact - of cocaine hidden in Puerto Rico. Desperate for cash, Hyden sets out to find it, in the hope he’ll be able to sell it and make around $2 million. A seemingly helpful guy named Carlos offers his help in retrieving the goods, but it just so turns out he’s an undercover cop who ends up arresting Hyden for intent to distribute. Sound ridiculous? It’s a true story, split into real-life interviews and re-enactments. We’ll be honest, it’s inclusion in this list is mainly down to its choice of title, rather than its ability - or inability - to score 10/10 in your film club.

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