24 Best Movies About Alcoholism

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There is something cathartic about watching movies about drinkers. It speaks to us of our past and provides a window into how far we have come. What are the best films? Here is our list and a warning for spoiler alerts. We have included the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) rating for each film.

1. The Verdict (1982)

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One of Paul Newman’s best movies, he was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor and the film was nominated for a total of 5 Oscars and 5 Golden Globes. Newman plays an alcoholic lawyer, Frank Galvin, who takes on a medical malpractice suit. At a bar he befriends a woman, Laura Fraser¸ played by Charlotte Rampling who betrays him. The film ends with Frank Galvin drinking coffee while Laura Fraser is alone drunk.

It is notable for an uncredited appearance by an as yet unknown Bruce Willis.

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

2. Flight (2012)

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Denzel Washington plays airline pilot Whip Whitaker who suffers from both drug addiction and alcohol addiction. The film revolves around an airplane crash where Whitaker was flying but manage a crash landing. Whitaker has his toxicology altered and succeeds in hiding his substance abuse.

Eventually, when it seems that someone else who died in the crash will take the fall, the pilot admits to being drunk.

Washington was nominated for several best actor awards.

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

3. My Name Is Bill W (1989)

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This made-for-TV film won James Woods a Primetime Emmy for outstanding lead actor is a biographical film about Bill Watson one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Alongside James Woods, the film also features James Garner as Dr. Bob, JoBeth Williams as Lois Wilson, and Gary Sinise as Ebby Thacher.

In total it was nominated for seven Emmys.

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

4. When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story (2010)

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Winona Ryder stars as Lois W. wife of Bill W. and a co-founder of Al-Anon. Not as widely hailed My Name is Bill W, Ryder was nonetheless a nominee for both a Satellite and a Screen Actors Guild awards and the film did win a Prism Award for best TV Movie or miniseries

IMDB Rating: 6.6/10

5. A Star is Born (2018)

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The main character is a singer played by Bradley Cooper, who also directed the film and co-wrote the script. who has substance abuse issues. He is well supported by Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle, and Andrew Dice Clay. It is not a pretty picture of alcoholism and addiction.

Recovery, relapse, and suicide make this about as bleak and realistic as a movie featuring substance abuse disorders can be.

Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliot all received awards for their roles and the film won an Academy Award for best original song for Shallow.

The lyric includes the powerful lines:

Tell me something, boy

Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?

Or do you need more?

Ain’t it hard keepin’ it so hardcore?

IMDB Rating 7.6/10

6. Rocketman (2019)

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A biopic about legend Elton John, played by Taron Egerton and others as younger versions of the musician. The film starts with Elton John entering a room where there is a support group and being asked to talk about his youth. From there the film is a series of flashbacks. The film explores his life and includes his various addictions.

These include alcohol and drugs as well as sex. It is a great examination of how the effects of childhood can linger and cause problems later. At the end of the movie, it mentions that Elton John has been sober for thirty years. The soundtrack is undeniably cool. Consider that he has had 57 top 40 singles in the US with nine peaking at number one and is the only person to have had a UK top ten hit in six different decades.

Taron Egerton won a Golden Globe for best actor and film was awarded an Oscar for the best original song written by none other than Elton John and lifelong collaborator Bernie Taupin. That does seem to be very appropriate for a film about the man.

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

7. 28 days (2000)

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The evergreen Sandra Bullock acts as writer Gwen Cummings in this comedy-drama. Cummings is an alcoholic who is given a choice between prison time or 28 days in a rehab clinic. She chooses the 28 days.

She refuses to acknowledge that she is an alcoholic though she eventually does. The film though it has comedic elements features a death by overdose in the rehab center and ends with her breaking up with her boyfriend (Dominic West) who does not take her sobriety seriously.

Bullock, who won a Bambi award for her performance, is well supported by amongst others Viggo Mortensen, Diane Ladd, and Steve Buscemi.

IMDB Rating: 6.1/10

8. The Girl on The Train (2016)

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Rachel Watson, played by Emily Blunt, is a sober alcoholic but prone to relapses. The film compellingly goes into the abuse she suffered from her husband during blackouts.

The film won a People’s Choice Award for Best Thriller.

IMDB Rating: 6.5/10

9. The Morning After (1986)

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This movie gave leading actress, Jane Fonda an Oscar nomination. Her role is Alex Sternbergen, a has-been alcoholic actress. She wakes up one morning next to a murdered photographer, but because she had suffered a blackout, she recalls nothing.

She heads to the airport to flee and meets ex-policeman, Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges) who believes she is innocent and tries to uncover the truth.

IMDB Rating: 5.9/10

10. Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975)

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As the title suggests this deals with youth and alcoholism. Linda Blair plays Sarah Travis who is dealing with her emotions following her parents’ divorce. It is bleak, dark, and far from pretty as the viewer witnesses her decline.

It is tragic watching a 15-year-old life in a downward spiral and Sarah’s spiral is unrelenting.

Blair is more than ably supported by Larry Hagman and Mark Hamill.

IMDB Rating: 6.5/10

11. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

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This Nicholas Cage classic is the movie that landed him his sole Oscar. This film is unrelentingly bleak and it offers an uncompromising view of alcohol abuse and decline. Ben Sanderson, the central character is an alcoholic screenwriter whose life is already in decline when the film starts. He is fired from his job and decides to go for Las Vegas from Hollywood and use his severance package to drink himself to death.

He develops a relationship with a prostitute, Sera (Elizabeth Shue), but this too is affected by Sanderson’s addiction.

The best stories are about redemption. This brilliant film is an exception. Sanderson’s attitude may well be summed up when he says, “I don’t know if I started drinking ’cause my wife left me or my wife left me ’cause I started drinking, but fuck it anyway.”

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10

12. My Name is Joe (1998)

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Peter Mullan in the lead role won the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Joe Kavanagh. The title is taken from the usual Alcoholics Anonymous introduction, “My name is … “.

His best friend, Liam is an addict, and the film revolves around Kavanaghs’s relationship with Sarah, Liam’s health visitor. In the UK, a health visitor is a public employee engaged in domestically based health care.

In 1999, the British Film Institute ranked this film as the 91st best British film.

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10

13. Once Were Warriors (1994)

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This film is a brutal depiction of a community dragged down by circumstances that lead to widespread alcohol abuse. The title refers to the Maori of New Zealand who once were warriors, but no longer. Pride was removed by colonial oppression and marginalized many Maori even today.

This film rated R for pervasive profanity, domestic abuse, including sexual violence and substance abuse. is not advised for sensitive people. It is harrowing. Beth Heke (Rena Owens) husband played by Temuera Morrison is a violent alcoholic. Many other characters are addicted to either alcohol or drugs, but the impression is not of a dissolute society but a broken one.

It won director Lee Tamahori and leading actress, Rena Owens several awards.

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10

14. On the Bowery (1956)

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This film is the sole documentary, though actually docufiction, in this list and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The director focused on three days in the Bowery which was New York’s skid row at the time.

The film features the Bowery Mission in New York City which was founded in 1879.

The film comes with tragedy, Gorman Hendricks died of cirrhosis of the liver before the film was released and Ray Salyer died a few years later as a result of alcoholism.

IMDB Rating: 7.4/10

15. The Spectacular Now (2013)

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A teen drinking film won awards for both Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as a high school couple. Central to the entire story is the central character. Sutter Keely’s drinking is at the heart of the film and the effect of youthful relationships. The title is based on the recognition by Miles’ final recognition that he is only able to live in the moment.

It is less intense than some of the other films on the list, but its strength is its appeal to a younger audience. It won several awards including a special jury award for acting for Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley at the Sundance Film Festival.

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10

16. Drunks (1995)

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This Prism award-winning film starts at an A.A. Meeting and explores Jim ‘s (Richard Lewis) history with substance abuse. Faye Dunaway, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Plummer, Dianne Wiest, and Callista Flockhart are part of a strong ensemble cast.

It is an amalgam of tales of battles against addiction with each of the attendees’ stories being revealed as the film shuttles between the individual stories and Jim’s unsuccessful battle to avoid drinking.

IMDB Rating: 6.3/100

17. The Master (2012)

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The first of two films features Joaquin Phoenix who is brilliant. The standout performance goes, though to Phillip Seymour Hoffman who was nominated for and received many accolades.

Phoenix plays Freddie Quell a World War veteran who drinks and is prone to violence. He meets cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and makes moonshine for him. He is drawn in by the Master as Dodd is called and into a world where his violence still has free reign.

Brilliant and deeply disturbing.

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10

18. Walk the Line (2005)

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The second Joaquin Phoenix movie, but one for which Reese Witherspoon received many accolades. The Joker actor plays the late, legendary Johnny Cash in this biopic. The singer’s battle with addiction is almost as widely known as his music. The film includes this showing how the addiction started and worsened as he became more famous.

It starts with his Folsom State Prison concert and then starts to tell the story through flashbacks. Very interesting is the story of the writing of Ring of Fire written by June Carter and expressing her concern as his addiction worsened.

Two of Johnny Cash’s songs are featured in our blog post 25 Best Songs about Sobriety and Addiction Recovery.

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

19. Ironweed (1987)

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Ironweed features Hollywood greats Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep both received Oscar nods for their roles as two destitute characters. Set in Albany during the great depression, Nicholson plays an alcoholic, and Streep acts as a terminally ill woman.

Vigilantes use violence to clear Albany of homeless people and from there, events unfold.

IMDB Rating: 6.7/10

20. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

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Meg Ryan stands out in this film, although she only received two award nominations for it. She takes the role of a school counselor, Alice Green, who had an alcohol abuse problem. The film is mostly set post-rehab and explores the effect of drinking from a family point of view, particularly husband, Michael (Andy Garcia).

The perception is that after rehabilitation it is automatically happy ever after. It is not always.

IMDB Rating: 6.5/10

21. The Rose (1979)

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This movie was Bette Midler’s breakout film and she won two Golden Globes for her performance. Loosely based on the life of the immortal Janis Joplin, Rose sinks into a loneliness-induced haze of drugs and alcohol. Watching it brings to mind Joplin’s quote, “On stage, I make love to 25,000 different people, then I go home alone.”

This sums up Rose’s life perfectly, a successful career and a lonely heart. She seeks relationships but they fail. Rarely, has the purpose of substance abuse as solace been better portrayed and the soundtrack is sublime.

IMDB Rating 7.1/10

22. The Lost Weekend (1945)

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This won four Academy Awards including best actor for Ray Milland. Together with Marty (1955) and Parasite (2019), only these films are the only movies to have won an Oscar for Best Picture and the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Don Birnam, played by Ray Milland, is an author and alcoholic. His girlfriend is Jane Wyman who tries to support him. The film was remarkable for its portrayal of delirium tremens.

The film was selected for preservation by the National Fim Registry. Remarkably the liquor industry campaigned against the film warning paramount that temperance activists would use it as a rallying point to get prohibition reinstated. That may be higher praise than many of the highly positive reviews.

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10

23. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

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Both Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick received Oscar nods for their performances in this classic. Lemmon is Joe Clay, an alcoholic PR man, who meets Kristy Arnesen who does not drink. He works to turn her into a drinking partner and eventually they marry.

Drinking affects their marriage and eventually, he ends up in hospital with delirium tremens. He becomes sober, but the woman he introduced to alcohol fails the battle to stay off alcohol.

As a piece of trivia here, this film was sing-songwriter Bill Withers’ inspiration for his immortal song,” Ain’t No Sunshine.”

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

24. Clean and Sober (1988)

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Michael Keaton’s first dramatic role, he plays a real estate agent with a cocaine addiction problem. This film has as an element the idea of making amends. After a traumatic incident, Daryl Poynter (Michael Keaton) elects to go to rehab. He goes to a 12-step meeting and meets a man who will become his sponsor. His sponsor encourages him to reveal the $ 92,000 fraud that he committed against his company. He does so and is dismissed.

At the end, Poynter receives his red one-month sobriety chip.

A takeaway quote from this movie is voiced by addiction counselor Craig (Morgan Freeman) who says:

The best way to break old habits is to make new ones

IMDB Rating: 6.7/10