The 9 Top Movies About the War on Drugs

Movies that showcase the war on drugs continue to be popular, so here's our list of the 9 top films on the topic. 

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Sicario (2015)

Sicario follows Emily Blunt as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency that's attached to a covert team that, partnering with the Army's Delta Force and other Special Forces troops, is making illegal incursions into Mexico to manipulate the drug cartels. Part cover espionage thriller, part military action film, and part cop action film, this is a movie that plays at a very high level and doesn't yield for the audience to catch-up. Thrilling, intense, and - it seems, at least - ​ultra-realistic.

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Told in the style of Crash or Nashville, the film offers a number of different stories told in parallel, each (eventually) interconnected to each other, and the War on Drugs. The benefit of this style is that it allows the audience to simultaneously assume multiple points of view about the War on Drugs: Those who are fighting it, those who are victims of it, and those who are enabling it. Not a perfect film, but a damn good one.

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Clear and Present Danger

Following the collapse of the Cold War, super spy Jack Ryan needed a new enemy to focus his energies on, and this time out (Ford's second; cinema's third for Jack Ryan), Ford as Jack Ryan takes on the drug cartels of Central America. Easily one of the best of the Jack Ryan films, this movie also harkens back to a more simple era - following the fall of Communism and before the rise of terrorism - where the United States only had to worry about drug cartels!  (Years later, Samuel Jackson and John Travolta would star in Basic, a film that aspired to be Clear and Present Danger, but failed miserably.  Ford in Clear and Present Danger shows us how it's done; take note John Travolta!)

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The House I Live In

Another documentary about the war on drugs, this one dealing with the resulting prison population, the documentary asks disturbing questions such as who profits from the war on drugs? And what are our society's motivations for continuing a war that has so obviously failed? The answer, of course, is that somewhere, someone is profiting from the current system. It's a rare film that asks if we, as a society, have the courage to try something different, as frightening as that prospect might be.

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Perhaps the quintessential gangster film, Scarface, starring Al Pacino as the titular gangster in the title, and directed by Brian de Palma, the film follows one man as he rises from a nobody Cuban immigrant in Miami to a drug kingpin. Ultra-violent and intense, this is a film that hangs heavy in the social collective and has provided popular culture with a great many catchphrases. Even people who haven't seen the film will be surprised at how much they end up knowing about the film when pressed.​

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City of God

This Brazilian film follows a group of youth in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro that turn to drug dealing almost as a reflex—that's simply what you do for money at a certain point in your life—and how this transition destroys their youthful innocence. One day they're on the beach playing soccer, carefree without a worry in the world, the next they're immersed in gasping violence. It's "an emotional powerhouse," as they say!

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Based on the novel by Irvine Welsch, Transporting follows a group of Scottish youth that attempts to manage parents, jobs, expectations, relationships, and a psychopathic hanger-on, amid addiction to heroin. Memorable for its unflinching view of drug addiction, this is one of those rare films that are, in turns, laugh out loud funny one moment, and tear-jerking sadness, the next.

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No Country for Old Men

This Academy Award-winning action film tells the fictional story of Churgin, a cartel enforcer in the United States, tracking down a lone cowboy that uncovers a suitcase full of cash from a drug deal gone bad. Directed by the Cohen Brothers, this classic film introduced audiences to one of the most potent, evil, and diabolical screen villains of all time. Ostensibly, about the nature of evil, and how things just seem to get worse and worse over time, it's also one of the most riveting action yarns ever to play on the big screen. A near perfect film!

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Cartel Land (2015)

The story behind this documentary is almost as fascinating as the documentary itself. An aspiring young filmmaker decides to just go to Mexico and embed himself in a community rocked by narco-trafficking violence and ends up being taken in by some of the key players in the Drug War. What he captures for the documentary, is a community being torn asunder by violence, self-appointed vigilantes that aspire to fight the cartels, while all the while becoming a bit of the enemy themselves, blurring the line between good and evil. This is a documentary that is extremely nuanced - there are no clear good or bad guys here, just a lot of rotten choices. Would easily have made the Top 10 war documentaries list if only it was about a more conventional war.