10 Movies That Could Double As Terrifying Anti-Drug PSAs


As Steven Soderbergh eases his way into retirement, his latest of his last films – Side Effects ­– hits theaters this Friday. Reviews have been cautious not to reveal too much about the movie’s plot, but we do know it revolves around Rooney Mara being prescribed the latest anti-depressant drug, which leads to some very dark consequences. There’s a long history of Hollywood depicting the dangers of drugs, specifically substance abuse and its destructive power. In fact, many of them could almost double as public service announcements. We’ve gathered together a list of a few of those these movies that may as well be as PSAs – eggs, frying pan, and all — because of the way they depict just how bad an idea it is to do drugs.

Basketball Diaries

THE EGG: Jim Carroll (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a star high school basketball player who has a bright future…

THE FRYING PAN: … that is derailed when he and his friends start experimenting with heroin. Jim soon finds himself addicted, kicked out of school, and resorting to robbery and prostitution to finance his next fix.

THE PSA MOMENT: Jim shows up at his mom’s apartment, struggling with withdrawal and begging for money. Afraid to make his situation worse, she refuses and eventually calls the cops to take him away. It’s an aching representation of how volatile and desperate addicts can get, and the tough choices loved ones sometimes have to make to help — like not opening a chain lock.

Bigger Than Life

THE EGG: Teacher Ed Avery (James Mason) is happy husband and father who discovers he suffers from polyarteritis nodosa — an inflammation of the arteries.

THE FRYING PAN: Ed’s doctors offer him cortisone for his potentially fatal condition. Initially the drugs make him feel better than he ever has. Then he starts taking them too much, and his psyche begins to crack.

THE PSA MOMENT: Ed starts to (falsely) believe that his son, Richie, is becoming a serous problem. So, he explains to his wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), that naturally they have no other choice but to kill him – citing as precedent that time God wanted Abraham to kill his own son. Lou reminds her husband’s selective memory that God actually wound up stopping Abraham, prompting her husband to indignantly bellow: “God was wrong!” There’s religious fanaticism and then there’s Ed. Inspired and justified by religion, but so drug warped he thinks he’s better and far less of a pushover than God.

Dead Ringers

THE EGG: Identical twins Elliot and Beverly (Jeremy Irons) are two of the world’s most successful gynecologists who share everything – including women.

THE FRYING PAN: Beverly falls into a deep depression when he thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him, so he copes with drinking and prescription drugs. Elliot tries to clean up his brother, but because of his constant desire to be synchronized with him, he winds up addicted himself.

THE PSA MOMENT: The madness Beverly’s addiction sets off is certainly enough — what with his growing obsession with mutant women and designing customized gynecological tools for them. The real horror happens though when Beverly and Elliot both get drugged up, and in his haze Beverly operates on his brother with the mutant tools and kills him. Showing drug-induced fratricide is a good way to hammer home drugs are maybe not the best.

Drugstore Cowboy

THE EGG: Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon) and his crew of friends who live an aimless existence wandering around the US…

THE FRYING PAN: … robbing pharmacies for drugs to help constantly fuel their addictions, while Bob keeps a paranoid outlook for any hexes that could affect their scores.

THE PSA MOMENT: When one of their crew, Nadine (Heather Graham), overdoses in a motel room, Bob’s only concern isn’t for the human life or friend who was just lost. He gets mad at the fact that “conniving little bitch” had been hoarding and hiding drugs from the rest of them and left a hat on the bed (a bad hex). As you would.

The Lost Weekend

THE EGG: Writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is a recovering alcoholic “on the wagon” for ten days. He’s broke and his brother has ensured there are no secret booze stashes left in Don’s apartment.

THE FRYING PAN: Unable to control his addiction, he goes on a weekend-long bender where he lies and steals his way into money to get the never ending “one more drink.”

THE PSA MOMENT: Don hits a lot of personal lows in the film, but it’s his desperate attempts to sell off his typewriter — the instrument of his passion – for a drink that emphasize how addicts are willing to abandon everything that makes them who they are to satisfy their cravings.

The Man with the Golden Arm

THE EGG: Recently released from prison, Frankie (Frank Sinatra) is a recovering addict looking to stay to clean and get a job as a drummer.

THE FRYING PAN: Frankie’s poison is heroin, and while he manages to resist for a while he eventually gives in to the pressures of his former dealer.

THE PSA MOMENT: Frankie’s grueling withdrawal scene (0:57 into the video above), brilliantly portrayed by Sinatra, is a brutal representation of how being on drugs isn’t always the most devastating part – watching someone try to kick their habit can be even more brutal.

Naked Lunch

THE EGG: William Lee (Peter Weller) is a former writer and now New York City exterminator.

THE FRYING PAN: When he discovers that his wife has been stealing his insecticide and using it as a drug, he gives it a try himself. Which catalyzes an addiction that makes him practically hallucinate the rest of the movie.

THE PSA MOMENT: It’s difficult to choose one particular moment because the whole film is one giant drug trip, (a testament to the insane hallucinations constant drug use can produce). Still, if one had to pick one moment, it’s hard to see gaining the ability to see cockroach typewriters that talk from sphincters as a selling point for taking drugs.

Oslo, August 31st

THE EGG: Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is discharged from his drug treatment clinic to go into Oslo for the day and have an interview for a magazine position.

THE FRYING PAN: He mentions in his disastrous interview that he experimented with a variety of drugs throughout his youth, but heroin proves to be his drug of choice in the end.

THE PSA MOMENT: Oslo, August 31st isn’t really a representation of drug taking. Instead, it’s more a depiction of both the depressed state of mind that can drive people to the euphoric escape drugs provide and the depressed state it leaves in its wake. Anders’ attempt to escape his situation through suicide at the beginning is certainly sad, but it’s really the ending that resonates. It’s a moment that tragically illustrates how for many addicts, drugs are the only way they can make life worth living – despite what it does to them. Understanding why people take drugs is as valuable a public service announcement as what it puts them through.

Requiem for a Dream

THE EGG: TV junkie Sarah Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) receives a phone call that she’s invited to take part in a game show and wants to lose weight for her appearance. Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and their friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) spend their summer selling heroin to help make money to finance their future dreams and plans.

THE FRYING PAN: Sarah becomes addicted to amphetamine pills and loses her mind. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone all become heroin addicts, blow through the money they’ve made, and start doing increasingly desperate things to get their next fix.

THE PSA MOMENT: The whole film is practically one big giant public service announcement. An effective one at that, considering how many people say it’s the movie that scared them out of recreational drug use. While the film’s sucker punch ending drives everything home, personally, it’s the image of that black hole in Harry’s arm that will haunt me the rest of my life.


THE EGG: Renton (Ewan McGregor) is introduced to us as someone committed to living the life of an addict, though he’s struggling to go clean.

THE FRYING PAN: Heroin is the drug of choice for Renton and his gang of fellow addicts, and one that drives Renton to steal, almost overdose, suffer a difficult withdrawal, and relapse. All his friends end up in worse positions — HIV, death, murder.

THE PSA MOMENT: It’s almost hard to pick just one (Renton’s withdrawal, the death of Allison’s baby), but nothing quite underlines just how far an addict will go for their next fix than Renton digging into his own diarrhea in the worst toilet in Scotland to grab the drugs that he lost thanks to that opium suppository.