Movies are often under fire for glamorizing and desensitizing us to sex and violence. One criticism we don’t hear quite as often is movies under fire for glamorizing drug and alcohol use and gambling. To get a sense of which movies mention these vices the most, we analyzed over 1,260 movie scripts since 1984 searching for mentions of various phrases relating to them.
The follow graph presents the overall prevalence of marijuana, alcohol, gambling and other drug mentions in movies since 1984.
Above, you can see the full scope of drugs and alcohol mentions on the silver screen from 1984 to 2013. Alcohol was consistently the most frequently mentioned substance. Drugs and alcohol had their biggest year in the cinema spotlight in 2007. The second most popular substance was tobacco, an oddity given how cinema has received a bad rap for glorifying tobacco use. Also, if you look closely, you can see the rise and fall of the popularity of cocaine in film from the 1980s to the 1990s alongside the rising popularity of marijuana.
Neither the tale of a drug-addicted, drunk pilot nor the tale of two middle-aged men on a bachelor party through wine country could dethrone Superbad, 2007’s film about a group of high school virgins trying to get into the biggest party of the year. With its 172 mentions of drugs and alcohol, this was easily the most intoxicated movie of the past 30 years.
When refocusing the data to look at alcohol exclusively, Superbad’s 171 mentions of alcohol alone would still give it more mentions of substances than all other pictures with drugs included. In fact, the rankings don’t change much at all. The top six films remain exactly the same. What we can conclude from this is alcohol is the predominantly portrayed substance in cinema.
Though Superbad doesn’t make the cut here, Seth Rogen (who co-wrote Superbad), again is involved with a movie that tops the list with the most mentions of a drug in question – in this case, marijuana. This time around, it’s Pineapple Express, a stoner-comedy film that centers around a pot dealer and his friend who get themselves chased by a dangerous drug lord. The movie with the second highest number of mentions was another stoner comedy, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. And in the top three, though the film’s title is a reference to cocaine, sits Blow.
Surprise! A movie called Casino leads all films from the past 30 years in mentions of gambling. Obviously, gambling is not a substance; still, gambling can become an addictive behavior and we thought it might be interesting to take a look at its number of cinematic mentions as well. Two other movies with casinos as the settings for the stories, Croupier and Ocean’s Eleven, rounded out this list.
This research collected 1,273 movie scripts for movies released between 1984 and 2014 and, in those scripts, found the number of uses of various phrases related to substances of abuse and gambling for each year and for each movie. Note that a mention of alcohol could be the occurrence of the word ‘alcohol’ or any of 44 other alcohol-related phrases such as ‘budweiser’ or ‘tequila.’ Similarly for other categories, there are various phrases for each that triggered that category to be counted. For a full accounting of the terms we scraped for each substance, refer to the following spreadsheet here.
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