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CinemaBlend’s 32 Most Powerful Movies About Sobriety

movies about sobriety

CinemaBlend’s 32 Most Powerful Movies About Sobriety

Leave it to the keen, cool folks at Cinemablend to come through with 32 of the most powerful movies about sobriety. We speak specifically of the site’s Hugh Scott, a Boston U alum who serves as CinemaBlend’s Syndication Editor. Here Scott puts together a Baskin Robbins-size list of substance-starring movies, some more sober-driven than others. Yet none of which don’t deserve a second look-see.

There are harrowing classics such as Requiem for a Dream, Basketball Diaries and Trainspotting, as well as classic classics like the double Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend. There are contemporary looks like Beautiful Boy and A Good Person. And there are those that got the movies about sobriety ball rolling such as 28 Days and Clean and Sober.

28 Days

28 Days is named after the number of days a standard trip to rehab goes for. In the movie, Sandra Bullock plays Gwen, an alcoholic who is given the choice between jail and rehab. Like many, she denies she has a problem and almost gets kicked out before falling out of a window and deciding to get sober. The movie got bad reviews, but that’s not fair, especially because Bullock is fantastic. 

A Good Person

The Zach Braff-directed A Good Person weaves a complicated story of guilt and anger that all comes from a place of addiction and alcoholism. It, like so many on this list, is a heavy watch, but a redeeming one in the end. It takes Allison (Florence Pugh) a long time to get there, but she does in the end and you get the feeling everything will be alright. 

A Million Little Pieces

When it was revealed that James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces was at least partially fictional after being touted as a memoir, the book took a terrible in sales. That said, the story, whether it is true or not, is still a fantastic and harrowing depiction of addiction and the revelation of sobriety. The movie is not as good as the book, but still worth a watch. 

A Star Is Born

2018’s A Star Is Born is a masterpiece from director and star Bradley Cooper. Cooper plays an alcoholic musician whose addiction gets so bad he embarrasses himself on national TV when he can’t stop. Jealous of his wife (Lady Gaga), things continue to get worse. Sadly, there is no real redemption to this movie, and it ends in a horrible tragedy, showing that even after sobriety, there is emotional work to be done.

The Basketball Diaries

The Basketball Diaries is one of the hardest movies to watch you’ll ever see. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the true story of author Jim Carroll’s teenage life in New York City, audiences watch each step of Carroll’s descent into addiction and it’s heartbreaking. The redemption does come, but it takes a jail stint. A cautionary tale, for sure, but an uplifting one at the end. 

Beautiful Boy

Steve Carrell’s performance as a father trying to help his son in Beautiful Boy is just wonderful. His son, played by Timothée Chalamet is an addict who goes through the cycle of sobriety and relapse, something addicts know all too well. It’s a powerful movie, that is tough to watch, but worth it. 

Ben Is Back

The toll addiction takes on family members is viscerally felt in Ben Is Back, starring Julia Roberts as a mother desperately trying to get her son clean. Roberts’ performance is heartbreaking and wonderful as she does all she can for her son who was hooked on pills at a young age and can’t kick the habit. She triumphs in the end, but only just. 

The Boost

Like a few other entries on this list, The Boost is a cautionary tale more than a story of sobriety. James Woods plays a real estate agent who cannot kick his bad habits and eventually, they catch up to him and he blows the most important deal of his career, rather than getting sober, things only get much for him, tragically. 

Clean And Sober

One of Michael Keaton‘s most overlooked performances comes from 1988’s Clean And Sober. He plays an addict who is so deep into his disease that he gets caught stealing money from his company and is found with a dead woman who overdosed with him. He slowly finds his way back to sobriety through a 12-step program and in the end is redeemed, but not without tragedy. It’s one of Keaton’s best roles

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot tells the true story of cartoonish John Callahan who was left quadriplegic after a car accident when he was 21. That doesn’t slow him down and he continues drinking until finally he has a moment of clarity and starts an AA program, coming to grips with his past demons and living a more transparent life. 

Drugstore Cowboy

The most heartbreaking thing about 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy is that Bob (Matt Dillon) finds sobriety, possibly for the wrong reasons, and finds a bit of happiness. That is all over in the final scene though, as it’s clear he can’t give up his lifestyle or his habit.


If you’ve never heard of Drunks, we wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s an excellent movie with an all-star cast about one night at an AA meeting. It’s almost like peaking behind the curtain of one if you’ve never been. In a dramatic role, the late Richard Lewis is brilliant as a man struggling to stay sober after he leaves the meeting as Spalding Grey, Parker Posey, Faye Dunaway, and others tell their gritty stories in the meeting he stormed out of. 

Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell has an uncanny ability to always surprise us with his non-comedic acting. Everything Must Go is a great example of this, as Ferrell plays a man struggling with alcoholism, leading him to lose everything before finally seeing the light. 

The Fighter

Anyone watching HBO in the mid-90s surely saw High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. The documentary was a powerful statement of the damage that crack does to people’s lives and towns. The Fighter tells the fictionalized version of one of the participants in the documentary, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), and his brother Mickey (Mark Wahlberg). Dicky struggled for years with the drug, causing him to have a fallout with his beloved brother, though in the end, he triumphs and they are as tight as ever. 


2012’s Flight starring Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, a pilot lost in addiction starkly shows how insidious the disease can be. Facing the loss of his job, license, and even his freedom, the disease still won’t give up its grip. It literally takes serious prison time for Whip to find redemption and sobriety, but it ends on a positive note. 

Four Good Days

Based on a true story, Four Good Days is about a daughter (Mila Kunis) finally overcoming her addiction and facing skepticism from her mother (Glenn Close).  It’s a candid take on how families must deal not only with the disease of addiction but the mistrust it breeds for everyone on all sides. With some wonderful performances from the lead actors, this is a must-see. 


Gia is the ultimate cautionary tale. Based on the true story of model Gia Carangi, Angelina Jolie disappears into the role of the protagonist who, despite seemingly having it all, succumbs to addiction, AIDS, and death in the 1980s. Gia is redeemed at the very end, as she finally sobers up, but alas, it’s too late. 

Home Run

In Home Run, Scott Elrod plays an alcoholic minor league baseball player who, after a series of drunken episodes, finds sobriety through religion. While it does have a very overt Christian message, which may turn some people off, it shouldn’t because it shows just one of the many ways people have found sobriety.

Leaving Las Vegas

One of the best movies of the ’90s, Leaving Las Vegas starring Nicolaus Cage, is more of a cautionary tale than one of recovery. It shows how deep people can get when they aren’t even interested in helping themselves and lose all will to live. It’s really more motivation to get and stay sober than it is about anything else. 

The Lost Weekend

In a movie way before its time, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend shows that even 80 years ago, people recognized alcoholism as something to be addressed. Attitudes in the mid-20th Century were very different than today, yet so many of our issues are the same. It’s a powerful movie that won Best Picture and Best Actor for Ray Milland.

My Name Is Bill W.

The 1989 made-for-TV movie My Name Is Bill W. is surprisingly good. The movie stars James Woods as Bill Wilson, or “Bill W.” as he is known to anyone who has been in Alcoholics Anonymous. Wilson is one of the two founders of AA, along with “Dr. Bob” who is played by James Garner. It’s an inspiring look at the most ubiquitous sobriety program in the world. 

Permanent Midnight

Permanent Midnight is a gripping, unsettling movie that manically shows the depths that addiction can reach in one person’s life. Ben Stiller plays Jerry, an addict who never seems to find the bottom, losing jobs, wives, kids, and everything else. In the end, after he’s arrested, he finds a way out and it ends on a positive note with Jerry seemingly having conquered his demons. 

Rachel Getting Married

Anne Hathaway’s performance as an addict in Rachel Getting Married is one of the finest of her career. The movie starkly shows just how one person’s addiction can almost destroy an entire family. It takes a lot for Hathaway’s character to hit her bottom, but she does and it ends on a heartwarming note. 

Requiem for a Dream

In what may be the ultimate cautionary tale, we have Requiem for a Dream. The movie is as disturbing as it is powerful. It’s so visceral, that it’s something you’ll probably never want to see again. Ellen Burstyn’s portrayal of an addict is as harrowing as you’ll ever see in a movie. 


Elton John has long been very honest about his addiction issues and continued sobriety, so it’s no surprise that his biopic, Rocketman, would focus on that, showing the incredible highs (literally and figuratively) and the tremendous lows that the star dealt with over his legendary career. He’s proud of his sobriety, as he should be. 


1991’s Rush is a visceral movie about the dangers of both drug use and undercover police work as two cops, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric get in way too deep as they work undercover. There is little redemption here, except that finally, Leigh’s character finds her way to sobriety after Patric’s character is killed. 


Smashed, starring Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an overlooked gem from 2012 about a couple struggling with drinking problems. It’s a powerful movie that shows not just the disease of alcoholism, but of the co-dependancies it creates, often within a couple’s relationship. The acting is first-rate, though the story is a little trope-ish. 


On its surface, Trainspotting sure doesn’t feel much like a sobriety movie, but there may be no better example of the evils of addiction than Danny Boyle‘s movie starring Ewan McGregor as an addicted 20-something in Scotland. At times, it’s hilarious, and at others it’s terrifying. Most importantly it ends with Renton kicking his habits and choosing life. 

The Way Back

Ben Affleck drew from his own battles with alcoholism in playing a basketball coach who can’t quit in The Way Back. Despite pleas from his friends and family, and despite getting straight for a short time, his demons return and he finally hits rock bottom after getting fired and crashing his car. It ends with him finally hearing what his sister has been pleading with him to do and he gets clean. 

When A Man Loves A Woman

Meg Ryan is best known for her rom-coms, but one of her finest performances came in When A Man Loves A Woman, a movie decidedly unromantic. Ryan plays a wife and mother struggling with alcoholism who is forced to confront her disease and her marriage, after a series of harrowing events. It’s a remarkable depiction of how the disease affects everyone in her life.

When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story

Alcoholism and addiction are hard on the friends and loved ones of the addicts. Al-Anon is a program started by AA founder Bill W.’s wife, Lois, to help those close to addicts know what to do to help and deal with the emotional stress it has brought them. When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story tells her story with a brilliant performance by Winona Ryder as Lois. 


Reese Witherspoon’s 2014 film Wild is about that next step in recovery. Once you are sober, what comes after? For Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) it was about a long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail to find in herself what her mother would have wanted for her, a mother she lost as a teenager, leading to her substance problems. It’s powerful and triumphant.

If You Need Help…

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with more than movies about sobriety please give us a call. Healing Properties has been helping men find sobriety in Delray Beach since 2002; we’d be honored to help you too. Really.

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