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The 30 Greatest Drug Scenes of All Time

The 30 Greatest Drug Scenes of All Time (photo)

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There are plenty of movies that depict drug use, but often it’s just a prop, a shortcut — a character does drugs on screen because he or she is bad, or out of control, or doomed, or simply not to be trusted. The effects are exaggerated, the consequences over the top or unrealistic. And so we felt driven to make this list, to sort through countless films to find drug scenes, some famous, some not, that have a ring of authenticity to them. The 30 scenes we picked are funny, sad, outrageous and sometimes awful, and they’re certainly not all depictions of drug use as fun, but we feel pretty certain of their legit greatness. In other words? No “Reefer Madness” here.

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30. Creedence Car Crash
“The Big Lebowski” (1998)
Directed by Joel Coen

White Russians may be the Dude’s poison, but it is a simple joint that nearly proves to be his undoing when he finally recovers his crapped out ’73 Ford Torino and the beloved Creedence Clearwater Revival tape that he left inside when it was stolen. Paranoid that he’s being followed by a mysterious VW beetle while listening to “Looking Out My Back Door,” the Dude finds himself in the nightmare scenario for anyone who’s ever smoked in their car when his attempt to flick the remnants of his doobie out the window lead to it bouncing back into his lap. He furiously fumbles for it out of concern it’ll set his crotch ablaze, yelping and trying to douse things with the beer he’s been drinking. What’s amazing about the scene is how what begins as a simple sight gag turns into a microcosm of the Dude’s entire odyssey, ending with the revelation of who destroyed his car (via a term paper on the Louisiana Purchase in the crevice of the cracked vinyl interior) when all he really wanted was to find his joint. And as with any trip, revelations occur in the most unexpected places, sometimes leaving a crashed car to show for it. —SS


29. Drey Discovers Dan in the Bathroom
“Half Nelson” (2006)
Directed by Ryan Fleck

One of the most empathetic and original portraits of drug addiction in recent memory is that offered by “Half Nelson,” the 2006 debut of writing and directing partners Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. The film follows a Brooklyn junior high school teacher and basketball coach named Dan Dunne (played by Ryan Gosling) who also happens to be a crack addict. The pivotal scene is one in which Dunne seems about to cross the line between being a high-functioning addict and one who is officially out of control. Following a basketball practice he steals into the emptied girls’ locker room, shutting himself into a stall to smoke some crack. Tension builds around Dan’s need for release and competing need, perhaps, to be caught; the scene is shot as a sort of mosaic of impressions and fragmented angles. After taking his first hit a young student (Shareeka Epps) enters the next stall, and upon leaving discovers her teacher and coach in the throes of obliterative high. Her response is what makes the scene and sets the movie on its course. Fearful and yet contained, she doesn’t run and doesn’t yell, she just stays by his side until he’s able to figure out what he has to do. —MO


28. Elliott Joins Beverly in Drug Addiction
“Dead Ringers” (1988)
Directed by David Cronenberg

Whether they involve drugs or not, nearly all of David Cronenberg’s movies touch on the ecstatic euphoria and physical decay of addiction. In “Dead Ringers,” the schizophrenic life of a high-functioning addict is doubly made flesh in the persons of twin gynecologists of Beverly and Elliot Mantle, both played by Jeremy Irons. As Beverly descends into addiction, aided by drug-seeking actress Genviève Bujold, Elliot keeps up appearances, seamlessly substituting for his brother in high-pressure situations. But the façade inevitably cracks, and Elliot follows his brother down the rabbit hole. The final sequence, in which one eviscerates the other, serves as a chilling encapsulation of addiction’s endgame. In the end, all they have is their need, which consumes them both. —SA


27. Dinner Party Disaster
“The Boost” (1988)
Directed by Harold Becker

The afternoon before his big dinner with prospective investors, Lenny Brown (James Woods) does everything right, tipping the maître d’ to book his favorite table at an upper crust restaurant and refusing the Quaaludes offered by his neighbor to calm his nerves as ’80s smooth jazz swells in the background. But on the verge of landing the real estate deal of his career, Lenny can’t keep up the act, sneaking two lines of coke in the bathroom after his reservation gets screwed up, thus screwing over himself by returning to the table and launching into a tirade after his integrity is questioned. “My idea’s going to be on the cover of Fortune. You know what these guys are going to be doing? Carrying around some Arab’s dick,” he barks at his helpless wife (Sean Young). The anti-Middle Eastern sentiment may be the influence of “The Boost”‘s author, noted conservative and “Ferris Bueller” star Ben Stein, but the live wire act is all Woods, who probably unleashed a similar invective backstage at that year’s Spirit Awards where he was nominated, but did not win, for his electric performance. —SS


26. Church Hallucination/Confession
“Bad Lieutenant” (1992)
Directed by Abel Ferrara

If drugs can provide ecstatic highs, they can also result in the deepest of lows, magnifying pain and suffering in ways that border on the cruel. It’s this latter effect that marks the torturous church sequence in Abel Ferrara’s notorious “Bad Lieutenant,” in which Harvey Keitel’s dissolute cop confronts his moral and spiritual crisis through a narcotized encounter with Jesus. Wailing in agony, Keitel is visited by a vision of Christ, whom he first berates for being silent in the face of his own suffering, and then to whom he confesses his sins (“I’ve done bad things!”). It’s a portrait of accusatory rage, grief and self-castigation that encapsulates the character’s torment — and, via a final shot in which Keitel kisses Jesus’ feet and then looks up to see that he’s actually accosting a stunned parishioner, the film’s black sense of humor. Repudiating the notion that they’re merely a gateway to escape, Ferrara argues that, though drugs may offer momentary reprieve from personal misery, they ultimately amplify, and thus reveal, the true self. —NS


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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…