Hollywood Hangovers Drunks on screen

Raise a glass to the tipsy actors of cinema! Check out our list of infamous movie drunks…

There’s an old acting adage that goes, ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard’. That could, and should, be modified to, ‘Dying is easy, playing drunk is hard’.

With the release of the unstoppable ‘The Hangover Part II’ this month, we’re reminded once more of just how tricky it can be to realistically and convincingly render the condition of being properly locked on the big screen.

So, with full acknowledgement of how tasteless it might seem to some, Movies.ie raises a glass to toast these superior lush performances of yore. Hic!

*Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas:
There’s nothing remotely funny about Cage’s Oscar-bagging performance as an alcoholic screenwriter determined to drink himself to death in Sin City. The proper antidote to the jaunty drunkenness of The Hangover movies.

*Billy Bob Thornton – Bad Santa:

A vulgar, skirt-chasing, pants-wetting drunk, who also works as a department store Santa? That’s, like, doubly traumatic for any kids that cross his path! For that alone, we salute you Billy Bob!

*Richard E. Grant – Withnail and I:
Not surprising that this one is a perennial favourite of beer-swigging, drinking-game-loving students everywhere. Grant’s performance as the titular unemployed actor in Swinging ‘60s London is a masterclass in tottering, bleary-eyed, booze-and-drug-swilling self-destruction.


*Dudley Moore – Arthur/Arthur 2: On The Rocks/10
Cudley Dudley’s most famous performances were as oddly endearing imbibers at a time in Hollywood – the late 70s and early 80s – when alcoholism could be portrayed, with something akin to a clear conscience, as quirky and fun.

*Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The late, great couple piled on the pounds, uglied up, and let rip with ferocious bile as a warring, sozzled couple tearing each other apart over one long dinner party evening. It’s Taylor’s greatest ever performance.

*Peter O’Toole – My Favourite Year:

O’Toole has a blast as a drunken actor, Alan Swann, who is trying to stay sober long enough to stage a comeback on a live TV variety show. Features some classic retorts, such as when someone comments that Swann is plastered. “So are some of the finest erections in Europe,” he replies.

*Jack Nicholson – The Shining/Homer Simpson -‘The Shinning’ (Shh, do you want to get sued?!)
Jack takes an axe to all notions of subtlety with a manic turn as an alco writer slowly going mad in a haunted, snow-bound mountain hotel. The Simpsons’ Halloween parody – “No beer and no TV make Homer something something” – is one of the most perfect things you’ll ever see.

Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart/True Grit:
Bridges’ recent double-whammy as, respectively, a country singer trying to stay on the wagon, and a permanently-blitzed US Marshall offers audiences all manner of guilty delights in watching a superb actor play dissolute mayhem with charm, humour, and a startling lack of glamour.

Sandra Bullock – 28 Days:
Oh bless your plucky heart, Sandy B. Years before she took home an Oscar for The Blind Side, Bullock made a deliberate play for some shiny doorstoppers by taking the role of an alcoholic journalist (imagine!) going into rehab. Total Hollywood tosh, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless. Just look at the tagline: “The life of the party…before she got a life”. Deep.

*Paul Newman – The Verdict:

Playing a washed-up, drunken, ambulance-chasing lawyer taking on a medical malpractice suit, Newman gives one of his greatest screen performances. His hangovers seem particularly painful. Newman’s closing argument to the jury packs a real punch. What a star.

*Julianne Moore – A Single Man:
Dodgy Cockney accent aside, Moore was a great big ball of pathetic drunken fag-hag magnificence opposite Colin Firth in Tom Ford’s achingly stylish drama.

*Josh Brolin – W:
Brolin does justice to the early frat-boy drunken days of the 43rd US president, George W. Bush, in Oliver Stone’s unintentional comedy, squaring up to his old man, crashing cars, and getting thrown in the clink for causing trouble at football games. Astoundingly, terrifyingly, Dubya never received professional treatment for his alcoholism. He just decided to stop – with God’s help. The last decade makes so much more sense now.

*Mickey Rourke – Barfly/Matt Dillon, Factotum:
Both Rourke and Dillon give brilliant performances playing versions of the same character, drinker, writer, lover and fighter, Henry Chinaski, who was the semi-fictional alter-ego of cult writer Charles Bukowski.

*Dennis Hopper – Hoosiers:
Incredibly, this was the only Oscar nomination Hopper ever received throughout his career, and it’s a doozy, playing the town drunkard who tries to turn around the fate of a struggling high school basketball team. Stirring.

*Gene Wilder – Blazing Saddles:
Wilder brings a spaced-out, bordering-on-catatonic-madness edge to his quietly hilarious turn as the whiskey-guzzling gunslinger ‘The Waco Kid’ in Mel Brooks’ classic Western spoof.

*John Belushi – Animal House:

Frat-house party boy John “Bluto” Blutarsky is one of cinema’s all-time great drunken degenerates. If Belushi seems too perfect in the role, then it’s probably because the man himself was a raging addict who died from an overdose a few years after this movie’s release.


*Jack Lemmon – Days of Wine and Roses:
Nobody could do sad-sack loserdom like Lemmon, and, boy, does he deploy it to great effect here playing a drinker so lost in his addiction that he destroys an entire greenhouse trying to find a stashed bottle of booze.

*Ray Milland – The Lost Weekend:

One of the earliest movies to deal with alcoholism, Milland won an Oscar for playing a New York writer out to obliterate himself on a four-day bender.

Words – Declan Cashin

The Hangover 2 is now showing in Irish cinemas