Hollywood is known for being a liberal town, where conservatives like Jon Voight and Chuck Norris seem outnumbered by a cadre of Clooneys and Weinsteins. So when it comes to issues like the Drug War, it would logically follow that the thrust of movies touching on America's relationship with cocaine, marijuana and any other number of illegal substances would denounce the government's war on drug users and vilify the DEA.
But it's not that simple. Because Hollywood, liberal is it may be, is a town built on business, where movies cost and make tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Audience-chasing is the name of the game.
As a result, the themes Drug War movies focus on tend to vary. There are two main categories in which these films fall: message movies and action flicks. In the former category are gut-wrenching foreign films like "Maria Full of Grace" ("María llena Eres de Gracia") and character studies like "Half Nelson." On the other end are full-throttled movies like "Blow" and violent romps like "Scarface."
There are, of course, other sub-genres, namely films which either touch on urban themes ("Notorious," "Hustle & Flow") or center wholly on self-destruction and addict-porn ("Requiem for a Dream"). Some comedies could even be seen as commentaries, if only accidentally. In "Tropic Thunder," a group of actors playing soldiers find themselves at war with a heroin kingpin.
HuffPost Entertainment has gathered some of Hollywood's most popular Drug War films in the gallery below. With each image comes a brief dissection of the movie's treatment of the ever-controversial topic. See what filmmakers like Oliver Stone have to say on the topic, and what pictures like "Scarface" reveal about the America's view of drug commerce.
<strong>Action Flick</strong> The 1983 film that turned "say hello to my little friend" into a household catchphrase shied away from making many political statements. It did, however, draw the ire of many Cuban Americans, who found the film's portrayal of their kinfolk thuggish and demeaning. All in all, the violence was treated mostly as a spectacle, much to the chagrin of many critics who reviewed the movie at the time of its release. The message: Say hello to my little friend.
<strong>Action Flick</strong> Ted Demme's biopic on George Jung brought Nick Cassavetes and David McKenna's adaptation of Bruce Porter's book to life. In the movie, Jung (a real life drug dealer) gets caught up with the likes of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. Jung eventually loses it all -- his own mother turns him. Not the most glorious moment in criminal history. The message: Drug trafficking is like any other business, but with greater consequences.
<strong>Action Flick</strong> The poster for the 1971 film promised an "out and out thriller," and the movie delivered. Starring Gene Hackman as an NYPD detective and directed by William Friedkin, "French Connection" went on to win the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The thrust of the picture focuses on heroin smuggling between the United States and France. But the film mostly skirted the surface and focused on certain scenes, like an epic car chase through Bushwick, Brooklyn. The message: This film has one of the best car chases of all time.
<strong>Action Flick</strong> Oliver Stone's wildly violent film (beheadings figure prominently) is based on Don Winslow's book by the same name. The book gets pretty rough in its condemnation of the Drug War (it paints it as the cause of much violence and crime, not the solution to it), but the movie backed off a bit. That's surprising, because Stone is one of Hollywood's most outspoken critics of the nation's drug policies. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/20/oliver-stone-savages-war-on-drugs_n_1613496.html" target="_hplink">Here's Stone's reasoning</a>: "In a book, even if you are doing it in a post-modernist style, you can wax philosophical; you can talk about economics; you can talk about the War On Drugs. In a movie, you have six characters; you have two hours; you have a through line, and it is pretty intense. It was so intense, in fact, that we ended up cutting characters from the book, like the mother. She was a good character -- Uma Thurman played her beautifully -- and the scenes were good, but you don't have time, you know? We have one goal in the movie, and you go out that gate and it's like a horse race." The message: The drug trade should be legalized, but you <strong>really</strong> don't want to be the wrong side of the Drug War.
<strong>Action Flick</strong> Spike Lee's take on David Benioff's book (there's a trend here) had quite the cast: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin and Brian Cox all take a turn in the film. The movie follows Monty Brogan on his last day of freedom before heading to prison on drug charges. The ending of "25th Hour" is oblique on drugs, and the movie never really gets outside of the immediate vicinity of the characters involved. The message: This is a Spike Lee movie.
<strong>Message Movie</strong> Denzel Washington's turn in Ridley Scott's "American Gangster" is one of those great performances that takes the audience on a morally twisted ride. Though he plays the ruthless Frank Lucas (the guy smuggled heroin into the States by hiding it on Army planes coming back from Vietnam), the viewer builds a natural attachment to him. He takes a page out of every mob's book (feeding the poor, stressing loyalty while cutting down enemies). Russell Crowe plays opposite as a hardworking detective, and Scott's mastery is in making the viewer care deeply about both characters. The message: There are good, smart people on both sides.
<strong>Message Movie</strong> "Traffic" tells the stories of three groups of people. Authorities in Mexico, a white American family and big-time dealer in San Diego, Calif. Michael Douglas plays a judge who's tapped to be the new Drug Czar. Despite being explicitly warned (as the audience is) that the war on drugs is a hopeless mess, he takes the position. And as he gets up to speed, he also discovers that his girlfriend has been abusing coke and freebasing heroin. But he's busy fighting the war, so his daughter slips away and becomes a drug-addled prostitute in Cincinnati. The message should be clear so far, but the film's tagline says it best: No one gets away clean. The message: Even though Douglas is ostensibly a great person, his obsession with fighting a war that's clearly presented as futile does untold damage to his family. Deaths and destruction are wrought on all sides. The message is simple: We need a new plan.
<strong>Message Movie</strong> Forget his romantic turn in "The Notebook" or his ability to stare blankly for hours in "Drive," Gosling's best performance is and may always be his best work. Though the film doesn't approach any national or global scale, it offers a glimpse into the complex and always wide web of people affected by drug use in any community. The message: A war on drugs is too impersonal. The effect of drug use and addiction on relationships can only be undone through a greater level of involvement.
'Maria Full of Grace'
<strong>Message Movie</strong> Easily the most disturbing film on this list, "Maria Full of Grace" (an American-Columbian collaboration) is the heartbreaking story of a young, pregnant woman who agrees to become a drug mule to escape a life of unrelenting poverty and despair. She swallows tens of pellets of heroin, narrowly escapes customs and violent traffickers over the course of the film, which never really takes its foot off depressing meter. As the movie's tagline says, "based on 1,000 true stories." The message: There is no end to the darkness inherent in the drug trade.
<strong>Message Movie</strong> Hold the outrage, we promise that James Franco did not make the only movie with "express" in its title. The 1978 "Midnight Express" brought Billy Hayes' novel to the screen (with an adaptation by Oliver Stone). Hayes was arrested in Turkey for attempting to take a good amount of hash out of the country. He then suffers through a great deal of torture and psychological breakdowns before finding his way home. The message: Drugs lead to despair, and there is no limit to human cruelty.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America’s failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.
Also on HuffPost: