You’ve seen it countless times before–the drunk montage. Nobody really knows where it began. It was certainly present in the 1940s, and it may even go back to the German Expressionist era of the 1920s and 1930s. A character gets annihilated and then stumbles around town late at night often on rain-soaked streets. All the while, neon signs for seedy establishments float in the air, superimposed behind the drunkard, implying the sheer insanity of their evening. The drunk sequence has evolved over the years, with films from a variety of genres absorbing it as their own. Here are the 10 best.
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The sight of Ray Milland stumbling around the city streets with the train rumbling overhead, looking for an open pawn shop to ditch his typewriter in an effort to drink, is one of the most iconic drunk montages in movie history. It’s also one of the most influential.
Silent Movie (1976)
Mel Brooks subverts the trope hilariously as Mel Funn, a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon at a key moment in the movie. This leads to a hysterical montage featuring hobos and a gigantic bottle.
The whole film revolves around the drunk scene. It’s what leads Bobo (Jean Gabin) to believe that he may have killed a man, which sets the plot in motion. The beauty of this particular drunk scene is how committed director Fritz Lang was to making it work. He even called in Salvador Dali to help, which would certainly explain the distorted clocks. Apologies, but the best clip I can find is in Russian.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The Coens have done it a few times, but I prefer this one because it remains most true to the cliché. Instead of neon signs floating through the air, it’s the severed floating heads of Paul Newman and Jennifer Jason Leigh punctuating his failure. Then we’re treated to American flags and the voice of President Eisenhower, also hammering away at Norville. You have no idea how many times my fear of letting down the president has led me to inebriation.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Terry Gilliam takes the trope to a whole new level by adding mescaline and acid to the booze. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re behind the wheel cruising down the brightly-lit Las Vegas strip.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
If you’re counting at home, he gets drunk; gets his best friend drunk; plays games; watches TV; and falls over. It’s like my four years of college, brilliantly condensed into one excellent scene. Plus, it’s the lovable E.T. and Elliot getting drunk. It’s shooooo shweeeeeet.
The clip begins with Barry (Jay Chandrasekhar) losing horribly at a game of Asshole, and it ends with him in bed as the recipient of a little “slap n’ pickle” with Cherry (Mo’Nique). What makes this drunk montage so great is the juxtaposition of what Barry is actually doing and what Barry sees in his own head. As you’d expect from a movie named “Beerfest”, it’s one of several drunk montages in the movie, and it’s also the best.
North by Northwest (1959)
Only Hitchcock could take the fun of drinking a whole bottle of bourbon and turn it into something suspenseful. Of course, there’s a ton of humor in there as well, especially when Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) slurs through his booking at the police station.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
What makes this particular drunk sequence stand out is the furious editing, coupled with the usual comedy found in these type of scenes. The scene goes from right side up to upside down, double time to slow motion. And in the end? The natural conclusion, with everyone passed out and begging for a hangover.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
This is the one sequence on this list that can rival The Lost Weekend for sheer depression. The sequence runs the gamut of drunken despair- drunk driving directly next to a cop, strip clubs, wobbly legs, slurred speech, and prostitutes. Fair warning- there’s nudity in the clip.