Maybe it’s our socio-political climate. Maybe it’s our climate, period. But the likelihood of addiction to a movie or TV series featuring a charismatic, fatally flawed drug lord has always been high (pun very much intended). Unlike How to Get Away with Murder (lawyers), Grey’s Anatomy (doctors), or The Newsroom (journalists), manufacturing and distributing drugs is an occupational field a large majority of us know nothing about. A record-breaking 27 million people flocked to Netflix to watch Narcos’ third season as soon as it dropped. So it’s evidently fascinating to watch shows that give us a peek behind the curtain—albeit one that’s been doused with gallons of creative license. Thank God these guys are all fictional, or they’d probably kill us for not ranking them Numero Uno…
11. Alien (James Franco), Spring Breakers
The Hawaiian-shirt wearing West Coast drug dealer bails 4 (possibly underage) girls out of jail and introduces them to a life of debauchery. Franco’s “Look at my shit!” monologue is so absurd, it’s landed the film a spot in BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.
He said: “I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice? I SMELL NICE!”
10. Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes), Clerks
Clerks was shot with a $27,000 budget and ended up making $3 million in the box office. The dynamic duo of skinny white bad-mouther and brooding, bearded chainsmoker almost plays out like a good cop-bad cop trope, except these guys sell weed and go on stupid adventures.
They said: “We’re gonna make ‘em eat our shit, then shit out our shit, then eat their shit which is made up of our shit that we made ‘em eat. And then all you motherfucks are next. Love, Jay and Silent Bob.”
9. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), American Gangster
Based on the real life Harlem drug kingpin, Lucas distributes an ultra-potent heroin called Blue Magic to the United States using any means possible—nothing is sacred, not even the coffins of American soldiers. In the end, though, the bad guy breaks good and outs half the DEA.
He said: “You're too loud, you're making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”
8. Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán (Marco de la O), El Chapo
Also a real life kingpin, El Chapo, whose famed nickname translates to “Shorty,” is no shorty when it comes to money. As the head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel with a net worth of $1 billion, his goal is to fulfill a promise to Pablo Escobar to move cocaine across the US border.
He said: “The day I don't exist, [drug addiction is] not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That's false.”
7. Saul Silver (James Franco), Pineapple Express
When the cops are after you, it’s tough, but when dirty cops are after you, it’s even tougher. After witnessing a murder, Saul and Dave Denton (played by frequent cast partner Seth Rogen) flee and fight for their lives. Franco does so well, he gets nominated for a Golden Globe.
He said: “It's almost a shame to smoke [Pineapple Express]. It's like killing a unicorn...with, like, a bomb.”
6. Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Breaking Bad
He’s philanthropic, eloquent, and gave Albuquerque good chicken. No one would have ever suspected that he was at the helm of one of America’s largest meth operations in partnership with the Mexican Juarez cartel. Etched into our minds forever is the scene where he slices open a man’s throat. With a box cutter. Legendary.
He said: “If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter. I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.”
5. George Jung (Johnny Depp), Blow
The life of American coke smuggler is chronicled by Depp in such a marvelously depressing way, you find yourself almost rooting for the guy, even during his inevitable capture. Jung was a small-town boy who tied up with Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, made $100 million, and promptly lost everything.
He said: “I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent. There are no more white horses or pretty ladies at my door.”
4. Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), Narcos
Wagner Moura deftly plays the role of the hot-tempered Medellin Cartel leader, who blew up commercial planes and government buildings just because he was pissed off. In the end, he is gunned down by the DEA, but we’d be damned if we said he didn’t put up a fight first.
He said: “Plata o plomo?” [Silver (money) or lead (your life)?]
3. Frank White (Christopher Walken), King of New York
If you’re a big-time figure in drug trafficking, you lay low in public—that’s always been the golden rule. But people like Frank White kill the reigning mafioso and express a desire to run for mayor of New York. Ambitious? Yes. Crazy? Without a doubt.
He said: “This country spends $100 billion a year on getting high, and it's not because of me. All that time I was wasting in jail, it just got worse. I'm not your problem. I'm just a businessman.”
2. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Breaking Bad
Can you believe it? A high school chemistry teacher, over the course of five seasons, morphs into one of the most morally bankrupt meth kingpins in America, and all because he wanted to provide for his family. As Walter White continued to rationalize his actions, they grew more and more unforgivable.
He said: “I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!”
1. Tony Montana (Al Pacino), Scarface
Topping this list is none other than immigrant-turned-drug lord Tony Montana, who built a drug empire so large even he could barely contain it. His glorious final scene, which involved a grenade launcher and the ever-iconic “The World Is Yours” blimp makes Scarface the hallmark for many of the crime movies that came after it.
He said: “Say hello to my little friend!”