Famous movie drinking scenes
It is often said that one of the hardest things for an actor to portray convincingly is that of being drunk.
This can of course be countered by actually being drunk at the time, advice some of the actors on this list took very much to heart.
Drink has played a role in more or less every film ever made, except most children’s films. Think about it. How many films have scenes in bars or dinner parties or have a character constantly sipping from a hip flask or celebrating or drinking to forget?
Some films, as the drinks business has previously highlighted, are dedicated to drink entirely.
But it is a more select group of films which use alcohol as a driver of the plot, tackling issues such as suicide, loneliness and depression.
Tragic, comic, terrifying, a good drunk performance can make a film, permanently fixing it in one’s subconscious.
There are so many scenes to choose from this list, as with all lists, is very far from definitive but it does, hopefully, focus on some of the most striking and funny cinematic boozing.
It is also worth giving an honourable mention to WC Fields (pictured) who for roughly his entire career, played the perma-tipsy old rogue/grouch who uttered such memorable lines as: “I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That’s the one thing I am indebted to her for.”
And: “Once, on a trek through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew…and were forced to live on food and water for several days!”
Warning: this list does contain some plot spoilers
The drinks business does not condone drunken behaviour and promotes responsible drinking.
Barfly/Factotum – “All I want to do is get my check and get drunk.”
A double header here as both Mickey Rourke (Barfly top) and Matt Dillon (Factotum below) essentially both play the same role, that of Henry Chinaski the fictional alter ego of the hard drinking poet Charles Bukowski.
Neither Bukowski himself nor the characters in the films were necessarily likeable but as on-screen boozehounds they take some beating.
In one scene in Factotum, Chinaski wakes up after a bout of drinking the night before and goes to vomit, padding back to his room he cracks open another beer and settles down to carry on with his day.
Drinking, whoring, writing and gambling, that, as far as Bukowski was concerned, was all that made man tick.
Henry: “That’s it.”
Wanda: “That’s what?”
Henry: “I’m broke. Can’t buy another drink.”
Wanda: “You mean you don’t have any money?”
Henry: “No money, no job, no rent. Hey, I’m back to normal.”
Apocalypse Now – “This is the end…”
“Saigon…shit; I’m still only in Saigon,” mutters Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard alone in his hotel room, drunk, just divorced.
The Doors’ “The End” plays over the top, Jim Morrison’s screams and psychadelic keyboards build to feverish levels and Willard gives into despair and whisky.
Sheen was apparently utterly drunk himself when this scene was shot and really did punch the mirror and cut his hand open by accident while practicing his kung-fu.
Later on, after the now infamous beach attack set to Wagner, Robert Duvall’s Lt.Col Kilgore and his “Air cav, first of the ninth” kick back on the beach with their BBQs, guitars and beers.
But, as Willard observes: “The more they tried to make it just like home, the more they made everybody miss it.”
Rio Bravo – “I quit, John. I quit!”
Dean Martin’s turn as booze-sodden sheriff’s deputy, Dude, is one of his best performances, no doubt enhanced by Martin’s own legendary boozing.
Sweaty, unkempt, a shadow of the man he was, his character hits a new low near the beginning of the film.
Unshaven, wearing his filthy, sweat-stained red long johns he heads to the town’s saloon desperate for a drink but completely skint.
A younger gunfighter from the local ranching family the Burdettes (and villains of the film) arrogantly flicks a silver dollar into a spittoon, daring Dude to put his hand into the gloop to get it.
Dude is on the cusp of doing it when John Wayne’s Sheriff John Chance appears and stops him.
With the Burdettes stirring up trouble Dude kicks the habit in time to help Chance defeat the baddies and gain redemption in the final reel.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – “I hope that was an empty bottle, George!”
A terrifying evening of spitting hate and verbal venom, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? portrays a boozy after-party where an older couple called George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) have invited a younger couple, Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) round for a final drink.
Initially cheerful, Nick and Honey suddenly find themselves in an increasingly volatile situation as George and Martha engage in bitter argument, taunting each other and exposing the other’s foibles in front of their guests.
Taylor’s portrayal of Martha demands particular attention (she won the Oscar for best actress for the role).
A ball of energy, armed with a whisky in one hand and a poisonous tongue with which she lashes George.
After calling him a flop, the passive-aggressive George smashes a bottle on a mantlepiece.
“I hope that was an empty bottle, George! You can’t afford to waste good liquor. Not on your salary, not on an associate professor’s salary!” she berates him.
Later on she seduces young Nick in front of her excoriated husband, before finally falling apart when he gets the better of her.
The strange parallels between Taylor and Burton’s own stormy relationship and George and Martha’s are hard to ignore.
Arthur – “Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Maybe some of us drink because we’re not poets.”
Constantly sozzled, Arthur is facing an arranged marriage to another wealthy heiress who doesn’t care for when, as always happens in these situations, he falls in love with a normal girl from Queens – Linda (Liza Minelli).
Faithfully aided by his valet Hobson (Sir John Gielgud), Arthur strives to conquer in the name of love – difficult enough when you’re constantly hungover.
After yet another heavy night, Arthur finds Hobson has brought him breakfast, “I’ve taken the liberty of anticipating your condition,” he is informed, “I have brought you orange juice, coffee and asprins. Or do you need to throw up?”
Bad Santa – “More booze.”
Posing as a mall Santa Claus with his assistant Marcus, Willie is in fact casing the joint for a future robbery.
However, his increasing alcoholism is causing problems and the mask slips spectacularly in front of an expectant line of children and their parents.
Clutching an empty and broken bottle of wine, Willie arrives passed out on the escalator. Without either hat or beard, he staggers into the grotto area falling over the papier maché donkeys and piles of presents.
Lying on the floor he takes umbrage at the expression on the face of one donkey and decapitates it with a single punch then kicking it to pieces and wetting himself.
Jaws – “And then those black eyes roll over white…”
Robert Shaw’s turn as the shark hunting Quint is a tremendous performance and his drunken reminiscence of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis a captivating monologue.
Like Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Shaw was already pretty pickled when the time came to film the speech, believing it would give the scene more veracity.
However, unlike Sheen’s painful but appropriate intoxication, Shaw’s ramblings were no good and couldn’t be used.
Ashamed he called Spielberg the next day and asked to reshoot the scene. He did it one perfect take. Still more remarkable is the story that he largely ad-libbed the whole thing having rewritten it as well.
Leaving Las Vegas – “We both know that I’m a drunk.”
He meets and falls in love with Sera, a prostitute but their relationship is doomed. She will not give up her profession and he is as determined as ever to carry out his suicidal binge.
- Ben: “I came here to drink myself to death.”
- Sera: “How long will it take you?”
- Ben: “I’d say about three to four weeks.”
Animal House – “Dead Ants!”
Animal House is light on plot but big on fun as it follows the induction of two freshmen into life at Delta House at Faber College in the 1960s.
They are caught up in the anarchic whirlwind created by “Otter” (Tim Matheson), “Boon” (Peter Riegert) and, most of all, “Bluto” (John Belushi), as they chase girls, throw house parties and battle their mortal enemies, the preppy “Hitler Youth” in Omega House, Greg Marmalard and Douglas Niedermeyer, and the university’s Dean, Vernon Wormer (John Vernon).
It’s hard to pick out one drinking scene in particular as there are so many, especially Bluto downing a bottle of Jack Daniels to console himself as Delta faces closure after violating their “double secret probation”.
Hoover: “They’re taking everything, even the stuff we didn’t steal!”
But perhaps the seminal moment is the Toga Party. To the ringing cries of “Toga! Toga! Toga!” the Deltas don togas and laurel wreaths, invite round Otis Day and the Knights, as many girls as they can find – including Dean Wormer’s wife and the mayor’s daughter – and dance like lunatics into the early hours.
While this is going on, Otter – the ladies man of the group – has seduced Mrs Wormer and has taken her back to his room, which naturally he has equipped with a mini-bar.
The Deer Hunter – “God Bless America”
Time to counter all that good cheer again with this sweeping Vietnam epic. The film is best remembered for the harrowing Russian Roulette scenes and the grim, ultimately fatal hold it takes on Christopher Walken’s Nick.
However, the film’s staggeringly long opening scene. The whole first hour of the film is dedicated to the rites of passage provided by a wedding and the main trio’s imminent departure for Vietnam.
It depicts an Orthodox wedding in the Russian community of a small Pennsylvanian town, notable for the (truly Russian) levels of drinking afterwards – culminating in Robert de Niro’s Mike streaking through the town.
Towards the end of the film, with Nick still in Asia convinced his friends are dead and playing Russian Roulette for a living, Mike returns to the US a hero and turns his attentions to Nick’s one time fiancée, Linda (Meryl Streep), asking her out the only way he knows how.
Michael: “What kind of beer would you like?”
Linda: “What? I don’t know. I don’t care. Any kind.”
Michael: “I’ll get you a Rolling Rock.”
Michael: “It’s a good beer, it’s the best around.”
Withnail & I – “I demand to have some booze!”
Eminently, endlessly quotable, best describe this British classic.
The film follows Richard E Grant (the titular Withnail) and Paul McGann’s “I” (he is never referred to by name in the film but is known as Marwood in the script and is a thinly veiled portrayal of the scriptwriter and director Bruce Robinson).
They are two penniless (resting) actors in 1960s London who, for want of any auditions, while away their days drinking heavily in pubs – mostly because they can’t afford the heating at home.
“All right, this is the plan. We get in there and get wrecked, then we eat a pork pie, then we drop a couple of Surmontil-50s each. That means we’ll miss out on Monday but come up smiling Tuesday morning,” says Withnail at one moment.
This quest for booze leads Withnail to drink antifreeze at one point in the film. Unbeknown to Grant (who as a teetotaller puts on a brilliant show), Robinson had filled the anti-freeze bottle with vinegar – so the odd face Grant pulls after downing it is rather genuine.
Back in the film again, after an abortive attempt at a holiday in the Lake Country where Marwood “narrowly escapes a buggering” at the hands of Withnail’s Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths), “I” lands a role in Journey’s End.
Although pleased for his friend, a disappointed and now lonely Withnail walks him through Regent’s Park on the way to the train.
On the way they drink a 1953 Margaux from the bottle, one of several including Latour that Uncle Monty brought on holiday.
Not wanting his friend to see him off on the platform “I” and Withnail part ways as the rain comes down in torrents.
Dejected, Withnail recites the soliloquy from Hamlet Act 2 Scene ii (“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth…”) to the wolves in London Zoo before heading back home…to what?
In his original, unpublished book, Robinson had Withnail pour the rest of the bottle down the barrel of a gun and then shoot himself as he drank.
However, he decided that this would be “too dark” and what is left instead is a slightly ambiguous, heart-rending end to the film, which, considering the outrageous comedy that has come before it, pulls the rug out from underneath you in the final act.