Seven Best Cartel Movies Ever Made

Photo: Lionsgate

With the friction between Mexico and the United States reaching a climax due to talks about the famed wall, drug cartels are getting more and more attention from the media, but also from other areas of life, like culture. Cartel movies have been around a while, but they gained on significance in the previous years, which will surely result in more of them being made.

Best Cartel Movies

These five cartel movies are the best that the movie industry has produced so far.

Sicario (2015)

The best of the cartel movies, Sicario is directed by the probably most promising filmmaker in the industry Denis Villeneuve and is visually stunning, besides being intriguing and suspenseful. Perfectly cast, Sicario follows the road of an idealistic FBI agent who joins a government task force formed to make a significant puncture to a single cartel organization. A sequel to the movie called Soldado is in the works, written by the same man who wrote Sicario and Hell and High WaterTaylor Sheridan.

End of Watch (2012)

Primarily a story of two Los Angeles cops and their chemistry is the highlight of the movie, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña shining and providing for more laughs than most comedies. The two policeman step on a snake’s tail by interfering with cartel’s actions in the United States, and the snake doesn’t let that go unpunished. Shot in a documentary/found footage style for the majority of times, End of Watch is fresh in both style and substance.

Traffic (2000)

For a long time Traffic was the best of the cartel movies, and it still might be the most complex one. Filmed before 9/11 it reflects the time during which the battle with the cartels was the priority of the U.S. government. A movie with intertwined stories on multiple levels does a brilliant way of depicting all aspects of the war on drug. Everything one could expect from cartel movies is in Traffic – personal drama, backdoor policy, action, ruthlessness, and turmoils.

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Another movie iteration about the actions of the famed CIA analyst Jack Ryan, created in the novels of Tom Clancy, only this time the idealistic man is pulled into a fight the United States is leading against a Colombian drug cartel. Ryan played effortlessly by Harrison Ford, is in between a rock and a hard place as his morally driven actions pit him against the people he is working for as well as the cartel. Clear and Present Danger is a spy political movie primarily, but can definitely be seen as one of the better cartel movies as well.

Savages (2012)

The most unrealistic movie of the list, but it never tries to be grounded, which is imperative for this almost B movies to work. Yet this possible B movie is star-filled on both sides of the camera, as it is directed by Oliver Stone, and stars Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Blake Lively, and the man inevitable for cartel movies – Benicio Del Toro. It’s a wild, somewhat campy, action-driven take on the cartels, but surely an enjoyable ride for two hours.

Bonus: Cartel Land (2015)

Cartel Land is a documentary about two civilian men on both sides of the Mexico-USA border who have organized resistance to the cartels. A must-watch for those trying to understand the cartel problem on the ground level, as the footage and stories captured by the filmmakers is personal and disturbing. The important questions get tackled, both sides of the never-ending war get their points across, and you’ll feel like you’re in an action movie, not watching it.

Bonus #2: Narco Cultura (2013)

To see the other side of the cartel’s influence, see the 2013 documentary Narco Cultura, which deals with the glorification of criminals in Mexico. For a large number of people in Latin America, the members of the cartels have become icons in a Robin Hood kind of way, and there is even a music genre behind it. An anthropological view of the society in multiple kinds of peril will surely shake you.

Are there any other cartel movies you would recommend?

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