Movies about Prohibition, Speakeasies, & Bootleggers

Films show us how we see ourselves, our society and our past. So movies about Prohibition reflect how we see that period, with its speakeasies, moonshine and bootleggers.


I.   Chronological List

II.  Summary

III. Resources

But they also influence how we view that past. Was it exciting? Glamorous? Corrupt? A noble experiment? Or a foolish fiasco destined for disaster? Discover movies about Prohibition and explore your reactions and feelings. 

I. Chronological List: Movies About Prohibition

Before 1950







II. Summary

National Prohibition in the U.S. lasted from early 1920 until late 1933. Temperance films dominated until the early 1920s. That is because Prohibition had been widely popular. In fact, many states had state-wide prohibition even before National Prohibition began.

So convinced were they that alcohol was the cause of crime that, on Prohibition’s eve, some towns sold their jails!

Prohibitionists promised that National Prohibition would usher in a much better country. That it would reduce crime, increase jobs, promote prosperity, and improve family life. In addition, Prohibition would reduce violence, raise morality, protect children, and reduce corruption.

However, “wet” (anti-Prohibition) sentiment increased during the Noble Experiment. The cause was simple. More and more people came to believe that that Prohibition failed to reduce drinking problems. Not only that. They saw Prohibition causing many more and very serious problems. Consequently, more and more people over time called for Repeal. As a result, “dry” films declined. And “wet” films increased in number.

III. Resources

Viewers who like movies about Prohibition may find some of the following books and articles interesting.

Barto, C., et al. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Cornes, J. Alcohol in the Movies: 1898-1962.  Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

Herd, D., and Room, R. Alcohol images in American film 1909-1960. Drink Drug Pract Survey, 1982, 18, 24-35.

Room, R. The movies and the wettening of America. Brit J Addict, 1988, 83(1), 11-18.

Silverman, J. The Birth of a Nation. Prohibition propaganda. South Q, 1981, 19(3), 23-38.

Sklar, R. Movie-Made America. A Cultural History of American Movies. NY: Vintage, 2012.