Ever notice that things rarely go smoothly in smuggling movies? Sure, it's all fun and games at the beginning. The bad guys don't seem so bad, and the stacks and stacks of money the contraband items bring in finance a pretty luxe lifestyle that more than makes up for any of the mild annoyances and hiccups the life of a badass smuggler entails. Inevitably, though, things turn sour -- in a big way -- when the bad guys start threatening to kill you and the feds get wise to your little racket.

This week's release, Contraband, puts a slightly different spin on the tried and true drug-smuggling genre. Instead of chronicling the rise and fall of a drug lord (or lackey), it begins at a low point for a reformed smuggler, Chris (played by tough guy Mark Wahlberg). He's forced back into the game when his wife's brother ticks off an unhinged bad guy (Giovanni Ribisi). Chris goes to Panama to score millions in counterfeit bills to help bail out his little brother-in-law. Along the way, the bad guys threaten our hero's wife (Kate Beckinsale). (Movie drug lords are so unscrupulous!)

It's easy to see why smuggling is such a popular theme in both movies and TV, from Blow to Breaking Bad. There are so many nail-biting factors at play, from coordinating with your shady co-conspirators to fending off dangerous rivals to outsmarting the authorities. My own favourite aspect of some of the smuggling stories is when our wayward heroes start living the high life. Like when Al Pacino starts indulging in frequent soaks in his opulent sunken bathtub in Scarface.

Of course, there are quite a few terrible movies about smuggling (cough, cough, A Man Apart). But when done well, smuggling movies can be as riveting as they are unsettling. I've compiled a list of my own favourite flicks that explore the fascinating world of contraband smuggling.

1. Blow Can you believe this insane story is based on a real guy? Blow tops my list of smuggling movies for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: Johnny Depp's awesome all-white get-ups, Pee-wee Herman, Ray Liotta and the scenes at Pablo Escobar's epic Colombian estate. 2. Scarface Ah, Scarface. Such a great rise-and-fall tale. Watching Al Pacino depict Tony -- the enterprising Cuban immigrant with nothing to his name -- turn himself from a nobody into a badass somebody is a wild ride. Those Bolivian drug lords sure don't mess around, do they? Remember when they hung that guy from the helicopter? Classic.

3. TrafficTraffic really hits the drug smuggling story from all angles, doesn't it? The major drug lord in this one, Carlos Ayala, must be a pretty stealthy dude. I mean, his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) didn't even know her hubby was a narcotics kingpin! Now that's covert.

4. Midnight Express This one still gives you nightmares, doesn't it? After getting caught trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey, Billy's life turns into a living hell in jail. Forget Scared Straight -- just show young offenders this movie! Jail ain't no picnic, kids!

5. Maria Full of Grace No wonder Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated for an Oscar for this. She's amazing as Maria, a pregnant Colombian teenager who heads to NYC as a drug mule.

As always, if I've missed anything, please let me know in the comments!
categories Movies