Photo: Relativity Media
Originally released in the late 1930s, Reefer Madness was one of the first films to tackle the subject of marijuana smoking. Produced by a concerned church group, it presented over-the-top warnings about the havoc this substance wreaks upon the lives of its users and the people closest to them. As decades passed and movies and their audiences became more enlightened, the pot smoker on screen became less of a deviant and more of a comic figure. Now there is much humor to be mined from the big screen marijuana user, and this character is found today with frequency. Drop your bowls and bongs, dear readers, and join us in recalling the most memorable movie stoners.
Pedro de Pacas and Anthony “Man” Stoner, Up in Smoke (1978)
Cheech and Chong would go on to make several movies together in the early ‘80s, but they are most remembered for 1978’s Up in Smoke, which is responsible for ushering in the stoner comedy genre. Here they play Pedro and Man, two misfits who fall into each other’s lives and bond over their love of weed. Their devotion to this illegal habit brings them unwanted attention from the law. Up in Smoke chronicles their pursuit by a tenacious police sergeant who is wound tighter than a poorly rolled joint. Their misadventures find them mistaken for Viet Cong by one’s relative, deported to Mexico, unknowingly re-entering the U.S. in a van made entirely of marijuana, and competing in a battle of the bands at the Roxy in L.A. Despite all this chaos throughout, the blood pressure of our two stoned heroes never rises above groovy.
Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
‘80s movies bore many examples of the Southern California high school teenager that would go on to become archetypes for our culture throughout that decade and beyond. Perhaps none were more popular or beloved than Jeff Spicoli, a junior at Ridgemont High whose only missions in life were to find the perfect wave and move about his world stoned out of his skull. Though this may have slowed his cognition, his style was fierce — whether rocking a Baja poncho or accessorizing with a cleverly placed bagel. And after slipping on a brand new pair of Vans sneakers, the brand itself immediately achieved an international recognition they’d never seen before. Spicoli was a daydreamer, a mischief maker, and the thorn in the side of his no-nonsense history teacher Mr. Hand. You may never want him as a study partner, but he’d sure be a trip to party with.
Floyd, True Romance (1993)
We’ve all had bad roommates before. But aside from Hedra in Single White Female, moviedom’s worst might just be True Romance’s Floyd. It’s not just because he neglects to buy more toilet paper, or that he beaches himself on the couch watching TV all day imbibing upon a honey bear bong with the delicacy one might treat the holy grail. See, living his life in a smoked out haze has no doubt compromised Floyd’s judgment, and his resultant loose lips make him quite dangerous. Murderous mobsters on the hunt for his roommate and friends need only ask and Floyd will obliviously give up their whereabouts. But don’t condescend this lit loafer or his claws will come out, at least when no one else is around to see them.
Smokey, Friday (1995)
Proving that you don’t have to be subdued and punchy to be a stoner, in Friday, Chris Tucker’s Smokey showcases the wild boisterousness the actor’s other characters are known for, even as he sucks down one joint after another. The problem is, he is supposed to be selling that weed for his unhinged supplier Big Worm, which leads to a High Noon-esque situation — though here it’s scheduled for a more reasonable 10pm. Making it through a regular Friday in South Central L.A. is the premise of this pleasing comedy, and with a bud like Smokey, that Friday is one laugh-out-loud riot, even with the prospect of becoming a homicide victim by day’s end.
Brian, Half Baked (1998)
It’s easy to figure out that Brian from Half Baked is perpetually stoned even without seeing his tie-dye cannabis leaf t-shirt. All one needs to do is look into his eyes, or more precisely, the dopey slits obscuring them. Jim Breuer’s portrayal of this giddy stoner is so genuine, we in the audience are left feeling half baked just watching him. But Brian blazes in a posse, so let’s not neglect to mention them, as well. Buddies Scarface, Kenny, and Thurgood all possess their friend’s insatiable appetite for weed, but it is Brian alone who appears as if he’s inhaled five full courses and counting.
Harold and Kumar, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
When it comes to fast food joints, White Castle holds a special place in the hearts of many. Though they don’t dot the landscape of our entire country, their signature burgers are legendary among the faithful, as are the residual aftereffects felt in various body parts of these consumers. For this movie’s audience, a similar lingering sensation can be said of what awaits our heroes Harold and Kumar. Regular guys who remedy the weight of their worlds by inhaling mass quantities of marijuana. This leads to a dogged Lord of the Rings-like quest for their White Castle cravings with one outrageous scenario befalling them after the next. Watching this all unfold — NPH is rolling on Ecstasy? That’s hilarious! But OMG are they really riding through town on a cheetah? — leaves us viewers with a familiar kind of indigestion, stubbornly repeating on us even without the sequels to follow.
Dale and Saul, Pineapple Express (2008)
In this stoner comedy/bloody action movie, the dangers of marijuana smoking go way beyond a few fried brain cells. Evil drug kingpins and corrupt cops unite to make the lives of a low-level drug dealer and his wage slave of a client meet their ends after the latter witnesses a murder and leaves behind a remnant of the former’s special strain of weed at the scene. Besides the dire circumstances they find themselves embroiled in, uptight Dale and carefree dealer Saul have to contend with their conflicting personalities as well. But stoners share a special bond, and despite the carnage that surrounds them and friction it causes between them, they are nothing that a few joints won’t cure. Or some high capacity firearms.
Ted, Ted (2012)
As boys become men, an age-old question is often laid bare: what does he do with his old toys? In Ted, this predicament is further complicated by the fact that the toy is now a foul-mouthed, dope smoking teddy bear who had been brought to life by the boy’s magic wish upon a star and remains his best friend decades later. A best friend whose hard-drinking, bong toking, and sexual hijinks make his human’s girlfriend unhappy and left questioning their long-term relationship. While Ted touches on the gritty reality of drugs and alcohol tearing friendships apart, the fact that the afflicted is a fuzzy, profane stuffed animal torpedoes any seriousness possible in that message. Instead, it’s just outright hilarious to watch the little dude take bong hits, woe women, and hold his own with a jacked Mark Wahlberg in one gnarly brawl.
The Dude, The Big Lebowski (1998)
While a bathrobe, plaid shorts, t-shirt, and sandals might describe the uniform of any serious pothead, there is nothing common about Jeffrey Lebowski — a.k.a. The Dude — a simple man also passionate about White Russians, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and bowling. But as the victim of a misdirected break-in and spiteful defiling of a beloved rug, he is accidentally caught up in a nefarious plot involving kidnapping, rogue nihilists, and one severed toe faster than you can say, “This will not stand.” The Dude is inept, submissive, and not entirely trustworthy, but nobility beams within him. Granted, often obscured by a cloud of blue smoke. It is for this reason that Dudeism — or The Church of Latter Day Dude — has become a religion in our real world with scores of devout followers practicing the fictional character’s chill dogma. We expect their events are proudly absent of any music from The Eagles.
Slater, Dazed and Confused (1993)
Matthew McConaughey usually gets all the props for his career-making performance in this film thanks to both a truly inspired portrait of an underachieving college-aged party boy kickin’ it with the high schoolers he can’t leave behind and several addictively quotable lines of dialogue. But Dazed and Confused is chock-full of colorful stoners, and the one that best assumes that mantle is Rory Cochrane’s Slater. Don’t let the plaid cap, dated long locks, or slurry speech emanating from below them fool you. There’s heavy thoughts inside this guy’s head, even if they might not seem as revolutionary among the sober. Like any great stoner, wild pontification is where they shine brightest. And here, by the light of a Texas moon tower, his assertions about the benefits of marijuana among our founding fathers and why her embrace of it made Martha Washington such a “hip, hip lady” are theories we will carry around with us until the end of time.