Before ‘Inherent Vice’: 11 Essential Stoner Movies
This past week has seen the wider release of the hyper-anticipated Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson. And it has rightfully boggled the minds of many critics, currently standing at a seemingly despairing 68% on the Rotten Tomato aggregator. Our own Ananda concludes, in her review, that Anderson perhaps “erred on the side of density for what will most likely be considered a stoner film, and it’s not likely to earn respect as his best film by any means, but there’s always pleasure in watching an auteur work.” Having seen it myself recently, calling it an auteur stoner film is pretty spot on as Anderson completely nails the atmosphere and clouded psychology behind a stoner’s mind at work.
Vice got me thinking, naturally, about other classic stoner films that came before it. We’ve had enough years (the exploitation film Reefer Madness from the 1930s is as good a starting point as any), all throughout the hippie boom in the ’70s that Inherent Vice theorizes on, that the “stoner movie” could be legitimately considered a sub genre. Of course, it’s not for everyone. Those who have never experienced the paranoia, the munchies, the comfort of a couch, and the incoherent ramblings of the person next to you while they keep Bogarting the joint, (not necessarily in that order), will hardly find any amusement in watching people under the heavy, hilarious influence of marijuana. But this article isn’t for those people.
This article is for those of you who’re known to toke once in a while. Those of you who, after a long hard day’s work, come back home and relax by burning one down and watching whatever you have in front of you (even if it’s just the nutritional facts on your cereal box). It’s 2015, and modern culture has come a long way in accepting pot as a harmless, recreational drug that causes less disease and fewer dire consequences than tobacco and alcohol. But don’t mistake this article as an endorsement to find the closest dealer next to you and start puffing away: this is merely a celebration of some of the zaniest, most entertaining, and highly re-watchable (get it?) stoner movies that have come before Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Also, note that we’re not trying to compare any of the below films to Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest work. In fact, there is just one film on the list that is comparable in cinematic artistry, while the rest are best viewed with the brain switched off and blazed up.
Without further ado, here are 11 Classic Stoner Movies in chronological order. Enjoy!
Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke (1978)
If you need a good starting point on learning about the counter-culture that the art of weed-smoking is an integral part of, there’s no better starter than Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke from the late ’70s. Sure, Reefer Madness gained cult status after being unearthed in the late ’60s, but ask any pothead what their favorite comedy is and there’s no doubt they’d list Up in Smoke somewhere near the top. The irreplaceable comedy duo Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin were doing stand up and comedy records for 10 years before releasing the first, and best, of their successful stoner comedies. Cheech’s freakout after smoking dog shit and taking acid is probably the greatest drug-filled paranoia reaction ever put on screen.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Cameron Crowe’s writing debut, Amy Heckerling’s directorial debut, and career jump-starter for Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Forrest Whitaker, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is mostly remembered as the film that got a lot of famous people going. But the film is much more than this, obviously, because it’s a bonafide high-school classic first, and a stoner classic second. The latter is mostly personified by Penn’s easygoing surfer dude Jeff Spicoli whose “been stoned since third grade.” His interactions with professor Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) are some of the funniest pot-related moments ever filmed, moments anyone who’s been in public high school can relate to.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Wait, is it Fast Times or Dazed and Confused? You’ll have stoners arguing over which one is the certified stoner high school classic in various smoke-filled basements, until everyone agrees that there’s room for both and reward their thoughtfulness with a communal joint. Richard Linklater’s early film is much-removed from his most recent Boyhood scope, but his effortless ways of capturing time in a bottle and teen spirit in a bong are more than present in this rock and roll fused classic. Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, and Rory Cochrane are legendary teens of the 70s, in a film so classic even boutique label Criterion couldn’t ignore it.
The Stoned Age (1994)
Ah, but then there’s the hidden classic that’s always had the misfortune of being overshadowed by Linklater’s much-discussed and set-in-film-stone stoner extravaganza. James Melkonian’s The Stoned Age takes a single idea – two long-haired rock-and-rollers looking for chicks – and stretches it for an entire film. Full of kooky misadventures, hilarious one-liners, and two central performances from Bradford Tatum and Michael Kopelow that could rival any Penn’s and McConaughey’s, The Stoned Age is a true stoner’s classic, in as far as its mostly remembered by stoners.
Back to classics everyone’s heard of, the ’90s continued to churn out stoner movies faster than you can order pizza while supremely baked. F. Gary Gray’s Friday became such an instant comedy hit that it spawned unplanned sequels Next Friday and Friday After Next. But what the sequels don’t have is most of what makes the original a certified smoker’s classic: Chris Tucker’s hilarious, unemployable, Smokey. As his name suggests, the man’s reason to wake up is to smoke up, and his exchanges with Ice Cube’s Craig and the various characters the two encounter (including one super funny Bernie Mac) is legit hall-of-fame stoner gold.
Half Baked (1998)
1998 saw two stoner classics, worlds apart from each other in approach, that together define the entire decade as far as stoner comedy is concerned. Fans of The Chappelle Show surely remember this one, as Dave Chapelle co-writes (with fellow Chappelle Show writer Neal Brennan) and stars as Thurgood Jenkins, a man forced into selling marijuana only to become really, really, good at it. If you’ve never seen this, you’ve probably never sniffed a joint, and you’ve missed out on everything that makes Chappelle such a riot. Also has what’s perhaps the greatest stoner cameo ever, by none other than the Snoop Doggy Dogfather of pot playing an annoying and weaselly “scavenger smoker”.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The second classic from the same year has risen above its cult-status into a bonafide comedy classic, seeped in enough cinematic artistry that I don’t doubt P.T. Anderson loved watching as a way to prepare his own stoner film. The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, with essential and absolutely uproarious turns from Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi (and, literally, every single other actor involved), is one of the greatest comedies ever made for my money. A case of mistaken identity leads to a tailspin of crimes and misdemeanors as The Dude (Bridges, as if you didn’t already know) tries to get his precious rug back. It ties the room together!
Kung Pow: Enter The Fist (2002)
Who says every stoner film has to involve people getting stoned? While most do, as our list clearly states, there are countless dumbed down comedies that are best enjoyed under the influence of the prescribed medicine from your local Doctor Greenthumb. Steve Oedekerk’s Kung Pow! Enter The Fist from 2002 is a martial arts parody on the surface, but have a toke or three and the movie transforms into one of the greatest comedies ever directed (a sentiment that lasts as long your stash does). It’s all in the dubbing.
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)
Starting off the millennium with more contemporary comedies, the best kinds are the ones that kept all the charm and wit from their predecessors. One of the best of this kind is Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. John Cho and Kal Penn are like the modern-day versions of Cheech and Chong, as they get thoroughly blazed and go on an adventure to find the nearest White Castle. Sure, it’s the biggest movie product placement this side of a Michael Bay film, but with hilarious cameos from Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Meloni, and others, not to mention the hilarious dynamic between Cho and Penn, White Castle is a stone-cold classic. Sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is surprisingly decent, but definitely not as good as the original.
Smiley Face (2007)
A stoner gem too easily forgotten and dismissed, is this a Gregg Araki movie, his follow-up to one of the best reviewed films of his career, Mysterious Skin. Unfortunately for Araki, Smiley Face wasn’t as warmly received, but fortunately for stoners, Smiley Face is filled with spot-on moments of what exactly it feels like to be completely smoked out of your head. Not to mention that it has one of the best comedic performances Anna Farris ever gave (and she’s pretty much always hilarious). Jane unwittingly eats hash-cupcakes after already smoking too much for her own mental good, and tries to run down a to-do list on a regular day in the life of a pothead. This is no White Bird in a Blizzard, but it’s also undeservedly sidelined on lists like this. Similar to The Stoned Age, Smiley Face is overshadowed by other stoner comedies but remains brilliant and hilarious in its own way.
Pineapple Express (2008)
The list ends as it should, with the current go-to people behind today’s most successful stoner comedies. Seth Rogen and James Franco have done a lot of damage, most of all last year with the highly controversial The Interview, but their comedic efforts collided with global acceptance in 2008’s The Pineapple Express. Rogen’s everyman loves to get high after his brain-numbingly boring office job, but things take a wild turn after he unexpectedly teams up with his pot dealer, Saul (Franco, as hilarious as ever). It’s got Franco’s foot through a windshield during a hot pursuit as one of its many, many, highlights, and one of Danny McBride’s greatest creations in competing pot-dealer Red. Pineapple Express is stoner action comedy at its very best.
Think we missed some major pot movies? What are some of your favorites? Tell us in the comments below and have a great day, man!