In light of recent events – yesterday’s opening of Pineapple Express – I felt it was high time a thorough analysis was done on the best stoner films ever. I have no intention of taking pot-shots at the lesser films in this genre; I aim only to weed out those movies that made less of an impression on the popular culture and highlight those that have really lit up our imaginations. Ok, so, I’ll try not to make another pun until 2010. Here are our picks for the top 10 stoner films of all time.
Some might consider this an unusual choice, but upon closer inspection it really is the quintessential stoner film in so many ways. The two protagonists, Randal and Dante, hang out all day and do nothing other than interminably discuss every bit of minutia about pop culture, girls and Star Wars. The two guys out front – the infamous Jay and Silent Bob – make Randal and Dante look like the most ambitious men alive. Their day consists of selling pot, smoking pot, dancing and, on occasion, dispensing worldly wisdom about life and relationships. These guys are the stoners for the average suburban Joe, and we love them for all their idiosyncratic idiocy.
9. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
No one actually partakes of the marijuana plant in this movie, but you wouldn’t know from watching it. Gene Wilder glides from disaffected stupor to febrile ecstasy – the guy is clearly off his rocker, and it’s hard not to suspect there’s more than just chocolate in that chocolate river. The entire movie is kind of one big trip, and Willy Wonka is everyone’s supplier. Oompa Loompas; girls turning into blueberries; boat rides through magical tunnels on the chocolate river? Yeah, someone’s smoking something, and it must be good.
8. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
These guys are pretty much the renovated versions of Cheech and Chong, just way more clever and cleaner cut and, well, ambitious. I mean, can you imagine Cheech and Chong concentrating their energy and effort on anything as much as Harold and Kumar do on tracking down some hamburgers? Harold and Kumar also benefit from the coolness rubbed off on them from Neil Patrick Harris. The arrival of NPH is possibly the funniest and randomest cameo ever, and the fact that he has no qualms about playing himself as the biggest douche bag ever goes a long way. But I think Harold and Kumar will be appreciated by baked film historians in ages to come if only because they successfully ride a cheetah. Cheetah-riding wins you one thousand automatic awesome points.
Probably Ice Cube’s magnum opus, Friday has rightly held its honorable place in the pantheon of stoner films since its arrival. This portrayal of two young men’s quest to get high and get laid and generally avoid any work or responsibilities become the cinematic anthem of all stoners everywhere. It would have been nice if Ice Cube’s acting endeavors had ended with this film (and Chris Tucker’s, for that matter), but that’s neither here nor there. This movie brought the stoner flick to the south central, and as such it will always serve as a mellow response to Boyz in the Hood.
This movie is cool on many levels, most of them having to do with Dave Chappelle. I also like that a horse dies after one of the stoners feeds it all of his food, and that he’s sent to prison for killing an officer of the law. But I think my favorite scene is when one of the doctors at the hospital Chappelle’s character works at calls him “janitor” and asks if he’ll do him a favor, even though it’s not his job. Chappelle agrees, but then asks if the “scientist” will mop up the rest of the floor, even though it’s not his job. Chappelle’s stoner comedy is sharper and wittier than most, even if the plot is as half-baked as the rest of them.
5. The Wizard of Oz
This is one of the best cinematical metaphors for getting high. Aside from that, everyone in the land of Oz is kind of like a stoned parallel to the people Dorothy knows before she gets swept up in a “storm”. Witches, flying monkeys, talking scare crows – if Dorothy isn’t tripping she should be, and everyone who watches this movie kind of feels like they are, regardless of their THC intake that day. On top of everything, the actual color of the film gives it a very surreal look; Judy Garland is in many ways the messiah of the pot heads, and this movie is her religion.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
One word – or rather, one name: Spicoli. Jeff Spicoli. Sean Penn, for all his many high-falootin’ acting achievements and directing accomplishments will never – and should never – live down the break out role that started everything for him. He made Vans slip-on shoes with checkered patterns cool; he made carrying bagels in the waist line of your jean cut-offs cool; and he made stoner rebellion against the man (Mr. Hand) very cool. Even without Spicoli Fast Times would still retain a certain amount of awesomeness. I mean, the pervy Judge Reinhold, the nubile Jennifer Jason Leigh, the teenage Forest Whitaker. This is a cast that was destined for greatness, and Spicoli – I mean Penn – helped maintain the beautiful tradition of stoner movies that a thousand American Pie sequels could never rival.
3. Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater’s directorial debut is possibly the best coming-of-age stoner movie ever made. It’s also a really great slice-of-life film about the seventies. I wasn’t a teenager in the seventies – or even alive, for that matter – but it has a very realistic feel to it, while being extremely entertaining at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that we get performances from the young Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser and Matthew McConaughey all playing hilarious paddle-wielding, yet pot loving, football jocks. It’s also notable that McConaughey, playing David Wooderson in his break-out movie role, has the most memorable and distinguished performance of his career. As a movie about growing up, fitting in, getting stoned and dropping out, this one is unparalleled.
2. Up in Smoke
Cheech and Chong started it all with this film, and thank god they did. Before these guys came along and lit up onscreen the only pot movie you could get your hands on consisted of Reefer Madness. They are the founders of stoners slacking off, hanging out and getting in trouble with the law in the movies. They’re also the first characters to smoke a joint full of dog shit. There’s got to be some kind of Academy award for that.
1. The Big Lebowski
I’m sure many people will take issue with this choice for the number one spot, but the number one spot it gets all the same. This definitely has the most convoluted, complicated plot of any stoner movie. But it also has the best cast of characters, the best dialogue, the best storyline. Jeff Bridges gives what is arguably his best performance, and John Goodman gives what is arguably his funniest. The Big Lebowski has one of the best supporting casts of all time as well, with notable performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro and Sam Elliott. I would even go so far as to contend that this is one of the best comedies of the ‘90s, period. It is one of the most quotable films of the past 50 years, with phrases like, “This isn’t ‘nam, Smokey. There are rules,” and, “The dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.” No movie has made being a burnt-out, unemployed, stoned baby-boomer seem cooler than this one. Oddly enough, it is the baby-boom generation that appreciated this movie the least. Only the children of those post-hippy baby-boomers have been able to appreciate how perfectly the Coen brothers captured their nihilistic malaise. Speaking of nihilists, has anyone seen my rug?