Ever since there have been stoners and movies in the same place at the same time, there have been stoner movies. Some stoner movies are about the lives of stoners, and others simply play to the ambling mindset of the stoned, but everyone who’s ever smoked a bowl – not that we have, of course… – can attest to the fact that some movies just play better after you’ve finished a big, fat blunt.
And with the legalization of marijuana continuously on the rise, and films like this weekend’s American Ultra coming out with more regularity (or at least less scrutiny) than ever before, it may be time to finally legitimize the stoner movie genre too.
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So then which films, exactly, are The Best Stoner Movies Ever? We asked our critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo to each come up with and defend their #1 pick, and this is what they chose. Check them out, let us know your favorites, and then come back next week for another highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Best Stoner Movies Ever
Brian Formo’s Pick: Slacker (1991)
Is a stoner movie just a movie where people smoke a lot of weed? Maybe. But shouldn’t a stoner movie also give you a contact high? Richard Linklater’s Gen-X opus Slacker gets my vote because it comes into contact with so many people who represent different factions of the various counter-cultural movements where marijuana casually pops up like it ain’t no big deal. And Linklater’s film totally helped elevate independent American cinema into a certain 90s rarified area where linear story structure didn’t need to exist. Far out!
Linklater himself appears in the opening shot, asleep on a bus. He hails a taxi to head into Austin, Texas. He tells his cab driver about a dream that he was having and how it kept switching into different realities with perspectives from different people. When he exits the cab, this character’s contribution to the film is over and we pick up with someone he passes on the street. This is conversational baton is repeated into bookstores, musical venues, yard sales, etc. Some weed is smoked, but that doesn’t push the journey. But moving from conversation to conversation and feeling welcomed into each situation is a stoned sensation.
By calling this film Slacker, Linklater is smugly feeding directly into the hand of the previous generation: the 60s generation who started a cultural revolution and then sold out to form huge corporations and started wars that couldn’t be voted on. Any young person who isn’t buying into the system that 60s youths previously rallied against is considered a slacker. But Linklater’s Austin denizens are passive not because they don’t care, but because they saw how dissatisfied political engagement in the ’60s eventually led to the corporate bullshit of the now (and then). They know that their generation is the first that will be worse off than the previous one due to the systems set up. So fuck the man! Who cares about your fights alongside George Orwell in the ’60s? You’re Big Brother now, dude.
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Smiley Face (2007)
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There are a few inherent problems with most stoner movies. One of them is that they only tend to be funny when you’re stoned. I appreciate the cultural presence of Cheech and Chong, but watching their movies sober is a painfully dull experience (although I do giggle at Paul Reubens mumbling about the hamburger train). Another problem with stoner comedies – and this one’s a real kicker – is that they tend to (at least most of the time) morally and legally exonerate their dull-witted protagonists. People smoke weed, do irresponsible things, and they are held up as aspirational figures; anti-authoritarian heroes of undying youthfulness and joyous, reckless abandon. When you’re sober, you usually only see the bland, thick-skulled destruction of property.
Which is why Gregg Araki’s 2007 comedy Smiley Face is so wonderful. Araki was previously known for obnoxiously adolescent, pop-nihilistic shock flicks like The Doom Generation, but with Smiley Face, he showed, oddly enough, that he could mature as a filmmaker. In Smiley Face, Anna Faris plays a burned-out would-be actress living in Los Angeles who smokes too much weed one afternoon, only to accidentally chase them with an entire batch of super-potent pot cupcakes. She then must return the weed she ate, audition for a role, and get across town… acts she hilariously botches.
Faris is golden in the role, but Araki is wise enough to show that she has no hope of succeeding. There is no magical weed fairy looking out for her best interests. We just get to see her dumb behavior, and are given a wonderful running audio track of her inner monologue (“Corn is where corn chips come from”). It’s a movie about stoner panic more than stoner stonerness. And yet it’s bright, fun, and silly. It’s a weirdly timeless slapstick farce.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Pineapple Express (2008)
It feels vaguely perverse to suggest that any film is “the best stoner movies ever” if it doesn’t star Cheech and/or Chong, but their classic comedies were of a very different era, in which smoking weed was still demonized by the public at large. Stoner movies of today have a very different feel than Nice Dreams or Up in Smoke, and seem to represent not so much an alternative lifestyle but an escape from humdrum reality. And Pineapple Express perfectly captures that perspective.
Directed by David Gordon Green, at the time best known for acclaimed independent dramas (like George Washington and Undertow), Pineapple Express stars Seth Rogen as an everyday pothead and James Franco as his uncomfortably friendly dealer, who are forced to spend time together when Rogen witnesses a murder. One might think that when your life is on the line you probably wouldn’t stop to smoke a bowl, but that’s the way these two deal with everything in their lives, so they do dumber and dumber things to solve all their problems, and end up making everything a heck of a lot worse.
And yet even as the body count hilariously skyrockets, Pineapple Express has soft spot for stoners, and a keen sense of what entertains the stoned. Drawling, rambly conversations and a tendency to shift focus – and even genres – at the drop of a hat keep Green’s film silly and fun from the get-go, and Rogen and Franco’s easy-breezy chemistry grounds Pineapple Express even as it culminates in absolute lunacy. It’s a sweet film, a crazy film, and it gets what smokin’ out is all about, man. It’s about… um… what was I talking about again?
Let us know what you believe are the best stoner movies ever in the comment section below!