The stoner film genre has taken a beating over the past couple decades due to a glut of lazy films, the premise of which just seems to be, “Hey! Marijuana! Fun, right?” And while that’s probably enough to get the stoner demographic in the door, they’re forgotten as quickly as they’re made. However, some efforts have managed to transcend the stereotype of stoner films and serve as fun (or serious) studies into the world of weed and smokers. Of course, on the other end of things, some pot films are so dumb and so ridiculous that they can’t help but be fun. And in between the two ends of the spectrum are a bunch of forgettable films.
Half Baked might be the quintessential stoner film, in good ways and bad. It’s a film that’s quite simply ABOUT marijuana, but it owns that conceit with such passion that you can’t help but enjoy the ride. The characters, all ridiculous, represent different weed-smoking archetypes, and the plot is almost 100% inconsequential, but the movie proves endlessly quotable, and it’s hard to find a stoner film that’s more fun and silly. The parade of cameos during the weed delivery montage makes the whole thing worth it.
Many critics who considered Dazed and Confused among the best films of the 1990s would probably balk at the idea that this Richard Linklater’s study of rural Texas high school kids in the 1976 is a stoner film, but let’s call a spade a spade. The film revolves around getting high and a keg party. Sure, there’s a brilliant attention to characters and environment in this movie, but that just makes it a really, really, really good stoner film.
You better believe that a spastic stoner film based on a Thomas Pynchon novel, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson will get recognition on this list. Following up on classics There Will Be Blood and The Master, PTA went a little gonzo for Inherent Vice, a film about...well, it’s about a lot of stuff, but the madness of the film and its star, Joaquin Phoenix, is honestly more fun than the plot is. While some films listed here are pleasant surprises because of their depth, Inherent Vice is a great stoner film because of its lack of depth. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson slumming it, which, rest assured, is still high praise for the film.
It’s hard to make an artful film about two guys sitting on a porch, smoking up, but F. Gary Gray managed to do just that with Friday, starring Ice Cube and a then-unknown Chris Tucker. The film’s beauty is in its simplicity and also in the way that it portrays South Central LA as little more than just another neighborhood, albeit one with characters with names like Big Worm, Deebo, and Pastor Clevor.
Occasionally, a film gets so dumb, it somehow becomes so over-the-top it’s smart. Such is the case with Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, a film whose premise lies entirely in the title. There are these two guys, Harold and Kumar, who get high and are really just jonesing for the perfect junk food. Their journey turns epic, features a sweet extended appearance by Neil Patrick Harris, and ends in (spoiler alert) the guys getting their White Castle. The film is way more fun than the ridiculous title would suggest.
It’s easy to forget that as mainstream as stoner culture is now (just look at a Taco Bell commercial), smoking pot was once a truly forbidden and countercultural practice. While that may sound serious, comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong had a way of bringing levity to a couple of ostracized hispanic stoners in the uncool parts of LA. Their epic, nonsensical travels through Los Angeles laid the groundwork for generations of stoner films after theirs. And while the formula is often repeated, it’s never duplicated due to the insane personality that Cheech and Chong bring to their films.
If you were looking for a stoner film to watch with your family, this would be it. Saving Grace is a British production starring Brenda Blethlyn and former late-night host Craig Ferguson, back before he was famous. In this sweet story, an aging British widow (Blethlyn) finds out that her late husband hid massive debt from her, and she conspires with her stoner groundskeeper (Ferguson) to use her gardening skills to run a huge marijuana operation in a sleepy English seaside town. If you’re interested in seeing a bunch of proper British people get super-stoned and silly, this is the film for you.
In the interest of academia, it’s important to put one pot documentary on this list. Since stoners are usually a fairly laid-back bunch, I don’t think a dry documentary on the history of pot would do it. But Super High Me is a pretty poignant look at weed by noted stoner comedian Doug Benson, who examines the medical effects on his body of smoking for 30 days (which he’s practically made a lifestyle of) and then abstaining for 30 days. The film is also interspersed with commentary and appearances by other comedians such as Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis in various states of sobriety.
Very little can be said about The Big Lebowski that hasn’t been said before. It’s perhaps the most quotable movie...ever? The film follows a quixotic stoner as he winds his way through the San Fernando Valley all due to a urine-covered rug and a case of mistaken identity. The fact that bowling serves as a dominant theme through the film is just icing on the cake. Few characters in movie history, let alone stoner films, are as fun to ride along with as Jeff Bridges’ Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski.