Although a “stoner movie” suggests low brow fare thanks to the chances that both the plot is rudimentary, and those that are watching are as high as the on-screen heroes, not all weed movies are created equally. In fact, some have been elevated to high art and have Rotten Tomatoes ratings that outpace work by actors and directors who have Academy Award statuettes on their mantles.
But what makes a good stoner flick? In this writer’s humble opinion, it actually has to include smoking – eliminating a classic duo like Bill and Ted where their “hobby” is merely suggested, and plots that would make someone high bust a gut, or question their own existences like The Truman Show, but does’t actually speak to the counterculture.
Even certifiable “classics” which have gained cult status in the genre – like Half Baked and Up in Smoke – have dreadful reviews (sitting at 29 percent and 41 percent) which suggests it’s hard to make weed the backbone of a plot.
Thus, the sweet spot seems to be a stoner movie where characters exist as real and eccentric entities, rather than stereotypes, where the usage of marijuana is a regular part of those character’s worlds.
In honor of 4/20, here are the best reviewed stoner movies you can watch right now…after you order a pizza…and struggle to remember your parents Netflix code.
Dazed and Confused
Rating: 93 percent
There are very few 4/20 films which capture the coming of age qualities that Richard Linklater was able to accomplish with Dazed and Confused. In addition to spot on casting which included jocks, nerds, burn outs and kids experiencing high-school for the first time, Linklater also devoted 1/6 of the entire film’s budget to the music department to secure rights to songs like Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” which added to the overall vibe he wanted.
Marijuana is present in the very first shot of the film. Slater also had a very interesting theory that George Washington grew weed. Adding to the overall marijuana aesthetic, Linklater has said that he attempted to present a very professional set where the usage of alcohol and drugs were prohibited, but he would later learn that many of the cast were often stoned during actual filming.
Rating: 92 percent
As his follow up to Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino penned the Bonnie and Clyde-esque story of of Clarence and Alabama which on-paper seems much more like a hard-boiled crime drama – with classic Tarantino forays in the dialogue and bloodshed department – than a movie rooted in marijuana culture.
However, thanks to Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Floyd, it will always have a special place in the heart for people who all have had a stoner friend just like him who could never see the serious side of any situation.
Rating: 89 percent
You know a film had an impact on marijuana culture when the title becomes the name of a strain. In this case, Easy Rider became Easy Rider – a sativa/indica hybrid which leaves user clear-headed with a mellow body high.
In one of the most memorable scenes in the film – where Jack Nicholson’s character tries marijuana for the first time – alongside free spirits played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper – Fonda later admitted that it was real cannabis.
The 1969 film was important because it showed that marijuana could be used and embraced by those who seemingly were “square” and didn’t identify with any aspects of hippiedom, and also spoke to the scare tactics from older films like Reefer Madness which told people that it was both addictive, and a gateway to harder drugs.
The Big Lebowski
Rating: 82 percent
Sometimes the stoner stereotype isn’t a mischaracterization of a person. In the case of The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridge’s character is a free spirit who can’ be bothered by the expectations bestowed upon an adult like rent, responsible car ownership, or maintaining a small reserve of cash for instances like buying a carton of milk.
This is the End
Rating: 82 percent
In recent years, comedies have utilized actors playing elevated versions of themselves to blur the lines between the cinematic universe and real life. In turn, people like Neil Patrick Harris, Larry David, John Malkovich, and Bill Murray have furthered their cases as cult icons.
This is the End doubles down on the idea to great stoner effect because stars Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson are all good friends in real life. And since we as the audience know them to be huge stars in Hollywood, watching them freak out and turn against one another is that much more satisfying.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Rating: 78 percent
There are very few characters in the history of cinema whose surname alone has come to represent the burn-out stereotype. Yet, even 36 years later, Sean Penn’s long-haired portrayal of “Spicoli” remains one of the gold standards of representations of high school life.
His true-to-life embodiment of a California teenager proved to be the saving grace of the film, with writer, Cameron Crowe, later saying that his performance sparked an interest in the demographic that he and director, Amy Heckerling, wanted to speak to directly.
“The word got out that there was this movie with this character who wore checkerboard Vans, called the teacher a d—, and ordered pizza into the room,” Crowe said. “They started showing up.”
Rating: 75 percent
The stuffy nature of life at a country club doesn’t necessarily scream “weed movie.” But as we’re all well aware, Harold Ramis decided to turn the conventional elitist stereotype on its head by spotlighting the “regular” people who keep the operation afloat.
As far as plots go, the most striking aspect of Caddyshack involves a tortured groundskeeper waging war on a a gopher. But along the way, Bill Murray reveals himself to be someone who also considers enlightenment and the Dali Lama, and has concocted his own strain of weed. In Carl Spackler, it’s as if one of the Three Stooges took up Buddhism.
Rating: 74 percent
Friday is the rare film where using weed to initiate the hero’s journey actually works. In this case, when Craig and Smokey indulge on what would be any other final day of the work week, things go absolutely haywire.
But hidden amongst the endless laughs is a conclusion that is surprisingly poignant and effective. Craig’s father, Mr. Jones, urges his son to take on the behemoth that is Deebo with only his fists. It may not have been going for an anti-violence message completely, but there’s something to take away from the idea, “you win some, you lose some, but you live to fight another day.”
Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle
Rating: 74 percent
The munchies have caused people to do all sorts of weird things. While this usually involves some kind of sweet and savory combination like peanut butter and pickles, it actually became a reason to greenlight a major Hollywood film.
For everyone that has ever experienced the culinary side effects of smoking, a craving can only be met by eating exactly what you have in mind.
While Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle takes that idea to the nth degree, there’s a simplicity in their pursuit that is completely relatable.
Rating: 68 percent
In many American states, it is becoming easier and easier to buy weed. As a byproduct of this legalized system, it’s completely cutting out the relationship between dealer and user. Prior to this arrangement, who you bought weed from was an arrangement rooted in trust and reliability; not unlike doctor and patient.
Pineapple Express was a meditation on this exact arrangement. Even if your weed dealer grates on your nerves, most people will overlook this if the product is really good.
For more weed coverage, check out the trailer for our documentary ‘High End’ which explores the luxury side of cannabis.
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