Marijuana and the movies have had a long, mostly potent relationship. Cannabis has inspired any number of cinematic artists, and it’s important to note how public perception of pot has changed throughout the years, with evolving laws and a recent explosion of smoker-friendly content. The social hysteria that greeted the infamous 1930’s exploitation film Reefer Madness can now of course be laughed at as an overreaction to a plant that has progressively become less demonized.
The Cheech and Chong films will forever be seen as stoner comedy gold, providing inspiration for modern efforts like Harold & Kumar, Half Baked, and Dude, Where’s My Car? Easy Rider is the definitive counter-culture item that opened the doors for more square viewers, while the 1970’s ushered in a new crop of pot movies, including Milos Forman’s American debut Taking Off, Ralph Bakshi’s animated Fritz the Cat, Cisco Pike with Kris Kristofferson, and the more obscure Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, a heady mix of paranoid thriller and laconic romance featuring an early John Lithgow performance.
Marijuana has been used in an erudite fashion by filmmakers, woven into the narrative like a character in Curtis Hanson’s masterpiece Wonder Boys, the iconic Coen brothers sensation The Big Lebowski, and the underrated Leaves of Grass. Oliver Stone’s entire cannon feels especially indebted to ganja, as does Terry Gilliam’s psychotropic adaptation of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Self-professed cannabis enthusiast Robert Altman left a misty haze over much of his work, most notably The Long Goodbye, California Split, and M*A*S*H, while his protégé, Paul Thomas Anderson, crafted a pot-infused ode to private eye cinema with Inherent Vice. And F. Gary Gray’s sly, smart, and hilarious pot comedy Friday still stands as one of the most influential cannabis narratives.
The Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow connection has helped to legitimize marijuana to the masses, with box-office hits Pineapple Express and Knocked Up majorly emphasizing marijuana, treating it like a character as much as any of the leading actors. Musical biopic spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story has some hilarious moments concerning reefer, the two Neighbors movies nearly give off a contact high, and the meta-comedy This Is The End carried a lit-joint torch of pro-pot components. And let’s not forget Danny McBride getting stoned with some sheep in Your Highness, which shared the skunky whiffs of 80’s cult-classics Krull and The Beastmaster.
High school comedies have consistently thrown marijuana into the equation, with Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused standing as cultural touchstones. Nearly all of Kevin Smith’s films seem to have been born out of a cloud of bong smoke, with the Jay and Silent Bob characters feeling like zeitgeist-tapping creations of cannabis-happy comedy. Greg Araki’s Smiley Face with Anna Faris is one of the more perceptive and giggle-inducing movies to feature a stoner at its center, while Jonathan Levine’s unique 90’s time capsule The Wackness painted a portrait of people’s lives fully dictated by marijuana, and how it can be used both for good and bad.
Written by Nick Clement