“Cheech & Chong” You said it yourself as soon as you’d clicked on an article about the Greatest Stoner Characters to ever be featured on the silver screen. And yes, we shall give them their due, but this list is for the people who want a whole list. This will be a comprehensive consideration to honor the top portrayals of stoner characters in cinema so far. And not necessarily in movies that identify as stoner comedies!
So consider this the top 5 regular, mainstream movies which handled a stoner character very well. That counts for a lot! We typically find that movies specifically marketed to stoners don’t have very good stoner characters. Everybody seeing where we’re going now?
There’s more than one list like this one on the Internet, but ours is more accurate (hear me out). That’s because your humble author also gigs at 366 Weird Movies, has appeared in numerous film criticism books, and has been quoted on at least one film poster… that I know of! So that makes me not only an expert in stony matters here at Dab Connection, but an established movie critic too. Aren’t I just found money?
Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Played to the hilt by a young Sean Penn, Jeff Spicoli is indeed shown onscreen toking from a glass bong, but we don’t dare show that clip or our sponsors would have the fits due to all the girly posters on the wall. We’ll keep it conservative with this scene, in which Jeff Spicoli satisfies his in-class munchies with a pizza delivery.
I mean come on, this is America? Why shouldn’t you be able to order a pizza at your school desk? Anyway, this scene also brings together Ray Walston (AKA My Favorite Martian among many) as the teacher Mr. Hand, and a bonus Taylor Negron (featured in this timeless cult classic) as the page of pizzas. On top of all that, Sean Penn’s performance, while VERY stereotyped, is pretty much on the nose for the time and period. If you lived in Southern California during the ’80s, you can name at least one character you knew there that was just like Jeff Spicoli.
Dr. William and Alice Harford from Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Now here’s what we like to see: Cannabis as part of somebody’s ordinary, everyday like without making it the whole point of the movie. Stanley Kubrick, directing here for sadly the last time before his passing, got off one more shot of predicting the future in the most unexpected way. Dr. William and Alice Harford – played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman – twist up a joint (pre-roll to you Gen Zers and Mills) and share it just before having the argument that kicks off the movie’s plot. The story is set in New York, nearly 2 decades before legalization passed there.
With all that mouthful said, the performance of Cruise and Kidman are far from “natural.” There is a hint of suggestion that the weed somehow sparked their argument, perhaps even by making them temporarily worse at communicating. Thanks to Kubrick’s unearthly direction, both actors act like they were underwater after being forced to stay awake for 48 hours straight. But this is “natural” for a Kubrick movie and hey, this was still a ballsy scene to film in 1999.
Louis Gara and Melanie from Jackie Brown (1997)
Jackie Brown is a film which makes your present author very mad. I am mad because this forgotten Quentin Tarantino movie got dumped on when it came out, by fans who wanted another Pulp Fiction. Consequently, box office was tepid. Nobody recognizes this movie today for the brilliant stand-alone work that it is. It’s got a stellar cast doing an excellent job across the board, and is based on one of author Elmore Leonard’s best novels. Nobody else out there even seems to know it exists!
Under the employ of the criminal mini-enterprise of weapons smuggler Ordell Robbie (Samuel Jackson), Louis and Melanie (Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda) kick back and share a bong which looks pretty tight. These two will have their own plot thread between them, but the cannabis use stays in the living room of Robbie’s pad. Robbie comments on the heavy weed use in a chiding way, even name-checking Cheech and Chong! You know, in case the audience never quite figured out that this is weed they’re smoking. In any case, these two characters win our top honors for the most naturally portrayed stoners.
Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
“One toke over the line” indeed! The combined insanity of director Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, etc.) and Mr. Gonzo Journalism Himself, author Hunter S. Thompson, upon whose book the script is based, ensures this portrayal is anything BUT natural. However, they’re obligated to portray a real character this time, and Johnny Depp’s (do not miss him in this masterpiece) lockjaw delivery nails the mad prophet of the news that Thompson was.
Obviously, a cannabis website like ours considers Hunter S. Thompson as a patron saint, one of the first to write thoughtfully and with experience about drugs at a time when such a feat was far more daring. But this film, if nothing else, also serves to remind that people like Hunter S. Thompson actually exist: passionate, driven types that are feral by society’s rules, but able to handle themselves capably anyway. The drug use is barely an afterthought, to those who are already so screwy that drugs actually serve to tether them back down to Earth.
The Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998)
This is it, the number-one top portrayal of a stoner character in all of cinema! You see how this is done; Jeffery Lebowski (Jeff Bridges’ role of a lifetime) smokes pot and chugs white Russians throughout the whole movie like he was training for the substance abuse Olympics, yet isn’t remembered so much as a stoner as he is just some slacker dude.
From head to toe, Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is as authentic and faithful as you can get for a classic stoner, albeit one less ambitious than most. Just a guy strolling through life minding his own business, never a hassle with anyone. His broken-in attitude and the way he possesses that slacker ’90s wardrobe like he was born in it, these have served to elevate him beyond a mere fictional character, to an icon for the ages and the subject of fan conventions and a philosophy.
Alright, Cheech & Chong from, like everything
You know, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong did so much more than just stoner comedy, it’s almost disgusting that they’re only associated with weed now. Cheech Marin is a highly accomplished actor in film and TV in his own right, along with being a musician. Tommy Chong directed the movies, and has also had a substantial film and TV career as a stand-alone talent.
Furthermore, when Cheech and Chong were doing stand-ups and the string of films, weed was not their only subject! For example, here’s the dog sketch:
See, a whole sketch that has nothing to do with cannabis. And hey, is that not a stand-alone, original act which showcases the duo’s audacious performance art, ghetto sense of humor, and unfettered imagination? It’s still funny even without weed. In the duo’s original run, cannabis was far from their only subject. They trafficked in everything from political satire to family-oriented comedy sketches. Here is another lost treasure, Cheech Marin’s audio performance as Tyrone Showlaces in the single “Basketball Jones” from the album Los Cochinos.
You still associate Marin with just stoner comedy? That recording, my fine baked friends, also features George Harrison, Billy Preston, Tom Scott, Klaus Voormann, and Carole King! Seriously, when a Beatle and a Brill Building alumni show up to be on your record, you are a respectable artist.
So there you have it, our picks for the list of best performance with a bong or two around.
It’s Important to Track How Stoners Are Portrayed in Media
As legalization marches on, no one can deny that we have come a long way. Considering how cannabis’ history of portrayal in film goes back to, well, Reefer Madness days, it’s refreshing that we can see stoners in movies now without having them demonized or otherwise judged. If we care about continued cannabis liberty and progress in policy, we should celebrate media which can show cannabis consumers in a respectful light.
Readers, don’t be shy! Toss in your own suggestions for honorable nods in the comments below, or in our kush forum. Who knows, maybe you will make a stoner movie geek friend around here!