Movie Junkie: The Marijuana Movies Edition

Movie Junkie: The Marijuana Movies Edition

I’ll never forget the first time I tried weed. It was the summer before starting my freshman year of high school and my friends and I went to see Friday. Then when Belly came out a few years later I remember thinking “Wow, Nas and DMX look cool doing it, maybe I’ll give it another try.” Nope.

Marijuana use in film is not some recent trend. In fact, the 1932 film Jewel Robbery features a scene where a character is forced to smoke a marijuana-laced cigarette that makes him forget his troubles. Two films were released in 1936 that were meant to warn about the dangers of drug use and what can happen as a result.

Marihuana didn’t have much fanfare, but Reefer Madness (originally made as Tell Your Children and sometimes titled as The Burning QuestionDope AddictDoped Youth, and Love Madness) featured extreme consequences of pot use. In the film, a group of high-school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana—later leading to events ranging from a hit and run accident, to manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, hallucinations and descent into madness from marijuana addiction. 

Originally financed by a church group, Reefer Madness was intended to be shown to parents to teach them about cannabis use. The film was “rediscovered” in the early 1970s and gained new life as an unintentional satire among advocates of cannabis policy reform. Critics have since called it one of the worst films ever made.

Public opinion has since changed dramatically since the 1930s, and marijuana is no longer used as a scare tactic, but rather for comedic purposes. Several “stoner films” have become cult classics, have been nominated for Oscars, and even been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Here’s a look at some of those classic weed flicks!

Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider was written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern, produced by Fonda, and directed by Hopper. Fonda and Hopper played two bikers who travel through the American Southwest, carrying the proceeds from a cocaine deal. At the 42nd Academy Awards, Jack Nicholson was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

One of the reasons Easy Rider stands out from almost every other film involving marijuana is that during the campfire scene where Jack Nicholson’s character tries pot for the first time, Peter Fonda confirmed he was smoking “real pot” with co-stars Nicholson and Dennis Hopper.

Fonda denies claims that the actors also used actual LSD. According to an interview with Extra, the star said: “We did not take LSD, no matter what the rumors say. You can’t make a movie when you’re ripped like that.”

Up in Smoke (1978)

Richard “Cheech” Marin & Tommy Chong had been a comedy team for about ten years before they started reworking some of their material for their first film Up in Smoke. The film is credited with establishing the stoner film genre. It earned over $44 million at the domestic box office, making it one of the highest grossing films of the year. However, the film was banned in South Africa due to censors in the country believing that the film “might encourage the impressionable youth of South Africa to take up marijuana smoking”.

The success of Up in Smoke led to two sequels and other films that weren’t centered around marijuana: Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980), Nice Dreams (1981), Things Are Tough All Over (1982), Still Smokin (1983), Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers (1984), Get Out of My Room (1985), Cheech & Chong: Roasted (2008), and most recently Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie! (2013).

Cheech & Chong stopped by Sway in the Morning and Snoop Dogg happened to be in the building so we had them speak about their highs (pun) and lows with weed.

Friday & Kids (1995)

If you took a poll on what the greatest stoner film is, chances are Friday will be at the top of that list. The film not only changed how life in the hood was depicted, but also gave a glimpse at Ice Cube’s talent as an actor and filmmaker. Decades later, fans still quote the famous catchphrases and it has spawned an endless amount of memes and internet humor. Even with the departure of Chris Tucker as ‘Smokey’, the sequels Next Friday (2000), and Friday After Next (2002) managed to avoid box office failure. Cube was quoted as saying he hoped the fourth and final installment, Last Friday, would be released on the 25th anniversary of the original Friday‘s release date. However, it is unknown whether the film will ever get made after the passing of John Witherspoon.

Three months after Friday hit theaters, Kids generated much controversy for its shocking portrayal of the lives of a group of teens in New York City. The film starred predominantly new actors, and some who weren’t even actors at all. Contrary to popular belief, the film was entirely scripted except for the final scene with Casper on the couch which was improvised.

Although Kids is not typically considered a stoner-film, the prominent use of marijuana by the cast is an in your face look at just how popular weed is among young adults.

Half Baked (1998)

There’s no question that Half Baked is a cult classic. It was Dave Chappelle’s first time starring, writing and producing a film. Tamra Davis, the director, had previously directed comedies such as CB4 and Billy Madison, as well as a slew of music videos.

During his interview on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” Chappelle spoke about how the movie was developed and his disappointment with the final script.

How High (2001)

When you take two popular rappers who are not only proud weed smokers but also real life best friends and put them in a buddy comedy based around marijuana, it should be box office gold. Add to that it was directed by Bob Dylan’s son, Jesse Dylan, and featured well known actors such as Lark Voorhies, Obba Babatundé, Mike Epps, Fred Willard, Essence Atkins, and Héctor Elizondo. Tracy Morgan also makes a cameo in a parody of Field of Dreams.

Unfortunately, How High was released 3 months after the September 11 attacks. The film still made over $31M on a budget of $20M but who knows how much it would have earned had it been released prior to one of the worst days in America’s history.

On the positive side, Entertainment Weekly rated it third in their “Best Stoner Movie” top ten list. The movie also won the Stony Award for Best Stoner Movie in 2002.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Harold & Kumar is a unique film for several reasons. Not only were the filmmakers granted permission to use the name of a major fast food chain in the title, but critics also praised the movie, which is rare for a movie about potheads. Film critic Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars.

White Castle even helped to promote the film. Beverage cups with pictures of Harold and Kumar along with free hamburgers were given to moviegoers attending the film’s premiere. Stars John Cho and Kal Penn were inducted into the company’s White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame in 2004.

The film was also supposed to feature a hunt for Krispy Kreme donuts, but the food was changed to hotdogs when Krispy Kreme refused to allow the film to use their name.

Pineapple Express (2008)

Pineapple Express is the most successful entry on this list and proved to Hollywood that a stoner-film can still bring in a huge profit. The movie, named after a real cannabis strain, earned over $102M on a budget of $26M. According to the film’s producer Judd Apatow, the inspiration for the story came from Brad Pitt’s character in True Romance, in which he played a stoner named Floyd. Apatow “thought it would be funny to make a movie in which you follow that character out of his apartment and watch him get chased by bad guys”.

We all know Seth Rogen loves marijuana, but did you know he’s also a HYENA! Listen to him spit bars while promoting The Night Before alongside his co-stars Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt!

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