“Stoner entertainment,” as the name may suggest, doesn’t necessarily sound like a highly respected genre and for much of recent pop culture history, movies created by and for stoners were generally one note. Even the catalogue of Cheech and Chong, though it does cover quite the array of topics, has similar jokes and formulas throughout varying plots. Chong often made fun of Cheech for releasing more “legitimate” work in his later years, but it’s hard to blame someone for wanting to move on to more diverse projects. The Corsican Brothers (1984) and Get Out of My Room (1985) were quite divergent from the rest of their work, but neither did as well their previous films. Apparently, their audience wasn’t as interested in a period piece or mockumentary as they were seeing the comedians getting high and doing stereotypically “dumb” stoner comedy antics.
Around the time of Dazed and Confused (1993), the tide began to change. The characters of Dazed and Confused use drugs, despite the fact that the substances don’t accelerate the plot. In fact, the drug use exists to create a wider, genuine picture of the characters we’re following. Of course kids in suburban Texas in the 70’s got high; it would be a sanitizing move to cut around that fact. Dazed and Confused is character driven with excellent dialogue, mostly natural performances and a sympathetic look at the confines of adolescence, so it was no surprise that it didn’t do as well financially when first released as director Richard Linklater might have hoped. 20 years later, it has a solidly cemented cult status and can be used as a marker for the beginning of acceptance of cannabis in entertainment.
A few years later, Half Baked (1998) arrived. Half Baked was clearly influenced by the humor of surreal and absurdist moments, with an easily digestible plot and a crew of characters that seem to be playing themselves. Half Baked’s charm and ingenuity came from organically grown conflict: a character is put in jail and a significant other wants the protagonist to stop smoking, two things a lot of people who use cannabis might be concerned about. Despite its stranger moments of unnamed characters giving sage advice or fantasies about dogs using PCP, it settles around reality and enjoys self-deprecating jokes about the cannabis community.
Entering the new millennium, How High was released in 2001 with some familiar elements and some wildly new ones. It was one of the first movies I came across that treated growers and dealers as people who were invested in a craft, not just an opportunist out to make money. Method Man stars as a grower who loves and believes in weed recreationally and medicinally, going so far as to admonish his friend for referring to his plants as “his shit.” Method Man’s quick-witted character stands out as a new portrayal and holds this film to a higher standard, which remains, even 14 years later.
Now, there are a ton of mid- to low range budget movies that center around either a plot involving cannabis or a character that use cannabis. Some are excellent, others are awful, but the good news is that the influx of films allow for a wider range of representation. Smiley Face (2007) from director Gregg Araki revolves around a female stoner (Anna Faris) who graduated at the top of her class in business school but has since become bored and then attempts to become an actor. Having a female stoner powering the plot is pretty rare, so though this movie opened to mixed reception, it was more unique than many others and was praised for Faris’s performance as well as Araki’s direction.
2007 also brought us a strange fright-fest called Weirdsville (2007) which was unusual and also featured a female stoner character. The film is an acquired taste, similar in tone to Idle Hands (1999) with a darker twist. Also in the horror division is Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (2013) for those who like a mix of comedy and horror. Admittedly, this movie was not a personal favorite, failing as both comedy and horror, but it seems to have a cult following.
There are also movies that don’t fall directly into the genre, but deal with the topic of marijuana and can be incredibly entertaining to watch while high. The Harder They Come, a Jamaican movie about the rise of a drug lord from the ‘70s, is a riveting and gritty movie that blows similar flicks out of the water. Hustle and Flow (2005) weaves smoking blunts in part of the tapestry that makes up the hot, humid south.
Clearly there are a lot more movies that can either be counted as “stoner” movies or drugs movies and there are plenty that come from and cover more unusual topics than most people would assume. As cannabis use becomes more accepted, the demographic that would seek out stoner entertainment becomes larger. It’s no longer just the stereotypical high teenagers looking for cheap laughs but rather a diverse group looking for stories and characters. And a few cheap laughs. Everyone loves cheap laughs.