Apr 20, 2023
Select Stoner Movies in Honor of 420
‘Tis a beautiful day in the neighborhood, my friends. It’s sunny out, the week’s almost over, and—oh yeah!—it’s 420! Holla! That means it’s the perfect time to chill out at home, be cool, and indulge in one or several of some of the best stoner movies ever made.
While there are multiple versions about the theories and origins of 420 being the California penal code or police radio code for marijuana, they’re actually not true. According to the History Channel, it all began with a group of students in California in the 1970s and centered around a treasure hunt in 1971 involving five high school kids who created a ritual for getting high.
The Waldos, as the group was called, learned of a Coast Guard member who had planted a cannabis plant and could no longer tend to the crop. So, provided with a treasure map—perhaps by the plant’s owner, but we don’t know for sure—the group met at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school once a week to conduct a search for the plant. Their meeting time? 4:20 p.m. Apparently these kids were athletes, so they had to meet after practice. Then, allegedly, the Waldos would pile into a car, burn some leaf, and scour the Point Reyes Forest for the illustrious plant.
One of the original members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, told the Huffington Post, “We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis, and we eventually dropped the Louis.”
While the Waldos never did score their free bud, they instead stumbled upon something much bigger and longer lasting by coining the term 420, which has allowed teens across the globe to rap with their friends about smoking pot without their parents or teachers knowing what they mean. As far as how the term spread internationally, that seems to have everything to do with the Grateful Dead. Capper told Huffington Post that members of the Waldos had open access and many connections to the band, because one of the Waldos’ father managed the Dead’s real estate, and another Waldos member had a brother who was good friends with Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
Capper explains, “There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So, it started spreading through that community.”
However it originated and spread across the world, we are grateful (no pun intended). And in honor of that gratitude, today (and perhaps through the whole weekend) we celebrate 420, and in my world, well, that's none of your business. Here are some of my favorites stoner movies worth revisiting or checking out.
The Big Lebowski (1998) – This Coen Bros. cult classic is certainly my favorite stoner flick, and it should be at least in your top three. Jeff Bridges stars as The Dude, a grown man in Los Angeles named Jeff Lebowski who desires nothing more out of life than taking it easy, smoking his Js, and bowling. When his identity is confused with that of local millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski, aka The Big Lebowski, The Dude’s world begins to unravel, and he’s pulled into a web of comedic intrigue and shenanigans that only the Coen Bros. could weave.
The shenanigans kick off right from the get-go with The Dude being roughed up in his own home, having his head shoved in the toilet, then having to watch his precious rug get peed on. The nerve! Now, The Dude’s on a mission to get his rug replaced. After a bowling game with his sidekicks, Vietnam war vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman, The Conners) and the sweet, empathetic Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi, Fargo), The Dude tracks down The Big Lebowski and soon finds himself as “the bag man” responsible for handing off a ransom in hopes of kidnappers returning The Big Lebowski’s porn-star wife, Bunny (Tara Reid, American Pie).
The Dude is very easy-going and being embroiled in this situation upsets his chi. It’s in that juxtaposition that the film is hysterical on multiple levels. Plus, it stars John Turturro (Severance) as Dude’s bowling rival, Jesus, and Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights) as Maude Lebowski, The Dude’s lady friend and a feminist avant-garde visual artist, as well as the protagonist daughter of The Big Lebowski. I could write all day about this movie and its characters, plot, and subplots, but I’ll just let you watch it for yourself and soak up all those Coen Bros. nuggets of dialogue. You’re welcome.
Dazed and Confused (1993) – Some of the most famous Matthew McConaughey movie quotes on the planet originate here, and this one is a must-see, especially since it’s McConaughey’s first role.
“Say, man. You got a joint?” he asks a young high school kid on the way to an end-of-school party. When the kid says no, McConaughey’s character smiles and with such coolness says back, “It’d be a whole lot cooler if you did.” It’ll make you both melt and laugh.
Littered with quotable dialogue, this film by director Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some) features an ensemble cast of authentic American high school archetypes and exploits them during an afternoon on the last school day of the year in May 1976 that’s spent hazing younger students, searching for good times, avoiding any authority at all costs, and dreaming of the future. You’ll see Parker Posey (Lost in Space), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil movies), Adam Goldberg (The Equalizer tv show), Joey Lauren Adams (Big Daddy), and Cole Hauser (Yellowstone), to name a few.
Friday (1995) – This stoner comedy film franchise was created by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh, and when it hit theaters, it HIT! Taking place in South Central Los Angeles, the series follows the exploits of perpetually unemployed Craig Davidson (Ice Cube), who—along with his friends and relatives—is thrust into various issues that happen to occur on a random Friday. There’s so much about this movie that is worthy, but I must mention it doesn’t just feature but stars a very young and absolutely hysterical Chris Tucker (Rush Hour series), who plays a character named Smokey.
“I know ya don’t smoke weed, I know this,” he tells Craig (Ice Cube). “But I’m gonna get you high today cause it’s Friday, you ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do.”
That line sums up the entirety of the movie, which plays out with two friends hangin’ out all day on a Friday, making jokes, and observing the ongoings in their neighborhood whilst adding in their commentary. Tucker did not appear in either sequel, which perhaps is why they weren’t as well received as Friday was, but nonetheless: This one is also a must see and is another one of my top three favorites.
As Smokey says, “Weed is from the earth. God put this here for me and you. Take advantage, man, take advantage.”
I hope wherever you are today, even though it’s Thursday, you can “take advantage” in honor of Smokey. Also stars Tommy Lister Jr. (Jackie Brown), Nia Long (Big Momma’s House), Regina King (Jerry Maguire), and Bernie Mac, among many other recognizable faces.
Pineapple Express (2008) – Written by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Superbad) and Judd Apatow (Old School), this comedy is about a lazy stoner and process server (Rogen) who winds up being the sole witness to a murder by an evil drug lord (Gary Cole, Office Space) and a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez, White Men Can’t Jump). Now marked for death, the stoner does what probably any stoner would do: He runs right to his dealer (James Franco, 127 Hours) to hide and ends up dragging him and his supplier (Danny McBride, The Righteous Gemstones) on a hilarious weed-fueled adventure. What ensues next will have your face hurting from laughing so hard. Also stars Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Ed Begley Jr. (Young Sheldon), Joe Lo Truglio (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Amber Heard (Aquaman).
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) – Man, what a classic. When Korean-American office worker Harold (John Cho, The Grudge) puts off his work responsibilities and decides to smoke up instead with his Indian-American homie Kumar (Kal Penn, Smile), together they create one of the absolute best product placements in movie history after they start craving those yummy little burgers from White Castle. On the way there, of course, shenanigans unfold and they run into Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), who plays a womanizing version of himself that is so outrageous, you’ll have to back the scene up and rewatch it again. Harold and Kumar also find themselves riding a cheetah through the woods and we get a montage featuring a life-sized anthropomorphic bag of weed. Now tell me, what would you do? Mmm hmm, that’s what I thought! The film is quite the entertaining ride, yes, but it also magnifies the issues of racial prejudice existing even to this day in our country.
Super Troopers (2001) – Over-enthusiastic but under-stimulated Vermont State Troopers raise pure hell on the highway, keeping motorists anxiously watching their rear-view mirrors. They’re avid pranksters with a knack for f**king everything up and are always looking for action. One way they do that is by engaging in an ongoing feud with local cops over whose junk, er, manhood is the biggest. When they are faced with the government wanting to shut them down, the “Super Troopers” find themselves precariously and hilariously speeding towards calamity as they try to out-do the local police department by solving a crime and avoiding extinction. Stars Jay Chandrasekhar (Beerfest), Kevin Heffernan (Tacoma FD), Steve Lemme (Club Dread), Paul Soter (Tacoma FD), and Erik Stolhanske (Beerfest), Brian Cox (Succession), and the famous comic Jim Gaffigan.
Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978) – Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are, without a doubt, the grandfathers of weed comedies. The two starred together for the first time in this flick, which sees them accidentally transport a van made of marijuana from Mexico to the United States, with narcotics officers hot on their trail. Cheech and Chong go together like movies and popcorn, so it’s no surprise their easy-going camaraderie drives the movie as viewers are led on a hazy trip from one location to another, avoiding repercussions from their actions. You don’t have to be a fan of stoner comedies to enjoy this one, but it is important to note that this flick pretty much paved the way for others in the genre. It’s a classic and a must see, as well as a worthy addition to your queue.
Grandma’s Boy (2006) – I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of this movie when it came out, but upon a second and third go at it, I changed my mind. The plot centers on video-game tester Alex (Allen Covert, The Wedding Singer) and the work and life circumstances that lead him to the point of having to move in with his grandma, played by Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond), and her friends, played by popular tv actress Shirley Jones and Shirley Knight (Paul Blart, Mall Cop). From there, the movie just becomes a laugh-out-loud series of embarrassing yet hysterical moments. Also stars Peter Dante (The Waterboy), Kevin Nealon (Weeds, The Wedding Singer), Nick Swardson (Reno 911!: Miami), and Linda Cardellini (Avengers: Age of Ultron).
Other stoner flicks to check out:
Your Highness (enjoy the "glorious herbs" scene!) Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back
This is the End
Keeley Brooks is a big ole movies, television, and streaming nerd with an uncontrollable urge to write about everything she watches. Even if it sucks. Email her at email@example.com.