Top 10 Stoner Heroes in Movies

by Warren Cantrell on August 18, 2015

in Top 10s

Like the ninja, wizard, or even big-rig truck driver, the stoner is often relegated to stock-character status when making an appearance in a film. Sure, wizards and ninjas sometimes get their own movies, and pick themselves up out of the generic mire, yet like the stoner, when used in small or middling doses, these characters often adhere to a very predictable archetype. Take, for example, the aforementioned stoner. The basic ingredients of that stereotype allow for a very specific set of gags and set-pieces, ones that usually rely on absent-mindedness, good-natured deviance, and a general aversion to confrontations. As a result, these characters aren’t often at the center of a narrative, for the classic protagonist is traditionally reliable, honest, and brave: traits not often shared with the classic movie stoner. Today’s list is a celebration of the films that got blazed, had their cake, and ate it too. Indeed, this ranking championed those films that gave audiences marijuana-smoking heroes the stoner community could rally behind and even look up to.

The release of American Ultra later this week promises another rare treat of this peculiar variety, for in that film, Jesse Eisenberg plays a C.I.A. asset scheduled for liquidation, yet is able to stay one step ahead of his would-be killers by relying on his wits and stoner instincts. The red-eyed deviants below were evaluated on their ability to navigate the choppy waters of their respective films, and gave extra points for those characters that not only survived, but prospered in spite of their munchies. After all, stoners are just as capable of heroic greatness as any sober goober out there, even if their preferred state puts them at a sometimes-fuzzy disadvantage. Today we celebrate every toker, smoker, and joker who ever had the mantle of responsibility thrust upon them in film, and rank them based on the success they experienced navigating their various situations. To be considered, the character in question had to have been a stoner first and foremost, not just some junky who happened to take a puff now and again (so nobody from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Trainspotting or Blow made it in, for example). No, we were after true-blue pot-head heroes for this list, and only the very best of that bunch would do. For that reason, close-call candidates such as those found in Friday, Our Idiot Brother, How High, Dead Man On Campus, and Dazed and Confused didn’t quite make it into the conversation. Feel free to gripe about these tragedies of omission in the comment section below. Until then, however, let’s kick things off with…

10. Ricky from Trailer Park Boys: The Big Dirty (2006)

As fans of the wildly successful Canadian television show can attest, Ricky (Robb Wells) from The Trailer Park Boys isn’t an ordinary stoner. Intellectually stunted from an early age as a result of lax supervision and aggressive pre-pubescent substance abuse, Ricky grew up to become a simple man. In possession of a 10th grade education, and little more, Ricky never had the best grammar, or math skills, or even common sense, yet he did manage to do a few things very well. Well, just two things, really: lying to cops, and growing weed. These two skills were mutually beneficial, and served the man well through most of a semi-charmed life consisting primarily of small-scale crime and marijuana cultivation. This tradition continued in The Trailer Park Boys movie, The Big Dirty, where Ricky put his law enforcement scamming talents to work so that he and his cohorts could pull off a caper that would help them pocket a pretty penny, as well as win back Ricky’s girl.

As with every other moment in his adolescent and adult life, Ricky was stoned throughout the course of the movie, and made sure that the business at hand never encroached upon his self-medication. In the process of navigating the treacherous tightrope that included ex-girlfriends, strip-club managers, trailer park supervisors, and the police, Ricky managed to stay one step ahead of everyone. This was no small feat, for despite being savagely baked throughout the course of the film, Ricky also had to contend with the scheming of the aforementioned trailer park supervisor, Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth), who was on an everlasting quest to bust Ricky. Although Ricky leaned heavily on his best friend and crime companion, Julian (John Paul Tremblay), he and his crew managed to pull off their small-scale robbery, as well as trick the police into arresting their strip club nemesis. Hell, they even get Lahey in trouble with their judge during their arraignment. Now, if Ricky hadn’t gotten himself sent back to jail at the end of the film (albeit for a good cause), and hadn’t been so shockingly stupid, he might have beat out…

9. Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys (2000)

This one slid in at #9 because the main character of Wonder Boys, Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), seemed to succeed in spite of his marijuana habit, and not necessarily because of it. It’s a small distinction to make, yet an important one considering the company Grady kept on today’s list. In the film Grady was a celebrated novelist who started the movie in something of a creative rut. His previous book was a runaway success, something that put a lot of pressure on him to follow up with yet another groundbreaking piece of literature. Mired in this personal and professional limbo, and without any real inspiration, Grady developed a fairly serious weed smoking habit, one he was entirely comfortable indulging while he hammered away at his 2000+ page follow-up novel. An unexpected pregnancy, as well as an eccentric student, James (Tobey Maguire), forced him out of his rut, however. Indeed, right around the time that Grady found out that his girlfriend, his boss’ wife, was pregnant, James went ahead and shot that same boss’ dog. Oh yeah…James also stole a valuable piece of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia from that boss.

Served up a giant, steaming shit sandwich overflowing from pretty much every end, Grady had to tip-toe his way through the mess whilst trying to keep everyone’s asses out of a sling. This was no small feat, for Grady’s editor was also in town to pester his client about the long-delayed follow-up book, which was all on top of some crazy asshole following Grady around, demanding that he be given his car back (a demand that made little sense to Grady). In the end, Grady realized that he had to grow up a little, confront his responsibilities, and stop chasing after the ghost of the man who’d written the celebrated novel that had come to define him. It also led to Grady (seemingly, anyway) giving up his smoking endeavors, and moving on from the complacency that the weed smoking had encouraged within him. Much like this next character, Grady did this as a way to mature and move on, both for himself, and to gain the respect of the woman he loved. Was this justified? Maybe. Were stoners everywhere disappointed in the turn of events? Definitely.

8. Thurgood Jenkins from Half Baked (1998)

In Half Baked, Thurgood Jenkins (Dave Chappelle) had to work with his fellow stoner friends to come up with the bail money needed to free their buddy, Kenny (Harland Williams), from prison. Kenny was a kindly kindergarten teacher that had accidentally killed a cop (well, police horse to be more accurate), and wasn’t faring too well on the inside. Good friend that he was, Thurgood took it upon himself to come up with a scheme to get Kenny out of the shit-house, which led to him stealing marijuana from the lab where he worked, and selling it to New York City’s hungry citizens. Okay…so far, so good. After all, the fact that Thurgood, as a low-income janitor, orchestrated a scheme to come up with thousands of dollars in a short period of time spoke to his drive, determination, and loyalty. Unfortunately, Thurgood was also a stoner, and fell victim to a number of entirely avoidable mistakes on his heroic journey.

For starters, Thurgood and his buddies just up and printed business cards advertising their drug dealing enterprise, stapled them to bags of weed, and handed them out to complete strangers. Shockingly, this didn’t get them arrested within a matter of hours, but it did get the attention of a rival drug lord, one who quickly moved to eliminate his competition. This led to a full-scale robbery of Thurgood’s lab, which got the man and his two remaining friends pinched by the cops. Thurgood wasn’t a quitter, however, and negotiated a sweet deal with the Fuzz to get his crew off in exchange for their willingness to wear a wire, and snag the aforementioned drug lord. At the end of the day, everything (miraculously) worked out, and Thurgood, Kenny, and the rest of the crew walked away without any serious jail time. Sure, they were idiots, yet somehow Thurgood’s stoner sensibilities saw them through it all, and for that he got the nod at #8.

7. Doc Sportello from Inherent Vice (2014)

A twisted, sprawling rat’s nest of a story with enough characters and double-crosses to fill a warehouse, Inherent Vice muddied its own waters further by putting a burned out, stoned protagonist front and center. In the film, private investigator “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) ran down the leads from three different cases he was pursuing while dodging all manner of bullshit from scary gangs, shady ex-cons, manipulative ex-girlfriends, and weird-as-fuck cops. Doc navigated this tangled web of fraud, deceit, and murder while maintaining a very aggressive marijuana regimen, one he adhered to rain or shine. This component of his personality was a key element of the plot, for the various intersecting lines of his three different investigations kept crossing and knotting up, which would have been tough enough for a sane, sober individual, let alone one who was choking down an endless series of Sativa and Indica strains.

True to his stoner hero status, Doc never let himself get too discouraged, and always fought through the hazy fog of his blazing to get at the truth. The guy got knocked out a few times, kidnapped, arrested, and hassled endlessly, yet he never lost sight of his goal, and kept on after his leads like any good P.I. At the end of the day, Doc sorted through the various convoluted lines of his three investigations, and even facilitated a couple happy endings (well, sorta). In any event, the man’s diligence paid off, and he even “got the girl” at the end (again…sorta). Unlike this next character, Doc didn’t change a whole lot, or foster long-lasting change in his small corner of the universe. Sure, he solved a few mysteries, and untangled a few loose threads, yet when it comes to valiant stoner warriors fighting the good fight, he had nothing on…

6.) Lester Burnham from American Beauty (1999)

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is the undisputed champion of middle-aged mediocrity, for his journey in American Beauty gave hope to countless millions that things can get better: that there’s a reason to hope for a better day. Lester was a middle management cubicle jockey going through the motions of a zombie existence in suburbia U.S.A. when the film caught up with him. The man’s teenage daughter despised him, which was a milder offshoot of the total disconnection and emotional abandonment that defined his relationship with Carolyn (Annette Bening), his wife. After he developed a crush on his daughter’s high school friend (gross), Lester got himself a new lease on life, and decided to start living in the moment. This involved quitting his stuffy 9-5 office gig so he could flip burgers, smoke dope, and pump iron in his garage. All of this was meant to culminate in the glorious consummation of the forbidden union between Lester and his teenaged crush, a goal that seemed entirely in sight as Lester continued his lifestyle purge.

And while the impetus of this mid-life 180 was Lester’s crush, the fuel for that journey was high-grade, government grown marijuana. Lester’s pot smoking seemed to connect him to an earlier time in his life when the worries of the grown-up world didn’t penetrate his serene, worry-free existence. Lester clocked-in at his meaningless, low-stress fast food job, worked out, smoked dope, and generally just lived his life the way he wanted to. It was a far cry from the stress he experienced when working a job he hated for a company he didn’t respect, and acting as the whipped yes-man for a wife that didn’t give a damn about his feelings, dreams, or desires. It was a radical transformation, to be sure, and one that met with positive results right up to the moment when Lester’s bat-shit crazy neighbor got involved in matters. Still, Lester’s liberal use of marijuana during the most pivotal and meaningful period of his adult life goes to show that stoners can be heroes as well, albeit on the small, suburban stage.

5. Kumar from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Kumar (Kal Penn) was a goddamned champion of heavy-duty weed smoking from the instant this franchise opened, and never took his foot off the gas. Sure, Harold (John Cho) did his fair share of smoking, yet it was his roommate Kumar that always pushed the issue, and made sure that the guys were blazed pretty much 24/7. It was this commitment to smoking that torpedoed Kumar’s interview in the opening minutes of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and drove the events of that film forward (they got stoned that night and resolved to go to White Castle). During every step of their adventure during that film, Kumar kept a level head despite the fact (or possibly because of it) that he was constantly piping marijuana smoke into it. Hell, in the sequel, the fact that he was on a transcontinental flight didn’t even stop the guy from sparking up, an act that actually got him and Harold sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Still, as with most stoner heroes, Kumar’s THC-induced foibles led not to disaster, but to triumph. After all, the guys did eventually get their White Castle burgers, Harold snagged the delicious Maria (Paula Garces), and the pair even made a friend in former President George W. Bush. This was all aside from the majestic, mind-blowing, life-altering partying they did with Neil Patrick Harris, which would have not been possible if Kumar hadn’t smoked so much weed, and insisted on seeing their adventures through to the all-in conclusions the three installments drove towards. Sure, the boys suffered a few setbacks along the way (the fact that the guys kept getting arrested is what pushed him back to our #5 slot), yet Kumar was nothing if not brave, and this mixed with his perpetual red eyed nature seemed to be enough to see him though to victory each time out. Still, as much as Kumar smoked, he had nothing on our #4 character, who had nearly twice as much experience with the chosen lifestyle…

4. Jeff Lebowski from The Big Lebowski (1998)

A Coen Brothers classic that has steamrolled into something of a cultural phenomenon, The Big Lebowski is many things: but to stoners, it is something close to scripture. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) wasn’t looking for trouble when he came home from the store one night, yet trouble is what found him. A case of mistaken identity snagged The Dude in a tangled web whose strands included embezzlement, deception, pornography, aggravated assault, and nihilism. Never in possession of the complete picture, and pushed around Los Angeles like the unwitting pawn that he was, The Dude struggled to keep his head above water despite it all. The Dude survived by adhering to the classic stoner strategy of passive compliance mixed with wild improvisation: a tactic that worked out relatively well for the guy. Sure, he lost his rug (as well as the replacement), yet he wasn’t killed, incarcerated (well, except briefly by the Malibu P.D.), or separated from his “Johnson.”

No, in all, considering the fact that The Dude got caught up in an extortion scheme and was set upon by violent, stupid criminals from several different directions, the guy made out alright. Of course, this came at the expense of his beloved automobile, as well as his buddy Donnie (Steve Buscemi) who fell in what could quite accurately be termed collateral damage. Yet through it all, The Dude persevered. Some might even argue that a more level-headed, aggressive, non-stoned individual would have made a mess out of things where The Dude miraculously coasted through the chaos. Granted, this particular author isn’t saying that, but some might. And while The Big Lebowski was an infinitely better movie than this next film, and represented a far more interesting character than both of these next gentlemen combined, the fact is, all The Dude did was survive his mess (and abide). These next boys actually triumphed…

3. Tie: Jay and Silent Bob from Clerks (1994), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), et al

While one gets the sense that Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) probably dabbled in other substances, the pair that formed the basis for the fictional “Bluntman” and “Chronic” comic book heroes were undeniably stoners at their core. The duo made their first appearance in Clerks, where they established themselves as the premier marijuana hookup for Red Bank, N.J. Chasing Amy established that they were the inspiration behind the popular Bluntman & Chronic comic line, which only further solidified them as notable stoners who’d made good on their habit. Future installments continued to toy with this particular smoking habit, including the Scooby-Doo scene in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when the film’s heroes busted out a fat sack and hot-boxed a van. In short, Jay and Silent Bob smoked pot…like, a lot, and they weren’t just a couple of shiftless losers with nothing to show for their habit: no.

No, these boys got shit done. Whether it was living comfortably off of their comic book royalties, guiding an angel and descendent of Christ to God Herself, or breaking into an animal laboratory on their way to busting into a major movie studio lot: these guys took care of business. Sure, Jay wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but what he lacked in intelligence he more than made up for with crude humor, aggressive posturing, smoking tough, and a clever hetero-life-mate. And as for Silent Bob, the man was a rock, and the hands-down brains of an operation that relied upon him for pretty much everything related to their continued survival. If these guys had held down actual jobs, or done something as meaningful as taking down a major crime syndicate, they might have edged out…

2. Dale Denton from Pineapple Express (2008) 

A dark horse contender, to be sure, yet Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) from Pineapple Express was as true a champion of the stoner genre as anyone listed today. This guy was just trudging along, working as a process server (albeit illegally…you can’t costume-up to serve papers), when he got tangled up in a scary gangster’s murder drama. True to genre form, Dale was smoking a joint outside said gangster’s house when he witnessed the cold blooded murder, and his state of mind played a big role in his decision-making process from there on out. Indeed, being a stoner hero, what got Dale into trouble also helped him survive, for he teamed up with his pot dealer, Saul (James Franco), and their zany weed-fueled antics kept them one step ahead of the bad guys. Weed intuition also played a big role in their survival, for despite being baked pretty much every minute of this picture, Dale still managed to sniff out a double-cross when it presented itself.

This astute judgment may have saved Dale and Saul’s lives, as the former stoner realized that their weed source, Red (Danny McBride), was lying to them and setting them up for a fall. Dale proved that he wasn’t just a thinker, but a fighter as well, and went after Red like a coked up Sasquatch with two broken hands. He also came within an inch of actually convincing a cop to let him go after he’d been caught selling drugs to kids: which was no small feat! Finally, in the end, he managed to pull Saul out of the flaming wreckage of a collapsed drug facility, an act that saved his friend’s life. Now that’s one hell of a hero, people, and a fine example of what marijuana-fueled gallantry can accomplish. Still, Dale had just one movie to prove his worth as a marijuana-fueled agent of righteous justice, a hurdle this next duo scrambled over and then some…

1. Tie: Cheech and Chong from Up In Smoke (1978), et al. 

Was there ever any doubt? The absolute gold-standard for stoner heroes in much the same way that Charlie Chaplin is the model for comedic excellence in film: there was no one before Cheech and Chong, and all those to follow in their footsteps owe the pair everything. Indeed, weed-centered humor had never sustained a film as successfully as Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke, which found a way to laugh at the burned-out apathy and failure of 60s pop culture. The film accomplished this buy turning the optimistic drug culture narrative from ten years before on its head by lampooning two eager participants of the turn on, tune in, drop out revolution. These guys appeared to have jumped on the 60s hippie bandwagon with no small amount of gusto, yet had little to show for their generation’s revolution a decade later. Both Pedro (Cheech Marin) and Anthony (Tommy Chong) didn’t have a lot going for them when Up In Smoke started, and as a result they resorted to smuggling drugs across the Mexican border just to make ends meet. And while they weren’t bad guys by any stretch of the imagination, they simply had poor prospects and next to nothing to offer society.

This was a far cry from the optimistic groundswell that crested at Woodstock and rolled back at Altamont. In many ways, Cheech and Chong represented the ethos of a stumbling generation that had failed to change the world, yet remained determined to retain its identity. Sure, they didn’t initiate transformative and lasting political and social changes, yet they seemed to be having a lot more fun than their parents, and were working maybe half as hard. Cheech and Chong’s adventures and triumphs were evidence that good-natured stoner hijinks could sustain a couple of heroes if they remained focused, kept toking up, and relied on their stoner instincts. Everything seemed to work out for these guys as a result, whether it was winning the battle of the bands contest, tramping around L.A. with a duffel bag full of country weed, or doing space-coke: these guys always came through, and effected positive stoner-based change. This was usually because of their pot smoking rather than in spite of it, something that set a movie standard the Coens, Apatows, and Smiths of the world have benefitted from ever since.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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