In the most recent season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, the character of Eddie is hiding at his pot dealer’s house after wrongfully being suspected of murder. The show’s protagonists are then able to figure out where Eddie is hiding by finding out the address of the house through the movies that his dealer rented from a local video store.

So what movies did this mysterious drug dealer named Reefer Rick rent that made the characters know that they had the right house? Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie, Cheech & Chong’s Nice Dreams, and Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke; all of which are movies considered to be Stoner Films.

Stoner film is a subgenre of movies, which like a lot of subgenres, has different definitions depending on who you’re asking. Obviously, you watch anything while high and consider it to be a stoner film, but normally stoner films are considered to be movies that are about stoners or at least involves characters that smoke pot or other recreational drugs during the movie and/or movies where marijuana is a key element of the plot.

A stoner film is normally a light-hearted comedy and many can go into the absurd with their style of humor, but some can get more serious at moments in order to further the plot. Today, we’re going to go through six modern classics of this genre and whether or not they’re worthy of watching when lighting up.

Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978)

One of the first movies to be considered a stoner film is the previously mentioned Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke, starring the iconic comedy duo. As you might expect for one of the first films to be specifically about stoners, the studio did not have much faith in the project and denied the filmmakers the additional $800,000 it would cost to finish filming after going over budget, resulting in the crew needing to fund the rest of the movie independently.

Interestingly, the film contains various elements that would later be considered staples of stoner films in the coming years, the most noteworthy being that the film focuses on a duo who consider themselves to be good friends, despite their friendship constantly getting them into trouble

And as you would expect with a film starring Cheech & Chong, the two of them have great chemistry and do a good job playing off each other with Cheech as the straight man to Chong’s more stooge-like character.

When it comes to plot, the film breaks from the traditional three act structure and is less interested in the overarching story of them creating a band and more interested in the two of them getting into various high jinks along the way, which plays in the film’s favor as it’s not a movie that’s here to tell you a story, but a movie to make you laugh at the cartoony high jinks, including our heroes unknowingly being chased by DEA agents while driving a truck made entirely of weed, leading to Roadrunner/Wile E Coyote style shenanigans.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

In a slightly different direction of stoner films, we have Dazed and Confused. Unlike many other stoner films, Dazed and Confused is not about a buddy duo but is still a story about friendship and doing drugs.  While Cheech and Chong are very clearly adults in their films, this one is about the kids.

This coming-of-age ensemble tells the story of some high schoolers on the last day of school doing what high schoolers do: driving around while trying to have a good time after their party gets busted by their parents with Ben Affleck’s character saying “Last day of school, no f-ing party, no f-ing nothing.”  As with many independent coming of age dramas, the teenage cast of characters are still able to do what we’ve come to expect from a teen movie; such as showing the rising freshmen the ropes, talking about not knowing what they want to do after graduation, and standing up to authority.

One of the best parts of the movie though is how real the characters feel due to Richard Linklater taking influence from his own experiences as a teenager growing up in Texas in the late 70s. And the soundtrack is unreal with one-sixth of the budget being spent on acquiring the rights to all the songs. If you’re a fan of independent coming of age stories, this is the right film for you. Though it is a little weird to have Matthew Mcconaughey’s character, who’s in his early 20s, hang out and flirt with high schoolers. 

The Big Lebowski (1998)

If we’re talking about prestigious stoner films, we have to mention The Big Lebowski. Considered to be one of the best films to be written and directed by the Coen Brothers, this film tells the story of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski: a self-described loser, deadbeat, and somebody the square community won’t give a shit about, that is placed in a fish out of water scenario after a case of mistaken that just keeps adding more and more layers as the story goes on. While we don’t see him smoke as much weed as the lead characters in other stoner films, The Dude spends a decent part of the film just trying to vibe and bowl with his friends but ends up becoming a victim of circumstance and keeps being surrounded by the craziness caused by a bunch of awful people that are all obsessed with money.

While The Dude is very clearly the main character of the film, you could consider it to be about a duo as a result of his close friendship with John Goodman’s Walter, who is present in many of the key scenes and has a noteworthy impact on the plot. Like with most Coen Brothers films, the acting is all top notch with everyone fully committing to their roles, especially John Goodman who stated that he never had more fun acting in a movie and Jeff Bridges who would rub his eyes before filming to make his eyes appear bloodshot, wear his own clothes and his own Jellies sandals to make his attire feel more lived in.

They also have a good contrasting dynamic with The Dude being a pacifist and very laidback while Walter is a lot more violent and unhinged in his personality that results in the two of them, as well as Steve Buscemi’s Donny, getting into more trouble as the film progresses. Feel free to put this one on if you’re ever interested in finding out what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps (look it up).

Half Baked (1998)

A less prestigious but still beloved stoner film that is also from 1998 is the Dave Chappelle vehicle Half Baked.  The film tells the story of four childhood best friends that end up having to sell stolen experimental weed after one of them gets arrested for accidentally killing a police horse and they need money to bail him out. But as Chappelle’s character puts it, they’re not drug dealers, they’re fundraisers. Out of all the films mentioned in this article, Half Baked is clearly the most absurd and immature in its humor, but it definitely knows that and plays into it with various reoccurring gags such as the man who sleeps on their coach and the characters getting so high that they litteraly rise off the floor and start flying like Superman.

Overall, it’s a film that knows what it is and who it is for and Chappelle shows the potential he has a comedic talent, even if he himself was not satisfied with the end result compared to the original script. I do feel the need to mention that he has since gone on to unfortunately tamper his reputation due to his recent comments on the trans community, which can very easily tamper your enjoyment of the film.        

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Another less-than-awards contender that is considered to be a classic in the stoner film genre is Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. As the title suggests, the movie tells the story of two stoners named Harold and Kumar that get the munchies on Friday night and decided to take a short road trip to White Castle but keep running into obstacles when trying to complete their objective that would have seemed very easy on paper.

Like Dazed and Confused, the whole film takes place over the course of one day and we see the duo go through a lot of growth and stand up for themselves by the end of that day. In this case, Harold learns not to let his coworkers push him around anymore and get the girl of his dreams while Kumar learns to grow up and not blow off medical school interviews.

John Cho and Kal Penn have great chemistry together despite not meeting until a few days before the start of production and they do a great job of playing the titular duo, who have clearly been friends for years, possibly since childhood, and the actors really sell this dynamic. Despite having a very simple premise, the script is very well structured with a lot of running gags and subplots that all end up getting wrapped up in the end with a tight little bow, making the movie feel very complete.

The movie also had plenty of awesome cameos including Fred Willard, Anthony Anderson, Jamie Kennedy, Ryan Reynolds, Christopher Meloni, Malin Akerman, and the one and only Neil Patrick Harris who was able to successfully relaunch his career as a result. While some may just shrug it off as a shameless 90-minute ad, the filmmakers actually approached White Castle about the idea rather than the other way around and as a result, it doesn’t feel like an advertisement, it feels like a real movie that just happens to base its premise around a real life product. And come on, who doesn’t like White Castle?

Pineapple Express (2008)

When it comes to modern comedies, there are no bigger names than Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who along with producer Judd Apatow and director David Gordon Green made the stoner film, Pineapple Express.

The movie tells the story of a subpoena named Dale (played by Seth Rogen) and his friend/pot dealer Saul (played by James Franco) who have to go on the run after Dale witnesses Saul’s boss murdering a rival drug dealer.

Similar to Up in Smoke, the studio didn’t have much faith in a stoner comedy and ended up slicing the budget from $50 million to $25 million, only to have the film go on to gross $100 million. Once again, it’s another buddy-comedy, but it’s also considered to be the only action-stoner film with some well-directed fight scenes, car chases, and shootouts thrown in with the typical humor you expect from a stoner movie written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. And when it comes to the dynamic, Rogen and Franco play really well off each other based on the real-life friendship that the two of them had at the time.

When Saul is first introduced, he is shown to be a one-dimensional stoner that gets high on his own supply, but as the story progresses the audience discovers that he is a nice guy who cares for his grandma and has aspirations beyond being a low-level drug dealer. As well as the fact he is shown that he’ll do anything to protect his friend. But I personally am not the biggest fan of the subplot about Dale dating a high schooler, especially due to the real-life accusations and lawsuits involving sexual misconduct that James Franco has been facing in recent years.

If you come into this one expecting an Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg comedy about stoners produced by Judd Apatow, you’ll get exactly what you expect and while this style of humor has become less popular and considered more tiresome that it was fifteen years ago, it is clear that there was a lot of time, effort and heart from the people who helped put this together. 

As I already said, you can obviously watch whatever you want while you’re high and consider it to be a stoner film. You can watch nature documentaries while high, you can watch kids cartoons while high, hell, you can what anti-drug PSAs while high. But there is still something intriguing about watching movies about stoners while being stoned yourself.

Something that can feel relatable at times or something in a fantastical setting you can imagine yourself in. Something staring people that you can imagine being friends that you wouldn’t mind lighting up with. Something that only a stoner film could give you when you’re sitting on your couch with your buds while passing the bong and the people who made these films understand that.

AJ Favorito is a freelance writer, photographer, and filmmaker specializing in comedy and animation.