The Lebowski list
Light up with these great characters in stoner cinema
Whether it’s an early sound-era scare film like 1936’s Reefer Madness, Bob Hope joke about “making reefers” in 1942’s Road to Morocco, the reefers forced on Janet Leigh in 1958’s Touch of Evil or the reefer-smoking parents in Milos Forman’s 1971 English-language debut Taking Off, cannabis has a long and storied cinematic history that transcends the typical dopey pot comedy (and I haven’t even mentioned the 1986 horror film Class of Nuke ’Em High, in which toxic weed turns teen stoners into violent mutants). I enjoy jerk-gene comedies as much as anyone, so it is with sincere apologies to Messrs. Cheech and Chong, as well as Smokey, Kumar, Billy Madison, Jeff Spicoli, Sir Smoke-a-Lot and the kid who eats all the pot in the opening scene of Super Troopers, that I present this list of my favorite semi-serious cinema stoners.
Jeff Lebowski a.k.a The Dude (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski
This White Russian-swilling, bowling-obsessed, Creedence Clearwater Revival-loving, original Port Huron Statement-composing amateur shamus is such a no-brainer pick that this should really be called the Jeff Lebowski Memorial List. Jeff Bridges created one of the most indelible portraits of a lifelong pothead in this Coen brothers classic, but he won his Oscar a decade later for Crazy Heart because the Academy Awards are ridiculous and valueless, and we should all stop caring about them forever.
Sample stony dialogue: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, your opinion, man.”
Floyd (Brad Pitt), True Romance
Twenty-five years later, and Pitt has still never been better than in his four-scene turn as the stringy-haired, couch-locked pothead roommate Floyd in this adrenaline-fueled crime film directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino. Smoking weed out of a Honey Bear bong and registering just enough of the plot to stonily inform the film’s heroes, Floyd is simultaneously loathsome and loveable.
Sample stony dialogue: [Spoken to shotgun-wielding hitmen] “You guys wanna smoke a bowl, or …?”
Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), Jackie Brown
Another Tarantino-scripted stoner, this time a wake-and-bake, bikini-clad beach bunny and Helmut Berger appreciator whose only stated ambition is to get high and watch TV. Unfortunately, Melanie hangs out with some bad characters, and she even passes the bong to the man who will eventually be her murderer.
Sample stony dialogue: “Take your thumb off the carb.”
Captain Elias (Willem Dafoe), Platoon
Oliver Stone’s semi-autobiographical Platoon divided the American troops in Vietnam into boozers and stoners, with the former led by the psychotic Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) and the latter led by the noble Elias. Like Melanie, Elias also gets fragged by his own teammate, but rest assured that he’s “drunk as a monkey and smoking shit” up in heaven.
Sample stony dialogue: “Feeling good’s good enough.”
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s shaggy dog detective movie feels like it exists in largely the same milieu as Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. However, whereas Elliott Gould’s Phillip Marlowe smoked a cigarette in every single scene, Phoenix’s spacey but surprisingly capable private dick Doc Sportello ingests a variety of mind-altering substances, including copious amounts of marijuana.
Sample stony dialogue: “I’m only a light smoker.”
Danny Gopnik (Aaron Wolf), A Serious Man
Like any good Jewish boy, F Troop fanboy Danny just wants to get crazy high in the bathroom before his own bar mitzvah. After Danny makes a blurry attempt to read the Torah while baked out of his skull, things get weirder when the elderly Rabbi Marshak privately recites lyrics from a Jefferson Airplane song.
Sample stony dialogue: “F Troop is still fuzzy.”
Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
This underwater explorer is an example of a movie stoner archetype that gained traction in the late 1990s and early 2000s—the sad, pathetic, aging stoner. Think Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty or Michael Douglas as Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys, only this time through the stylized and wistfully depressive lens of Wes Anderson. Zissou gets the edge over the other middle-aged sad sacks due to his apparent love of David Bowie.
Sample stony dialogue: “Supposedly Cousteau and his cronies invented the idea of putting walkie-talkies into the helmet. But we made ours with a special rabbit ear on the top so we could pipe in some music.”
Marty (Fran Kranz), The Cabin in the Woods
An unusual example of the functional stoner, because even though he is labeled as “the fool,” it was Marty’s nonstop toking that made him immune to the machinations of ritual sacrifice. Besides, his travel coffee mug that telescopes into a mammoth bong makes for a pretty sweet setup.
Sample stony dialogue: “Statistical fact: Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees farther than they, and he will bind them with ancient logics.”
Jabba the Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward), Return of the Jedi
Alright, it probably wasn’t cannabis that the Tattooine-based crime boss was smoking out of that globe-sized glass pipe—the drug probably has some dumb, on-the-nose, Lucas-ian euphemism—but the squinty eyes, the inappropriate laughter and the excessive drooling provide enough evidence for adults to read between the lines.
Sample stony dialogue: “Fohtooh ma Solo kaychahlah.” (I told you this guy was blazed).
Danny (Ralph Brown), Withnail & I
Danny the drug dealer may break into the flat occupied by the struggling actor protagonists of Bruce Robinson’s 1987 comedy, but at least he rolls the boys a “Camberwell carrot,” a 12-spliff super-joint so named because Danny invented it in Camberwell and it’s shaped like a carrot.
Sample stony dialogue: “It will tend to make you very high.”
Dylan (Michael Chernus), Mistress America
The hairy and pretentious ex-husband of Greta Gerwig’s self-mythologizing Brooke, Dylan is the dictionary definition of a stoner poseur. He spends most of the sublime, screwball comedy midsection of Noah Baumbach’s criminally underrated 2015 film promising and then failing to deliver his guests a batch of freezer weed, but Lola Kirke’s Tracy is later seen smoking the stuff by herself.
Sample stony dialogue: “I just learned what case-sensitive meant, like seriously, yesterday.”
Diane and Steve Freeling (JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson), Poltergeist
An example of the sort of anti-drug hysteria that infected mainstream Hollywood in the 1980s. These hippies-turned-sellout suburban married couple watch A Guy Named Joe while she rolls a doobie and he reads a biography about Ronald Reagan. Naturally, a punitive poltergeist comes and swallows their youngest child.
Sample stony dialogue: “The 3-meter board, it’s like an air pocket, sweetheart. When you dive off the board, it’s like free-falling.”
George Hansen, Wyatt and Billy (Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper), Easy Rider
The prototypical getting-the-rookie-high scene, as cocaine-dealing bikers Wyatt and Billy share a fireside joint with Nicholson’s “square” ACLU lawyer. Fonda has said that the trio was smoking real marijuana in the scene, rather than the synthetic, non-psychoactive schwag usually ingested by actors playing potheads.
Sample stony dialogue: “Oh yeah, hey, like I’m stoned, you know, man, but like, you know … I saw a satellite, man, and it was going across the sky and it flashed three times at me and zig-zagged and whizzed off, man.”