10 great cannabis films that aren’t dumb comedies

Dazed and Confused follows several teenagers on their last day of school in Austin, Texas, in 1976. Gramercy Pictures // Getty Images

There’s a unique pleasure to enjoying silly stoner comedies like Half Baked while under the influence, but critics don’t traditionally regard these movies as cinematic classics. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions to the rule.

To help you find some of these higher-brow cannabis films, Stacker surveyed the history of stoner movies, from Dazed and Confused to The Beach Bum, and picked 10 movies to spotlight due to their skillful filmmaking and unexpectedly thoughtful storytelling. IMDb user scores and Metascore provide context on popularity and critical reception.

Some of these movies, like Koyaanisqatsi and Waking Life, utilize unconventional filmmaking techniques to pose heady philosophical questions. Others, such as the cult-classic comedy Friday, combat negative stereotypes about Black Americans while simultaneously capturing the hilarious misadventures of kicking back with your best friend. Either way, you’re bound to have a good time no matter what state you find yourself in —there are plenty of stoner-friendly films worth a watch for high and sober moviegoers alike.

READ MORE: 10 pop culture moments that destigmatized weed

So sit back, relax, and read on to find out where your favorite artsy stoner movie ranks on this list of 10 of the best cannabis films that aren’t dumb comedies.

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

  • Director: Godfrey Reggio
  • IMDb user rating: 8.2
  • Metascore: 72
  • Runtime: 86 minutes

Koyaanisqatsi is the first installment in director Godfrey Reggio’s The Qatsi Trilogy, which encompasses three non-narrative films. Named for the Hopi word meaning “life out of balance,” the movie uses slow-motion and time-lapse footage to demonstrate how humanity has grown apart from nature through technology and modern civilization. If you tend to get existentialist when you’re high, Koyaanisqatsi is the cannabis movie for you.

READ MORE: What’s in a name? Deciphering the differences between joints, blunts & spliffs

Dazed and Confused (1993)

  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • IMDb user rating: 7.6
  • Metascore: 82
  • Runtime: 103 minutes

Dazed and Confused follows several teenagers on their last day of school in Austin, Texas, in 1976. From hooking up to confronting bullies to smoking a lot of weed, critics and audiences have praised the characters’ romp for their authentic portrayal of teen life. Richard Linklater’s classic also helped launch the careers of several movie stars, including Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey and Parker Posey.

Friday (1995)

  • Director: F. Gary Gray
  • IMDb user rating: 7.2
  • Metascore: 54
  • Runtime: 91 minutes

The stoner comedy Friday follows best friends Craig Jones (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker) as they deal with misadventures around their neighbourhood while rushing to come up with the money Smokey owes their local drug dealer. Co-screenwriters Ice Cube and DJ Pooh have been open about writing the film to challenge harmful tropes about the “hood” through more optimistic, free-wheeling laughs.

The box office success of Friday sparked two sequels: 2000’s Next Friday and 2002’s Friday After Next.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

  • Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • IMDb user rating: 8.1
  • Metascore: 71
  • Runtime: 117 minutes

When it comes to iconic stoner characters, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more high-profile than Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, the slacker at the center of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. The Dude’s laid-back existence quickly turns upside down after he’s mistaken for a millionaire with the same name and becomes entangled in a complex criminal scheme.

In recent years, the film has gained a loyal cult following, receiving praise for its eclectic dialogue, soundtrack, and well-realized, fantastical dream sequences.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

  • Director: Terry Gilliam
  • IMDb user rating: 7.5
  • Metascore: 41
  • Runtime: 118 minutes

Gonzo journalism icon Hunter S. Thompson was heavily involved in this film adaptation of his seminal 1971 stoner novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film stars Johnny Depp as an eccentric journalist and Benicio del Toro as his attorney as they cross the Mojave Desert with drugs in tow. While they dodge legal action, the two become increasingly under the influence.

Although Thompson’s book was once considered unfilmable, director Terry Gilliam managed to straddle the line between its fantastical stoner sequences and the reality of the main characters’ situation in magnificent psychedelic fashion.

Almost Famous (2000)

  • Director: Cameron Crowe
  • IMDb user rating: 7.9
  • Metascore: 90
  • Runtime: 122 minutes

Based on filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s real-life experiences writing for Rolling Stone as a teenager, Almost Famous follows young aspiring journalist William (played by Patrick Fugit) as he goes on the road with the fictional rock band Stillwater to write his first cover story. While viewers have plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to enjoy, Almost Famous also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, proving its poignant power.

Waking Life (2001)

  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • IMDb user rating: 7.7
  • Metascore: 85
  • Runtime: 99 minutes

Waking Life is one of Linklater’s most surreal films to date, making it a unique watch for those flying high and existentialists alike. The animated movie focuses on an unnamed man (Wiley Wiggins) who wanders through a series of dreamlike, abstract realities and converses with the people he meets about philosophy and humans’ place in the universe. While watching, viewers are encouraged to consider the deeper questions behind “Waking Life’s” psychedelic visuals.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • IMDb user rating: 7
  • Metascore: 73
  • Runtime: 100 minutes

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, A Scanner Darkly takes place in a future where large swaths of the United States population are addicted to a hallucinatory drug called Substance D while being subjected to dystopian, near-constant police surveillance. Keanu Reeves stars in the movie as an undercover cop who traverses the underworld of Substance D users and begins to lose his grip on reality.

Linklater and his team brought the story to life using rotoscope animation, an approach where animators trace live-action footage to create a hand-drawn style. The film provides an absorbing animation experience while questioning the nature of substance abuse and law enforcement oversight in the present day.

Inherent Vice (2014)

  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • IMDb user rating: 6.6
  • Metascore: 81
  • Runtime: 148 minutes

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, based on a 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, has the bones of a silly comedy but easily transcends the genre thanks to its intricate story, prestige production quality, and veteran ensemble cast. Joaquin Phoenix plays stoner private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello. Doc’s ex hires him to track down her wealthy new paramour, whose wife is conspiring to commit him to a mental hospital. Doc also handles two more potentially related cases as the movie progresses.

Featuring long, hazy sequences that fade into each other, Inherent Vice captures the feeling of being high while managing to dovetail between Doc’s overlapping cases.

The Beach Bum (2019)

  • Director: Harmony Korine
  • IMDb user rating: 5.5
  • Metascore: 55
  • Runtime: 95 minutes

IndieWire’s Christian Zilko once remarked, “If you haven’t seen (The Beach Bum) while stoned, it’s safe to see you haven’t seen it at all.” This A24 entry tells the story of stoner poet Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), who struggles to finish his next book following an unexpected loss. The movie’s ensemble cast includes iconic cannabis enthusiast Snoop Dogg and actor Isla Fisher.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

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