For years, filmgoers have decried that institutions like the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes give a cold shoulder to genre films like fantasy, sci-fi and horror. Now that films like Get Out, The Shape of Water and Lady Bird dominate the nominations, that doesn’t seem as true. But you know what still isn’t getting the recognition it deserves? Movies that are both fantastic in their artistic merits and also good to watched blazed out of your skull. These ten films are the best weed movies, and the best movies about weed, for the more distinguished stoner.
Ayahuasca ceremonies. Genetic devolution. Sensory deprivation tanks. Goat demon hallucinations. From the rock opera Tommy to bonkers spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, every Ken Russell trip could qualify as one of the best weed movies, but none encapsulate Russell’s psychedelic mind melding like Altered States.
William Hurt plays a scientist who wants to explore the recesses of the mind, perhaps discovering truths of human evolution lost in time. Using copious amounts of psychedelic drugs, the scientist succeeds, perhaps a little too well, punching a dangerous hole in reality. I want to know what Ken Russell was on, and more inquisitively what his producers thought he was on. Regardless, it sure did make for one of the best weed movies.
Speaking of directors whose entire catalog should be considered among the best weed movies, Richard Linklater is the stoner’s choice of director. A Scanner Darkly’s high dosage paranoia. Dazed and Confused’s memorable stoner koans. Some have refuted that while these movies have plenty of smoking, they aren’t some of the best weed movies to watch while smoking. That is not true of the Linklater film that’s as out of it as you are, Slacker.
A sort of Pulp Fiction about absolutely nothing, Slacker has the audience caught in the wind, floating through Austin, Texas and eavesdropping from one surreal conversation to another. Local bookstore conspiracy theorists, celebrity pap smear solicitors, a guy really mad at a typewriter. Comparable to HBO’s High Maintenance, what at first feels directionless begins to feel beautiful for hanging around. You could be doing something else with your time, but you aren’t, and because of that you get to see one of the best weed movies.
If there’s witchcraft and wizardry in old texts just keep in mind that, in many cases, it’s a kind of shorthand for tripping balls. Ben Wheatley’s period piece, one of the best weed movies, explores that train of thought with a surprising amount of grace and discipline. In the film, a group of English Civil War defectors make their way to a clearing where an alchemist believes a great treasure is hidden. To find this treasure will require much more than shovels and maps, but extensive use of the psychoactive mushrooms sprouting across the field. Things get weird. Things get violent. Everyone’s wearing big funny hats.
Part-Mad Men, part-Videodrome, Generation P is a surreal and captivating comedy about the advent of advertising in post-Soviet Russia. As Russia transitions out of communism, Babylen Tatarsky finds himself lost and living out of a bodega until a friend tells him that marketing is a gold mine. Companies like Coca-Cola and Panasonic are looking for experts on localising products, even though the country has no experts.
Tartarsky rises fast. And much like Don Draper’s hippy retreats in the final season of Mad Men, Babylen blows his mind and his industry with the use of psychedelics. Before he knows it, Tartarsky is creating mythology for more than just commercial products, engineering a nation with an otherworldly cabal.
Altered States wasn’t the first time a major studio tried to put the amorphous world of drug culture into words and pictures, creating one of the best weed movies. In 1967 schlock lord Roger Corman directed a screenplay written by Jack Nicholson (!!!) about, ostensibly, losing your mind on drugs. Peter Fonda plays an ad exec and divorcee who decides to try LSD with his lonely off hours, escaping surveillance of his supervisor Bruce Dern for a night on the town. The doped up Fonda lurks around LA nightclubs and laundromats as his brain melts from his ears. It wouldn’t be the last time Fonda found himself in a counterculture classic.
In his most acclaimed film, Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper and a returning Peter Fonda are bikers and drug smugglers riding from state to state. Hopper filmed his snapshot of limbo Americana as Kennedy was assassinated and the Manson family began operations, creating a visceral portrait of the sun setting decade. It is one of the most acclaimed films of the 60s and definitely ranks as one of the best weed movies of all time. All of the drugs were real so don’t let anyone hold your smoking habits against you.
In case you haven’t caught on, American culture was lost in an emotional haze during the 60s. Who better to portray meandering purpose than Robert Altman. The best Philip Marlowe mystery adaptation and certainly one of the best weed movies, The Long Goodbye sees Elliott Gould as Marlowe, the dirtbag detective. Returning home from fetching the one brand of food his cat likes, Marlow finds some cops waiting for him, informing him that his close friend is accused of murder. Pursuing a different missing persons case, Marlow wanders through LA’s upper crust and cannabis clouds looking for answers.
A spiritual successor to The Long Goodbye that’s a lot more explicit with the weed connection. Ok, it isn’t as good as The Long Goodbye. It isn’t Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film and it isn’t based on Thomas Pynchon’s best book. But, BUT, you get to see Josh Brolin cram fistfuls of weed into his mouth in frustration, which more than qualifies it as one of the best weed movies.
You could trip out all day long to Ralph Bakshi cartoons, but if I were to choose one, just one, for our best weed movies list it’d probably be Wizards. Bakshi’s most consistent film, Wizards is in a fuzzy fantasy world set two million years after an apocalyptic nuclear war. One of the sorcerers of this new landscape, Blackwolf, discovers Nazi propaganda and weaponry, arming his legions of goblins and ghouls for a new war. It can get pretty intense, but there are a lot, I repeat, a lot of good colors.
For all his obsession with madness and Hieronymus Bosch-like sensibilities, it’s any wonder why director and Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam didn’t tackle drugs earlier in his career. Though his overdue addressal sure was memorable. In a literalist interpretation of Hunter Thompson’s overstimulated recap of a motorbike race, Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro melt their way through the sleazy strip of Las Vegas, drinking, eating and smoking any narcotic and grapefruit they can get their hands on. Who can say if Gilliam’s weird world is the one Thompson actually tripped through, but it’s enjoyable as all hell, making it one of the best weed movies.