This Sunday marks the unofficial stoner holiday of 4/20 — a term concocted by a group of Bay Area hippies some 20 years ago that has since gained recognition as an international smoke (up) signal. Not surprisingly, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay opens just a few days later. Thanks in part to the slow-building success of its predecessor, 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, which grossed a measly $18 million in theaters but had a huge cult following on DVD, stoner movies are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. April 25 brings the wide release of Guantanamo Bay, but also on tap is this summer’s Judd Apatow-Seth Rogen offering Pineapple Express, comedian Doug Benson’s documentary Super High Me (a twist on Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, only with pot substituting for the McDonald’s products), as well as indie dramas Humboldt County (starring Frances Conroy and Peter Bogdanovich) and The Wackness (a Sundance winner featuring Ben Kingsley and Mary-Kate Olsen). Factor in the popularity of Showtime’s Weeds along with pot scenes that play like gangbusters in hits like The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and you could almost say that stoner content has gone mainstream. We gathered a few of Hollywood’s pot-movie luminaries to shed light on why 2008 is shaping up to be the year of the stoner.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about films that you consider a part of the stoner-movie genre. What are your favorites?
SETH ROGEN (Pineapple Express): The single most influential weed movie for me and my friends was Friday. That movie came out when we were about 13 years old, and it was great. We would just quote it endlessly. It’s f—ng hilarious, and it holds up really well. But that’s a movie where you don’t have to love weed in order to watch it. I’ve seen Cheech and Chong movies and they serve their purpose, but they’re not good by any stretch of the imagination — there’s no real story or real emotions in any way, just a series of funny little skits, which is fine, but not something that I love watching over and over again.
DOUG BENSON (Super High Me): I’d say for the sheer quality and vibe of it, Dazed and Confused. Whether you watch it stoned or not, it really delivers. I saw it in the theater and it appealed on a Freaks and Geeks kind of level, where it was really funny and realistic, but also reminded you of the s—tier aspects of being a kid. The only thing that takes away from the stoniness of it is the hazing element, but it does sort of represent the way that stoners are treated in general. It’s amazing how many stars broke out of that movie. I think that’s part of the reason they did, because to be in something that good is a great way to start your career.
TOMMY CHONG (Up in Smoke): The one that stood out for me was Easy Rider. At the time, it was groundbreaking. No one had ever smoked a joint on screen before, so it had a major impact. The other stoner movies that came after we did ours just seemed like an imitation of Up in Smoke, which I take as a supreme compliment.
JON HURWITZ (co-writer/co-director, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay): The stoner comedies we watched the most were Half Baked and Friday. Dave Chappelle is brilliant in Half Baked, and it’s such a fun movie. And with Chris Tucker in Friday, when you saw him, you thought, “That guy’s a movie star.” And I believe it launched his career.
HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG (co-writer/co-director, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay): Also The Big Lebowski, though I don’t think of that as a stoner comedy. That’s a case where the guy happens to be a stoner, but it’s more of a generational comedy.
NEXT: ”With the stoners that we write, the fact that they smoke weed isn’t a big negative in their lives. Harold has a great job; Kumar can be a top doctor in a second if he wants to. It’s not marijuana that’s holding them back.”