5 best stoner movies to watch on 4/20

Kal Penn and John Cho in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
(Image credit: Alamy)

Although it’s not an official national holiday, 4/20 has become a popular day to celebrate everything about cannabis, especially given the increased legalization of marijuana across the United States. You don’t have to be a dedicated pothead to participate in 4/20 activities, either. Cannabis culture is just as much about a particular lifestyle as it is about actually partaking, as demonstrated in the robust subgenre of the stoner movie.

The best stoner movies don’t just involve characters smoking pot all the time, instead focusing on the attitude and worldview that goes along with the stoner lifestyle. Even if you’ve never lit up a joint in your life, these movies can bring simple joys and deceptively profound revelations. Here are five great stoner movies to stream on 4/20, whether you’re sober or high.

‘The Big Lebowski’

One of the Coen brothers’ best movies, “The Big Lebowski” is a shaggy comedic mystery about an unlikely detective of sorts, Jeff Bridges’ laid-back stoner Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski. The Dude just wants to smoke a joint, go bowling and hang out with his friends, but he’s plunged into a bizarre underworld after a group of criminals mistake him for the title character, a wealthy businessman.

The Dude’s subsequent efforts to replace his stolen rug lead him to a series of strange encounters, which he approaches with the same bemused affability he brings to his bowling matches. The Coens’ filmmaking ingenuity, with tributes to vintage noir, enhances the absurdist humor, and the Dude is one of their most memorable creations. It’s no surprise that the movie has spawned both fan conventions and academic treatises on its philosophical content.

Watch on Hulu

‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’

A simple plan to get some delicious cheeseburgers turns into a hilarious, mind-bending odyssey in this stoner comedy classic, which introduced another iconic duo to join the likes of Cheech and Chong and Bill and Ted. John Cho and Kal Penn play the title characters, roommates and best friends who decide to unwind after a stressful week by smoking a little weed, then naturally get a craving for some of White Castle’s tiny burgers.

Satisfying that craving proves unexpectedly difficult, with obstacles including cops, wild animals and a deranged Neil Patrick Harris (playing himself). Cho and Penn have excellent chemistry as supportive friends on very different life paths, and the movie subverts audience expectations about both stoners and Asian Americans. Their later adventures may be uneven, but Harold and Kumar’s first movie is delightfully weird and unexpectedly heartwarming.

Watch on Tubi

‘Smiley Face’

Anna Faris gives the best performance of her career in director Gregg Araki’s underrated existential comedy. Faris plays Jane F, a stoner layabout and theoretically aspiring actress who’s more focused on getting high than on pursuing a career. After accidentally eating an entire plate of pot cupcakes, she faces the seemingly insurmountable challenge of completing a small list of basic tasks, from paying the electric bill to arriving on time for an audition — not to mention replacing the cupcakes that belonged to her roommate.

Araki and Faris turn that series of errands into a distorted metaphysical journey, mixing goofy lowbrow comedy with musings about the nature of the universe. The supporting cast includes memorable appearances from John Krasinski, Adam Brody and Jane Lynch, but Faris carries the movie with Jane’s mix of comedic obliviousness and off-kilter insights.

Watch on Freevee

‘Inherent Vice’

Thomas Pynchon’s novels are known for being difficult, sometimes confounding reads, and the plot of this Paul Thomas Anderson adaptation is almost entirely inscrutable. But that’s part of the point, since it’s told from the perspective of perpetually stoned beach bum Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a struggling private investigator drawn into a labyrinthine conspiracy by his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston).

Shasta is just one player in a sprawling, multifaceted operation that takes Doc across Los Angeles, often pursued by an aggressive LAPD detective (Josh Brolin). Anderson captures the hazy vibe of Doc’s constant high, placing the audience right alongside him through one baffling encounter after another. The sheer impenetrability of “Inherent Vice” is key to its appeal, creating a surreal and often very funny head trip.

Watch on Paramount Plus

‘Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical’

Produced as an anti-marijuana propaganda film in 1936, “Reefer Madness” later found a cult following among stoners and midnight-movie aficionados amused by its over-the-top hysteria. Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney didn’t even have to exaggerate that hysteria all that much for their “Reefer Madness” parody stage musical, which was adapted back into film by original stage director Andy Fickman.

Alan Cumming plays multiple roles, including the devious traveling fearmonger who brings “Reefer Madness” itself to a small town, riling up local parents about the supposed dangers of marijuana. Murphy, Studney and Fickman highlight the dishonesty of his message with grand, ridiculous musical numbers and over-the-top performances from Kristen Bell, Ana Gasteyer and Steven Weber. The more that smoking pot supposedly ruins the characters’ lives, the more fun the movie is to watch.

Watch on Prime Video

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.