In American Ultra, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a small town cashier who is in actuality a CIA-trained killing machine. The movie, which also stars Kristen Stewart, combines elements like fast-paced fight choreography, a cat and mouse game, and an amnesiac super spy protagonist, all seemingly lifted straight out of a Jason Bourne movie, along with several tenets of another cinematic staple: the stoner comedy. American Ultra loves its weed, as shown when Eisenberg's character, Mike Howell, smokes constantly, to the point where some might say it's his character's defining characteristic (at least at first). But the stoner humor runs deeper than just a few jokes about marijuana. By taking every pothead's worst nightmare, the idea that the government is actually after them, and making it not only true but so involved that Howell learns he isn't even who he thinks he is, the movie may have created the first existential stoner comedy.
Howell isn't just looking at his hand through THC-affected eyes and wondering why clouds exist; he's living out the most insane bad trip in real time. But to get to this point in stoner comedy evolution, a lot of movies had to break ground first. Here are 11 stoner comedies that helped pave the way for American Ultra, so relax, man, and check out these dank clips.
1. Cheech And Chong's Up In Smoke (1978)
This is the movie that basically started the stoner comedy genre, and it remains influential today. The characters' voices, the giant joint, the jokes — even if you've never seen the movie, you're familiar with it. Cheech and Chong went on to appear in a bunch of pot-fueled movies, but this first effort remains their best.
2. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
More of a coming-of-age comedy than a straight up stoner film, Fast Times still features future Oscar winner Sean Penn as a ridiculous stoner surfer dude, creating a new stereotype in the process.
3. Dazed And Confused (1993)
Another coming-of-age comedy, this '70s-set film features pot use as an integral part of its plot. It also remains Matthew McConaughey's most iconic role, McConaissance be damned.
4. Friday (1995)
Before the story of Ice Cube's life was destroying the box office in Straight Outta Compton , the rapper/actor was making a name for himself alongside Chris Tucker in this film chronicling a day in the life of two stoner slackers. Bye, Felicia.
5. Half Baked (1998)
Before they gave us Chappelle's Show, Neal Brennan and Dave Chappelle wrote this very funny stoner flick. The movie was not successful upon release, but it's since become a cult classic that every stoner worth his/her salt(y snacks) has seen.
6. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Who says stoner comedies can't have pedigree? The Coen Brothers wrote and directed this high-concept (get it?) crime film about a guy named "The Dude," played by Jeff Bridges. This is a stoner comedy for grown ups.
7. Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)
Granted, you're probably going to have to be high to make it all the way through this movie, but has there ever been a better stoner casting job than Seann William Scott and Ashton Kutcher?
8. Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)
The movie's plot, which centers around a couple of stoners' quest for late night munchies, is pretty standard fare, but when you consider that two Asian Americans were cast in the leads, the film becomes downright revolutionary.
9. Grandma's Boy (2006)
Adam Sandler hasn't really starred in a true stoner comedy, but he did produce one starring all his buddies. And while most stoner comedies feature protagonists who are unemployed, Grandma's Boy's star is gainfully employed... at a video game company. It's like the ultimate fantasy come true.
10. Pineapple Express (2008)
This Seth Rogen/James Franco/Judd Apatow collab probably provides the strongest link to American Ultra of all, given the way it mixes extremely violent action with its ganja-influenced humor.
11. Reefer Madness (1936)
This propaganda film railing against the dangers of the demon weed isn't technically a stoner comedy, but it's easily the funniest movie on this list. Plus, since it's part of the public domain, you can watch it for free!
So there you have it, the evolution of the stoner comedy across the generations. I recommend watching all of these classics in quick succession before checking out American Ultra, and doing so while stoned out of your mind (only where legal, of course).
Images: Lionsgate Films