Hollywood Flashback: Cheech and Chong's 'Up in Smoke' Had Hollywood Seeing Green in 1978

Up in Smoke Still ONE TIME USE - REX - H 2018
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The pot film — which released on Blu-ray on 4/20 — had a positive influence, says Chong: "We brought the image of the Chicanos out of the gang era. Before us, you'd only see them on TV as zoot-suiters and gang members."

The Hollywood Reporter and the Catholic Church had different takes on 1978's Up in Smoke. THR called the comedy starring Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong "the most amusing pot movie since Reefer Madness," while the church said the Paramount release was "morally objectionable in toto" and described Smoke as an "utterly mindless comedy about two California potheads" filled with "witless cliches about the pleasure of the drug culture."

Despite the ecclesiastical condemnation ("Thank God we didn't have to depend on the Catholic Church to pay our rent," says Chong today), the comedy became one of the year's biggest hits. During its first month in release, Smoke and Universal's Animal House accounted for 23 percent of box-office revenue. The $994,000 production ($3.8 million today), released during Paramount's Barry Diller/Michael Eisner regime, had a domestic gross of $44 million ($168 million currently). This for a film with a plot THR distilled as "a day in the life of two spaced-out freaks as they set out to score some weed."

Smoke is now set to earn more revenue with the Blu-ray release (timed to coincide with "4/20" day) of the 40th anniversary edition. "What makes the film work is that Tommy and Cheech were really, really funny," says Lou Adler, who was the duo's manager and made his directorial debut on the film. While pot smoking was endemic to the plot, Chong, now 79, sees the film as having a positive influence. "We brought the image of the Chicanos out of the gang era," he says.

"Before us, you'd only see them on TV as zootsuiters and gang members." One enduring myth listed on IMDb is that Ellen Barkin made her uncredited film debut in Smoke as Woman Playing Guitar. The actress has said this is incorrect but wants the credit to remain because "it's too cool."

This story first appeared in the April 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.