I’ve never considered myself much of a smoker. I will fire up the occasional celebratory cigar from time to time, but never got into smoking cigarettes. Not that I didn’t try them when I was a teenager in the late 80s. I had a hideout with the neighbor kid where we smoked cigarettes that he swiped from his dad. We pretended we were “cool” by emulating smokers we had seen on movies or TV. We would practice different ways to smoke, how to hold the cigarette, and cool ways to carry your pack.
For me, it wasn’t about peer pressure from my friend that made me want to try smoking. The urge came more from seeing some of my favorite characters light up in movies or TV shows. Even today, I wonder if I met one of them in a bar or restaurant if they would find me interesting enough to hang out. I know I’d have the urge to join them in smoking to make a good impression. And probably after I took a couple drags, they would be asking for the check while I’m coughing like I just came from the set of Backdraft.
Smoking on camera has decreased over time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice when characters light up. Here’s my list of movies and TV shows that make me want to fire up a cigarette.
You can’t watch Mad Men and not want to smoke (and drink.) The black and white silhouette of Don Draper on the couch holding a cigarette in his outstretched arm is enough for me.
The whole cast including the women smoke to accurately depict the American culture of the 60s. And if you imagine yourself living in the decade as I have many times while watching the show, you also probably wonder why the respirator business isn’t a multi-billion dollar industry.
Pretty in Pink
Steff has it all. He’s got money. He’s got influence over his friends. He’s got his pick of the girls at school. He also doesn’t care about smoking on school property. Hasn’t that always been a tell-tale sign of being cool?
When I saw someone carrying a pack in high school, they were living on the edge. But lighting up in the hallway or out front next to your car? Rebel.
With so much influence on pop culture, Miami Vice dictated what was cool in the late ’80s. By season 3, the fans spoke up to get Sonny Crockett to quit smoking, which he had done since his first appearance on screen. But throughout the first two seasons, it was ordinary to see Sonny pull out a cigarette, roll it across his lower lip, and fire it up.
The style in which he smoked was an extension of his character and his struggle to quit someday was even written into the show. In the episode “Nobody Lives Forever” Sonny mentions to his girlfriend Brenda about his smoking: “I gotta give these things up.” Brenda replies “that’s probably the least dangerous thing you do.” #BestLineEver
The Usual Suspects
There are several reasons why “Johnny Cigarette” should’ve been mentioned as a supporting actor in The Usual Suspects. First, I would start smoking tomorrow if I had the flicking accuracy of Redfoot. Not to mention, it takes skill to drop a lit cigarette on a trail of gasoline as shown at the end of the ship scene.
But cigarettes also play a part in (SPOILER ALERT!) Verbal Kint’s transformation into Kaiser Soze at the end if the movie. It’s not just the physical alteration but how he holds and smokes that first cigarette as the mysterious villain that adds so much to the reveal of his true identity.
Andrew Dice Clay
There wasn’t a smoker (or non-smoker) that didn’t attempt to emulate the behind-the-head puff when Andrew Dice Clay was at the peak of his popularity. Sure, it was part of his shtick, but it’s what he showcased at the beginning of each one his standup specials.
Even though we all knew it was a gimmick and part of the image he wanted to portray, we wanted to try smoking the way The Diceman did it.
A recurring plot point on Friends was Chandler’s inability to quit smoking. He definitely wasn’t the epitome of cool when compared to other characters on the show, but he gained a little respect by “living on the edge” and smoking when all the others hated it.
Bonus: High Fidelity
John Cusack did three things repeatedly in High Fidelity: make lists, break the fourth wall, and smoke cigarettes.
Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls) is the creator of Rediscover the 80s and loves to subject his two sons to cartoons, TV, movies, and music from the decade. Currently promoting a M.A.S.K. live-action movie script, he enjoys freelance writing about music & pop culture.