For as long as I can remember — which is really only as far back as age 13 because everything before that was just glitter glue and Nickelodeon shows — I have craved cigarettes.
There is this point that you get to when you’re mid-puberty where being alive is so inconvenient and every little thing that anyone does sends you on a spiral of anger and despair, that you simply do not know what to do with yourself. Do you throw a tantrum? Do you quietly run away from your house? Do you do so obnoxiously to prove a point to your idiot parents? You go through every possible scenario and weigh your outcomes.
After calculating this for a good minute, you realize that you are broke, under-qualified for most jobs and carless. You decide that it is best to just sit out on the roof and write poetry that your 20 year-old self will reread years later and physically cringe at. It was in these moments, where I felt so powerless and trapped, that I could literally taste the cigarette in the back of my mouth. Somehow, I was sure that smoking a cigarette would calm my nerves and quiet the screaming inside of my head. I had never had one and, yet, all I could think about was how good it must feel to be an adult and shamelessly smoke a cigarette when you’re upset.
Upon reflection, and after a now three-year long battle with a ruthless nicotine addiction, I have come to the conclusion that there could only be one reason that I had felt that way about cigarettes: movies. Movies make us think that people doing “bad” things, like slowly closing up your airways with burnt tar, is sexy and appealing. Unfortunately, I wholeheartedly agree (sorry Mom). Here are my Top 10 movies that, growing up, glamorized smoking and convinced me that if I did it, I would in fact be cool.
10. 101 Dalmatians
Even at age five, I was willing to admit that Creulla de Vil demanded and deserved respect. As wicked as she was, she was also wicked hot and wicked smart. Every movement she made was so sultry and fluid, and she knew exactly how to command a room’s attention. Walking around, in black Louboutins and a fur coat, holding a long cigarette in-between her perfectly manicured fingers on her way to go make a ton of money doing something shady and look good doing it — every girlboss’ dream. She is exactly what I want to be when I give in and decide to have a “villian” era because society says I have to.
9. A Streetcar Named Desire
Men were just hotter back in the 50s. Something about all that toxic masculinity and sexism really makes the grease-covered-tee-shirt-and-blue-jeans combo — well, intoxicating. Marlon Brando, in all his masculine, Italian glory, truly looks like an Adonis as he casually smokes a cigarette and drinks a beer inside the house. I think it goes beyond attraction, it’s jealousy; I wish that I looked that good drenched in sweat and without makeup, smoking a dart in the middle of a serious conversation.
8. Leon the Professional
A bit of a niche movie, I know. As a young theater-gay, I idolized Natlie Portman for beginning her acting career so early. As soon as I saw this film, I immediately connected with my emo 12 year old self, who fantasized being on the lam, tramping and wandering from place to place with no real purpose or responsibilities. Right after the opening scene, we see Natalie, who plays Matilda, in a black baby tee with a velvet choker and the ideal 90s bob, smoking a cig on the staircase outside her apartment while her family fights inside. She was fearless, strong and smart, beyond just having to learn how to be on her own and fend for herself. In an ideal world, this is exactly where I would’ve ended up and how I would’ve looked if my middle-school escape plan had panned out.
7. The Breakfast Club
Ah, yes. The movie that set the precedent for what getting detention in high school was supposed to look like: a bunch of really attractive kids goofing around, flirting and causing trouble. As soon as the teacher turns his back, the five delinquents pounce at the chance to somehow have fun on their stolen Saturday morning. One way of doing that is to sit around, smoke and have heart-to-hearts. Bonding with some distant classmates alone in the library while sharing a cigarette sounds like something that is quintessential to one’s human experience. Plus, the scene where Judd Nelson lights Molly Wringwald’s cigarette for her while maintaining intense eye-contact is the kind of romance that would leave even Shakespeare speechless.
Olivia Newton-John, thank you for teaching us that the best way to get back at your ex is by proving them wrong — and to look smoking hot while doing so. I identified so much with Sandy’s journey throughout the movie; I have definitely found myself trusting and falling for men (and women!) who had a veil of charm masking all their red flags. However, she valued herself enough to demand respect from him, and boy, did she ever. The way John Travolta watched her walk into the carnival in a vinyl jumpsuit, smoking a cigarette is the way I want everyone to look at me all the time.
I have always secretly hoped that when I am on a mission, I look as important and authoritative as Martin Brody does when he’s strutting around Amityville in his uniform, smoking a cigarette. Something about cigarettes makes people look wiser and more omnipotent, like they’ve been to hell and back and made it through without a scratch. As Brody stands there, inhaling smoke and assessing the situation, the famous line is uttered, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” I refuse to believe that scene would be equally as famous if the cigarette was not in it. It adds the perfect amount of edge and sexiness to a serious situation. Hollywood chef’s kiss.
4. Natural Born Killers
Many professional critics will disagree, but I believe this movie should be ranked up there as one of the artistic classics. The storyline is absolutely ridiculous, but all of the experimental cinematography and aesthetics of the film deserve more appreciation than they get. Mickey and Mallory Knox, the Romeo and Juliet of a dystopian version of the midwestern 90s, terrorize the desert with their red leather and machine guns. Something about them listening to Jane’s Addiction while barreling down the interstate with a hit list, smoking cigarettes is so appealing to that sick, twisted little piece of our bruised psyches that we don’t like to openly admit exists. Allow me to be the first: it exists I’m sick of hiding it, and it finds danger and cigarettes attractive. I’m self-destructive, what can I say?
I so badly want to be perceived like Winona Ryder as Veronica in this cult classic. She can run with the popular crowd, but still stay true to herself. She’s hot, but doesn’t spend a million years in the bathroom every morning putting on a face. She’s strong and assertive, but not aggressive. She is the paradigm for those who aren’t “like the other girls.” I wish that I could leave a chaotic situation as casually and calmly as she did; even though her hair was a mess, her clothes burnt and her skin covered in dirt, she had her cigarette, and that’s all that mattered.
2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Sometimes, when I feel like I’ve partied too much, I remember that Hunter S. Thompson actually conducted his day-to-day activities while being on a whole pharmacy worth of drugs, and was incredibly famous while doing so, and so I feel a bit better about myself. The way that Johnny Depp has a cigarette in his mouth for the entirety of this movie is the funniest thing ever. I don’t know if this movie really made me want to smoke cigarettes, but it definitely made it seem like, comparatively, smoking cigarettes really isn’t all that bad, and it’s pretty normal! I really should stop taking advice from movies….but this is my favorite movie, so it made the list.
1. The Outsiders
I just want the person I marry to look like a greaser. Rugged, adventurous, determined to defend their territory, greasers are known for loitering, being hot and smoking cigarettes. I first read the book when I was 13, and only recently did I find out that S.E Hinton was 16 when she wrote it, which makes sense why all the characters are so dramatic and egotistical, and why I was so drawn to the writing and aesthetics of it. In all seriousness though, if young Matt Dillon and Patrick Swazey with slicked back hair and jean jackets can’t convince you that smoking cigarettes is cool and sexy, I don’t know who can.