Top 10 Shows That Feature Smoking Main Characters

Since the early days of cinema, Hollywood has had a strong association with smoking. Even in contemporary films and TV shows, characters are often depicted lighting up. But why is smoking so prevalent on screen?

The truth is, that smoking wasn’t always perceived as a harmful habit. In the early 1900s, advertisements actively promoted smoking, sometimes even featuring doctors endorsing the health benefits of tobacco products. Tobacco companies played a significant role in sponsoring TV shows, paying hefty sums to have their products strategically placed to influence viewers’ purchasing decisions. That’s probably the reason why the most badass characters in movies are always lighting up a cig. Here are our top 10 movies where the main character is a smoker.

1. Mad Men

The ad agency drama Mad Men from 2007 is set in the 1960s, when smoking was widespread. It was normal for people to smoke in a variety of settings, such as movie theaters, restaurants, airports, and hospitals. Cigarettes came to represent the era’s way of life. The actor who plays Don Draper, Jon Hamm, smoked an astounding 74 cigarettes during the course of filming just the pilot episode. In those times smoking wasn’t merely a habit but a symbol of power, allure, and societal norms.

2. The Sopranos

James Gandolfini famously portrayed the iconic role of the cigar-loving Tony Soprano. Interestingly, the part came naturally to the late Gandolfini as he was a longtime cigar admirer himself. Gandolfini indulged in smoking three to four cigars per week, finding solace in the ability to unwind for 45 minutes without a worry in the world. Hence this is the reason why this role felt so natural for him, smoking is an integral part of his character in the Sopranos representing masculinity and power.

3. Fight Club

In the 1999 film Fight Club, Brad Pitt stars as Tyler Durden, a character who constantly smokes throughout the movie. This portrayal reflects the character’s disillusionment with life and his apparent indifference towards his own well-being. Another notable character from this movie is Marla Singer, played by Helena Bonham. She can also be seen smoking throughout the majority of her scenes.

4. The Umbrella Academy

The violent 2019 Netflix series The Umbrella Academy includes smoking in every single episode. The show follows a group of adopted superheroes as they attempt to avert the apocalypse. While the characters face stressful situations, some viewers question whether smoking needs to be depicted in the majority of scenes. When it comes to the main characters of this series, Klaus Hargreeves played by Robert Sheehan definitely takes the spotlight.

5. Peaky Blinders

In the gritty world of post-World War I Birmingham, Thomas Shelby, played by Cillian Murphy and his family run the most vicious local gang, the Peaky Blinders. Thomas Shelby and his gang members are rarely seen without a cigarette, using it as a symbol of their rebellious spirit and disregard for authority. Interestingly, it’s estimated that over 5000 cigarettes were smoked on the show. While they were smoking horrible or “fake” cigarettes it is still an outstanding number.

6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

A 1998 classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, depicts Hunter S. Thompson, played by  Johnny Depp, managing his daily affairs while on an array of drugs and still achieving his goals. Watching Johnny Depp with an iconic cigarette holder and smoke in his mouth throughout the entire movie is both funny and alluring. Smoking certainly has its risks, but if you live as recklessly as the main character (Hunter S. Thompson) did, it seems he had far more exotic ways of meeting his demise.

7. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

This romantic comedy from 1961 is really sophisticated. It’s difficult to ignore Audrey Hepburn’s glitz when she smokes on screen. Her classic photo, in which she is shown holding a long cigarette holder, has come to symbolize the height of Hollywood glamor. This movie shows the more feminine side of smoking cigarettes and also helped Audrey Hepburn rise to fame as a fashion icon.

8. Pulp Fiction

Tarantino is well known for adding smoking scenes into his movies, and the 1994 masterpiece movie, Pulp Fiction, is no exception. In this comedy crime film Uma Thurman’s character, Mia Wallace, smokes without inhibition, with cigarettes symbolizing sexiness, danger, and allure. You probably saw the movie poster where Uma Thurman is lying on a bed, cigarette in hand, with pulp magazines and a handgun nearby!

9. True Detective

In the atmospheric crime drama True Detective, smoking adds to the noir aesthetic and existential themes of the series. Characters like Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, use cigarettes as a form of introspection. According to an interview with Michael Potts and Tory Kittles, who portrayed Detectives Gilbough and Papania respectively, McConaughey smoked real cigarettes during the interrogation scenes.

10. Grease

Released in 1978, Grease is a classic musical. The transformation of Olivia Newton-John’s character, Sandy, would not have been complete without the cigarette. Likewise, John Travolta’s character might not have had the same appeal without the presence of cigarettes. While they weren’t smoking real cigarettes the smoking scenes are irreplaceable making this musical a true masterpiece.

Is Smoking on Screen a Concern?

Times have changed and smoking cigarettes is now less socially acceptable than it was in the past. Increased awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco, coupled with changes in smoking laws, has led to a shift in how smoking is portrayed on screen compared to real life. However, we must admit that onscreen smoking can indeed give more depth to a character and also make some scenes more intense. While some may argue that scenes like this may encourage young people to start smoking or make it harder for smokers who are trying to quit, smoking is a personal choice and shouldn’t be picked as a habit by watching movies or shows.

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