Watching Mr. Potter light a cigar for George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” marked the first time I recall being captivated by the powerful visual allure of a cigar. The way James Stewart puffed on it made it look utterly delightful. I was merely 7 at the time, yet even then, I sensed there was something truly special about it. George’s response, “That’s quite a cigar, Mr. Potter,” perfectly echoed my thoughts. It still brings a smile to my face when I think of how George eventually realizes that Mr. Potter’s orchestrated meeting, replete with a generous job offer, abundant flattery, and the exquisite cigar, was all a cunning scheme to remove George from his path. George vehemently rejects Potter, gives him a piece of his mind, and grasps that splendid cigar as he storms out of the office.
I don’t want to label this as my favorite cigar movie moment, but it’s certainly the earliest one I can remember. It ignited my young curiosity about the potential greatness of cigars. As I grew older, I began noticing cigars in movies more frequently, and I soon discovered the joy of watching my favorite films with a cigar in hand. It’s even more delightful when the film showcases a quality cigar on screen. Here are my top choices for moments when cigars make a memorable appearance in classic movies.
#5 Robert De Niro, Cape Fear
One cigar scene that left a lasting impression on me was in “Cape Fear,” where Robert De Niro, playing the recently released convict Max Cady, sits in the front row of a movie theater, puffing on a massive cigar. Clearly amused, Max bursts into uproarious laughter, exhaling voluminous clouds of smoke, much to the annoyance of fellow moviegoers. This scene effectively captures Max’s disregard for others and his newfound freedom.
#4 Hugh Jackman, X-Men/Wolverine
Fans of the superhero genre are well-acquainted with the rugged and irritable Wolverine, always poised for a fight, perpetually on the brink of anger—and almost always seen with a cigar. Hugh Jackman portrayed Wolverine with charisma, and the fact that Jackman himself is a cigar aficionado adds authenticity. My favorite Wolverine moment comes from “X-Men: First Class.” Set in the 1960s, a young Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, approach Logan at a bar, seeking to recruit him for their new school for mutants. Logan curtly interrupts their greeting with a blunt “Go fuck yourself,” returning promptly to his cigar and whiskey.
#3 Edward G. Robinson, The Cincinnati Kid
The blend of poker and cigars has always resonated with me. A superb poker movie, like “The Cincinnati Kid,” offers the perfect setting for both. The film is replete with captivating poker room scenes enveloped in cigar smoke. My favorite character, Lancey Howard, the 5-Card Stud master portrayed by the legendary Edward G. Robinson, stands out. Engaged in an exhaustive poker match against Steve McQueen’s titular character that spans through the night and into the next day, Lancey maintains his unwavering focus. Calm and confident, he continues to light cigar after cigar, securing victory with unmatched authority. His parting words, “You’re good, kid, but as long as I’m around, you’re second best,” linger in the air.
#2 Sylvester Stallone & Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator & The Expendables
I would be remiss not to mention the iconic action heroes portrayed by Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Their larger-than-life presence on screen is elevated further when they wield cigars. Whether Arnold, hunting an extraterrestrial predator in “Predator,” or Sly, confronting terrorists and warlords in “The Expendables,” cigars transform them into demigods. The smoke swirling from their stogies evokes an intensity that borders on fury. These cigars serve as their prelude to and solace after heroic exploits, embodying the spirit of cigar enthusiasts navigating their unique paths in life.
#1 Clint Eastwood, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The pinnacle of cigar portrayals in film belongs to Clint Eastwood in the timeless spaghetti western, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” This extends to the trilogy including “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More,” where Eastwood reprises the same character. However, the final film highlights the ethereal essence of the “Man with No Name.” This figure knows his capabilities and those of his adversaries. He is untrusting, ever-watchful for betrayal. Yet, his defining trait is rugged individualism. Despite partnering with allies in the trilogy, he always departs alone, his name shrouded in mystery. This enigma represents qualities men aspire to: unwavering, commanding, feared, respected, mysterious, independent, skilled with a gun, and forever accompanied by a cigar.
Cigars in film have an extraordinary power to enrich the depth of characters, transcending the boundaries of their moral alignment. As a devoted cigar enthusiast, I find myself drawn to the way cigars seamlessly integrate into various roles, becoming more than mere props—they become storytellers in their own right. It’s fascinating how the curling tendrils of smoke can mirror the enigmatic allure of an anti-hero just as easily as they can punctuate the quiet contemplation of a noble protagonist. With every exhale, a world of complexity and nuance unfolds, mirroring the intricate facets of the characters we’ve grown to love or loathe.