Lights, Camera, Smoke: Iconic Cigar Moments in Film

smoking a cigar by jay | Posted on April 16th, 2024

A swirl of smoke, a slow burn, the subtle aroma of cured tobacco – cigars hold a distinct place in cinematic history. More than just a prop, they are powerful visual tools used by filmmakers to communicate character, set a mood, and infuse scenes with unspoken meaning. Unlike the quick flicker of a cigarette, cigars command attention.

From the smoldering intensity of a mob boss to the celebratory puff of a hard-won victory, cigar scenes in movies resonate long after the credits roll. Let’s explore some of the most unforgettable uses of cigars on the big screen and analyze how they shape our understanding of the stories we watch.

The Godfather (1972)

 The pivotal meeting following Sonny’s brutal death is enveloped in tension and cigar smoke. Don Vito Corleone remains the sole figure without a cigar, highlighting his careful consideration while the other mob bosses puff away – their cigars mirroring the thick, uneasy atmosphere in the room. This scene demonstrates the shrewdness beneath Don Corleone’s calm facade, and uses cigars as a visual representation of the simmering conflict and veiled power plays within the mafia hierarchy.

Scarface (1983)

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) isn’t just smoking cigars, he’s practically devouring them. His relentless chomping mirrors his unbridled ambition and insatiable desire for power. Whether surveying his cocaine-fueled empire or facing his downfall in a hail of bullets, the cigar is a constant, a symbol of both his rise and his inevitable, extravagant destruction.

Goodfellas (1990)

In the world of Martin Scorsese’s mobsters, cigars are part of the uniform. Deals are made, stories are swapped, and hierarchies are subtly reinforced in a haze of smoke. Unlike Tony Montana’s flamboyance, there’s a deceptive normalcy to how cigars are used here. Yet, they still serve as silent markers of status and unspoken threats.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name is inseparable from his cigarillo. He rarely speaks, but the stoic set of his jaw, the weathered lines on his face, and the ever-present cheroot communicate all you need to know. That cigar symbolizes resilience, cunning, and an unwavering will to survive in the relentless landscape of the American West.

Wall Street (1987)

Gordon Gekko isn’t just a businessman, he’s a predator. His cigar isn’t just an accessory, it’s a weapon of intimidation. He brandishes it arrogantly, a symbol of his insatiable greed and the belief that wealth justifies any means. His infamous “greed is good” speech might as well have been delivered through a cloud of cigar smoke.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Al Pacino’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade is a study in contrasts. His boisterous tango scene and fiery outbursts are unforgettable, yet it’s the quieter moments that often linger. Cigar in hand, Slade grapples with his blindness, the weight of the past, and the bittersweet yearning for a life he can no longer fully experience. The cigar becomes a tangible connection to the world, a sensory link to a vibrant life now shrouded in darkness. More than just an accessory, it’s a symbol of both his defiance and his profound vulnerability.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

This stylish remake celebrates the swagger of a perfectly executed heist. George Clooney’s Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt’s Rusty Ryan lead a crew dripping with cool confidence, and their victory celebrations wouldn’t be complete without smooth drinks and meticulously chosen cigars. Here, the cigars are less about individual character depth and more about the sheer joy of success. They represent the well-deserved rewards for pulling off the impossible – they’re the cherry on top of a meticulously crafted plan.

A Few Good Men (1992)

In this courtroom drama, Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup delivers his infamous “You can’t handle the truth!” monologue with quiet intensity. Yet, throughout the scene, he deliberately toys with an unlit cigar. It’s a subtle display of power, a reminder that he holds the upper hand despite being on trial. The unspoken threat inherent in that gesture speaks volumes about his character.

James Bond films (1962 – present)

The suave British spy is often associated with martinis and fast cars, but cigars have a recurring presence in the franchise. Whether used to blend in with high rollers or as a cleverly disguised gadget, a cigar fits seamlessly into Bond’s world of sophistication and intrigue.

Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson’s clever and stylish whodunit offers subtle yet effective uses of cigars. Famously, detective Benoit Blanc (played with flourish by Daniel Craig) employs a cigar throughout his investigation of the Thrombey family’s secrets. Unlike traditional cinematic portrayals where the cigar screams power, in Blanc’s hands, it becomes something quite different. He holds it delicately, puffs thoughtfully, and allows the smoke to linger as he analyzes testimonies, unraveling lies. The cigar isn’t a symbol of Blanc’s authority, but rather a tool of his deductive process, the smoke mirroring the swirling clues and hidden motives he’s piecing together.

Cape Fear (1991)

Martin Scorsese’s remake of this psychological thriller features a terrifying performance by Robert De Niro as the vengeful Max Cady. Cady’s cigar isn’t merely an accessory – it’s a weapon in his sadistic game of cat and mouse with lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) and his family. The slow, deliberate way Cady chomps on his cigar mirrors his predatory nature, the constant smoke becoming both a taunt and a lingering threat. It’s a visual reminder of Cady’s relentless pursuit, the ever-present smoke symbolizing the encroaching danger he represents.

Beyond the Smoke

Cigar scenes in movies do more than just add a touch of visual flair. They serve as reminders of the enduring power of symbolism in storytelling. Whether evoking a sense of power, danger, celebration, or simply adding to the gritty ambiance of a scene, cigars leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

The next time you watch a classic movie or even a recent release, keep a watchful eye out for those subtle puffs of smoke. You might be surprised at how much they reveal about the characters, the world they inhabit, and the story the film wants to tell.

smoking a cigar


Self proclaimed cigar expert. I've been smoking since 2010. I've practically lived at a cigar lounge from 10am to 10pm and trying every new cigar that came out for years.

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