Coen Brothers with Cigars

Do the Coen Brothers Actually
Work for Big Tobacco?

by Jamie Alan Miller // Posted on July 4, 2017

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this website are the author’s alone and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Coen brothers, any other person, company, or any other entity.

Preface: Tobacco advertisements were banned on television & radio broadcasts beginning in 1971 and a new Surgeon General’s warning was being placed on cigarette packs starting in 1984, same year the Coen brothers made their first feature film. With all of the new warnings and growing health concerns, the climate at the time was becoming rather hazy for Big Tobacco so many new and creative advertising strategies were probably being discussed.

Say Goodnight to Hollywood

I love movies. Like many people, I am constantly being amazed by the magic of Hollywood and the silver screen. But just like me, you have probably noticed a lot more cigarettes & cigars appearing in mainstream films and television shows lately. Not only that, these unhealthy tobacco products are becoming more than just a random occurrence — cigarettes are being delicately woven into the fabric of our favorite movies. Carefully written into character behaviors and arcs throughout a film, these unnecessary props are constantly being brought to the forefront of onscreen entertainment.

Nearly everyone on the planet knows who the Coen brothers are. Joel & Ethan Coen are well known for their many hilarious and inspired films which have ultimately been seen by millions of people. In turn, the Coen brothers have likely inspired thousands of young actors and directors to follow in their glowing filmmaker footsteps. The Coen brothers are so popular these days that their movies have even spawned a television series (Fargo which appears on the FX channel) and a traveling festival (known as Lebowski Fest and reaching a worldwide cult-following much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Obviously the Coen brothers are a household name, their popularity has been rocketed into the stratosphere, and any actor would likely give up internal organs to work with them. It seems that the Coen brothers’ goofy, innocent movies have gotten them quite far in the world. However, are the Coen brothers’ films really that innocent after all?

Number of Tobacco Incidents in Films by Coen Brothers

Like me, you have probably noticed there was always something “special” about the Coens’ crafty pictures that other popular feature films just don’t ever seem to match. Beyond the amazing cinematography, wacky character actors, zany dialog and unexpected plot twists, you probably noticed something very peculiar about the movies made by the Coen brothers. Like everyone else, I found myself puzzling over each and every movie they make. Just like many other viewers, though, I could never nail down what exactly it was that millions of people were responding to. Well let me nail it down for you.

One day after watching several of the Coen brothers’ films in a very short period of time, a strange and bewildering thought suddenly popped into my head.

“New shit has come to light,” as Dude says in The Big Lebowski (1998).

What suddenly struck me one day was that every single one of the Coen brothers’ 17 feature films gives a subtle nod to tobacco products in some way or another. Many of the best Coen brothers’ movies might as well be called “tobacco commercials” because they are overflowing with cigarettes and cigars. I mean, some of the Coens’ pictures are so littered with tobacco products that you really have to wonder about these guys… Like, do the Coen brothers actually work for Big Tobacco?


Yeah, I said it. And I already know what you’re thinking… Aren’t cigarettes displayed in lots of Hollywood movies simply as props or product placement deals and nothing more sinister than that?

Well, yes and hell emphatically no, in my opinion. These million dollar Hollywood film directors such as the Coen brothers basically have “carte blanche” when it comes to writing their screenplays, designing sets, picking props, filming, and ultimately editing every single frame of their own films… They have unlimited budgets and complete creative control, so why are cigarettes still appearing everywhere, even throughout the Coen brothers’ most recent movies? Are secret Big Tobacco agendas being carried out over the Coens’ long career or do Joel & Ethan Coen really love cigarettes that much?

You might be still be wondering why I chose to focus on the Coen brothers specifically… Why not Scorcese, Tarantino, or David Lynch? Hey, I enjoy their films just like everyone else. Some of the Coen brothers’ pictures I had absolutely treasured… Until now, that is.

Imagine my feelings when I am always enjoying the Coens’ newest movie at the same time I am disgusted by the hundreds of appearances of unnecessary tobacco products. I just can’t overlook it anymore. I mean, can’t the Coen brothers work some other brand name products into their award-winning motion pictures? Some might say it’s just a product placement thing and every filmmaker does it to pay the bills. But the Coens rarely feature Coca-Cola or Chevrolet to pay the bills. Of all the things you could put in your movies to pay the rent… The only thing the Coen brothers seem to feature consistently is tobacco. Come to think of it, I don’t ever remember seeing a pair of naked woman titties in any of the Coen films. Joel & Ethan really do seem to have a strange, undying allegiance to cigarettes. It’s as simple as that.

While originally watching some of the Coen brothers’ films years ago, I guess I had noticed a few cigarettes, cigars, or a pack of smokes appearing here and there, merely embedded as texture, but the absolute truth and what I have recently discovered in macro detail is that nearly every one of the Coen brothers’ 17 feature films is completely littered with tobacco products.

The exact number of tobacco products may even astound you. Since their very first feature film, the Coen brothers truly seem to have an unnatural focus on cigarettes, cigars, ashtrays, rising smoke, lighters, etc. I mean everywhere you look (if you actually look closely) there is a smoker or an ashtray peeking out from behind or beside something. Seriously, EVERYWHERE! Foreground, background, celebrity, extra, historic, modern, you name it, you got it. This goes way beyond simple realism or texture. Essentially anything that represents or glamorizes tobacco in some way has been cleverly embedded into the films of the Coen brothers.

A cigarette to calm your nerves, a cigar to celebrate with the big boys, that well worn spot in a rear denim pocket where that same old tin of chewing tobacco lives, a long tobacco pipe hanging randomly above the counter inside of a hunting store, etc, etc, etc. And ashtrays, hundreds and hundreds of dirty, dirty ashtrays. And lighters. Lots and lots of fucking Zippos and other decorative lighters. Trust me, the tobacco-related shit is everywhere. If you just never noticed, you simply haven’t been paying attention.


Everyone knows the distinct sound a Zippo brand lighter makes. That signature “clink” is distinctly heard and seen in at least five of the Coen brothers’ films. The famous lighter also happens to be featured as a “red herring” in the Coen’s very first film Blood Simple (1984) when a man’s custom engraved Zippo lighter is left at the scene of a murder. Yikes!

I’ll say it again… The Coen brothers really do seem to have an overwhelming allegiance to Big Tobacco. Just look at the Coens’ 17+ films to date. It’s actually alarming to think about, but some of the Coen brothers movies have so much tobacco embedded it is seriously appalling. In my estimation, the Coen brothers have probably spent countless hours trying to figure out how to embed tobacco & related paraphernalia within their films in ways that might seem completely natural to the plot, location, or the time period they are actually depicting.

Whether the Coen brothers’ ultimate goal is to sell more cigarettes, convert audience members into smokers, pay the bills, pay tribute to the so-called golden age of Hollywood, or just make tobacco use seem more commonplace in today’s health-conscious society, the Coen brothers seem to go awfully far out of their way to display smoking in their feature films, not to mention their other published works. At the very least, every single one of the Coen brothers’ 17 films warmly portrays a cigarette… or two hundred.

So maybe the Coen brothers aren’t just a couple of goofy film-loving brothers out to make some innocent movies after all. But could it really be true? Do the Coen brothers actually work for Big Tobacco? If you know who the Coen brothers are then you know that what I’m saying here is a rather serious indictment. Well, even I’ll admit that my idea seems pretty far fetched, but keep reading and you’ll discover over 4,000 reasons as to why it really could be true.

Continue reading…