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The Story Behind Cocaine Bear and Its Franchise


On February 24th, a ridiculous horror-comedy movie hit theaters. Created by screenwriter Jimmy Warden and director Elizabeth Banks, “Cocaine Bear” follows a 175-pound bear that ingests cocaine followed by a bloody rampage. The movie stars Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Ray Liotta as they try to escape the wrath of the drugged bear. So far, the movie has sixty-nine percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a seventy-three percent audience score, which is shocking considering what the movie is about. 


Partially obtained through Banks' necessity in making the bear feel real even if it wasn’t. "It had to feel like a NatGeo documentary about a bear that did cocaine,” she told Variety. “It couldn’t be something silly. It couldn’t seem animated in any way.”


It also gained traction from an unexpected audience– PETA. PETA awarded the director, Elizabeth Banks with the “Beary Best” award, due to the film's use of human performers and CGI to create the deranged bear instead of trained live bears with handlers.


Believe it or not, the movie is loosely based on a true story. The true story, however, involves significantly less blood. In 1985, a duffle bag full of cocaine was dropped from a plane into the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, by drug smuggler Andrew Thornton. Instead of his partner picking it up later, a 175-pound black bear “died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug,” according to the United Press International statement that appeared in The New York Times


Not only did Thornton lose his cocaine, but he also lost his life. The known drug smuggler and former police officer was found dead the morning of September 11, 1985, in the backyard of a house in Knoxville, Tennessee, wearing a parachute and Gucci loafers. He also had several weapons on him and a bag containing roughly 35 kilograms of cocaine, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.

On the podcast Into It, Jimmy Warden reveals he first found out about this story on Twitter. “I was a couple of decades late to the party, but I found it on Twitter, and then I went down a rabbit hole where I couldn’t stop clicking links.” Warden was fascinated by the story and decided to write a screenplay. He admitted writing the script, he never thought it would be made into a movie, which freed him up “creatively to do whatever the hell [he] wanted.” To his surprise, it only took a couple of weeks to sell the idea to Universal. “They take swings, man. It’s pretty awesome to see.”

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