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‘Cocaine Bear’ Is Based on a True Story of A Predator Who Ingested 218lbs of Drugs—Here’s If He Really Went On A Murderous ‘Rampage’

Also, what the drug actually does to a bear.
Cocaine Bear
Image: Pat Redmond /© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

It’s an easy premise: there’s a bear and there’s cocaine. What do you get when you mix them together? A thrilling horror-comedy directed by Elizabeth Banks. What may surprise most moviegoers is that Cocaine Bear is based on a true story.

Okay, there might be SOME differences between real life and the movie where a giant bear terrorizes innocent lives under the influence of a hard drug. But the facts are that in 1985 a bear accidentally took cocaine after a plane accident (more on that later).

The absurdity of the concept of Cocaine Bear actually placed the film high at the box office the weekend of its premiere. As Bloody Disgusting reported, it grossed $23 million domestically and $28.4 million worldwide during the movie’s opening weekend and is impressively right behind MCU Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

So what’s the deal with Cocaine Bear and its true story? Read more below to find out.

Is Cocaine Bear based on a true story?

Cocaine Bear
Image: Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Is Cocaine Bear based on a true story? Yes. The story of Cocaine Bear, or his nickname “Pablo Escobear”, starts off with a convicted drug dealer Andrew Thornton who died after a parachuting accident. It’s suspected by many that Thornton thought he was being chased by the FBI and threw out some of the 800 lbs of cocaine out of the plane. He later jumped out of the plane when his parachute malfunctioned. Thornton died as a result and was found in a driveway in Tennessee with about 77 lbs of cocaine, worth around $15 million, strapped on his body.

Sometime after the accident, a 175 lb black bear found some of the stache thrown off the plane in Chattahoochee National Forest. It was reported by the Associated Press that Medical Examiner Dr. Kenneth Alonso said that the bear had about three or four grams of cocaine in its bloodstream, although the bear could have consumed even more. Rumors circulated that the bear ate all 40 containers worth of cocaine, which would be about 235 pounds.

“The cocaine was apparently dropped from a plane piloted by Andrew Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler who died Sept. 11 in Knoxville, Tenn., because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting,” U.P.I. reported via The New York Times.

Instead of the murderous rampage that the fictional Cocaine Bear went through, the real Cocaine Bear simply died after ingesting so much of the illegal substance. “The bureau said the bear was found Friday in northern Georgia among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.”  The bear’s body and the bag were within 100 yards of three duffel bags holding a total of 218 pounds of cocaine. One of them which was empty. ″The question is: What happened to that duffel bag?″ Alonso said. ″The bear does not account for the full duffel bag.″

As for what cocaine can actually do to a bear, Complex consulted comedian and neuroscientist Jono Zalay about the effects of the narcotics on a huge animal like a bear. “Stimulants like cocaine are used to increase heart rate and blood pressure, dilate pupils, decrease appetite, and possibly increase sex drive.”

Why did they make Cocaine Bear?

Cocaine Bear
Image: Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

So, why did they make Cocaine Bear? The real question is: Why NOT? Screenwriter Jimmy Warden wrote the screenplay after diving through an Internet hole. He explained to IndieWire, “I was just scrolling through the internet, doing absolutely nothing, I should have been working probably, and I was sitting at my desk, not looking for a movie idea,” Warden said of his initial inspiration. “I was just like, ‘Fuck me, let’s just get through the day.’ And I found the story of Andrew Carter Thornton and the Cocaine Bear, and then I just couldn’t stop clicking on links. I was like, ‘OK, this has to be a movie.’” Warden told Variety, the film is not historical fiction but “my twisted fantasy of what I wish actually happened after the bear did all that cocaine.” The Babysitter writer also emphasized why he wanted to make it as gory as ever to The Hollywood Reporter,  “I think the goal in writing the script was: Don’t disappoint the audience. Don’t call the movie Cocaine Bear and then make it about the drug trade.”

Director Elizabeth Banks joined the project after reading about the whole ordeal as well. “I read this script in April 2020, when the world had come to a standstill and chaos was all around me. We were all wiping down our groceries and there were fires raging in California and I just thought, ‘Wow, there’s no greater emblem of chaos than a bear high on cocaine,'” she told Time. “Directing this film felt almost cathartic—I could tame the chaos a little bit. And more importantly, this is the movie I want to see. I want to go to the theater and have a communal experience. I want to be connected through laughter and horror and all of the things that we need to entertain us right now. I knew there was this really high-concept hook in the rampaging bear. But I also felt that the script offered incredible character stories. The combination of all these elements presented a challenge to me that felt like it was a really high degree of difficulty. But I knew that if I did it right it would become this very entertaining, heartfelt, fun, energetic movie.”

Cocaine Bear stars an all-star ensemble cast  Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale and Ray Liotta, before his death in 2022. The synopsis of the film goes: “This wild dark comedy finds an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converging in a Georgia forest where a 500-pound apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of cocaine and gone on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow … and blood.”

Cocaine Bear is now playing in theaters. Buy tickets here.

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