“Cocaine Bear” is one of those magical phrases that once you hear it, you need to know more. That’s probably why the upcoming Elizabeth Banks film of the same title is getting such a surge in attention. As you can probably surmise from the title, the dark comedy begins with a bear getting into a whole pile of blow, which, in this case, dropped from an airplane. The film’s new trailer, which dropped today, shows what happens next: the coked-up bruin goes on a rampage through the Georgia woods, attacking hikers, paramedics, and anyone else it can get its paws on. It’s an exciting premise for sure, and as the trailer notes, it’s inspired by a true story.
But as any moviegoer knows, “inspired by a true story” can mean a lot of different things, from Ray’s closely-hewn biopic to The Hills Have Eyes’ extremely passing similarity to a probably apocryphal story. Just where does Cocaine Bear land? (Want to go into Cocaine Bear cold? We spoil the real-life story below, so don’t read on.)
First off: Yes, Cocaine Bear was real. As Gabrielle Rabon wrote in our story on the unlucky bruin, a Georgia bear did in fact find and consume a stash of coke it found in the Chattahoochee National Forest in 1985. Authorities determined the drugs had fallen from a plane owned by smuggler Andrew Carter Thornton II some time after he set it to autopilot and attempted to parachute out of it laden with cash, weapons, and more cocaine. We say “attempted” because his parachute never opened: Police found his body lying in a suburban driveway, an event that the trailer appears to depict.
Fortunately for Georgia’s hikers and hunters, and unfortunately for Cocaine Bear, the bruin that found the drugs apparently couldn’t handle them. A hunter found the bear’s body near a ravaged duffel bag that authorities estimated had contained about 75 kilograms (165 lbs) of coke. The circumstances of the bear’s death are still a little unclear: Kenneth Alonso, the medical examiner who necropsied Cocaine Bear, estimated the animal had only absorbed about 3 to 4 grams of cocaine, less than would normally be required to kill a human of the same size, and Alonso said in a 1991 presentation on the case that the results were “insufficient to explain” the fact that all 75 kilos of the drug had gone missing. But in the end, the only victim of Cocaine Bear’s binge was, well, Cocaine Bear.
Hollywood loves to depict bears, even relatively unimposing black bears like the one from this story, as monsters. The contrast between Cocaine Bear’s treatment in the trailer and the real-life animal’s tale is instructive: From people dropping coke out of planes to leaving their garbage cans unsecured, most bear-human conflict is provoked by people, and almost always deadlier to the wildlife than it is to us. Still, we can’t blame the director or writers for taking a little artistic license with the story—it’ll probably be a better watch. Just remember the golden rule: Bears are almost never as bloodthirsty in real life as they are on the silver screen.