Is Cocaine Bear based on a true story?

The black bear in Cocaine Bear.Universal Pictures

Cocaine Bear is a high-concept comedy about a black bear going on a cocaine-fuelled rampage that has deadly consequences – but is the viral sensation based on a true story?

The trailer for Cocaine Bear debuted last November, and quickly caused something of a stir online. The tale of a black bear snorting a load of cocaine then killing a bunch of people captured the public’s imagination, racking up millions of views in the process.

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Elizabeth Banks directs the movie, from a script by Jimmy Warden. The cast features Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, and in one of his last film roles, Ray Liotta.

But is this unusual premise anchored in fact? And how did screenwriter Jimmy Warden turn it into a movie? Let us explain…

Is Cocaine Bear based on a true story?

Yes, Cocaine Bear is based on a true story. Here’s how the plot is framed in the official synopsis…

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Inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runner’s plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it, 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.

Though while a bear did get high on cocaine in Georgia in the 1980s, what happened next was decidedly less violent.

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“Cocaine and a Dead Bear”

In December 1985, The New York Times reported on the story underneath the headline “Cocaine and a Dead Bear.” Here’s what the newspaper said…

“A 175-pound black bear apparently died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said today. 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.”

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The animal was found dead in mountains just north of the Tennessee border, with the medical examiner finding that the animal had absorbed “three of four grams of cocaine” into its bloodstream, and may have eaten more.

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What happened between the bear consuming the drugs and dying isn’t known however, which is where the movie fills in the blanks in bloody fashion. As screenwriter Jimmy Warden exclusively explained to us…

How screenwriter Jimmy Warden turned that story into a movie

“I was scrolling through Twitter, and that doesn’t always work – usually that doesn’t work,” screenwriter Jimmy Warden explained to Dexerto. “But it wasn’t like I was looking for my next script. In fact, I was procrastinating and delaying a deadline. But I found the story of Andrew Carter Thornton from a picture online, and I just went down a complete rabbit hole until basically there were no more hyperlinks that I could possibly click on.

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“The story itself is pretty hooky. Then you hear about the name of the bear – Pablo Escobear. All this stuff, and you’re like ‘Wow, this is an incredible jumping off point for a movie’, but I knew that the movie couldn’t have been ‘Andrew Carter Thornton dumps a bunch of cocaine in the Chattahoochee National Forest, a bear does it, then the bear dies.’ To me that’s not a movie, and it’s pretty sad, so what I was first trying to do was crack what the movie wanted to be. And I think that it wanted to be ‘What happened in that time.’ I think I read that the bear died almost immediately, or in minutes. So what if you extend that to the entire day? What happens?

“Then in terms of developing those other characters, it was who else would be in a National Park on a Tuesday or a Wednesday? Maybe it’s some kids skipping school. There’s definitely going to be a Park Ranger there. Maybe a PETA representative or conservationist. Then you throw in the people who are looking for the drugs, and you have all those intermingling storylines, then throw the Cocaine Bear into the centre of it all going on a rampage, and there’s your movie.”

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Cocaine Bear hits screens on February 24, 2023, while you can read about how Jurassic Park influenced the movie here, and check out Jimmy’s thoughts on Cocaine Shark and Cocaine Dinosaur here.

Updated on February 21 with screenwriter quotes.

Cocaine Bear is in cinemas now, and more of our coverage can be read below…

Cocaine Bear Review | The True Story | Jurassic Park’s influence | Ray Liotta tribute | Cocaine Bear video game | Post-Credit scenes explained | Cocaine Bear 2 | Does the bear die? | Cocaine Dinosaur plans

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