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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

‘Cocaine Bear’s ending and difference from the true story, explained

Cocaine Bear is based on a true story but the events — especially the ending — are very different. Producer Chris Miller explains why.

By James Grebey
Cocaine Bear (2023)

Cocaine Bear, the new action-comedy now in theaters, is based on a true story, but only barely. Yes, it is true that in the ‘80s a drug smuggler dumped a bunch of cocaine into the Georgia woods and a black bear ate a bunch of it. However, the film has the bear go on a glorious rampage. In real life, the bear simply… died.

Still, you can see why the filmmakers wanted to use the real-life story as inspiration — and why they wanted to have the movie end in a different way. 

**SPOILER WARNING! This story spoils the ending of Cocaine Bear!**

The real-life story of Cocaine Bear goes like this: In September 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II dumped a bunch of containers of cocaine into the woods of northern Georgia. A few months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found a black bear that had died after eating 75 pounds of cocaine. The taxidermied body of the bear, also known as Pablo Escobear, resides in a mall in Lexington, Kentucky. 

Things are quite different in the movie, as the coked-out bear kills multiple people, including the criminal boss who comes to the woods looking to recover some of his missing product. And, crucially, Cocaine Bear bear survives, and the implication is that she and her two adorable cubs will have a happy future doing coke and mauling any unfortunate hikers who get too close. 

“We like to live in that alternate universe where the dead bear is a cover-up,” Chris Miller, who produced the film along with Phil Lord, tells SYFY WIRE. “They didn’t want people to think that there was a cocaine-fueled bear on a rampage out there in the woods still.”

RELATED: The R-rating was never in question, but Cocaine Bear producer Chris Miller says the title was

Miller went on to say that it wasn’t always the plan to give Cocaine Bear a happy ending. An earlier cut of the film left the mammal's fate more ambiguous.   

“The ending sort of evolved as we were working on the film,” Miller explained. “We realized, with all of these great actors — Keri [Russell], Margo [Martindale], all these amazing people and interesting stories happening — the real protagonist of the movie was the bear. The character that everybody cared about was the bear. When we left it ambiguous, audiences wanted to know, ‘What happened to the bear!? Is the bear okay? We love the bear!’

“You’re rooting for the bear and you’re rooting for the bear to come back and kill the bad guy and protect her cubs. You end up having a connection with this out-of-control raging monster who you end up rooting for,” Miller continued. “And so we thought it would be more fun and more satisfying to leave her alive.” 

There’s another upside to letting your killer animal survive to the end of your movie, too. 

“And, you know what? There can always be a sequel,” joked Miller. And guess what, screenwriter Jimmy Warden has some great ideas for that!

Cocaine Bear is now in theaters. Click here to purchase tickets.