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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

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

"You don’t want to see a movie called Cocaine Bear that has to hold back."


By James Grebey
Cocaine Bear (2023)

Cocaine Bear, the upcoming movie about — you guessed it — a bear who does a bunch of cocaine, was always going to be rated R, according to producer Chris Miller. The bear goes on a bloody, gory, coke-fueled rampage in the north Georgia woods. What was in question, the producer told SYFY WIRE, is whether or not the movie was going to be called Cocaine Bear

“We were worried that the studio was going to be, like, ‘You can’t call a movie Cocaine Bear. Guys, let’s be real. It’s gonna be called A Walk in the Woods, or something,’” Miller, who made the Elizabeth Banks-directed film along with his producing partner Phil Lord, explained. Luckily, Cocaine Bear prevailed, and the wonderfully titled movie will be in theaters on Feb. 24. “We felt like it was such a sticky title that was very clear and told you what it was.”

However, an instantly viral title and a crazy premise aren’t enough, on their own, to make a movie good. Look at Snakes on a Plane, a similarly absurd-yet-straightforward title for another killer animal attack movie. The 2006 flick got a lot of buzz based on the name and a Samuel L. Jackson line-reading alone, but the final feature film is perhaps a bit underwhelming. Miller said that the Cocaine Bear team was aware that their job didn’t end with the name. 

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“A title like Cocaine Bear gets your foot in the door, but if you don’t deliver, it’s still not going to work,” he said. “We knew that just having a fun idea isn’t enough. You have to actually execute and make a good experience. Word of mouth will travel very fast, and if people are disappointed, it’s not going to work.”

Cocaine Bear has the advantage of being based on a true story, albeit barely. In 1985 a real-life drug smuggler dumped a bunch of cocaine out of an airplane while flying over northern Georgia and then died when his parachute failed to deploy. A black bear was later discovered to have eaten some 75 pounds of cocaine and died as a result. What the movie presupposes is… what if instead of dying, the bear had brutally mauled a bunch of people?

And we mean brutally. Despite — or perhaps because — Cocaine Bear is as much a comedy as it is an action-horror movie, the violence and gore are something to behold. Bones are exposed, heads exploded, limbs severed, and there are all sorts of moments that earn the film its R-rating. 

“It was never in question, just because of the things that happen in the movie — even in the first act — whether it was going to be an R-rating or a PG-13,’ Miller said. “You don’t want to see a movie called Cocaine Bear that has to hold back. That seems no fun. We wanted to revel in the naughtiness of the film.”

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Still, as much “naughtiness” as there is in Cocaine Bear, it was important to make sure the tone of the film didn’t swing too much into the realm of the ridiculous. That’s all fun and good, but just as with a coked-out bear, if there’s no meat on that bone nobody’s going to want to bite in.

“When the script came to use from [writer] Jimmy Warden, who had been a PA for us on 21 Jump Street, I was intrigued but I thought, ‘Is this going to be a spoofy parody silly movie or is this going to be a very gory, dark film?” Miller recalled. “The script itself really nailed a tone that took itself seriously but was able to be funny and have fun without veering into being too winky-winky and nothing mattering.”

Alden Ehrenreich, who plays one of the criminals who is charged with going into the woods to recover some of the lost cocaine (unaware that there’s a raging bear lurking in the trees) said it was the actors’ job to play the film straight. The characters are funny — they crack jokes and get into kooky situations — but in order for the film to work they needed to come across as people rather than genre caricatures. 

RELATED: Cocaine Bear writer compares the bear to King Kong

“You gotta know what you’re in and then kind of forget about that part of it, and then do what your character would do in that circumstance and trust that you have a director that will make sure that the tone is getting serviced,” Ehrenreich explained. “It can be a trap to play comedy or horror. It is a trap.”

That ethos — of attempting to play the film straight even as the cocaine made everything go sideways — extended to the bear, too. The question, Miller said, was always, “How can we make sure we play this bear as credibly as possible? Because, the moment you don’t think it’s really happening, that’s the moment you stop being invested in it as an actual film.”

And that’s ultimately what Cocaine Bear strives for. People are being disemboweled by a bear that freaking loves cocaine… but it’s cinema. 

Cocaine Bear opens in theaters on Feb. 24. Purchase tickets here!