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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

How the craziness of 'Cocaine Bear' was inspired by films of Tarantino, Raimi & Coen brothers

Cocaine Bear bounds into theaters everywhere Friday, Feb. 24.

By Josh Weiss

An apex predator ripping people to shreds while high out of its mind on a Schedule II narcotic is something we could all use more of in our lives — and it's exactly what led Elizabeth Banks to direct Universal's Cocaine Bear. Based on a true story from the mid-1980s, the "fun, gory scares" contained within the absurdist comedy-thriller was inspired by the films of Quentin Tarantino, Sam Raimi, and the Coen brothers, Banks revealed during an interview with Empire for the magazine's February 2023 issue (now on sale).

When a large shipment of cocaine falls in the mountains of Georgia, a bear stumbles upon the illicit, $14 million stash and accidentally inhales the powdery white stuff. The results are precisely what you'd expect: an unstoppable juggernaut of fur, teeth, and claws. 

"In the mid-'80s, there was this big reaction to the crack epidemic in American society that actually created so many other monsters. There's a bit of an allegory in here, as well as true chaos," Banks said, going on to describe the project (out in February) as a reflection of humanity's arrogance over the natural world. "Until we learn how to honor nature more thoughtfully, bad things are going to happen."

Of course, the rampaging bear at the heart of the narrative needed to be as believable as possible. And since using an actual ursine drug addict was strictly out of the question for obvious reasons, Banks turned to the talented VFX wizards at Weta, the celebrated effects company founded by Peter Jackson.

"I realized if there was one frame in the movie where you didn't believe the bear was real, the audience wasn't gonna go on the journey with us," the director explained. "Our mantra was to create a bear that was a great lead character, but still feel like a real bear. Well, mostly. There's a little movie magic in there, because he is super-high on cocaine."

Written by Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter), the drug-fueled romp features an ensemble cast of Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra, Aaron Holliday, with Margo Martindale, and the late Ray Liotta.

Banks produced the feature alongside Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Max Handelman, Brian Duffield, and Aditya Sood. Robin Mulcahy Fisichella, Alison Small, and Nikki Baida serve as executive producers.

Cocaine Bear bounds into theaters everywhere Friday, Feb. 24.

Looking for more blockbuster content in the meantime? Jurassic World Dominion and Nope are now streaming on Peacock.