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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

Elizabeth Banks knows 'Cocaine Bear' is a 'ginormous' gamble: 'This could be a career ender'

Cocaine Bear hits the big screen Friday, Feb. 24.

By Josh Weiss
Cocaine Bear (2023)

Does a bear high out of its mind on copious amounts of a highly controlled substance have what it takes to secure box office gold, or will it horrifically maul the reputations of everyone involved? That is the big question posed by Universal Pictures' gonzo new comedy, Cocaine Bear (out in theaters everywhere later this month), which "could be a career ender" for  Elizabeth Banks, according to the director herself, who described the project as "a ginormous risk" during a recent interview with Variety.

Written by Jimmy Warden, the film plays fast and loose with the real-world story of an American black bear that overdosed on the powdery stuff when it was accidentally dropped over the mountains of Georgia in 1985. In our reality, the beast simply keeled over dead (as any creature would do in this situation), but its cinematic counterpart lives on, embarking on a drug-fueled rampage. While the premise is absolutely bonkers, it's no doubt refreshing to see a major Hollywood studio bankroll an original feature not based on any existing IP.

RELATED: Still laughing at the plot of 'Cocaine Bear'? So is the cast: 'It's so out there and bizarre'

“We do enter the comedy space with a lot of trepidation these days,” said Donna Langley, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman. "It’s why we make fewer of them than perhaps we did a decade ago. Nobody knows anything about what’s going to draw an audience except for perhaps dinosaurs, minions and superheroes."

Even after handing down the coveted green-light, Langley was hesitant to stick with the title of "Cocaine Bear," worried that it would preclude the studio from tapping into "certain avenues of marketing that we might ordinarily use," admitted the executive.

Banks, however, insisted that the title remain intact, drawing on her experience on Kevin Smith's 2008 comedy, Zach and Miri Make a Porno, whose name also drew raised eyebrows from higher-ups. 

“But I think Zach and Miri Make a Porno now would be like, ‘Whatever,'" the filmmaker explained. "I don’t really think anyone would even shy away from it. Because words don’t matter anymore. Words really don’t matter anymore."

And speaking of early doubts, producers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were unsure that the premise would be enough to sustain a feature-length runtime. Warden, who had previously worked with the duo as a production assistant on 21 Jump Street, allayed those anxieties with his screenplay, which Lord and Miller then brought to Universal under their first-look deal.

"Jimmy did a great job making it into something that would be fun — better than you’d imagine for something called ‘Cocaine Bear,'" Miller said. Langley agreed: “The script just felt like a bold choice to cut through the clutter and to make some noise."

Cocaine Bear hits the big screen Friday, Feb. 24. Click here to purchase tickets.

Looking for more creature-based thrills? Jordan Peele's Nope is currently streaming on Peacock.