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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

'Cocaine Bear' takes place in Georgia, but where was it filmed?

We're not in Georgia anymore!

By Cassidy Ward

Take director Elizabeth Banks, add in performances from Keri Russel (Felicity, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story), and the late Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Muppets From Space), add one bear and a few kilos of smuggled cocaine, and you’ve got a recipe for blockbuster success!

Universal’s Cocaine Bear, which hit theaters today (and the early reactions are stellar), is a fantastical retelling of real life events. In 1985, Andrew Thornton, himself a prior narcotics officer, was smuggling 800 pounds from Columbia to the United States when he had to abandon his plane. Thornton tossed himself and the cocaine from his small private aircraft somewhere over a Georgia National Park. He was found dead shortly thereafter, having never recovered the drugs.

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They were instead found by a wild bear, who consumed them and promptly died. Rather than go on a homicidal rampage, the unsuspecting real-life bear appears to have expired from his first and only coke binge without having harmed anyone. When you catch Cocaine Bear in theaters, you’ll be seeing a violent reimagining of what might have happened had the bear lived. The bear’s continued existence isn’t the only falsehood you’ll see on screen, in exchange for a couple of hours of pure adrenaline-fueled escapism. While the story takes place in Georgia, where the real Pablo Escobear lived, Cocaine Bear was actually filmed on another continent entirely.


Wicklow lies in the Eastern and Midland Region of Ireland, bordered by the Irish Sea, and was formalized as a county in 1606. The name descends from its historical name “Víkingaló,” which translates from Old Norse to “Vikings’ Meadow.” Despite the name, it wasn’t the meadows which Banks and company were interested in, it was the diverse variety of other landscapes nearby.

Wicklow is home to just about every kind of terrain you might be looking for, from beaches to cave systems to wooded forests. As a result, Wicklow has seen a surge of filmmaking activity in recent years. Much of the Vikings television show (streaming on Peacock!) was filmed on location or on studio sets in Wicklow. Other notable projects include AMC’s Into the Badlands and Disney’s upcoming fairy tale sequel Disenchanted.

A still from the trailer for Cocaine Bear (2023)

For Cocaine Bear, Banks leaned on several locations in Wicklow to recreate the bear-stalked woods of Georgia, including Barnaslingan Wood and Powerscourt Waterfall. Barnaslingan Wood is located on the eastern slope of what’s known as The Scalp. It’s a large geological formation leftover from when a glacier carved a valley through the area roughly 12,000 years ago, as the ice receded from the last major ice age. Where once there was an incredible glacial lake, there is now a lush forest pockmarked with granite boulders which looks conveniently like the southern forests of the United States.

Powerscourt Waterfall also made appearances in Vikings, as well as the 1981 fantasy film Excalibur and the 1988 fantasy classic Willow. Powerscourt is Ireland’s second-highest waterfall, standing nearly 400 feet (121 meters) high, at the base of Wicklow’s River Gargle. The falls sit on the wider Powerscourt Estate, an historical 13th-century castle which was renovated in the 18th century. The estate is currently owned by the Slazenger family, who purchased it from the 9th Viscount Powerscourt in 1961.

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Today, tourists and film crews can access the waterfall for a fee, paid to the estate. Interestingly, in 1821, the 5th Viscount Powerscourt, Richard Wingfield, had the waterfall dammed during a visit from King George IV, with the intention that the two of them should release the dam and watch the torrent of water from a nearby bridge constructed for that purpose. For reasons which remain unknown, King George never got around to visiting the falls and the deluge was postponed. It was just as well for George IV, when the waterfall was eventually released, the explosion of water was so great that the observation bridge was swept away. In our opinion, being the setting for Cocaine Bear’s drug-fueled animal-on-human carnage is a much better legacy. And by all accounts, Wicklow is not only a beautiful backdrop but also a joy to be in.

A still from the trailer for Cocaine Bear (2023)

Elizabeth Banks, in an interview with Joe, said of the experience, “I loved filming in Ireland, such a beautiful place. Amazing people, great crew. We truly couldn’t have been happier there.” Banks continued, “And it was a perfect match to Georgia. People can’t believe when they see the movie. They can’t believe it’s not Georgia.”

If you’re planning your next vacation, rest assure you’ll be safe from any under-the-influence-ursidae. Bears once roamed the wilds of Ireland but went extinct about 3,000 years ago. Today, the only bears in the country reside in captivity or wildlife sanctuaries.

If you want your bear fix, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Might we suggest Cocaine Bear, in theaters now! Click here to purchase tickets.