Cocaine Bear: Elizabeth Banks Risks It All for the Gory, R-Rated Movie

Elizabeth Banks: Risks with the Gory R-Rated ‘Cocaine Bear’

Banks has no such reservations, however, when it comes to filming giant hairy mammal ingesting coke. That is the premise of her latest film as a director, Cocaine Bear.

The dark R-rated action-comedy is loosely based on the true story of a 175-pound black bear living in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia that, in the mid-1980s, gorged itself on 70 pounds of cocaine dropped in aerial drug run gone bad.

In real life, the bear overdosed and died. But the movie different scenario, in which the coked-up animal rampages through the woods on voracious hunt.

After the film opened, Banks tweeted, “Well, if you’re going to have a flop, make sure your name is on it at least 4x.”
“I took full responsibility for Charlie’s Angels — certainly no one else did,” Banks says. “It was all laid on me and I happily accepted, because what else am I supposed to do?”

With Cocaine Bear, though, Banks has found a way to come back strong.

Universal chair Donna Langley is betting on her. “She wasn’t afraid of the material. She wasn’t afraid of how gonzo it needed to be. In today’s marketplace, really what you have to be is bold and fresh and different, and ‘Cocaine Bear’ certainly checks those boxes.”

Universal hopes “Cocaine Bear” can be another blockbuster. But the recent performance of high-concept R-rated comedies — from “Bros” to “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” “Long Shot” to “Tag” — ranges from disappointing to depressing. “We do enter the comedy space with trepidation these days,” Langley says. “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.”

It was an opportunity for Banks to prove herself in a cinematic space that women are rarely invited to enter. “I definitely wanted to make something muscular and masculine,” she says. “I wanted to break down some of the mythology around what kinds of movies women are making. For some bizarre reason, there are still executives in Hollywood who are like, ‘I don’t know if women can do technical stuff.’ There are literally people who are like, ‘Women don’t like math.’ It just persists.”

In 2008, she played Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s political biopic “W.,” and starred opposite Seth Rogen in Kevin Smith’s profane rom-com “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” The diametrically opposed roles signaled that she could do anything.

The following year, she launched Brownstone Prods., the company she runs with her husband, Max Handelman, with whom she has two sons, ages 9 and 10.

While she produced the Pitch Perfect franchise, which earned $589 million globally, she also played Effie Trinket in the Hunger Games franchise.

Right before shooting Cocaine Bear, she made 2022’s Call Jane, an indie docudrama about abortion rights she starred in opposite Sigourney Weaver.

She’s aware of the effect her words could have on her career, especially with a movie as outrageous as “Cocaine Bear.” The film represents something new and perilous for Banks, chance to establish her own original filmmaking voice–and the possibility that audiences could reject it.

“‘Cocaine Bear’ is a ginormous risk,” she says. “This could be a career ender for me.”

A few years ago, screenwriter Jimmy Warden was scrolling through Twitter when he saw photo of stuffed black bear with the caption “Pablo Escobear: the cocaine bear.” “I was like, ‘What the fuck is that?’” Warden says. “I went down a complete rabbit hole, just clicking and clicking.”

Warden learned about how drug trafficker named Andrew Thornton II had died in a parachute accident in September 1985, during botched drug drop over the Appalachian Mountains. He was found dead in a driveway in Knoxville, Tenn., wearing Gucci loafers and strapped to roughly $15 million of cocaine.

Four months later, the remains of black bear were discovered in northern Georgia near 40 packages of cocaine from that same drop; they’d all been torn open, presumably by the bear.

Photos by Art Streiber; Visual Effects by Weta FX

Warden wanted to tell the story, and not just Thornton’s side of it. “I knew that the central character had to be bear who did drugs,” Warden says. “I had personal experiences with both halves,” he adds. “I’ve seen bears in the wild, and as for cocaine, I mean, who hasn’t done it?”

Warden sent the finished script to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller at their production company Lord Miller — he’d been a PA on the duo’s 2012 comedy “21 Jump Street,” and he thought it might mesh with their sensibility.