Hit movie ‘Cocaine Bear’ based loosely on real Georgia story

Though set in the North Georgia mountains, the film was actually produced in Ireland in 2021

The buzziest film this year so far is dubbed “Cocaine Bear,” which sounds like a premise spawned in the “Saturday Night Live” writers room or the addled mind of a college student who smoked too much weed.

But it’s actually loosely based on a real 1985 story about a dead bear found in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest in Blue Ridge. It had ingested a rumored millions of dollars worth of cocaine that a smuggler dropped from a plane.

According to news reports at the time, convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton died following a parachuting accident. Authorities surmised that Thornton was traveling in a plane with 880 pounds of cocaine and thought the Feds were trailing him. He decided to throw some of the stash out of the plane and then take some with him while in a parachute. His plan failed.

On September 11, 1985, Thornton was found dead in a driveway in Knoxville, Tenn. with about $15 million worth of cocaine strapped to his body.

A few months later, a wire story that appeared in The New York Times described a 175-pound black bear who “died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug.” The Feds, the story noted, said “the bear was found Friday in northern Georgia among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.”

The Associated Press later spoke with Dr. Kenneth Alonso, Georgia’s chief medical examiner at the time. Alonso said the coroner discovered during an autopsy that three or four grams of cocaine were in the bear’s blood stream, though the bear could have consumed even more.

There is no evidence the bear went on to attack any human beings in real life before it died.

“Cocaine Bear,” the movie, is merely screenwriter Jimmy Warden’s “twisted fantasy of what I wish actually happened after the bear did all that cocaine,” he told Variety magazine.

The movie, though set in a small Georgia town, was shot in 2021 instead in Ireland, which like Georgia offers very generous film tax credits.

The CGI bear is the star of the film, but the film also boasts an ensemble cast of recognizable faces including Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince and one of the last appearances by the late Ray Liotta. Actress Elizabeth Banks directed and produced the film.

“Cocaine Bear” is projected to open this weekend north of $20 million in box office gross and should easily exceed its budget of $35 million. So far, critics are all over the map about the movie (a 51% Rotten Tomatoes score) and opening weekend viewers gave it a ho-hum B-minus average grade via Cinema Score.