Well, believe it or not, the premise is all too real. As hinted by the title, Elizabeth Banks's action-comedy tells the story of a black bear who eats several packages of cocaine that had been accidentally airdropped into a Georgia forest in a botched smuggling operation. Fueled by a drug-induced rage and an apparent desire for more cocaine, the bear embarks on a killing spree, wreaking havoc on the local population. Meanwhile, those drug smugglers, led by the late Ray Liotta in his final role, search the wilderness for their missing stash, never suspecting they're in danger of becoming bear food.
Universal Pictures 'Cocaine Bear'
Fortunately for the good people of Blue Ridge, GA., the real version of the story is less gruesome. In 1985, investigators searching for drugs dropped by an airborne smuggler discovered the ripped-up remnants of cocaine packages in Georgia's Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest. Each of the 40 packages reportedly held a kilogram of cocaine, or about 88 pounds in all, valued to be worth as much as $20 million at the time.
Nearby, they also found a large, deceased black bear who had apparently helped himself to the product. According to an Associated Press article from the time, officials believed the bear had eaten "several million dollars worth of the cocaine."
"The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffel bag open, got him some cocaine and OD'd (overdosed)," Gary Garner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told the outlet.
Universal Pictures Keri Russell in 'Cocaine Bear.'
"There's nothing left but bones and a big hide," he added of the bear.
What happened in the four weeks between when the bear ate the cocaine and investigators found its body is anyone's guess, but the animal likely died relatively quickly, riding out on a multi-million dollar high. At the very least, there is no evidence he terrorized locals on a murderous rampage.
As for exactly how millions of dollars worth of cocaine ended up in a national forest, the packages were reportedly the last remains of a shipment that Andrew Thornton, an American narcotics officer, lawyer, and alleged gang leader, had picked up on a smuggling run from Columbia. After dropping packages of cocaine out of the plane near Blairsville, GA, Thorton put Cessna on autopilot and parachuted out with 77 more pounds of cocaine strapped to his body. Thorton likely either misjudged the weight the parachute could carry or got tangled in the wires, but either way, he fell to his death, landing in the driveway of a Knoxville, Tenn. resident. On his body, investigators found the keys to an unmanned Cessna plane that had recently crashed into a mountain in North Carolina. Days later, "clothes, maps of Jamaica, and a pilot's logbook bearing the Cessna's number" were discovered about 30 miles south of Atlanta.
Universal Pictures Alden Ehrenreich and O'Shea Jackson Jr. in 'Cocaine Bear.'
The Cocaine Bear trailer offers a look at the not-so-organized crime team behind the lost cocaine, including Liotta's Dentwood, O'Shea Jackson Jr.'s Howard, and Alden Ehrenreich's Marty. And while the backwoods of Georgia might not seem like a hotbed for mob activity, Thorton, a Kentucky native, was an accomplished criminal in the area, even reportedly becoming the leader of a local drug smuggling operation dubbed The Company. When his body was found, he reportedly had on a bulletproof vest, Gucci loafers, night vision goggles, and a green army duffel bag containing roughly another $15 million worth of cocaine, $4,500 in cash, 2.8 grams of gold Krugerrands, knives, and two pistols. Thorton's life story is worthy of its own movie, with his death already inspiring a story arc on season 4 of FX's Justified.
Cocaine Bear also stars Game of Thrones' Kristofer Hivju, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ice Cube, Matthew Rhys, and Margo Martindale. Banks is directing, with a script written by Jimmy Warden (Netfilx's The Babysitter: Killer Queen) and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie).
Line up to see Cocaine Bear in theaters on Feb. 24, 2023.