Cocaine Bear – fact or fiction? (Spoiler Warning)


The Arvada community filed in line to see Cocaine Bear, showing at Harkins Theatre. Photo by Ali Hickman

The release of the infamous thriller/comedy Cocaine Bear that dropped on February 24, 2023, rocked the cinematic world in more ways than one. Mixed reviews, insane gore, and foul language all topped with the fact that it was based on a “true story.” It was certainly an experience to watch, but that poses three questions… just how true was it, can a bear get high off of cocaine, and how good really is the movie Cocaine Bear?                             


When it comes to accuracy,  the movie got majoritively one thing right: a renowned drug dealer named Andrew Carter Thornton III did in fact drop 75 pounds of cocaine out of an airplane and into the grounds of Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. He then took a dive out himself which ended up taking his life when his parachute failed to function. A black bear really did get into Andrew’s stash of cocaine, but the events that follow after, however, may have gotten lost in translation.

The bear that met its fateful demise in 1985 had ingested enough cocaine to result in an overdose. In an article by Gabriele Rabon from  Backpacker that went into depth about the 175-pound black bear that overdosed explained that “the bear’s stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine,” though he estimated the bear had absorbed only 3 to 4 grams of the substance into its bloodstream at the time of death. The article claims, “That’s just it – the bear, whose name was dubbed Pablo Escobear officially – had simply gotten into Thorton’s stash and overdosed.”

With all that in mind, sure, it was based on a true story, but what happened between drug consumption and the time of death? In the movie, the bear was portrayed as a vicious narcotic that went on a murderous rampage. Was that part true? Did Pablo the black bear actually kill a bunch of tourists? 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the answer is no. 

Alex Abad-Santos went deeper into the real story of Cocaine Bear for his article in Vox. “Except for Thornton, who died from his ill-fated parachuting attempt, no people were killed. The only animal harmed was the bear. And we don’t even know what really happened to the bear.” There are no reports of death by bear mauling, no vicious rampage, and no murder spree. There wasn’t much to go off of for the movie, which solves the first question: Cocaine Bear is without a doubt labeled fiction.

Abad-Santos went even further and brought his question, “Can a bear actually get high off of cocaine and go on a murder spree?” to Chris Morgan, an educated ursinologist. Morgan explained that bears are a lot smarter than people give them credit for, which means yes, they could feel the effects of cocaine, but it would not drive them to kill a bunch of people.

“Physiologically, the bear would go through some of the very similar sort of characteristic traits that humans might have on cocaine – sort of amplified behavior that makes them a little crazy. And if that bear ate as much as I heard – you know, a big portion of cocaine – then that’s a death sentence for the bear just like it would be for humans.”

There it is folks – the truth as we see it. Whether people think that it’s disappointing or are relieved that nobody was actually killed varies from person to person. The bear might have gotten into all that cocaine, but the high it experienced was not only short-lived but didn’t really amount to much. With that out of the way, it leaves the final question. Should you take time out of your day to go and see this thriller?

Arvada West High School Junior Natalie Martinelli weighed in on the Cocaine Bear experience and thought, “It was a funny movie. It was whimsical because so much happened in so much time. It wasn’t the best in cinematic history but I really enjoyed it, honestly. Would I watch it again? Maybe under the right circumstances. It was kind of a ‘you watch it once’ and you have fun. I wanted to see what the hype was about because everyone was talking about it, it was posted everywhere.”

Cocaine Bear’s promo was a major reason as to why the movie had so much viewership. The advertisements that were sent out caught a lot of attention, for example, they even advertised at the Super Bowl – releasing a picture of a bear  “painting the lines” of the football field with its nose covered in white. This created quite a stir after it was seen by millions, no doubt contributing to its viewership.

Martinelli had went on to say, “The CGI for the bear isn’t realistic but it was good. They did a pretty good job blending the CGI with the real life/actual actors. The gore was kind of excessive to the point where it was kind of silly. I feel like it [the movie] could have had the same effect without as much gore as it did.” Cocaine Bear is a rated R movie, and viewer discretion is definitely advised for this type of film. The characters and their actions in this movie seemed to be pretty captivating. Martinelli goes on to say how, “It kind of shows the desperation on how far people are willing to go for some cash.”

Martinelli was surprised that the movie was based on a true story, “I didn’t until I went to go see the movie and it opened up with ‘based on a true story.’ I don’t know the real story, but there’s no way the movie is 100% realistic or accurate at all. Take the ambulance scene for example, it was pure silly, gory, and dramatic just for the sake of being dramatic.”

When it comes to reviews for this story they were pretty mixed. On the popular review site Rotten Tomatoes, Critics said, “Despite Cocaine Bear’s half-baked plot and uneven acting, the titular fur friend’s scene-snorting frenzy will give B-movie enthusiasts a contact high.” Meanwhile, the majority of the audience says “Cocaine Bear does pretty much exactly what it sets out to do, and if you’re in the mood for some silly horror-comedy, that’ll be more than enough to satisfy.”

“I would recommend it because it was good in the way that it was funny and you could have a good time watching it,” Martinelli explains, “Story-line wise, it sucked. The acting was alright but in this type of movie it didn’t have to be good. It had its charms. It had its flaws. Nonetheless, it’s entertainment. Some movies are meant to tell a story, some are just to entertain. This is the latter.”

In all its gory glory, Cocaine Bear is a wild ride from start to finish. Whether it’s considered a thriller, slasher, comedy, or a combination of all three, critics all around the world seem to have an opinion on this narcotic-induced bear. The only way to form your own would be to see it yourself. Cocaine Bear is currently in theaters, so grab a big bucket of popcorn and a soda and see for yourself just how crazy Cocaine Bear is. It’s entertaining, keeps you on the edge of your seat, and overall is one hell of an experience.