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Cocaine Bear - What We Know So Far

Fans of true crime are likely very familiar with the story of Cocaine Bear — as he's colloquially known — a black bear who had the misfortune of stumbling upon a bunch of cocaine that fell out of a plane, consuming a high amount of the drug and overdosing on it. But that's really only a small part of the story, albeit a very unique one. The true story is about a man named Andrew C. Thornton II, born in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1944, who ends up leading a drug smuggling ring called "The Company" (Rolling Stone). As you can imagine, Thornton's story has a strange, and not-so-happy ending, and over the years, the bear has become the most well-known detail of his criminal life. 

The upcoming movie based on the legendary story of Thornton and the black bear will be produced by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord and directed by Elizabeth Banks. It will be the director's first thriller project, although she has some practice with action sequences thanks to 2019's "Charlie's Angels." "Cocaine Bear" will be Banks's second film for Universal as director. Banks and her producer husband, Max Handelman, have a production company together called Brownstone Productions, and they've had a first-look deal with Universal since 2015 (The Hollywood Reporter). 

For the many people out there who are eager to learn more about the highly anticipated drama feature, here's all we know so far about "Cocaine Bear." 

What is the release date of Cocaine Bear?

As of right now, "Cocaine Bear" is still finishing up casting and pre-production, but filming is expected to start on August 23, 2021 in Ireland, as reported by Deadline. While the movie is not like a science fiction or fantasy film that would need extensive post-production work, the titular bear of "Cocaine Bear" will likely require some CGI work, although it's unclear just how much the animal will appear on-screen in the film. In reality, the bear that overdosed wasn't found until after its death, but "Cocaine Bear" could alter aspects of the story to add more action relating to the bear leading up to the overdose. 

In general, most drama films take about three to four months to shoot, but that all depends on resources, scheduling, and various other factors that could either extend or speed up the process. Still, we can reasonably guess that "Cocaine Bear" will probably hit theaters sometime in mid-to-late 2022. 

Who is in the cast of Cocaine Bear?

For the upcoming movie "Cocaine Bear," there are many recognizable names both behind and in front of the camera. Banks will be directing a cast that includes Keri Russell of "The Americans," Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson, Ray Liotta, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who many will know as Mitchell from "Modern Family" (Deadline). While there's plenty to get excited about in terms of this cast list, there's no official information yet about what characters the actors will be playing. 

Looking at the story that the film will be based on, there will obvious be someone playing Thornton, who was 40 at the time of the drug smuggling discovery and the bear incident in 1985. The Associated Press reported in February 1988 that two people named Rebecca Sharp and Ruben Soto were indicted on charges related to Thornton's drug smuggling business. Sharp was reportedly Thornton's girlfriend and traveled from Kentucky to Tennessee to distribute drugs in the past. She planned to meet Thornton after he landed with his last haul of drugs. It's unclear what Soto's crimes were, as he was a fugitive on the run at the time of this article. There's also David Williams, an informer named Bertram Gordon, Thornton's childhood friend and partner in "The Company" named Bradley F. Bryant, and more.

Looking at the cast list, it's possible that Russell may be playing Sharp or someone based on her, while it's harder to guess who the other actors like Ehrenreich and Jackson might be portraying in "Cocaine Bear." 

What is Cocaine Bear about?

As her first thriller film, Banks chose quite the story with "Cocaine Bear." In reality, the bear is a very small part of a complicated story about a drug smuggling ring centered around Thornton, a man who left behind a career as a narcotics officer and a lawyer to steal weapons and smuggle drugs. Coming from a wealthy family, Thornton had a privileged upbringing, and he was clearly used to getting away with things. He used everything he learned as a paratrooper in the army, a police officer, and then a lawyer to perfect his drug business. Thornton even had his own plane, a Cessna 404, which he used to smuggle cocaine from Columbia. 

In September of 1985, Thornton and his partner overloaded the plane with packages of cocaine to fly from Columbia to the US. The plane was too heavy to handle the load, so to save the operation they dropped some packages of cocaine while flying over forests in Georgia –which the innocent bear later found — before jumping out of the plane with a parachute. Unfortunately, Thornton's parachute failed to open, leading him to fall to his death in a man's driveway. When he was found he was reportedly carrying 77 bags of cocaine, heavily armed, and wearing a bulletproof vest. Oh, and to top it all off, he wore Gucci loafers (Lexington Herald-Leader). 

While the true story of "Cocaine Bear" is exciting enough on its own, the new movie will likely amp up the action and add a bit more drama to the storyline. So far, the only description released about the project is that it will be a "character-driven thriller inspired by true events that took place in Kentucky in 1985" (Rolling Stone).