cocaine bear – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold a for realzies true story

As hard as it may be to believe, the new movie Cocaine Bear is based on a true story. Even harder to believe is the cocaine-powered bear of the title *isn’t Larry Kudlow.

Directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, the movie’s premise is this: A duffel bag full of cocaine falls out of a plane as it’s being transported by criminals and lands in a national park where it’s ingested by a massive grizzly bear, which then proceeds to act exactly as you would expect a coked-out bear to.

Keri Russell stars as Sari, one of the local residents that gets involved in efforts to wrangle the bear after it takes its disco nap. O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Brooklyn Prince, Alden Ehrenreich and others play those who encounter the bear or are searching for it, whether they’re locals just trying to survive or criminals trying to get their drugs back.

The real story the movie is inspired by is much less dramatic, but that doesn’t make for good cinema so let’s take a look at the marketing campaign Universal Pictures put together.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in March, 2021, with Banks as director. Russell, Ehrenreich and others were added to the cast in June.

A release date was revealed in May of last year.

Unfortunately just a short while later Liotta passed away, though it was clarified he had finished filming his scenes already.

the marketing campaign

Universal kicked off the campaign in late November with the release of the first trailer (16 million YouTube plays). It is…insane…but shows the basic premise and major characters pretty well. Basically, a bear eats an entire package of cocaine and everyone is just trying to not die while a bunch of criminals are trying to recover said cocaine and also not die. It plays as very over-the-top, which is the only choice you can make with material like this.

The poster accompanying the trailer shows the bear of the title dancing around in a shower of cocaine, communicating to the audience exactly what the movie is about. A motion poster that came out a month later illustrates this point even more clearly.

Banks talked about how the story is really about the dynamics between the characters and that there’s a lot of empathy for the poor bear that didn’t know what it was getting into in an interview from December.

In late January TV advertising began with a commercial that takes the opposite approach of the trailer and juxtaposes that insane footage with a very serious score and pacing, making it seem like an awards-contender type of release, not a ridiculous commercial film about bears, drugs and death.

Rotten Tomatoes shared an exclusive featurette that had Banks and much of the cast talking about how nuts the movie was and how in tone it’s a comedy wrapped instead a horror movie.

Banks was the subject of a Variety cover story in early February that focused on how she went about preparing to tell a story like this as well as how this was her first directorial effort after her version of Charlie’s Angels didn’t connect with audiences. She then promoted the film when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” to tell lots of crazy stories.

What it was like to reunite with producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller as well as working with Liotta were both covered along with other topics in an interview with Ehrenreich.

A Snapchat lens was released that added Cocaine Bear to the background of your photos or videos.

Most everyone turned out for the premiere red carpet where they talked about hitting the right tone with the film, how wonderful Banks is as a director and more.

Warden was also interviewed about the process of taking the true story and turning it into something even more outrageous, including what liberties he took with the real events.


The movie is projected to open with about $15 million this weekend, which is a testament to how good the campaign is that it might be able to reach beyond the niche appeal film’s like this often have.

But really, inspired by Banks’ comments she would be open to making a movie about a coked-out shark, we need to think about the future and speculate about what other drug/animal stories might be coming soon:

  • Heroin Hedgehog
  • Oxycontin Ostrich
  • Marijuiana Manatee
  • Ecstasy Elephant

What else you got?