‘Cocaine Bear’ and the Wild, Ridiculous History of Horror-Movie Beasts

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Not since Leonardo DiCaprio wrestled a bear to win an Oscar has ursine cinema been this hot. Last weekend, Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear shredded box-office expectations with a $28.4 million opening—a high enough haul to grant us a follow-up about another drugged-up animal. Meth Gator is now reportedly on the way, and no, that is not a joke.

But not everyone snorted up Cocaine Bear with a smile. Our very own critic, Nick Schager, found Cocaine Bear hollow and self-satisfied. He’s really not wrong; the film is excessively quippy even though most of its jokes boil down to “It’s a bear… on COCAINE!!!”, and its gratuitously talented cast members do all play two-dimensional, farcical characters. But isn’t that part of the fun? I mean, Alden Ehrenreich hasn’t looked this alive on screen since Solo flopped, and as ridiculous as her role was, Margo Martindale seemed to have a blast playing it.

Still, how did Banks and her team succeed at the box office where other films have floundered? Idris Elba went mano a mano with a damn lion last year in Beast, and that movie didn’t exactly blow up the box office. The secret might just lie in Cocaine Bear’s tone and scale. By acting as both an homage to natural horror and, in some moments, as a comedic spoof on the genre, Cocaine Bear splits the difference—ensuring that everyone in its audience (or at least most of it) gets a good high. Then again, aren’t most of these movies pretty satirical already?

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