'Cocaine Bear' and the New Age of Internet Movies

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

For a fleeting moment last week, everyone was talking about bears on cocaine. Well, one bear on cocaine. In a movie. Never mind. The point is, for like eight hours on a random Wednesday, as Twitter spun out of control and the US waited to see if rail workers would go on strike, a bunch of netizens got distracted by an extremely high ursine apex predator on a killing spree.  

Cocaine Bear (why would you call this movie anything else?) is directed by Elizabeth Banks, who, after Wet Hot American Summer, the Charlie’s Angels reboot, and the Pitch Perfect films, seems to know a thing or two about movies that get memed. Banks’ film is also one of several coming at the start of 2023 that seem to be made for the internet. Not necessarily that you’d want to watch them there—though they all seem primed to stream while you scroll Instagram—but that they’re either born of some piece of internet discourse or designed to be a part of it. 

With Cocaine Bear the gimmick is obvious: Make a movie so seemingly horrific and hilarious that people won’t be able to stop themselves from transforming it into one-liners and reaction GIFs. It gets bonus points for also inspiring scientific inquiry into cocaine’s effects on bears and a chin-scratching Atlantic piece simply titled “Cocaine Bear: Why?” (For those wondering about that scientific question, the 175-pound bear who inspired the film died of an overdose.) The movie is also a nod to a popular image macro and feels like the kind of film people will see just to post about it. 

Coming a few weeks before Cocaine Bear’s February 24 release is M3GAN. This column has already delved into the diabolical doll dance moves that the film’s trailer inspired, and there’s no need to retread that angle here. But watching M3GAN’s titular droid bend and snap her way through countless mashups, it was hard not to see the irony of a movie about the horrors of artificial intelligence being promoted with a marketing campaign engineered for peak virality, as if the same algorithms were responsible for both its script and PR blitz.    

Speaking of discourse, the Sundance Film Festival announced its lineup for 2023 this week. Among the most eye-catching entries: Cat Person. While it’s based on the New Yorker short story of the same name, there’s no word yet on whether the film will follow that story’s narrative completely, but if it does it will be interesting to see if it generates the same level of attention and discussion. 

Originally published in 2017, “Cat Person” landed amidst a flurry of conversations around #MeToo and, as a story about a college sophomore’s complicated relationship with an older man, found itself at the center of the zeitgeist. It was credited with sending the internet into a “meltdown,” and its virality is mentioned in nearly every reference to it. Five years later, a retelling may have different impacts, but it does seem poised to ride a similar wave. (Side note: The author of “Cat Person,” Kristen Roupenian, wrote the story on which Bodies Bodies Bodies—another film for the extremely online—was based.) 

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