CULT CORNER: Cobra (1986)

John remembers the cure for crime with Sylvester Stallone’s impossibly 80s cop.

Who made it?: George P. Cosmatos (Director), Sylvester Stallone (Writer), Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan (Producers), Warner Bros./Cannon Films.

Who’s in it?: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson, Brian Thompson, John Herzfeld.

Tagline: “Crime is a disease. Meet the cure.”

IMDb rating: 5.5/10.

Cobra is arguably one of my favourite Sylvester Stallone films, as well as 80s action farces, of all time. Sly is on top macho bullshit form, and the action and violence is straight out of a grungy comic book. This is where the law stops and my review starts.

Marion “Cobra” Cobretti (Stallone) is a hard-boiled cop from a division of the Los Angeles Police Department known as the “Zombie Squad.” Despised by his peers for his no-nonsense methods, he soon becomes the only man for the job when a group of social Darwinist psychopaths known as the  “New Order” begin to plague the City of Angels.

Produced on a budget of $25 million in a joint venture by Warner Bros. and Cannon Films,  Cobra was directed by George P. Cosmatos who had previously worked with Stallone on Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), and would go on to to direct the underwater horror Leviathan (1989) and the star-studded western Tombstone (1993). Or did he? That’s still up for debate as many believe Kurt Russell was calling the shots on Tombstone and Cosmatos was merely a ghost director. Leading man Stallone wrote the screenplay for Cobra, which was loosely based on the novel Fair Game by Paula Gosling.

The film’s cast apart from Sly isn’t anything special with his wife at the time, Brigitte Nielsen, portraying your typical damsel in distress, Reni Santoni appearing as a likable but forgettable sidekick, and Brian Thompson showing up as an over-the-top comic book villain. But, with all that said, the actors all do their jobs with entertaining effect.

Cobra is a simple tale of Good vs. Evil; a rogue cop taking down a merciless killer. That said, Stallone’s screenplay, like so many of his other writing credits, does attempt to inject some social commentary. A group of psychopaths who despise modern society, believe in killing the weak and leaving only the strongest and smartest to rule the world, could well be a metaphor for Reganomics. The film is obviously an exercise in self-indulgence on Stallone’s part, having taken ideas from his version of Beverly Hills Cop (1984), in which he was originally intended to star as Axel Foley before Eddie Murphy came into the picture. If it wasn’t for Paramount rejecting Stallone’s rewrite of the script, then we would never have had Cobra, which I am personally thankful for. Cobra is not a great piece of cinema by any means, but like every other one-man army action flick, it is a cult classic in its genre. Stallone’s meathead performance is both laughable and cool in a way that only the legend can pull off. Plus, if it weren’t for films like this, then we wouldn’t have the 80s throwback franchise which is The Expendables. In a time of dark, depressing characters in realistic and believable stories, it’s a refreshing change to see a series of films that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Cobra was released 23 May, 1986, and debuted at number one at the box office. Even though the film has always been seen as a commercial flop, it performed well enough financially, grossing $15.6 million on Memorial Day weekend, and would go on to gross approximately $160 million. Despite the financial success, Cobra was heavily-criticised, especially when it came to the film’s plotting, dialogue and gratuitous violence. The TV Guide stated that “Stallone’s character is an empty hulk… the few attempts to provide us with little insights into his character are downright laughable.”

The film was heavily cut after originally being given an X certificate by the MPPA. Further cuts were made to the film for the UK release, which have since been reinstated on Blu-ray. The main reason for a lot of Cobra’s footage ending up on the cutting room floor was that Warner Bros. believed it wouldn’t perform well enough at the box office. This was due to the fact the film would be released a week after Tom Cruise classic Top Gun, being overshadowed by the blockbuster. Perhaps the full uncut version of the film would make the picture more dynamic as Stallone was forced to cut much of the plot and character scenes. This version has sadly never seen the light of day except in the form of a time-coded workprint sourced from VHS. So, fingers crossed Warner will one day officially release Cobra uncut on DVD and Blu.

At the end of the day, Cobra is a product of its time, where so many violent action movies starring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris were flooding the market. It is simply a guilty pleasure and shouldn’t be frowned upon for not being a masterful piece of filmmaking. Cobra is good old-fashioned 80s exploitation.

Best Scene

When a member of the “New Order” holds customers hostage at a supermarket, only Cobra can save the day.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Most 80s action heroes were called John (John Rambo, John Matrix, John McClane etc.). However, in this movie the hero is named Marion, which is the real first name of the epitome of the cinematic tough-guy – John Wayne.
  • The custom 1950 Mercury driven by Cobretti in the film was a car actually owned by star Sylvester Stallone. The studio produced stunt doubles of the car for use in some of the action sequences, such as the jump from the second floor of the parking garage.
  • Director Nicolas Winding Refn is a huge fan of Cobra. In Refn’s cult movie Drive (2011), the main character has a toothpick in his mouth in some scenes; this is Refn’s homage to the opening scene of Cobra.

John Cowdell

I have been writing and producing short films for over ten years and are now branching out into film reviews.

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