Cobra (1986 film)

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Against a red backdrop, Stallone dressed in black, holding a large gun, wearing sunglasses, and with a matchstick in his mouth.
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed byGeorge P. Cosmatos
Screenplay bySylvester Stallone
Based onFair Game
by Paula Gosling
Produced byMenahem Golan
Yoram Globus
CinematographyRic Waite
Edited byJames R. Symons
Don Zimmerman
Music bySylvester Levay
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • May 23, 1986 (1986-05-23)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[2][3]
Box office$160 million[4]

Cobra is a 1986 American action film directed by George P. Cosmatos and written by Sylvester Stallone, who also stars in the titular role. The film co-stars Reni Santoni, Brigitte Nielsen and Andrew Robinson.[5] Loosely based on the novel A Running Duck by Paula Gosling (later published as Fair Game and filmed under that title in 1995), Cobra follows police detective Marion "Cobra" Cobretti as he investigates a string of violent crimes while also protecting a witness targeted by the perpetrators.

Cobra is the second and final film which featured the collaboration between Stallone and Nielsen after Rocky IV (1985) and until Creed II (2018), and the only film the pair are both featured in while married to one another in real life. The film's screenplay was largely inspired by Stallone's original screenplay for Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

Cobra was released to generally negative reviews with criticism focused on its excessive violence and overuse of genre tropes, but it was a box office success, earning $49 million in the U.S. and $160 million worldwide. It has since been considered a cult classic.[6][7]


A mass shooting at a Los Angeles supermarket evolves into a hostage crisis. The Los Angeles Police Department summons Lt. Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, of their elite "Zombie Squad", to resolve the crisis. Cobretti stands off with the shooter, who espouses social Darwinist ideals and mentions a "New World". Cobretti kills him before he can execute a group of hostages. Detective Monte reprimands Cobretti for disregarding police procedure, and Cobretti admonishes a group of reporters for not prioritizing the safety of potential victims.

Unbeknownst to the authorities, the supermarket incident is part of a string of violent crimes in Los Angeles committed by The New World, a social Darwinist cult that despises modern society and believes in killing the weak, leaving only the strongest and smartest to rule. Model and businesswoman Ingrid Knudsen becomes the New World's priority target after she witnesses cultists and their leader "Night Slasher" on a killing spree. She is placed under the protective custody of Cobretti and his partner Sergeant Tony Gonzales after a failed attempt on her life.

After more attempts to kill Knudsen and Cobretti, Cobretti theorizes an organization is responsible but his theory is rebuffed by his superiors. Cobretti and Gonzales move with Knudsen out of Los Angeles to the small town of San Remos, where Cobretti and Knudsen become romantically involved. The New World's second-in-command, Officer Nancy Stalk, infiltrates the police escort. Despite Cobretti's mistrust of Stalk, he does nothing and the group spends the night in a motel.

At dawn, the New World arrives in San Remos on motorcycles and besieges the town, directed by Stalk. In a shootout, Cobretti kills many cultists, but Gonzales is wounded. Cobretti and Knudsen flee in a pickup truck which the cultists wreck with a roadblock. Cobretti and Knudsen end up in a chemical factory where Cobretti defeats the rest of the cultists, and Stalk is accidentally shot by the Night Slasher.

Fighting the Night Slasher hand-to-hand, Cobretti impales him on a hook that drags him into a furnace. The California Highway Patrol secures San Remos and rescues Gonzales. As Cobretti is cleared by his superiors, Monte initially appears apologetic, only to again chastise Cobretti for "overdoing it". Cobretti punches Monte in the face before riding away with Knudsen on a motorcycle.



Development and writing[edit]

When Sylvester Stallone was signed to play the lead in Beverly Hills Cop, he decided to rewrite the script almost completely, removing nearly all the comedic aspects and turning it into an action movie that he felt was better suited to him. The studio read his revised script and rejected it.[8] The proposed action scenes would have increased the budget far beyond what they planned.[2] Stallone later channeled his ideas for it into an original script.[7] When Stallone left Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy was brought in to play the lead role.[9]

The novel A Running Duck by Paula Gosling was cited as source material, enough so that she received a screen credit.

Sylvester Stallone's earlier draft of the script contained many differences from later drafts and the final film. These include the opening shootout taking place in a movie theater (instead of a supermarket), during which many more people are killed; Cobra mentioning how he had a girlfriend who was killed by a psychopath he was trying to catch; an additional nighttime action sequence on a boat where Cobra and Ingrid are hiding and are attacked by the Night Slasher's cultists, with Cobra and Gonzalez managing to kill them all; and a different ending, in which Monte, revealed to be the actual leader of the New World, attempts to kill Ingrid at the last second before being killed by Cobretti.[10]

The line, "This is where the law stops and I start, sucker!", was inspired by a line spoken by Steve McQueen in The Reivers.[11]

Cobra needed much additional editing because the film was so graphically violent that it originally received an X rating. It was edited to receive an R rating.


Brian Thompson auditioned seven times before he was hired. On the fourth audition he met Stallone, who thought that Thompson was too nice to play the Night Slasher. But after a screen test, he immediately got the job. Also, in the original script, the Night Slasher was called Abaddon, possibly after the "angel of the abyss" from the Bible.

Thompson repeatedly sought Stallone's advice about how to play the Night Slasher, including questions about his background and personal motivations, but Stallone showed no interest in the subject and told Thompson that the character was simply evil. In an unfortunate surprise for Thompson, after filming was completed, director Cosmatos unexpectedly told him: "You could have been good if you had listened to me."

Stallone acknowledged Dirty Harry as an influence[11] and Cobra reunited two actors from the film: Reni Santoni and Andy Robinson.

Brigitte Nielsen, Stallone's then-wife who he had met filming Rocky IV, was cast as Ingrid Knudsen.[6][11]


Originally, Cobra was supposed to be filmed in Seattle, climaxing with a motorcycle chase scene on a ferry between the islands. Even though everything was prepared to start filming the final theatrical version of the scene at night, Stallone demanded the ending be changed because of the mosquito problem at that time, which would have made night time filming very difficult to endure.

The supporting cast and extras were forbidden from talking to Stallone on set.[12]

At one point during filming, Stallone complained to cinematographer Ric Waite that they were falling behind and that he needed to push his crew to work harder. Waite responded by telling Stallone that the delays were due to his fooling around with Brigitte Nielsen and showing off for his bodyguards. Although Stallone was shocked that somebody would talk to him that way, he cleaned up his act and behaved more professionally, although he returned to his old egocentric behavior a few weeks later. Waite later said in an interview that, despite his huge ego, Stallone had a great sense of humor. He said George P. Cosmatos would have made a great producer, but he was a terrible director.[12]

During a stunt scene, driver Kerry Rossall and another stuntman were injured after Rossall intentionally crashed a van into a wall. Nielsen was nearly hit by the van during a previous take.[13]

For the Night Slasher's monologue in the lead-up to the final fight, Brian Thompson did the scene with the script supervisor standing in for Stallone, who was busy watching a basketball game on TV.

The custom 1950 Mercury driven by Cobretti was actually owned by 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. The production built three "Cobra cars" for stunt work. Although they were identical on the outside, their moving parts were designed for specific sequences, involving high-speed swipes with other vehicles, 180-degree turns, jumps, and 360-degree spins.[1][14]

The knife used by the Night Slasher was made for the film by knife designer Herman Schneider.[1] Sylvester Stallone asked Schneider to create a knife that audiences would never forget. Cobretti uses a custom Colt Gold Cup National Match 1911, modified to chamber 9×19mm Parabellum. Later in the film, he uses a Jatimatic submachine gun.[1][15]


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
various artists
Released1986 (1986)
GenreRock, pop
LabelScotti Bros. Records
ProducerRobin Garb

An audio cassette and vinyl version were released on September 21, 1986, followed by a CD which was released in 1992 as the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.[16]

Stan Bush's song "The Touch", heard in The Transformers: The Movie (1986), was originally written for Cobra.[17] It is said "Feel The Heat" was overheard during the filming of its music video by Jean Beauvoir when they were editing in the same building complex, and was added because Stallone loved the song.

1."Voice of America's Sons (Theme From Cobra)"John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band4:36
2."Feel the Heat"Jean Beauvoir4:01
3."Loving on Borrowed Time (Love Theme from Cobra)"Gladys Knight & Bill Medley3:59
4."Skyline"Sylvester Levay3:24
5."Hold on to Your Vision"Gary Wright3:44
6."Suave"Miami Sound Machine3:03
7."Cobra"Sylvester Levay3:09
8."Angel of the City"Robert Tepper4:28
9."Chase"Sylvester Levay3:31
10."Two into One"Bill Medley & Carmen Twillie4:01
Total length:37:56



The first rough cut was over two hours long (the closest estimated original running time is 130 minutes). It was then shortened to a roughly two-hour director's cut which was intended to be released in theaters. However, after Top Gun became a smash hit, Stallone and Warner Bros. were worried that Cobra—which would premiere the following week—would be overshadowed, so in order to ensure at least one extra screening each day the movie was heavily re-edited. Stallone removed much of the plot and scenes involving characters other than his own. Warner Bros. also demanded that the more graphic scenes be cut down or removed entirely because they were "too intense," and that some action scenes be cut for pacing.[18] The extended television version of the film is approximately 6 minutes longer than the theatrical release.[19] When first submitted to the MPAA the film received an X rating, necessitating even more cuts.


Box office[edit]

Cobra opened the widest for a Warner Bros. release at the time[20] opening on 2,131 screens and debuted at number one at the U.S. box office with a Memorial Day weekend debut of $15.7 million.[6] It eventually went on to gross $160 million,[4] over six times its estimated $25 million budget.[2] According to The New York Times, the film was still considered a disappointment because its $48 million at the box office in the US did not live up to the success of Rambo.[21]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 18% based on 22 reviews, with an average rating of 3.40/10. The website's consensus reads, "A disengaged Sylvester Stallone plays the titular Cobra with no bite in this leaden action thriller, queasily fixated on wanton carnage and nothing else."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 25 out of 100 based on 9 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[23] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B" on scale of A to F.[24]

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."[25] Nina Darnton of The New York Times opined that the film "pretends to be against the wanton violence of a disintegrating society, but it's really the apotheosis of that violence....[it] shows such contempt for the most basic American values",[26] and Vincent Canby called it "disturbing for the violence it portrays, the ideas it represents and the large number of people who will undoubtedly go to see it and cheer on its dangerous hero."[27] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times panned the film, saying "Cobra's pretentious emptiness, its dumbness, its two-faced morality make it a movie that begs to be laughed off."[28]

Variety called it "a sleek, extremely violent and exciting police thriller" and compared Cobra favorably to Rocky and Rambo.[29]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune compared Cobra to Dirty Harry when giving the film 2 and 1/2 stars and summarizing it as "Filthy Harry". He wrote: "Whereas Clint Eastwood simply would have squinted at Robinson, Stallone takes a more violent approach. Maybe that's the difference between actors--Eastwood can be droll; Stallone more often crosses the border to primeval."[30] Siskel and Roger Ebert did not give the film a feature review on their TV show, but both gave it negative attention during a late-1986 segment on new video releases, in which Siskel noted that the film had a great opening sequence (the supermarket hostage scene) and couldn't maintain the momentum. Ebert lamented that Stallone was squandering his talent and vast potential.

In the 1996 movie guide "Seen That, Now What?", the film was given the rating of "C−", stating that the film is "a graceless vigilante thriller that's strictly for hardcore action junkies."[31]

Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan viewed this film at Camp David on June 6, 1986.[32]


Cobra was nominated for six Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Actress (Brigitte Nielsen), Worst Supporting Actor and Worst New Star (both for Brian Thompson) and Worst Screenplay.[33]

Director Nicolas Winding Refn is a huge fan of Cobra. In Refn's cult film Drive the main character has a toothpick in his mouth in some scenes; this is Refn's homage to the opening scene where Stallone has a matchstick in his mouth. The main star of the film, Ryan Gosling, also said in interview that he is a fan of Stallone and Cobra which is why he "borrowed" his character's toothpick habit from Cobra.[34]

Other media[edit]

Video game[edit]

In 1986, the film was made into a video game by Ocean Software for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC.[35]

Aborted sequel and TV series[edit]

In 1987, Cannon Films, along with Warner Bros. attempted to make a sequel, Cobra Part II, but the film never materialized.[36]

In 2019, a television series was in development with Robert Rodriguez serving as director/creator.[37][38] As of 2023, it is not known if this project is still in development.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Cobra". AFI. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Cronin, Brian (January 16, 2013). "Movie Legends Revealed: Sly Stallone as Axel Foley?". CBR. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  3. ^ "Cobra (1986) – Financial Information". The Numbers.
  4. ^ a b "1986 Worldwide box-office". Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  5. ^ Brenner, Paul. "Cobra". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Vernon Scott (May 29, 1986). "'Cobra' Biggest Draw For Box-office Bucks". Sun Sentinel. Archived from the original on May 28, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (September 12, 2014). "Cobra gave 1986 the Dirty Harry knockoff it deserved". The Dissolve. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  8. ^ "Round Two With Stallone: Rocky, Beverly Hills Cop, Rambo 4, Elvis, Poe, Horror, Incredibles 2 &..." Aint It Cool News.
  9. ^ "I Took Over A Role From Someone Else And Now I'm Famous". The Role That Changed My Life. Season 1. Episode 4. Archived from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2010.
  10. ^ "First Draft Screenplay of Cobra". May 20, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Gene Siskel (May 18, 1986). "STALLONE WIELDS A PEN WITH RAMBONIAN POWER".
  12. ^ a b Summer of 1986: COBRA. Movie Geeks United!. with cinematographer Ric Waite and costar Brian Thompson
  13. ^ Brouwer, Alexandra (1990). Working in Hollywood (1st ed.). New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 150–151. ISBN 0-517-57401-2 – via Internet Archive.
  14. ^ MARIELENA HATZIGIANNIS (March 30, 2011). "Sylvester Stallone reportedly reunites with stolen car". CBS News. he designed the car to fit his role in the movie, and that the car is worth around $250,000
  15. ^ Hunter, Stephen (1995). Violent Screen: A Critic's 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem. Bancroft Press. ISBN 9780963537645. ...Sylvester Stallone's "Cobra," which features numb performances by the actors and brilliant performances by a Finnish Jati-matic 9mm submachine gun with a laser sighting system...
  16. ^ Cobra: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1986 Film). Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  17. ^ "Interview: Stan Bush, singer/songwriter of "The Touch" from TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE". GeekTyrant. September 8, 2010. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  18. ^ "Take One". May 26, 1986. Retrieved December 1, 2014. Sly Stallone may have wimped out by not going to Cannes because of terrorism, but he's standing strong at home. Sly wants to make sure his shoot-'em-up cop movie Cobra (wife Brigitte appears as a terrorized model), which opens Memorial Day weekend, outdoes that other potential megahit, Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. To get the box-office edge, Stallone insisted that Cobra be kept to under 90 minutes, insuring one extra showing a day, while Top Gun logs in at 103 minutes. Very Sly.
  19. ^ Wurm, Gerald. "Cobra (Comparison: Original Version - Extended TV Version) -".
  20. ^ Gold, Richard (May 21, 1986). "Warner Gears Up For Biggest Break Ever With 'Cobra'". Variety. p. 4.
  21. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (September 8, 1986). "HOW SUMMER'S FILMS RANKED AT BOX OFFICE". The New York Times.
  22. ^ "Cobra". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  23. ^ "Cobra (1986) reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  24. ^ "COBRA (1986) B". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  25. ^ "Cobra: Review". TV Guide. Archived from the original on April 2, 2012. Retrieved December 15, 2010.
  26. ^ Darnton, Nina (May 24, 1986). "Film: Sylvester Stallone as Policeman, in 'Cobra'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  27. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 1, 1986). "FILM VIEW; INSIDE 'COBRA' MAY DWELL A PUSSYCAT". The New York Times.
  28. ^ Sheila Benson (May 24, 1986). "MOVIE REVIEW : THE 'COBRA' THAT SAVED L.A." Los Angeles Times.
  29. ^ Variety Staff (January 1, 1986). "Cobra". Variety.
  31. ^ Shaw, Andrea (1996). Seen That, Now What?: The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Video You Really Want to Watch. Simon and Schuster. p. 43. ISBN 9780684800110.
  32. ^ "Films Viewed by President and Mrs. Reagan | Ronald Reagan".
  33. ^ "1986 RAZZIE® Nominees & 'Winners.'". Golden Raspberry Award Foundation and John Wilson. 1987. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  34. ^ Wloszczyna, Susan (September 15, 2011). "Ryan Gosling can't help but drive them wild". USA Today. Gannett Company. Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  35. ^ "Cobra for Commodore 64". GameFAQs. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  36. ^ "Cannon inks Dudikoff to 7-pic pact; sequel to 'Cobra' planned". Variety. May 20, 1987. p. 37.
  37. ^ [dead link]
  38. ^ Davis, Erik (September 16, 2019). "Sylvester Stallone Teaming with Robert Rodriguez on 'Cobra' Reboot; Is 'Tango & Cash' Next?". Fandango. Retrieved September 16, 2019.

External links[edit]