Cobra (1986 film)

Cobra is a 1986 American action film directed by George P. Cosmatos, and written by Sylvester Stallone, who also starred in the title role. The film co-stars Reni Santoni, Brigitte Nielsen and Andrew Robinson.[3] It is the first film where Brian Thompson plays a prominent role. The film was loosely based on the novel Fair Game by Paula Gosling, which was later filmed under that title in 1995. However, Stallone's screenplay was originally conceived from ideas he had during pre-production of Beverly Hills Cop, whose screenplay he heavily revised. He had wanted to make Beverly Hills Cop a less comedic and more action-oriented film, which the studio rejected as being far too expensive. When he left that project, Eddie Murphy was brought in to play the lead role.[4]

Against a red backdrop, Stallone dressed in black, holding a large gun, wearing sunglasses, and with a toothpick in his mouth.
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed byGeorge P. Cosmatos
Produced byMenahem Golan
Yoram Globus
Screenplay bySylvester Stallone
Based onFair Game
1978 novel
by Paula Gosling
Music bySylvester Levay
CinematographyRic Waite
Edited byJames R. Symons
Don Zimmerman
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
May 23, 1986 (1986-05-23)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$160 million (worldwide)[2]

The film received negative reviews, with much criticism focused on the overuse of genre tropes, yet it debuted at the number one spot on the U.S. box office and became a financial success. It is now considered a cult classic.[5][6]


An armed gunman causes a hostage crisis at a Los Angeles supermarket. When negotiations between him and law enforcement fail, the LAPD summons Lieutenant Marion Cobretti (Stallone), a member of the agency's elite division known as the "Zombie Squad". Cobretti, known by the codename "Cobra", infiltrates the store, locates, and negotiates with the gunman, who threatens him by speaking of a vague and unknown organization known as "The New World", a supremacist group of social darwinist radicals that despise modern society and believe in killing the weak, leaving only the strongest and smartest to rule the world. Cobretti then kills the gunman by throwing a knife at his abdomen and firing shots at him.

As the hostages and bodies are removed from the store, Cobretti is admonished by Detective Monte (Robinson) for his seeming disregard for police procedures and protocols. Harassed by reporters, Cobretti admonishes them for failing to prioritize the safety of potential victims. Little does everyone realize at the time that the supermarket hostage crisis is only one of a string of recent and seemingly unconnected acts of violence and murder that have broken loose in Los Angeles, perpetrated by the same supremacist group the supermarket gunman mentioned.

Model and businesswoman Ingrid Knudsen (Nielsen) later becomes the New World's priority target after witnessing their members and their leader, only identified as "The Night Slasher" (Thompson), going on a killing spree. She is placed under the protective custody of Cobretti and his partner, Sergeant Tony Gonzales (Santoni) after a failed attempt on her. When several more failed attempts are made on their lives by various people connected to the New World, Cobretti theorizes that there is an entire army of killers operating with the same modus operandi rather than a lone serial killer with some associates, but his suggestion is rebuffed by his superiors. However, the LAPD agrees with Cobretti that it will be safest if he and Knudsen relocate from the city.

Cobretti becomes romantically involved with Ingrid shortly after venturing out into the countryside, but Nancy Stalk (Garlington), the New World's second-in-command and right-hand man going undercover as a police officer escorting the Cobretti party, compromises their whereabouts. Despite Cobretti's suspicions and mistrust of Nancy, he does nothing and the party spends the night in a motel. The organization moves in at dawn and besieges the small town. With barely enough time to react, the attackers storm Cobretti and Ingrid's motel, wounding Gonzales in the process. Killing several members but with more swarming into the town, Cobretti and Ingrid escape in a pickup truck. When the truck is severely damaged from the chase, the duo cut through a grapefruit plantation to escape into a nearby factory.

Cobretti has defeated most of the New World by this point, with the few remaining members following them into the building. Cobretti eliminates every member and the Night Slasher accidentally shoots Nancy, leaving just himself. Cobretti and the Night Slasher engage in a vicious melee combat inside the steel mill, ending with the Night Slasher being impaled in the back by a large roaming hook, which transports him into a furnace that burns him alive.

In the aftermath, Cobretti's department arrives and begins clean-up of the town, rendering medical aid to Gonzales. Detective Monte appears apologetic but confronts Cobretti again about his lack of regard to police protocols, offering to discuss the issue over a long dinner. Cobretti punches Monte instead, before he and Ingrid ride away on one of the motorcycles left by the New World.




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 they rejected it, citing action scenes that were far beyond what their projected budget would allow. Stallone eventually left Beverly Hills Cop, and he channeled his ideas for that movie into an original script.

The novel Fair Game by Paula Gosling was cited as source material, enough so that she received a screen credit. When Cobra came out, Sylvester Stallone allegedly wanted the novel to be reissued with himself credited as co-author. Gosling declined the offer. The 1995 movie Fair Game was also based on the same novel by Gosling.

Sylvester Stallone's earlier draft of the script had a lot of differences from later drafts and the final film. These include the opening shootout taking place in movie theater (instead of a grocery store) during which a lot more people are killed, Cobra mentioning how he had a girlfriend who was killed by some psychopath he was trying to catch, an additional big action sequence taking place during night on a boat where Cobra and Ingrid are hiding when they get attacked by the Night Slasher's cult members but Cobra and Gonzalez manage to kill them all, and a different ending in which it's revealed that Monte was the actual leader of the New Order cult and when he tries to kill Ingrid he gets shot and killed by Cobra.[7]

Cobra needed much additional editing because the film was so graphically violent that, at first, it received an X rating from the MPAA. Warner Bros. also did not like the level of gore and violence of the first rough cut, which is why they would not release the movie until most of those scenes were deleted and the movie garnered an R rating, instead.


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 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."

Cobra reunited two actors from the movie Dirty Harry: Reni Santoni, and Andy Robinson.

Brigitte Nielsen was cast as Ingrid Knudsen.


Originally, the movie was 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.[8]

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 also confirmed a rumor that Stallone was the true director of the film, calling George P. Cosmatos a good producer but a bad director.[8]

For the Night Slasher's monologue in the lead-up to the final fight, Brian Thompson did the scene with a script girl 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 coupe had a 350 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine, outfitted with a blower for added horsepower, a Hurst automatic shifter and a 400 hydro transmission with a shift kit. The car could go from zero to sixty miles per hour in four seconds and hit speeds of 140 miles per hour. A hood scoop was added to the front end, headlights and tail lights were rounded, and most of the decorative chrome was removed. 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.[9]

The knife used by the Night Slasher was made for the film by knife designer Herman Schneider. Sylvester Stallone asked Schneider to create a knife that audiences would never forget.

Cobretti uses a custom Colt Gold Cup National Match 1911 chambered in 9mm. The 9mm variant was made specifically for the film (normally it fires 45 acp). Later in the film he uses a Jati-Matic submachine gun.

There was originally a scene in which Cobretti uses ASP 9 as a backup gun but it was cut during re-editing of the movie.[citation needed]

LAT article reported that the film's body count amounted to twenty-five good guys dead, and forty-two bad guys dead.


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.[10]

When first submitted to the MPAA the film received an X rating, necessitating even more cuts. The full extent of the censorship is unknown, but based on director Cosmatos's commentary and several other sources, some of the cut scenes include:

  • The first murder victim having her throat cut and hands severed;
  • An Asian American child delivers a wrapped present to the LAPD office as instructed by one of the members of the New World. As the officer tells the child to stay, he proceeds to unwrap the present only to discovers traces of blood coming from the box. The officer answers a phone call from one of the members of the New World, who speaks a cryptic message of the murder victim's hands inside the box;
  • More dead bodies in the autopsy scene, including lingering shots of naked and mutilated bodies of murdered women;
  • The New World's day jobs as welders, carpenters and fish market employees and cleaners, which were originally part of the "Angel of the City" sequences. These were cut and replaced with the scenes of the New World doing a routine workout ritual as seen in the film's opening;
  • An extended death scene for Ingrid's photographer Dan, in which he is hit several more times with axes and attempts to escape, only to slip on his own blood and fall down in puddle of it before being finished off with even more hits;
  • The scene in which the Night Slasher tries to kill Ingrid in the hospital was cut down for pacing and content. The deaths of the janitor and nurse were originally shown onscreen and a scene where a police guard outside Ingrid's room is killed by the Night Slasher was also cut. A later scene where Cobretti mentions the officer's death to Monte was cut to maintain continuity, which as a result made the editing of that scene choppy;
  • More scenes of the townspeople (including the motel owner and diner waitress) being killed during the climax, including a scene in which one is hit in the face with ax; two of these death scenes appeared in 1990's TV versions of the film, but with most of the more graphic shots removed;
  • Graphic close-ups of the Night Slasher's wound after he is impaled on the hook; Cobretti repeatedly forces the hook deeper into the Night Slasher as he screams in pain;
  • After the demise of the Night Slasher, Cobretti and Ingrid leaves the factory but before they can exit, countryside police enter wherein the sheriff demands from them of what took place in the factory.

Besides these cuts, a few scenes in which the Night Slasher and his gang are killing people were slowed down (for continuity reasons since demanded cuts made the editing of the scenes look choppy), while some of the shootouts which were originally in slow-motion were instead played at normal speed (in order to cut prolonged death scenes of gang members, plus close ups of many bullet holes which were also cut).

Eventually, the movie received an R rating and was released in theaters with a running time of 84 minutes, approximately 50 minutes shorter than the first assembly cut and 30 to 40 minutes shorter than the director's cut.

Much of David Rasche's role was cut. In the behind-the-scenes making of documentary available on DVD/Blu-ray, an additional (deleted) scene with him and Brigitte Nielsen is shown being filmed.

The car chase between Cobretti and the Night Slasher was originally longer and ended differently. In the theatrical version the Night Slasher shoots at Cobretti's car and causes him to crash into the boat. In the original version the Night Slasher and his driver are the first ones who crash into the boat; Cobretti fails to stop his car in time and crashes into them. Shots of the Night Slasher's car turning around and him breathing in relief after Cobra crashes his car were taken from an earlier part of the chase and the shot of Cobretti seeing the boat before he crashes into it was actually taken from the Night Slasher's car crash. In the theatrical version, the Night Slasher's crashed car is still visible in scene where Cobretti crashes into the boat.

The first cut of the movie featured a slightly different version of the climactic confrontation between the Night Slasher and Cobretti. Where the final version features a longer exchange between the two, in the earlier version Cobretti appears right after the Night Slasher screams "We are the future!" and reiterates his line from the opening scene: "You're the disease, and I'm the cure." Nightstalker's monologue about the law and Cobretti's duty as a policeman is omitted; instead, they stare at each other before Stalk attacks Cobretti. There is a noticeable continuity mistake in the final version: when Stalk jumps on Cobra there is a fire behind him, which isn't visible during the preceding conversation. This is because Stallone's closeups were shot later in a different location.

The official soundtrack release includes a track called "Skyline" which is not heard anywhere in the movie. This is because scenes in which this track was used were cut during the re-editing. Originally there was a scene in which Cobretti is sitting in his home, looking at the sunset (there is a similar scene in the beginning of theatrical version in which he is cleaning up his gun and then looks out the window) and soon, right after the Night Slasher and his gang members have killed the second victim and cops show up at the scene, Cobretti gets a call to go and meet with them. "Skyline" was also originally used in some other scenes, including the ending, but it was removed and replaced with "Voice Of America's Sons" by John Cafferty.

Although no uncut version or director's cut has ever seen an official release, a timecoded workprint sourced from poor quality VHS copies exists as a bootleg. It contains all of the X rated scenes and uncut action sequences, along with scenes explaining the motives of the New Order gang, focusing on characters such as the Night Slasher and Stalk, alternate lines of dialogue and a temporary score which contains some of the songs and music from the theatrical version and pieces of scores from other movies.


Cobra was a critical failure. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave the film a 14% approval rating based on 21 reviews, with a weighted average of 2.99/10.[11] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 25 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[12] Much criticism was aimed at its plotting and dialogue, which were seen as merely rehashing common action film tropes. The level of violence (even after re-editing) was also considered gratuitous.

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."[13] 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".[14]

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.[15]

Director Nicolas Winding Refn is a huge fan of Cobra. In Refn's cult movie 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. Main star of the movie 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.[16]

Box office

Cobra opened the widest for a Warner Bros. release at the time[17] opening on 2,131 screens and debuted at number one at the U.S. box office with a Memorial Day weekend debut of $15. 7million.[5] It eventually went on to gross $160 million,[2] over six times its estimated $25 million budget.[1]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[18]

Music score

Various Artists
Soundtrack album
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.[19]

Stan Bush's song "The Touch", heard in Transformers: The Movie (1986) was originally written for Cobra.[20]

1."Voice of America's Sons"John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band 
2."Feel the Heat"Jean Beauvoir 
3."Loving on Borrowed Time"Gladys Knight & Bill Medley 
4."Skyline"Sylvester Levay 
5."Hold on to Your Vision"Gary Wright 
6."Suave"Miami Sound Machine 
7."Cobra"Sylvester Levay 
8."Angel of the City"Robert Tepper 
9."Chase"Sylvester Levay 
10."Two into One"Bill Medley & Carmen Twillie 

Video game

In 1986, the film was made into a video game by Ocean Software for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC.[21]


In May 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival, Stallone discussed that a remake is in development in the form of a television series.[22] By September of the same year, he confirmed the project is moving forward with Robert Rodriguez serving as director/creator. The studios involved have not-yet decided whether it will be a film or television adaptation.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Cronin, Brian "Movie Legends Revealed: Sly Stallone as Axel Foley?", January 16th, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "1986 Worldwide box-office". Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  3. ^ Brenner, Paul. "Cobra". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  4. ^ "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 1 December 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  5. ^ a b "'Cobra' Biggest Draw For Box-office Bucks". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved November 8, 2010.
  6. ^ Rabin, Nathan. "Cobra gave 1986 the Dirty Harry knockoff it deserved". The Dissolve. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  7. ^ "First Draft Screenplay of Cobra". May 20, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Summer of 1986: COBRA". Movie Geeks United!. with cinematographer Ric Waite and costar Brian Thompson
  9. ^ "Cobra". AFI. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ "Cobra (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  12. ^ "Cobra (1986) reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  13. ^ "Cobra: Review". TV Guide. Retrieved December 15, 2010.
  14. ^ Darnton, Nina (May 24, 1986). "Film: Sylvester Stallone as Policeman, in 'Cobra'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  15. ^ (1987)"1986 RAZZIE® Nominees & 'Winners.'" Archived 2012-08-31 at the Wayback Machine Golden Raspberry Award Foundation and John Wilson. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  16. ^ Wloszczyna, Susan (September 15, 2011). "Ryan Gosling can't help but drive them wild". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  17. ^ Gold, Richard (May 21, 1986). "Warner Gears Up For Biggest Break Ever With 'Cobra'". Variety. p. 4.
  18. ^ "CinemaScore".
  19. ^ Cobra: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1986 Film). Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  20. ^ "Interview: Stan Bush, singer/songwriter of "The Touch" from TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE". GeekTyrant. September 8, 2010. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  21. ^ "Cobra for Commodore 64". GameFAQs. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  22. ^
  23. ^

External links