It’s been 30 years since classic rom-com Cocktail hit the big screen, but “Coughlin’s Law” still inspires bartenders to this day. Peak Tom Cruise, the film is everything an 80’s movie should be – cheesy, preppy, and a little bit shallow – and despite terrible reviews at the time, the film’s lasting impact on pop culture can’t be denied.
To celebrate three decades of Tom Cruise flipping bottles, here’s seven things you didn’t know about Cocktail.
7. Tom Cruise’s Character Was Twice as Old in the Book
In the movie adaption, Tom Cruise played Brian Flanagan, a struggling business student turned “flair” bartender in New York City. Obviously, Cruise’s version of the character is an attractive man in his mid-twenties, but in the original novel by Heywood Gould, Brian is described as a “38-year-old weirdo in a field jacket with greasy, graying hair hanging over his collar, his blue eyes streaked like the red sky at morning.” This is because the book is semi-autobiographical, and was inspired by Gould’s years bartending to support his failing writing career. In an interview with Chicago Tribune, the author said: “I was in my late 30s, and I was drinking pretty good, and I was starting to feel like I was missing the boat. The character in the book is an older guy who has been around and starting to feel that he’s pretty washed-up.” However, Disney execs felt the character should be younger, pressuring Gould until he relented.
6. Tom Cruise Almost Wasn’t Cast
Despite the age difference, it’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in the lead role other than Cruise. However, Disney initially weren’t keen on casting the actor. Recalling one of his early meetings with Disney bigwigs Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gould explained: “Someone mentioned that this might be a good vehicle for Tom Cruise, but Eisner said ‘He’ll never do this, don’t waste your time, he can’t play this part.’ And then Katzenberg says, ‘Well, he’s really interested in doing it,’ and without skipping a beat Eisner says, ‘He’s perfect for it, a perfect fit!’ That’s the movie business: I hate him, I love him; I love him, I hate him!” Jim Carrey and Charlie Sheen were also considered.
5. And Neither Was Bryan Brown
Director Ronald Donaldson only had one person in mind for the role of Brian’s mentor and frenemy Doug Coughlin, and that was Bryan Brown. The actor flew all the way from Sydney to NYC for the audition, only to bomb from exhaustion. Donaldson described their meeting as “dreadful,” but considering the guy had just come off a 20-hour flight, he decided to give him another chance. However, Brown was forced to turn the offer down, as he had to catch a flight back to Australia. So, how did Brown eventually land the part? “I couldn’t persuade him to stay and do it again, so I didn’t show anybody the audition,” Donaldson explained. Instead, Donaldson told producers to watch Brown in F/X, and they were sold.
4. Elisabeth Shue Had Lots of Competition For the Role of Jordan
Elisabeth Shue eventually won the part of Cruise’s love interest Jordan, the waitress and wannabe artist he falls in love with in Jamaica. However, plenty of other popular 80’s stars were interested in the role, including Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Jennifer Grey, Jodie Foster, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Daryl Hannah. The role was first offered to Molly Ringwald, then Heather Graham, who also had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts with License to Drive.
3. There Were Over 40 Versions of the Script
As well as the novel, Gould also wrote the screenplay for Cocktail. However, the idea went through several different studios before Disney agreed to pick it up. As a result, there were over 40 different versions of the script with various amendments. Describing his battle to get the movie adaption made, Gould said: “there must have been 40 drafts of the screenplay before we went into production. It was originally with Universal. They put it in turnaround because I wasn’t making the character likable enough. And then Disney picked it up, and I went through the same process with them. I would fight them at every turn, and there was a huge battle over making the lead younger, which I eventually did.”
Co-star Bryan Brown admitted further changes were made when Tom Cruise came on-board, saying: “The studio made the changes to protect the star and it became a much slighter movie because of it.”
Kelly Lynch, who played Doug’s wife Kerry Coughlin, told The A.V Club: “[Cocktail] was actually a really complicated story about the ’80s and power and money, and it was really re-edited where they completely lost my character’s backstory—her low self-esteem, who her father was, why she was this person that she was—but it was obviously a really successful movie, if not as good as it could’ve been. It was written by the guy who wrote Fort Apache The Bronx, and it was a much darker movie, but Disney took it, reshot about a third of it, and turned it into flipping the bottles and this and that.”
2. The Soundtrack Was Almost as Popular as the Movie
Cocktail’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack immediately hit number one on the Canadian and Australian Album Charts. It also reached number two on the U.S Billboard Top 200, and landed at number three in the Swiss, Austrian, and Swedish charts. The song ‘Kokomo’ by The Beach Boys was nominated for Best Original Song – Motion Picture at the 1988 Golden Globes, but lost out to ‘Two Hearts’ by Buster and ‘Let the River Run’ from Working Girl, which tied for the award that year.
1. Viewers Loved it, the Critics Didn’t
Roger Ebert, the high priest of film criticism, gave Cocktail a two-star review, saying it’s “remarkable given the subject, how little the movie knows about bars or drinking.” Whereas Richard Corliss of Time Magazine described it “a bottle of rotgut in a Dom Perignon box.” It also won two Razzie awards – for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. Ouch!
And although it’s turned out to be one of his more memorable roles, Cruise isn’t particularly fond of Cocktail, confessing that it “was not a crowning jewel in his career.” Even Gould wasn’t a fan of the movie adaption, admitting he spent 24 hours in bed after the terrible reviews started rolling in. “I was accused of betraying my own work, which is stupid,” Gould said. “So I was pretty devastated. The good thing about that experience is that it toughened me up. It was like basic training. This movie got killed, and then after that I was OK with getting killed—I got killed a few more times since then, but it hasn’t bothered me.”