25 Things You Never Knew About Cocktail

We hear of plenty aspiring actors who work as bartenders whilst trying to get their career going – but how often does an actor portray a bartender after hitting the big time? Tom Cruise did just that in Cocktail.

Based on the novel of the same name, it’s all about an ambitious business student who starts working behind a bar to make ends meet, but falls in love with the lifestyle. Few films ever made serving drinks look quite so glamourous as this 1988 hit, and here are some facts you might not have known about the film.


25. It’s based on a true story

Cocktail is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Heywood Gould which was published in 1984. Gould had actually worked as a bartender in New York to support his writing career. He has been quoted as saying that he ‘met a lot of interesting people behind the bar and very rarely was it someone who started out wanting to be a bartender’.

‘They all had ambitions, some smouldering and some completely forgotten or suppressed.’ Gould also explained that the main character Brian Flanagan was a composite of the people he met, including himself.

24. There were 40 different drafts of the script before the film finally went into production

The film’s writer Heywood Gould has been quoted as saying ‘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 likeable enough.’

‘And then Disney picked it up, and I went through the same process with them.’ he explained. ‘I would fight them at every turn, and there was a huge battle over making the lead younger, which I eventually did.’ Gould has since agreed that this was a good decision.

23. Some legendary 80s actresses auditioned to be in the film

Jennifer Grey, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, and Daryl Hannah all either sought or were considered for the role of Jordan, romantic interest to Tom Cruise’s cocky bartender. The part ultimately eventually went to Elizabeth Shue, then best known for her roles in The Karate Kid and Adventures in Babysitting.

Shue was often cast as ‘the girl next door’ character, so playing a more mature love interest was a step in a new direction. She would go on to appear in the Back to the Future sequels, and was Oscar-nominated for her performance in the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas.

22. The story completely changed once Cruise was on board

Actor Bryan Brown said that the script ‘was one of the very best screenplays I had ever read. Very dark, about the cult of celebrity and everything about it.’ He went on to say that ‘Tom Cruise is a very sweet man, he was then and still is, but when he came in, the movie had to change.’

‘The studio made the changes to protect the star and it became a much slighter movie because of it.’ Cruise’s charisma and fun-loving nature apparently made the set an interesting place to work. John Bandy, who trained Cruise in the art of cocktail making, said that he was ‘a real guy’s guy.’

21. Cruise and Brown had bartending training for the film

To prepare them for the film, LA bartender John Bandy trained Cruise and Brown in some impressive bottle-flipping routines. Author Heywood Gould also took Cruise and Brown to his friend’s bar to show them some of the tricks. As previously mentioned, John Bandy also helped them perfect their flair.

Bandy revealed that ‘both Tom and Bryan were very capable, ambidextrous guys.’ Tom apparently also won the competition over who could break the most glasses.

20. Yes, they used real bottles

You might think it would be easier (and less messy) to just use plastic glasses. However, the producers were after a sense of authenticity. Cruise and Brown used real bottles on set, even when filming the sometimes intricate throwing routines.

And yes, given the actors were throwing so much real glass around, they did accidentally wind up breaking a few bottles. We bet they weren’t the ones sweeping up the broken glass!

19. Critics hated the film

Cocktail received mainly negative reviews from critics, and won 2 Golden Raspberry Awards, for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called Cocktail ‘an upscale, utterly brainless variation on those efficient old B-movies of the 1930s and 40s.’

Similarly, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times claimed that ‘the more you think about what really happens in Cocktail, the more you realise how empty and fabricated it really is.’ The film is also listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson‘s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.

18. Cruise fought with his wife off-set

Credit: Alan Light

At the time of making Cocktail, Tom Cruise was only one year into his first marriage to Someone to Watch Over Me actress Mimi Rogers (who notoriously introduced Cruise to Scientology). However, the couple had an infamously turbulent relationship and were already at loggerheads.

It was reported that Cruise and Rogers were arguing constantly when he wasn’t filming. They would be divorced by 1990, when Cruise met Nicole Kidman on the set of Days of Thunder. Cruise and Kidman would then be married from 1990 to 2001, then in 2006 Cruise wed Katie Holmes, which also ended in divorce in 2012.

17. Cruise got seriously ill while shooting in Jamaica

Tom Cruise got sick when filming in Jamaica, due to the exterior shots being filmed outside in the cold. Whilst he and Elisabeth Shue were shooting a love scene at a jungle waterfall, his condition became apparent.

He has said the experience was ‘not quite as romantic as it looks… It was more like ‘Jesus, let’s get this shot and get out of here,’ he explained. ‘Actually, in certain shots you’ll see that my lips are purple and, literally, my whole body’s shaking.’

16. The scene with Gina Gershon being tickled off the bed wasn’t planned

The scene in which Coral, played by Gina Gershon, falls off the bed with Cruise’s Brian, wasn’t planned. Cruise knew that Gershon was ticklish and it led to them falling off of the bed, a take that made it into the finished film.

It seems the incident didn’t put Gershon off her acting career, though. ‘One of my first gigs, a movie called Cocktail, I found myself at 8 in the morning, in bed, practically naked, having to make out with Tom Cruise,’ Gershon was quoted saying. ‘Hmmmm… movie business – so far, so good’.

15. Even Cocktail’s writer doesn’t like the film

Heywood Gould, wrote the book the film was based on as well as the screenplay. He has said ‘I was not happy with the final product. It got so savaged by the critics.’ He went on to say that ‘I was accused of betraying my own work, which is stupid.’

‘So I was pretty devastated. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for a day,’ he explained. “The good thing about that experience is that it toughened me up.’ Gould’s other screenwriting credits include Rolling Thunder and The Boys From Brazil.

14. Cruise wasn’t a massive fan of it either

So we’ve established that the film received awful reviews, but what did the actors themselves think of it? Surprisingly, even Tom Cruise himself has been quoted as saying that Cocktail was ‘not a crowning jewel in my career.’

He earned the Razzie Award for worst actor for the film. However, he has more than redeemed himself since and has built up a good reputation. He won the award for best actor for his appearance in Rain Man just one year later.

13. It was still a major hit at the box office

Perhaps down to having Cruise in the starring role, and despite the negative reaction from critics, Cocktail was actually a huge financial success. At home, at the American box office, Cocktail made $78.2 million.

In addition, it made $93.3 million globally, on a mere $20 million budget. It certainly didn’t harm Cruise’s career, and he is one of the highest-paid Hollywood actors in history. The film has since developed a huge cult following and remains well-known to this day.

12. Brian Flanagan was almost twice as old in the book

In the original novel by Heywood Gould, the main protagonist, Brian Flanagan, is 38. He is described as a ‘weirdo in a field jacket with greasy, greying hair.’ Cruise didn’t quite fit the bill, and his character in the movie is said to be in his twenties.

Gould originally wrote the character based loosely on himself (amongst others). At the time he was feeling ‘pretty washed up’, and he wanted this reflected in Brian. Of course, when Cruise was cast the character was drastically rewritten.

11. Disney didn’t want Tom Cruise in the lead role

Apparently, in one of the early meetings with Disney, someone mentioned that Cruise would be a good fit for the role. One of the Disney heads, Michael Eisner, was not so keen, remarking that Cruise would ‘never do it’. It was then revealed that Cruise had expressed interest in the part.

Eisner was then more enthusiastic, saying ‘he’s perfect for it, a perfect fit!’, even though this meant massively rewriting the script to fit the actor. Such is the nature of Hollywood…

10. Bryan Brown failed his audition

Director Roger Donaldson actually asked specifically for Brown to audition for the movie. Brown flew from Sydney to New York in order to fulfil his request. He was then required to perform to Donaldson after a twenty-hour flight, feeling disheveled to say the least.

According to Donaldson, his audition was ‘dreadful’. Despite being asked to stay and audition, Brown had a flight booked the next day. To save face, Donaldson refused to show the tape to anyone, instead recommending they watch Brown’s performance in F/X.

9. The film score was written in a weekend

The original score was written by Oscar winning composer Maurice Jarre. However, producers didn’t think his score ‘fit in’ with the story. They called in J. Peter Robinson to fix one particular cue. Donaldson was such a fan of Robinson’s work that he asked him to stay and complete the score.

The catch was, he only has three days to finish the project. Robinson apparently stayed up for 72 hours perfecting the music; not a huge amount of time to create the entire score for a major motion picture.

8. The Beach Boys’ Kokomo was written especially for the film

The song Kokomo was a latter-day hit for The Beach Boys (minus founder member Brian Wilson). It’s become one of the band’s best-loved songs since, but did you know it was written specifically for inclusion on the Cocktail soundtrack?

Kokomo was co-written by original Beach Boys frontman Mike Love and John Phillips, formerly of The Mamas and the Papas. Philips is credited with writing the verses whilst Mike Love wrote the chorus. The producers were after a song to be played as Brian moves from New York to Jamaica – hence the catchy line ‘Aruba, Jamaica’.

7. Don’t Worry Be Happy shot to popularity after the film’s release

The song was written by Bobby McFerrin. It soon became a hit number one after it was included on the Cocktail soundtrack. Director Roger Donaldson first heard the song on the radio on his way to the set.

The director explained of his introduction to McFerrin’s song, ‘I heard it and thought it would be perfect for the film.’ After Cocktail proved popular, ‘Suddenly it was everywhere. Sorry about that!’

6. Robin Williams was considered for the role of Brian Flanagan

Just to show how different Cocktail could have been if they’d stuck to the original script, one of the first actors considered for the role of lead Brian Flanagan before Tom Cruise was Robin Williams. The legendary funnyman was more than a decade Cruise’s senior, and not generally considered as much of a stud.

Although this didn’t work out, Williams would go on to work with Cocktail director Roger Donaldson on his next film, Cadillac Man. Released in 1990, this black comedy met a mixed response and wasn’t as big a hit as Cocktail.

5. Cocktail was mentioned in American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis’ notorious 1991 novel American Psycho was a savage satire of 80s ‘yuppie’ culture. It was perhaps fitting, then, that the very yuppie-friendly Cocktail got a namecheck in the book, with an imagined meeting between deranged protagonist Patrick Bateman and Tom Cruise himself.

Bateman initiates conversation, commending him on his performance in Bartender. He is of course swiftly corrected by Cruise, who told him it was actually called Cocktail. This was one scene that didn’t make it to the screen when American Psycho was filmed in 2000, starring Christian Bale.

4. Only 24 minutes of the movie was actually filmed in Jamaica

The movie is famous for its Jamaican setting. With sandy beaches and warm, shallow waters, it’s not hard to see why it’s the ideal filming location. However, out of 104 minutes running time, just 24 minutes were actually set in Jamaica.

The rest of the movie is set in New York City’s Upper East Manhattan. A much chillier climate for sure – although as Cruise and his co-stars have discussed, when they were shooting in Jamaica it was nowhere near as warm as it looks.

3. ‘Flair bartending’ is an actual thing

In the movie, Cruise and Brown display some seriously impressive moves. They received hands-on instruction from John Bandy, who was in fact a professional flair bartender. As unlikely as it might sound, flair bartending is actually considered an acrobatic skill which is performed competitively.

So it seems that Tom Cruise can officially call himself an acrobat, on top of the multitude of skills he’s shown off in his movies over the years, including driving, motorcycle riding, piloting planes and helicopters, and of course performing all manner of death-defying stunts. Cocktail seems quite mundane by comparison!

2. Elizabeth Shue’s brother makes an appearance

You can spot Andrew Shue briefly in the background of the wedding reception scene. The brother of Elisabeth Shue is a successful actor in his own right, and has starred in many high profile movies.

Alongside his sister, Shue was inducted into the CHS Hall of Fame in 1994. The pair also worked together on the 2007 feature film Gracie, along with his brother-in-law Davis Guggenheim. Truly keeping it in the family.

1. They made up the term ‘flugelbinder’

There’s a scene in Cocktail in which the term ‘flugelbinder’ is used to describe the plastic part at the end of the shoelace, and made their inventor a millionaire. It’s an interesting story with one minor flaw: ‘flugelbinder’ isn’t a real word. The correct term is ‘aglet’.

In case you fancied a very brief history lesson on the subject: aglets have actually been around since Ancient Rome, although they were later modernised by an English inventor way back in 1790, reportedly earning him the princely sum of £7.9 million.