The Best Movie You Never Saw: Cobra

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine. This week we’ll be looking at COBRA

THE STORY: It’s Christmas in L.A, but the streets aren’t safe. An axe-wielding cult of serial killers are prowling around, looking to establish a new order. Luckily, Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) aka Cobra, ain’t gonna take that shit – and when a witness to a murder (Brigitte Nielsen) is able to finger their leader, the cops unleash Cobra to do his thing, and the bodies are gonna start piling-up.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Brian Thompson. Written by: Sylvester Stallone. Directed by George P. Cosmatos.

THE HISTORY: Cannon Films. The logo is familiar to anyone who grew up in the eighties. For a while, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus flirted with the big time, with COBRA being one of their few co-productions with a major studio, in this case Warner Bros, where they didn’t take lead. A big-budget action movie for its time ($25 million in 1986 dollars), this came out hot on the heels of ROCKY IV and RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART 2, two blockbusters that, arguably, made Sylvester Stallone the world’s biggest action star in 1985.

In making COBRA, WB gave Stallone carte-blanche. An adaptation of the novel “Fair Game”, which later became a 1995 action flick with Cindy Crawford and William Baldwin, the genesis of the titular character actually comes from Sly’s brief flirtation with being the lead in BEVERLY HILLS COP. Not happy with the comedic direction they wanted to go in; Sly bowed-out and made COBRA instead, hiring his RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART 2 director, Cosmatos, to give this the same adrenaline charge.

“The first actor who was seriously involved was Sylvester Stallone. He was going to play the lead but he re-wrote the script and made it more of an action movie again. That had the natural effect of raising the budget to a level that was higher than Paramount wanted to spend on the picture. Paramount asked Stallone if he was willing to do my script or alternatively he could take the stuff I had written for him and all of the stuff that he had written and make another movie out of it, so long as it wasn't about a cop who came from out of town to Beverly Hills. By that time, the movie was so different that he was able to do that and he was extremely gracious about it and took that suggestion. He used almost all of his material and incorporated it into his film COBRA (1986). Actually, Stallone had renamed our lead character Axel Cobretti in his BEVERLY HILLS COP script.” – Daniel Petrie Jr. Interview with Paul Rowlands

Somewhere along the line, the studio got nervous and COBRA, which resembles old-fashioned seventies giallo-policier European flicks like Jean Paul Belmondo’s FEAR OVER THE CITY, was cut-down to an eighty-five minute actioner. A sizable hit, grossing $49 million domestically, the movie was still overshadowed by TOP GUN, which opened shortly before, although worldwide this was a smash, grossing an extra $100 million and change. In the years since, it’s mostly been forgotten, although it still has its fans, including myself and Arrow in the Head guru-turned-director John Fallon (his review). It’s a cult item, but increasingly, it feels like a movie somewhat lost to time.

WHY IT'S GREAT: “Crime’s a disease…I’m the cure.” COBRA is such a film of its time. A jacked-up Dirty Harry for the eighties, to me it ranks as one of Stallone’s best vehicles, and one that too often gets a bad rap. It’s super stylized, opting for this quick cut MTV aesthetic Stallone was going for in his own directorial vehicles back then (ROCKY IV is a good example), and the carnage is top-notch.

A true product of its time, a lot of the things some viewers may find corny appeal to me, such as the non-stop pop soundtrack (complete with a cheesy love interlude theme sung by Bill Medley), the insane, over-the-top violence (the car chase in the middle is probably the bloodiest of all-time), and Stallone’s own monosyllabic performance. Wearing aviator sunglasses, with a matchstick permanently sticking out of his mouth, Cobretti is deliberately stylized. Heck, Sly even has some fun with the machismo aspect, with leading lady (and real-life wife at the time) dwarfing him physically, and he even has his character be named Marion!

COBRA is also filled with these gonzo touches, like Nielsen’s weird futuristic fashion show (where she poses with robots and is photographed by future “Sledge Hammer” David Rasche), and a scene where Stallone rips the shirt off a street tough revealing the actor’s mic – and they left it in! And who can forget how Cobra eats leftover pizza, cutting a piece off with scissors, and taking a bit while cleaning his gun!

“I thought Cobra had every chance to have been a wonderful character that could have caused some memorable cinematic mayhem. I take the blame because I should’ve directed it, and the choices made in the last thirty minutes of the movie were pretty banal. I believe the inclusion of a real actress and not a bewigged ex-wife would’ve certainly been a celebrated change and perhaps would’ve made the series a lot more dramatic.” – Sylvester StalloneAin’t It Cool News

One thing I like is the sense of gritty atmosphere the first half has, with it being set at Christmas in L.A (hence it being highlighted this week – to be timely), while the second half takes the novel, but smart, approach of our heroes leaving the city to draw the baddies out and cut down on the collateral damage (although Sly himself obviously wasn’t too happy with how it turned out). I mean, who cares if the rest of the cops can’t come – Stallone is in one man army mode. They’d just be in the way!

BEST SCENE: Opening a tough cop movie on a supermarket/convenience store shootout is a trope of the genre. Heck, it was even spoofed in LOADED WEAPON 1. This is one of the best though, with Sly walking into a hostage situation like a cowboy, stopping for a few sips of cold brew, and not even pretending for a second like there’s any way the baddie is going to be allowed to walk out in one piece.

SEE IT: COBRA is widely available on DVD, a nice-looking Blu-ray from WB, streaming, rental on YouTube and more.

PARTING SHOT: COBRA is, to me anyways, an eighties action classic and a definitive Stallone vehicle. Those of you that only know him as Rambo or Rocky should give it a watch, and then dig more into the deep Sly catalogue, with a few of them, like TANGO & CASH, DEMOLITION MAN, and CLIFFHANGER, being stone-cold classics. Crime’s a disease. Sly’s the cure.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.