Jamaica, Bottle-Flipping and Tom Cruise: This is Cocktail

One of the greatest cinematic guilty pleasures is Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan. The movie focuses on a business student who unexpectedly gains fame in New York City as a “flair bartender” along with his mentor, Doug Coughlin, played by Bryan Brown. Eventually, Brian takes his bottle-flipping skills to Jamaica, where he falls for a woman named Jordan, portrayed by Elizabeth Shue.

Tom Cruise / Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise / Elisabeth Shue and Tom Cruise
Source: Getty Images

The movie was adapted from the novel by Haywood Gould, who loosely based the character on himself, a struggling writer working as a bartender while waiting for his career to take off. From critics hating the film to the massive financial success, here are some intriguing facts and behind-the-scenes secrets about the movie Cocktail. You’ll never guess which A-lister almost played the lead character or which Beach Boys song was written specifically for the movie.

Cocktail Is Based on a True Story

Haywood Gould’s 1984 semi-autographical novel very much inspired Cocktail. The author worked as a bartender to support his dreams of becoming a writer. Gould was quoted 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.”

Original book cover of the book Cocktail by Heywood Gould.
Source: Etsy

He continued, “They all had ambitions, some smoldering and some completely forgotten or suppressed.” Gould also noted that the main character was the total opposite of all the people he met, including himself.

40 Different Drafts

Haywood Gould explained that there must have been about 40 drafts of the script before the movie finally went into production. “It was originally with Universal. They put it in turnaround because I wasn’t making the character likable enough,” he said. “And then Disney picked it up, and I went through the same process with them.”

Walt Disney and two other men stand in front of the studio doors.
Source: Disney Bros. Studio

Gould expressed how there were constant fights, “and there was a huge battle over making the lead younger, which I eventually did.” Although it wasn’t how he visualized the lead, Gould later admitted that it was a great decision.

A Competitive Role

The role of Jordan, Tom Cruise’s love interest, was a sought-after role. Actresses who were considered include Jennifer Grey, Ally Sheedy, Daryl Hannah, and Demi Moore. Ultimately, the part went to Elizabeth Shue.

Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue are sitting hugging and holding hands next to the sea.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Buena Vista Pictures

Shue gained fame and recognition after her performance in Karate Kid, but she was usually cast as the girl next door type of character. She ended up being the perfect woman to portray Jordan. The talented actress would later be nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the 1995 film, Leaving Las Vegas.

Tom Cruise Changed the Story

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

A headshot of a 26-year-old Tom Cruise.
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“The studio made the changes to protect the star, and it became a much slighter movie because of it,” Brown said. Ultimately, Cruise’s charisma and natural, fun-loving personality made the set an exciting place to work. John Brandy, who trained Cruise in the art of making Cocktails, described him as “a real guys guy.”

Real Bartending Training

It’s no surprise that the actors weren’t bartenders in real life. In preparation for the film, L.A. bartender John Bandy trained both Cruise and Brown in those impressive bottle flipping routines and making fancy Cocktails. Gould also took the actors over to his friend’s bar to learn some more tricks.

Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown behind the bar together.
Photo by Touchstone Pictures/Getty Images

Brandy really helped them perfect their flair for the movie. He revealed that both actors were “very capable, ambidextrous guys.” But apparently, Cruise won the competition of who could break the most glasses. As a former bartender myself, that’s how you learn.

Yes, Real Bottles Were Used

You would think it would be much simpler and cleaner to just use plastic glasses. The more real glasses they use, the more real glasses they break. However, the producers wanted the movie to have a sense of authenticity. They didn’t want to compromise on the essence of the film.

Movie still of Tom Cruise behind the bar flipping a bottle.
Photo by Touchstone Pictures/Getty Images

Therefore, Cruise and Brown always used real bottles on set, even while shooting some intricate flaring routines. Yes, of course, they broke a few, but it was worth it in the end. Plus, the two stars weren’t the ones sweeping up the broken glass!

Haters Gonna’ Hate

Cocktail ended up receiving mostly negative reviews and won two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. The New York Times’s Vincent Canby called the film “an upscale utterly brainless variation on those efficient old B-movies of the 1930s and ‘40s.”

Actors Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue posing at the door of a bus.
Photo by Mondadori/Getty Images

Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times wasn’t any nicer and claimed that “the more you think about what really happens in Cocktail, the more you realize how empty and fabricated it really is.” The Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson listed the film in his book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyable Bad Movies Ever Made. At least he called it enjoyable.

Cruise’s Off-Set Drama

While filming Cocktail, Tom Cruise was one year into his first marriage to actress Mimi Rogers. However, there was trouble in paradise for the newlyweds. Reportedly, Cruise and Rogers would frequently be fighting whenever he wasn’t filming.

Rogers and Cruise are arriving at a restaurant.
to by Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Their relationship was famously turbulent, and, at the time, there was much speculation over the couple’s ongoing issues. It was actually Rogers who introduced Tom Cruise to the controversial world of Scientology. By the time the movie wrapped in 1988, their marriage was already crumbling, and by 1990, their divorce was official and finalized.

Getting Sick in Jamaica

While filming in Jamaica, Tom Cruise got seriously sick. Apparently, this was because he had to film the exterior shots outside… in the freezing cold. While shooting a love scene at a jungle waterfall, his condition worsened.

Elisabeth Shue visits Tom Cruise as he bartends in a scene from the film.
Photo by Touchstone Pictures/Getty Images

Cruise even said that 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 added, “Actually, in certain shots, you’ll see that my lips are purple and, literally, my whole body is shaking.” I need to watch the movie again and pay attention to that scene.

Coral Wasn’t Supposed to Be Tickled Off the Bed

In one specific scene, Coral, played by Gina Gershon, falls off the bed with Cruise’s character Brian. As it turns out, that wasn’t planned. Cruise knew that the actress was ticklish, so he tickled her, and it caused them to fall off the bed. The take was perfect and made it into the finished movie.

Gina Gershon is standing next to the door with a smile on her face wrapped in a white blanket.
Source: Buena Vista Pictures

It was an interesting way to get into the acting world for Gershon: “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.” And she thought, “Hmmm… movie business – so far, so good.”

The Film Writer Was Disappointed by the Movie

We mentioned how Heywood Gould wrote the book the movie was based on and the screenplay. He was really connected to the story and was disappointed when it wasn’t as successful as he had hoped: “I was not happy with the final product. It got so savaged by the critics.”

Heywood Gould behind the camera while filming.
Photo by Robert Isenberg/Hollywood Pictures Company

“I was accused of betraying my own which, which is stupid,” he explained. “The good thing about that experience is that it toughened me up.” Everyone has to get disappointed or criticized at times because it only makes them stronger and more determined.

Cruise Wasn’t the Biggest Fan Either

But Gould wasn’t the only one disappointed with the final product. We know the critics had a lot to say, but what did the actors themselves think? Well, Cruise, for one, was quoted saying that Cocktail was “not a crowning jewel in my career.”

A copy of the Cocktail novel and cassette.
Source: Etsy

And who could blame him? The A-lister earned a Razzie Award for worst actor for his role in the film. Needless to say, he has redeemed himself since then and has built up a wonderful reputation. He’s certainly up there with the Hollywood elites.

A Box Office Success

Even though the critics had a lot of negative things to say about the movie, it was still a financial success, perhaps because it was starring Tom Cruise. Either way, Cocktail made a whopping $78 million at the American box office.

Tom Cruise is playing the role of a barman circa 1988.
Photo by Mondadori/Getty Images

Plus, it made an incredible $93.3 million globally on its mere $20 million budget. That’s pretty impressive. In addition, it didn’t harm Tom Cruise’s career in any way; he is one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood history. The film has since gained a massive cult following and is still well-known today.

Brian Was Way Older in the Book

In Heywood Gould’s original novel, Brian Flanagan, the main protagonist, is 38 years old. The character is described as a “weirdo in a field jacket with greasy, greying hair.” Cruise clearly didn’t fit the bill; his character in the movie is in his twenties.

Tom Cruise in his 20’s at an afterparty in New York
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Gould based the character on a few people, including himself. When he created the character, the writer was feeling “pretty washed up” and wanted it to reflect in Brian. But you know Hollywood. They decided to go with a younger bartender in order to a wider audience.

Disney Didn’t Want Tom Cruise Initially

Believe it or not, in one of the first meetings with Disney executives, someone brought up the fact that Tom Cruise would be perfect for the role. However, Michael Eisner, one of Disney’s heads, didn’t feel the same way. In fact, he thought that Cruise would “never do this, don’t waste your time, he can’t play this part.”

Michael Eisner circa 1987 with a poster of Mickey Mouse in the background.
Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Soon after, it was revealed that Tom Cruise had expressed interest in the role. By that point, Eisner was more enthusiastic, exclaiming that “he’s perfect for it, a perfect fit!” We are glad he got on board. Can you imagine Cocktail without Tom Cruise?

Bryan Brown’s Terrible Audition

Director Roger Donaldson specifically asked for Brian Brown to audition for the movie. The actor flew from Sydney to New York in order to honor his request. When he got there, he was asked to perform for Donaldson after an exhausting twenty-hour flight and feeling disheveled, to say the least.

Portrait of Australian actor Bryan Brown posing at the set of a movie.
Photo by Oliver Morris/Getty Images

According to the director, Brown’s audition was “dreadful.” Although he was asked to stay and audition, the actor had a flight booked the following day. To save face, Donaldson didn’t let anyone see the audition tape. Instead, he recommended they judge Brown’s skills by his performance in F/X.

The Film Score Was Written in a Weekend

The initial score was written by the talented Oscar-winning composer Maurice Jarre. However, the producers didn’t feel like his score “fit in” with the story. That’s when they called in J. Peter Robinson to fix one specific cue.

Portrait of composer J. Peter Robinson in a movie premiere in 2016.
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage/Getty Images

Donaldson was such a huge fan of Robinson’s work that he asked him to stay and finish the score. There was one catch, though: He only had three days to complete the project. Apparently, Robinson was up for 72 hours in order to perfect it. He finished the entire thing in a weekend! Now, that’s what I call dedication.

Kokomo Was Written Especially for the Movie

The hit song Kokomo was brought into the mainstem by The Beach Boys, minus Brian Wilson. You can’t help getting it stuck in your head. But the track was actually a result of a huge collaboration. This included John Philips from the Mamas and the Papas, as well as Scott McKenzie, the man behind San Francisco.

Cover of The Beach Boys song release Kokomo for the movie Cocktail.
Source: eBay

Philips is credited for writing the verses; Mike Love wrote the chorus. The producers were looking for a song to be played as Brian moves to Jamaica from New York. Now the catchy phrase “Aruba, Jamaica” makes a lot more sense.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

The song Don’t Worry, Be Happy became popular after the film’s release. It was written by Bobby McFerrin. Although it wasn’t written specifically for the movie as Kokomo was, it became a number one hit after the jam was included in the Cocktail soundtrack.

Bobby McFerrin is wearing sunglasses in profile portrait.
Photo by David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images

Director Roger Donaldson was on his way to set when the song played on the radio: “I heard it and thought it would be perfect for the film,” Donaldson said. “Suddenly, it was everywhere. Sorry about that!” I don’t think anyone is complaining; it’s a catchy song.

Robin Williams Was Considered for the Lead

Before Tom Cruise landed the lead role, another talented A-lister was a front runner for the part of Brian: the one and only Robin Williams. Williams had already starred in 1986 and was making quite the name for himself in Hollywood.

Robin Williams is receiving an award.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Although he didn’t appear in Cocktail, Williams did make the cut for the director’s next film, 1990’s Cadillac man. He gave a wonderful performance, as is expected from the late actor. It looks like Donaldson had a thing for tropical weather since both movies were filmed in Port Antonio, Jamacia.

American Psycho Connection

In 1991, Bret Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho, a story about a rich investment banker named Patrick Bateman, trying to hide his psychopathic tendencies from his friends. In 2000, it was adapted to a black comedy psychological thriller movie. In the book, the protagonist catches an elevator with famous movie star Tom Cruise.

American Psycho leading actors: Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Janet Leigh.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

He initiated a conversation with the celebrity and commended him on his performance in Bartender. The actor, of course, corrected him, telling him the film was actually called Cocktail. But hey, it’s an easy mistake to make.

Only 24 Minutes in Jamaica

One of the things Cocktail is famous for is its Jamaican setting. With warm, shallow waters, sandy beaches, and a tropical essence, it’s the ideal filming location. But as it turns out, most of the movie wasn’t actually filmed in Jamaica.

Tom Cruise is sitting outdoors in a restaurant next to the sea.
Source: Tumblr

Out of the 104 minutes of running time, just 24 of those minutes were actually shot in Jamaica. The rest of the movie was set in New York City’s Upper East Side. The city is definitely not the ideal place for relaxing; plus, it has a much chillier climate.

“Flair Bartending” Is a Thing

After being trained by John Bandy in preparation for their roles, Cruise and Brown show off some seriously impressive moves in Cocktail. With no stuntmen to ruin the authenticity, the actors acquired some pretty remarkable skills.

Bryan Brown is pouring something in the Cocktail mixer of Tom Cruise.
Photo by Mondadori/Getty Image

Bandy was actually a professional flair bartender. Flair bartending is actually an acrobatic bartending skill – so Tom Cruise is technically an acrobat! As someone who spent years working as a professional bartender, I never quite mastered the art of flaring. It’s not an easy thing to learn and even more difficult to perfect.

Keeping It in the Family

The perks of being related to a celebrity! Elizabeth Shue’s brother, Andrew, can be seen briefly in the background in the scene of the wedding reception. As it turns out, Shue managed to make a name for himself as an actor in his own right, appearing in plenty of high-profile movies.

Elizabeth Shue is posing next to her brother Andrew Shue.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In 1994, Andrew was inducted into the CHS Hall of Fame alongside his sister. In 2007, the sibling duo also worked together on the feature film Gracie, along with his brother-in-law, Davis Guggenheim. That is one talented acting family.

Making Up Words

In the movie, they called the plastic part at the end of the shoelace a “flugelbinder.” Funny enough, most people don’t know what it’s actually called, but the correct term is “aglet.” In Cocktail, Brian and Jordan famously discuss how flugelbinders made the inventor a millionaire!

Elisabeth Shue closed frame shot on the beach.
Source: Tumblr

Aglets have actually been around since Ancient Rome, but Brian’s argument still stands. An English inventor who made the modernized aglets made a hefty sum of $2.5 million back in 1790. Who knew such a simple item would be a huge necessity?

Other Contenders

Casting the lead was no easy feat. Whoever landed the role would really shift how the movie and character would be perceived. I mean, imagine how different the movie would have been if Robin Williams starred as Brian. But he wasn’t the only actor who was considered for the role.

Robin Williams is attending the Awards.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Originally, Gould was set on using an older actor, but ultimately, he thought someone in their twenties might be better. Other contenders were big Hollywood names such as Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, and Keanu Reeves. Needless to say, Tom Cruise was the right choice.

They Wanted Molly Ringwald

As we mentioned, plenty of actresses were hoping to land the role of Jordan Mooney before casting directors went with Elizabeth Shue, but she wasn’t their first choice. In fact, she wasn’t the second choice either. The part was first offered to established actress Molly Ringwald, but she turned it down.

Molly Ringwald is posing in a pink turtle neck sleeveless shirt with a bright blue sky in the background.
Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

But Shue wasn’t next in line. After Molly Ringwald decided not to take the role, it was offered to Heather Graham. It was only after Graham was unable to take the role due to scheduling conflicts that it was finally given to Elizabeth Shue.

Tom Cruise: Then and Now

Tom Cruise was already a Hollywood rising star when he starred as Brian in Cocktail. He got his big break in the comedy Risky Business and the action-drama Top Gun. After that, everyone knew his name. When he appeared in Cocktail, the movie star was only 26 years old.

Tom Cruise at the 47th Annual Golden Globe Awards holding an award.
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Ever since the movie’s release, Cruise has not slowed down. In addition to starring in some of the most successful Hollywood movies, the now 58-year-old actor was married three times, joined the Church of Scientology, and has three children: Isabella Jane Cruise, Connor Cruise, and most notably, Suri Cruise.

Bryan Brown: Then and Now

Bryan Brown is an Australian actor born in Sydney. He played in notable films, including Breaker Morant (1980) and Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984), but it was in F/X (1986) where he really shined. In fact, his brilliant performance in the movie was pretty much his audition for Cocktail.

Bryan Brown smiling headshot circa 1986.
Photo by B. Gomer/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

He was 41 years old in Cocktail and hasn’t slowed down since. After already making a name for himself in Australia, he had a pretty impressive stint in America. He met his wife Rachel Ward on the set of The Thorn Birds, and the pair has three children: Rosie, Matilda, and Joe. Now, at 73 years old, he still appears in movies and television shows.

Elizabeth Shue: Then and Now

Elizabeth Shue was the lucky actress who got the sought-after role of Jordan Mooney in Cocktail after impressing critics in The Karate Kid (1984). She did a great job playing Jordan and continued to make a name for herself as a talented Hollywood starlet.

Elizabeth Shue at the Oprah Winfrey show circa 1991.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Image

She has since starred in incredible hits such as Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990). But it was her role in Leaving Las Vegas (1995), which earned her an Academy Award for best actress. The now 58-year-old actress is still killing it. You probably saw her recent guest-starring role in two episodes of Cobra Kai.

Lisa Banes: Then and Now

Lisa Banes is an accomplished actress, often appearing on stage. She won a 1981 Theatre Award for her portrayal of Alison Porter Off-Broadway in Look Back in Anger. She was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Best Featured Actress in the 1984 play, Isn’t It Romantic.

Actress Lisa Banes attends the Opening Night Gala Presentation circa 2014
Photo by Mike Pont/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The Julliard alumna was 33 when she landed the role of Bonnie, but that wasn’t her first on-screen role, and it certainly wasn’t her last. The now 65-year-old actress continued to appear in hit movies, including Freedom Writers, Gone Girl, and her most recent role was Hollis in A Cure for Wellness (2017).

Laurence Luckinbill: Then and Now

Chances are you recognize Laurence Luckinbill from his role in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). But right before that, he also played Mr. Mooney in Cocktail. He did an incredible job with the role, but he was already an established actor before playing in movies like Death Sentence (1974) and Columbo (1978).

Laurence Luckinbill is posing at a nighttime opening in L.A.
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

He is married to actress Lucie Arnaz, and they have three kids together: Simon, Joseph, and Katharine. He also has two sons from his previous marriage to Robin Strasser, Nicholas, and Benjamin. His last on-screen role was in Star Trek, and the now 86-year-old actor has been staying out of the spotlight.

Kelly Lynch: Then and Now

Kelley Lynch was trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood, and she finally did, thanks to Cocktail. Kerry Coughlin was pretty much her breakout role. After that, she got to star in the action film Road House opposite Patrick Swayze. Then, she was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead for her amazing performance in the crime drama Drugstore Cowboy.

Kelly Lynch Portrait sitting on the stairs and a wooden background.
Photo by Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images

Since then, she has had a pretty busy career acting in independent films as well as Hollywood movies. In 1992, she married producer and writer Mitch Glazer, and she has one daughter, Shane, from a previous marriage.

Gina Gershon: Then and Now

After making an uncredited debut as a dancer in Beatlemania (1981), Gina Gershon has certainly gone on to establish herself as an actress. Her role as Coral in Cocktail was a wonderful opportunity for the then-26-year-old starlet to show off her acting chops.

Gina Gershon is attending HBO Premiere circa 2010.
Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images

She has since been actively working in Hollywood, acting in countless movies and television shows. Her most recent movies were People in Landscape (2020), and she played Sue in Rifkin’s Festival (2020). But she’s not slowing down. She has a movie called Borderlands that is currently filming.

The (Not So) Excellent Adventure of Bill and Ted

The Most “Mahvelous” Facts About Billy Crystal’s Life

Barbara Hershey Went Under the Knife for Beaches

It’s Showtime! All the Inside Secrets About Beetlejuice

Death Becomes Her Had Some Hidden Gems

The Dapper Detective Behind Dirty Harry and Frank Bullitt