The film stars Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, and Elisabeth Shue. Released by Touchstone Pictures, the film features an original music score composed by J. Peter Robinson.
Brian Flanagan, a former Army serviceman living in New York City, gets a part-time job as a bartender at City Tavern by night while studying for a business degree by day. Over time, he learns the tricks of the trade, including flairing, from his mentor, Doug Coughlin. Brian and Doug soon become close; Doug readily assumes a mentor role over the young and naive Brian, and rains advice and opinions down upon him. His advice takes a familiar structure, as he usually begins most of them with "Flanagans Coughlin's Law".
While Brian has high personal aspirations, Doug is leery of the notion of starting their own bar together. Doug intends to call his bar "Cocktails & Dreams".
Eventually, Brian and Doug's bartending act becomes popular and they end up working at a trendy nightclub catering to New York's wealthy and elite. As their popularity rises, Brian becomes the focus of attention from a sultry brunette named Coral. Quickly, their friendship becomes sexual. Doug is alarmed that Coral is coming between their work partnership and bets him Coral will leave him by week's end, essentially doubting there is anything special about the seemingly perfect relationship shared between the two. Unknown to Brian, Doug lies to Coral about secrets being shared by Brian about her, tricking her into sleeping with him. He secures his bet by sharing a passionate kiss with Coral while at work in the bar in front of Brian. Coral then tells Brian he should never have discussed their love life with Doug and so he is dumped. Brian is very upset and fights with Doug at work, essentially ending his informal partnership with Doug.
The film fast-forwards three years. Brian decides to follow through with his plan and takes a job in Jamaica as a bartender to raise money for his own place. He finds a romantic partner in Jordan Mooney, an aspiring artist and waitress in New York. She and Brian spend romantic times together, playing in the water, before making passionate love on the beach by a campfire. Prior to this, however, Doug has shown up in Jamaica, now married to Kerry, a wealthy woman who openly flirts with other men and wears skimpy bikinis.
Doug quickly asserts himself and bets Brian to show how he can 'pick up' a new customer named Bonnie, a wealthy older woman. Brian accepts the challenge and wins Bonnie over. Just as they leave to go back to Bonnie's room, Jordan sees them together. Devastated, Jordan takes an overnight plane back home to New York.
The next morning, Brian seems to regret sleeping with Bonnie. He goes to find Jordan but learns that she's gone. Doug teases Brian about the situation but Brian decides to upstage Doug by returning to New York with the cougar-esque Bonnie under the auspices that he will be placed high up in her company due to their romantic attachment. Brian becomes impatient, as the pay-off is too slow. He reluctantly assumes a role of kept-boy more than romantic partner and grows annoyed by her controlling yet boring lifestyle. She pushes him to do everyday mundane things for her, such as fetching her morning carrot juice and vitamins or escorting her to social functions where it is clear he is only there as a trophy boyfriend. They have a blow-up during an art exhibition where Brian gets into a fight with the artist. As they cut ties, Brian, displaying wisdom one can only assume has been gleaned from his former mentor, states: "Everything ends badly. Otherwise it wouldn't end."
Brian decides to seek out Jordan by showing up at the diner where she works. Jordan rejects his flirtatious and relentless nagging but agrees to listen to his apology after she's finished work. They talk but Brian keeps saying the wrong things and Jordan repeatedly tells him to leave. Then, to his surprise, she tells him she is pregnant with his child. He embarks on a journey to win over the independent Jordan and prove to her that, despite being just a lowly bartender, he would make a worthy father.
While pursuing Jordan, Brian also learns that her family is very wealthy, and he goes to her parents' Park Avenue penthouse to speak with Jordan, who is not home at the time. Unhappy with the situation, Jordan's father, Richard Mooney, attempts to buy Brian off. Although Brian was seemingly obsessed with becoming wealthy before this point, his feelings for Jordan overcome this and he quickly refuses the money, revealing the bribe to Jordan when she returns home during the confrontation with her father. Jordan refuses his advances and keeps her distance, not wanting to be hurt again.
Brian meets up with Doug. Despite the outward appearance of wealth, Doug confides that his wife's money is nearly gone, lost in the commodities market. Doug is despondent, unwilling to confess to his bride the precarious position they are in; Brian is completely shocked. Later on, Kerry makes Brian take her home when Doug is too drunk to do so, and forces him to walk her to her apartment. She tells him that he is the only person Doug respects and wants to discuss with him Doug's problems. However once inside, she attempts to seduce him by kissing him. While he initially kisses her back, Brian abruptly stops it from going any further out of respect for his friendship with Doug. Kerry gets angry at being rejected and reveals that she cannot endure sexual monogamy for the rest of her life. Brian chastises her by saying, "It's called marriage." He then leaves with Kerry calling him a coward.
Brian goes to check on Doug in his yacht, and discovers he has committed suicide by slashing his own throat and wrists with a broken bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII / Baccarat crystal glass. After the funeral, Kerry sends Brian a letter left for him by Doug, which is revealed to be Doug's suicide note in which he explains why he did what he did. Brian cries after reading the letter, realizing that Doug killed himself because he realized that his life was a sham.
Now reeling from the misfortune of the stiff-arm from Jordan and losing his best friend to suicide, he returns to Jordan's parents' home (where she is staying) and begs her again for forgiveness. He tells her that Doug killed himself and says that Doug was too proud to ask for help and that he doesn't want to make the same mistakes. He further promises to take good care of her and their unborn child. Brian has a brief scuffle with Mr. Mooney's staff, and then takes the willing Jordan by the hand and heads for the door. They leave together, finally, as a couple and future parents. Mr. Mooney pledges not to lend a dime to the fledgling couple.
Brian and Jordan get married and have their wedding reception at his Uncle Pat's bar in Queens. Uncle Pat, who is the other mentor in Brian's life, lends Brian some money to finally achieve his lifelong goal; he opens a neighborhood bar called "Flanagan's Cocktails & Dreams". At the Grand Opening of the bar, Jordan is shown visibly pregnant. Just before the credits roll, she reveals that she is pregnant with twins. Brian offers free drinks to celebrate, much to his Uncle Pat's chagrin.Tom Cruise as Brian FlanaganBryan Brown as Doug CoughlinElisabeth Shue as Jordan MooneyLisa Banes as BonnieLaurence Luckinbill as Mr. MooneyKelly Lynch as Kerry CoughlinGina Gershon as CoralRon Dean as Uncle PatRobert Donley as EddieEllen Foley as EleanorAndrea Morse as DulcyJack Newman as Economics TeacherPaul Benedict as Finance TeacherDiane Douglass as Mrs. RivkinGeorge Sperdakos as English TeacherDavid L. Crowley as Doorman
The film was based on a novel by Heywood Gould. Gould had worked as a bartender in New York from 1969 to 1981 to support his writing career. Gould said 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 smoldering and some completely forgotten or suppressed."
He started writing the book in 1983 and finished it a year later. Gould says the lead character "is a composite of a lot of people I met, including myself in those days. 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."
Many of the incidents in the book were autobiographical.
The novel was published in 1984.
Film rights were bought by Universal. Gould wrote the script, changing it from his novel. He says the studio put the project in turnaround "because I wasn't making the character likable enough." Disney picked up the project "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."
Gould later admitted that the people who wanted him to make changes "were correct. They wanted movie characters. Characters who were upbeat and who were going to have a happy ending and a possible future in their lives. That's what you want for a big commercial Hollywood movie. So I tried to walk that thin line between giving them what they wanted and not completely betraying the whole arena of saloons in general."
Tom Cruise expressed interest in playing the role, which helped get it financed.
"There were a lot of bartenders around like Tom Cruise, younger guys who came on and were doing this for a while — and then 10 years later, still doing it," said Gould. "It wasn't as if I was betraying the character. It was a matter of making the character more idealistic, more hopeful — he's got his life ahead of him. He turns on the charm, without the cynical bitter edge of the older guys."
Bryan Brown later said the original script "was one of the very best screen plays I had ever read. Very dark... about the cult of celebrity and everything about it.... Tom Cruise is a very sweet man, he was then and still is. But when Tom 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."
Bryan Brown was cast on the strength of his performance in F/X.
The film was mostly shot in Toronto.
Gould says the tricks involving throwing bottles was not in the book, but something he showed Cruise and Bryan Brown. They used it and it became a prominent feature of the film.
A music score was originally done by Maurice Jarre. A new score was added at the last minute.
Kelly Lynch later said the film "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." She claimed Disney reshot "about a third of the film... and turned it into flipping the bottles and this and that.... But we had a really great time. And Tom was so much fun, just a ball to work with, both on and off camera."
Cocktail was a financial success, earning $78.2 million at the North American box office, and $93.3 million globally to a total of $171.5 million worldwide.
The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 5% of 39 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 3.9 out of 10. The website's critical consensus reads, "There are no surprises in Cocktail, a shallow, dramatically inert romance that squanders Tom Cruise's talents in what amounts to a naive barkeep's banal fantasy." It won two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay while Tom Cruise was nominated as Worst Actor and Roger Donaldson as Worst Director. The film is 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.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave Cocktail a negative review, calling it "an upscale, utterly brainless variation on those efficient old B-movies of the 1930s and 40s about the lives, loves and skills of coal miners, sand hogs and telephone linemen, among others." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was also critical of the film, explaining that "the more you think about what really happens in Cocktail, the more you realize how empty and fabricated it really is."
Gould said "I was not happy with the final product. It got so savaged by the critics... 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. The good thing about that experience is that it toughened me up."
In 1992, Tom Cruise admitted the film "was not a crowning jewel" in his career.
Additional tracks featured in the film include:"Addicted to Love" – Robert Palmer"Shelter of Your Love" – Jimmy Cliff"This Magic Moment" – Leroy Gibbons"When Will I Be Loved" – The Everly Brothers (uncredited)"That Hypnotizin' Boogie" - David WilcoxWeeklyYear-endIn The King of Queens episode titled "Pour Judgment", Doug talks about how the movie took the world by storm in 1988 and inspired him to try and bartend.The Family Guy episode, "Excellence in Broadcasting", makes a reference to the negative reaction of the film.In a fourth season episode of How I Met Your Mother, "Three Days of Snow", Ted and Barney celebrate cocktail mixture while the song "Kokomo" is played—a reference to the movie.In the film Grandma's Boy, Dante makes a reference about Cruise and this film while serving shots.In the novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, protagonist Patrick Bateman shares an elevator with Cruise and compliments his performance in the movie Bartender. Cruise corrects him by saying the movie's title is Cocktail.There is a nightclub in Surfers Paradise, Australia named "Cocktails and Dreams" after the film.In the television show Greek, Cappie lies on his resume by claiming to have previous bartending experience at "Flanagan's Cocktails and Dreams".A second season episode of The Simpsons, "The War of the Simpsons", showed Ned Flanders mixing cocktails in a showy manner, which was meant as a tribute to Tom Cruise in Cocktail.A sketch on Inside Amy Schumer sees Amy and her boyfriend trying to pick a movie to watch. She eventually insists he needs to see Cocktail, but quickly loses enthusiasm and leaves altogether.A scene in Rick and Morty shows Rick working a barbecue and saying, "I'm like Tom Cruise from Cuisine", as an erroneous reference to Cocktail.