The film was shot in and around St. Petersburg, Florida: locations included the St Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, Sunny Shores Rest Home, The Coliseum, and Snell Arcade buildings. The film earned two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Don Ameche) and for Best Visual Effects. A sequel, Cocoon: The Return, was released in 1988, in which almost all of the original cast reprised their roles.
Robert Zemeckis was originally hired as director, but after spending a year working on it in development, he was fired before production began as 20th Century Fox (the studio financing Cocoon) felt he was box office poison due to his films I Wanna Hold Your Hand & Used Cars both being critically acclaimed, but commercial failures, and the studio felt his then-current film with Fox, Romancing The Stone would also be a flop after the studio previewed it, so Ron Howard was then hired as director. Romancing The Stone turned out to be a huge commercial success and gave him the clout to do Back To The Future which he had already scripted and had been previously turned down by every major studio.
About 10,000 years ago, peaceful aliens from the planet Antarea set up an outpost on the planet Earth, on an island later known to mankind as Atlantis. When Atlantis sank, twenty aliens were left behind, kept alive in large rock-like cocoons at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Now a group of Antareans have returned to Earth to collect them. Disguising themselves as humans, they rent a house with a swimming pool, and charge the water with "life force" to give the cocooned Antareans energy to survive the trip home. They charter a boat from a local captain named Jack, who helps them retrieve the cocoons. Jack likes Kitty, a beautiful woman from the team who chartered his boat. When he spies on her while she undresses in her cabin, Jack is shocked when he discovers she is an alien. After the aliens reveal themselves to him and explain what's going on, he decides to help them.
Next door to the house the Antareans are renting is Sunny Shores, a retirement home. Three of its residents, Ben, Arthur, and Joe, often trespass to swim in the pool next door, thinking the house to be unoccupied. They absorb some of the life force, making them feel younger and stronger. Eventually caught in the act, they are given permission to use the pool by the Antarean leader, Walter, on the condition that they do not touch the cocoons or tell anybody else about it. Rejuvenated with youthful energy, the three men begin to let the advantages of the pool take hold as they are relieved of their ailments (such as Joe's cancer miraculously disappearing and Ben's vision becoming clear, allowing him to be able to drive a car once again).
Meanwhile, Kitty and Jack grow closer and decide to make love in the pool. Since she cannot do so in the human manner, she introduces him to the Antarean equivalent, in which she shares her lifeforce energy with him.
The other retirement home residents become suspicious of the men after witnessing Ben's wife Mary climb a tree with their grandson, David. Shortly after, their friend Bernie, who obstinately refuses to use the healing power of the pool for himself and his wife Rose (who is starting to show signs of possible dementia), carelessly reveals the secret of the pool's rejuvenating powers to the other residents at the retirement home. In a mad frenzy after overhearing Bernie's slip-up, all the other elderly residents go to the pool to swim in its waters. When Walter finds them damaging one of the cocoons, he is infuriated and ejects them from the property, but too many have been in the pool at once and drained its life force. Later that evening, Bernie finds his wife Rose (Herta Ware) has stopped breathing and she is unable to wake up. Stricken with grief at her unexpected passing, he carries her body to the pool in an attempt to heal her, only to be informed by Walter that the pool no longer works due to the other residents draining the force in the rush to make themselves young.
Walter explains that the cocoons cannot now survive the trip back to Antarea but will be able to survive on Earth. With the help of Jack, Ben, Arthur and Joe, the Antareans return the cocoons to the sea. The Antareans offer to take them and 30 other residents of the retirement home with them to Antarea, where they will never grow older and never die. Most of them accept the offer, but Bernie chooses to remain on Earth.
Upon leaving, Ben tells his grandson, David, that he and David's grandma are leaving for good. As all the residents are leaving, David's mother Susan finds out about her parents' destination and quickly drives over to Sunny Shores. When nobody answers the door, Susan and David ask the front desk clerk John Dexter to which he says they're "probably out dancing." He then goes to the door of Pops, an older retiree, when Susan demands they at least ask a friend about Ben and Mary. The three soon find the majority of the rooms vacant and contact local authorities.
Meanwhile, the residents are still on Jack's boat as it will not start. After a few fixes, the engines starts up. While the police are searching, David notices the boat starting and rushes over, jumping onto the side and climbing over as it pulls away. Now with a minor on board, the residents, Jack, and the Antareans are being chased by Coast Guard speedboats and a chopper. With little time left, David says a tearful goodbye to Ben and Mary before jumping off into the water where the boats stop to pick him up. This gives the others a chance to get away to the meeting zone. Out of nowhere a thick fog appears and strands the remaining Coast Guard boats and they call off the chase.
As the Antarean ship appears, Walter pays Jack for his services and the boat. Jack embraces Kitty for the last time and they share a kiss. He then says farewell to everyone before jumping off the boat into an inflatable raft as the boat starts rising up into the Antarean vessel. Jack watches as the boat disappears inside the ship and starts its voyage toward Antarea.
Back on earth, a funeral is held for the missing residents on the shore near Sunny Shores. During the sermon, David looks toward the sky and smiles. The film ends with the Antarean vessel going towards a bright looking planet, assumed to be Antarea.
Casting for the film and its sequel were overseen by casting director Beverly McDermott.
The score for Cocoon was composed and conducted by James Horner. The soundtrack was released twice, through Polydor Records in 1985 and a reprint through P.E.G. in 1997 and features eleven tracks of score and a vocal track performed by Michael Sembello. Despite the reprint, it is still considered a rarity among soundtrack collectors. Ron Howard directed the music video for "Gravity," and also has a cameo appearance as himself, investigating Sembello's "disappearance." "Gravity" was Howard's first, and to date, only music video.
The film received mostly positive critical reception. Commented The New York Times' Janet Maslin, "Mr. Howard brings a real sweetness to his subject, as does the film's fine cast of veteran stars; he has also given Cocoon the bright, expansive look of a hot-weather hit. And even when the film begins to falter, as it does in its latter sections, Mr. Howard's touch remains reasonably steady. He does the most he can with material that, after an immensely promising opening, heads into the predictable territory of Spielberg-inspired beatific science fiction." Variety called it "a fountain of youth fable which imaginatively melds galaxy fantasy with the lives of aging mortals in a Florida retirement home [and] weaves a mesmerizing tale." The film holds an 80% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film was also a box office hit, making over $76 million in North America where it became the sixth highest-grossing film of 1985.
Academy AwardsBest Actor in a Supporting Role, Don Ameche in 1985
Best Visual Effects in 1985 (David Berry, Scott Farrar, Ralph McQuarrie and Ken Ralston).
Saturn AwardsBest Director, Ron Howard - Won
Best Science Fiction Film - Nominated
Best Actor, Hume Cronyn - Nominated
Best Actress, Jessica Tandy - Nominated
Best Supporting Actress, Gwen Verdon - Nominated
Best Writing, Tom Benedek - Nominated
Best Music, James Horner - Nominated
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Science Fiction Film