Ron Howard is set to direct Thirteen Lives, a drama based on the true story of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue.
William Nicholson, the Oscar-nominated writer of Gladiator, will pen the screenplay, which will feature the kind of high-stakes drama that propelled Howard’s Apollo 13 to nine Oscar nominations. They even share a number in common, so perhaps it’ll bring good luck, for a change.
Thirteen Lives follows the boys soccer team from Thailand who became trapped in a cave for more than two weeks when heavy rains partially flooded the cave, blocking their way out. All 12 of the boys were rescued along with their 25-year-old coach, though the effort claimed the life of a retired Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, who ran out of air while saving the kids. Another rescue diver, Beirut Pakbara, died a year and a half later as a result of a blood infection contracted during the rescue mission.
CAA Media Finance is currently shopping the mid-budget package to select studios, and while interest is high in this feel-good story, there are several rival projects in the works that have had a bit of a head start. Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu is mounting a Netflix miniseries backed by SK Global that will focus on the kids, while Free Solo filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi are developing a movie at Universal with Dana Brunetti’s Cavalry Media producing. Finally, Kevin MacDonald is prepping a NatGeo documentary about the emotional saga.
Despite the fierce competition, this is a project that fits right in Howard’s wheelhouse, so I expect studios to jump on the package and fast-track production as soon as it’s safe to resume filming. Deadline reports that CAA is seeking a production commitment, so this isn’t expected to be a script that dies on the vine in development hell. Part of me wonders if Disney will make a play for Thirteen Lives given its young protagonists, but the other part of me suspects a deep-pocketed streamer like Apple or Amazon will open up its checkbook to muscle its way into the Oscar race.