Ron Howard to Direct Thai Cave Rescue Movie ‘Thirteen Lives’ from ‘Gladiator’ Writer

     April 30, 2020

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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.

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Image via Warner Bros.

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.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this one, and in the meantime, you can check out our recent interviews with Howard here and here.

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