Ron Howard signs on for Thai cave rescue biopic Thirteen Lives
Ron Howard has tackled nearly every kind of biopic Hollywood can think of and as he works on Netflix’s adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy, he is ready to return to the genre as he has signed on to helm Thirteen Lives, based on the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue, according to Collider.
Penned by Oscar nominee William Nicholson (Gladiator, Everest), the story follows the boys soccer team from Thailand who became trapped in a cave for more than weeks when heavy rains partially flooded the cave and blocked their way out. All of the boys were rescued along with their 25-year-old coach, albeit the effort took the lives of a retired Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, who ran out of oxygen while saving the kids, and Beirut Pakbara, a rescue diver who passes a year and a half later from a blood infection contracted during the rescue.
The film is currently being shopped around by CAA Media Finance as a mid-budget project to select studios, and sources are reporting that though interest is high in the story, there are several rival projects based around the story that have a head start on it. Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) is developing a miniseries for Netflix that will focus on the kids while Free Solo‘s Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi are developing a movie for Universal and Kevin MacDonald (Whitney) is planning a NatGeo documentary.
Sources are also reporting that despite the competition, CAA is not looking to allow this project to die in development hell and is seeking to fast-track production as soon as the global health crisis clears.
Thirteen Lives does not mark the first time Nicholson or Howard have explored the biographic genre, as both have built Oscar-nominated careers on their ability to entertainingly bring true stories to life. Nicholson’s previous efforts in the genre include Shadowlands based on the life of Narnia author C.S. Lewis, Grey Owl based on the British schoolboy-turned-Native American trapper, Elizabeth: The Golden Age focused on the latter part of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom starring Idris Elba as the iconic anti-apartheid revolutionary and Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie and focused on Army officer Louie Zamperini and his struggle to survive in a WWII POW camp after his plane is shot down, among others.
Howard’s work in the biopic genre extends back to 1995 with the two Oscar-winning Apollo 13, which this project feels very reminiscent of, as well as four Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind, Oscar-nominated Cinderella Man, Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon and Golden Globe-nominated Rush.