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Ron Howard’s Thai Cave Rescue Drama ‘Thirteen Lives’ Lands at MGM

”Gladiator“ writer William Nicholson to pen script

MGM has acquired the rights to “Thirteen Lives,” director Ron Howard’s drama about the 2018 Thai cave rescue operation, the studio announced Monday.

Howard will direct the film from a script written by William Nicholson, an Oscar nominee for “Gladiator,” and he’ll also produce on behalf of Imagine Entertainment along with Karen Lunder and Brian Grazer. Storyteller Productions’ P.J. van Sandwijk and Gabrielle Tana of Magnolia Mae will also produce.

The Tham Luang cave rescue captivated the world in 2018 when 12 members of a junior soccer team, aged 11 to 16, and their assistant coach entered into a cave after their practice and then became trapped after heavy rains flooded the cave. After a week of no contact at all, a rescue effort of over 10,000 people and more than 100 divers led a coordinated effort over 18 days to rescue the entire team and their coach, though a former Thai Navy SEAL diver died in the effort.

“Thirteen Lives” follows veteran British divers John Volanthen, Richard Stanton, Jason Mallinson, Chris Jewell, Josh Bratchley and Connor Roe, who all played a part in the rescue effort.

“The Thai families, government and a community of farmers and neighbors who came together to support a global group of rescue divers to aide in the recovery of 12 fearless young men and their coach was an extraordinary act of teamwork. MGM is deeply honored to be a part of this project with Ron, Brian, Karen, P.J., Gaby and to share with audiences everywhere the incredible real-life story of people working together to reunite the 13 with their families,” Pamela Abdy, MGM Film Group president, said in a statement.

“This film is case study in courage and volunteerism – the courage of those who were trapped, of the divers, of the officials and of the locals who all came together to overcome insurmountable odds while the world watched. Brian and I are excited to partner with MGM, P.J., and Gaby, to bring this heroic story to audiences around the word,” Howard said in a statement.

“This story is a testament of humanity at its finest; an example of when in need, people will find a way of working together, and when united, we can achieve the impossible,” van Sandwijk said in a statement.

“What a moment in time to be able to tell a story that reflects the necessity of global co-operation and the strength of the human spirit. At this moment in history, telling this story seems more meaningful than ever and is an extraordinary privilege,” Tana said.

“The team is thrilled that Ron Howard and MGM have taken on this production, to tell the story of how an International team worked in unity with the Thai authorities to save the Wild Boars,” divers Volanthen and Stanton said in a statement.

The film originated with Storyteller Productions and its producers P.J. van Sandwijk, Michael Lesslie and Marie Savare, who approached Gabrielle Tana and Carolyn Marks Blackwood of Magnolia Mae Films to come onboard to co-finance the development, with an aim to develop the screenplay fully in-house and keep the existence of the project under-wraps.

Deadline first reported news of the acquisition.