The Thrilling Story of Rescue of Thai Boys from Cave Heads to Hollywood
Divers freed the last four of 12 boys and the adult coach on Tuesday, a successful end to a mission that gripped the world for more than two weeks.
The saga is reminiscent of the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days, a tale that was turned into the 2015 movie “The 33” starring Antonio Banderas.
Like the Chilean rescue, the Thai drama showcases real-life courage in the face of harrowing circumstances, said Mike Medavoy, the Oscar-nominated producer of “The 33.”
It is likely the saga will be turned into a film or series of TV episodes at some point, he said.
“It’s about the triumphs of individuals and groups of human beings over tragedy,” Medavoy said. “It’s a terrific story.”
Producers with U.S.-based Pure Flix, a studio that specializes in Christian and family movies, already are on the ground interviewing rescue workers for a potential film.
Pure Flix co-founder Michael Scott lives in Thailand part of the year and said he became captivated by the story while watching the news at his home in Bangkok. His wife grew up with the former Thai navy SEAL who died during the mission, he added.
Scott said he believes the international cooperation at the scene will help stoke interest in a movie about the effort.
“It’s Thai, Westerners, Europeans, Aussies – people from all over the world who helped bring these kids to safety,” he said.
“I think there is a world wide appeal which I think will inspire millions across the globe.”
The attempt to retrieve the boys and their coach became a race against time amid a forecast of heavy rain that threatened to flood the cave tunnels with fast-flowing and rising water, adding plenty of suspense.
“It’s a combination of great jeopardy and great heroism,” said literary agent Judi Farkas, who represented author Antonio Mendez on the film rights sale of his book “Argo” for the Oscar-winning Ben Affleck movie.
Bringing the Thai drama to the screen faces hurdles, however.
First, filmmakers need to secure the rights from each of the boys’ families, the coach, and any rescuers they want to portray in order to get their firsthand accounts of what happened. The boys are ages 11 to 16.
And replicating the rescue on screen could be costly.
“The 33” was filmed in Colombia and Chile and produced for about $24 million. A movie about the Thai rescue could be made for less, Medavoy said, because filming in Thailand is cheaper.
But filmmakers will have an added challenge as the rescue takes place in murky water, which was not a factor in the Chilean operation.
“The water and scuba diving scenes would be expensive,” Farkas said. “Any time you film in water it’s expensive.”
A big-screen production likely would take years to bring to theaters. Producers would have to decide if interest will remain once the story fades from the headlines, Medavoy said.
“The 33” brought in $24.9 million at theaters worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, just slightly more than its production budget.
The Thai rescue also could draw interest from TV networks, which could provide a quicker path to the screen. It remains unclear who the heroes would be in any film or TV version.
“Clearly the children are the heart of the story,” Farkas said. “We don’t yet know who led the rescue effort. We don’t have enough details of the story yet to know whose point of view to tell it from.”
In the meantime, news programming is feeding public appetite for the story.
On Tuesday, U.S. television network ABC aired a special edition of “20/20” focused on the mission, and the Discovery Channel announced it would air a one-hour documentary on Friday.
Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; in Chiang Rai, Thailand; editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis.