Produced and directed by Ron Howard, the film follows the 2018 rescue mission of a Thai soccer team and their coach who were trapped in a system of flooding underground caves. The film’s cast is led by Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen and Joel Edgerton, with a script by William Nicholson.
Previously dated for Nov. 18 2022, the MGM movie is now under the Amazon umbrella after the company closed an $8.5 billion acquisition of the historic film studio in March. As such, film will receive a limited theatrical release in early August before launching on Prime Video weeks later as one of the company’s “summer tentpoles.”
“When we saw ‘Thirteen Lives,’ we got incredibly excited about what this could be on a global premiere, about what this could do for customers all over the world,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke tells Variety exclusively about the shift. “It feels like the ultimate inspirational story of hope, determination and triumph.”
Salke pointed to the success of global launches for movies like “Coming 2 America” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” last year. She adds, “We know what that resonance can look like and feel like, not only for us, but for the talent and for everyone involved. It felt like the perfect movie for that kind of strategy.”
The new release plan also indicates an evolving strategy for Amazon as the company determines how to roll out projects from its ever-growing film slate. Variety has learned that two other MGM titles — Billy Porter’s directorial debut “Anything’s Possible” and Julius Avery’s “Samaritan,” starring Sylvester Stallone — will also launch with a revamped release plan, while still other movies will stick to their original theatrical plans.
“We don’t have a one-size-fits-all sort of strategy on any of our content,” Salke shares about future release plans. “Whether it be a television series, limited series, movie, live event or a concert, because we’re more curated, we’re able to look at the content through that lens. For us, the goal is, ‘What is in the best interest of this in this film or series, to have it resonate with as many people as possible?’ and we always work backwards from there. There’s a lot of optionality for customers and we want to make sure we’re delivering on that.”
“Thirteen Lives” chronicles the incredible true story about the 12 boys from a local Thai soccer team and their coach, who became entombed in the Tham Luang cave when an unexpected rainstorm trapped them in a chamber deep inside the mountain without supplies or oxygen. The harrowing rescue mission, which was led by some of the world’s most skilled and experienced professional divers, saw all 13 people saved.
The revamped release strategy came down to a few factors. First, the story’s international appeal indicated the movie’s potential for a successful global launch to the company’s 200 million customer subscriber base. Also, after Amazon acquired and released such movies as “Coming 2 America,” “The Tomorrow War” and “Without Remorse” (all from Paramount Pictures), as well as “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, plus the release of movies like “Cinderella” and “Hotel Transylvania 4,” the studio got more insight into how to best reach audiences.
“The customers have spoken and we are definitely listening, so now we’re making it happen for viewers all over the world, who crave these films, to be able to see them the way they want — in their own homes as well as giving them a chance to see them in theaters,” Salke says, adding of “Thirteen Lives” specifically, “We want audiences to be able to have the opportunity to see and experience all its cinematic glory in the theater, so we’re going to do move heaven and earth to make sure that we get that opportunity to as many people as possible.”
In making these decisions, Amazon aims to maintain an “artist-friendly” approach, working hand in hand with talent and filmmakers — in this case, Howard and “Thirteen Lives” producers Brian Grazer, Karen Linder, Gabrielle Tana, P.J. van Sandwijk and William M. Connor — to decide the best strategy moving forward.
“Whether they’re acquisitions or homegrown movies or series, we really take the partnership to heart,” Salke says, pointing to the committed relationships the studio has formed with some of those films’ stars, like Eddie Murphy and Michael B. Jordan, much like the long-term pact inked with Riz Ahmed, who starred in the Amazon festival acquisition “Sound of Metal.” “We work hard to earn the trust of our creative partners, and give them the confidence to know, by looking at we’ve what we’ve already done, and what we’re planning to do specifically for their their work to be able to make it really resonate.”
Plus, by maintaining the qualifying theatrical release, Amazon affirms the film’s position as an early awards season contender.
“We’re trying to continue the legacy of ‘Manchester by the Sea,’ ‘The Big Sick,’ ‘Being the Ricardos’ [to] keep the high quality bar going, while bringing the movie to as many people as possible,” Salke confirms. “We think this movie can do both.”