Hollywood Already Exploring a Malaysia Airlines Movie

Malaysia Airlines - H 2014
AP Photo/Vincent Thian

"I guarantee there are 50 different people working on 50 different projects ... right now," says one prominent producer.

For more than two weeks, coverage of the missing Malaysian Airlines jet has dominated the airwaves, sending news networks like CNN to ratings highs. Though the disappearance of Flight MH370 is being called the greatest mystery in aviation history, Hollywood has yet to take the bait.

As of press time, not a single pitch based on the project was making the rounds. But much like the thus-far fruitless investigation into what happened to the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers, there is likely plenty of activity going on behind the scenes.

"It's a shocking tragedy, but even so, I guarantee there are 50 different people working on 50 different projects that are either inspired by it or based directly on it right now," says J.C. Spink, who executive produced the 2005 airline thriller Red Eye.

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In fact, Spink thinks that there's enough built-in intrigue surrounding the flight that vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing to make for a compelling aviation thriller. 

"Clearly something more happened on that flight than we'll ever know," he adds. "And that's a great jumping-off point."

Over the decades, the unfriendly skies have proved to be a popular setting for action films, from 1951's James Stewart pic No Highway in the Sky to 1970's Airport, considered the granddaddy of air disaster movies, spawning three sequels as well as spoofs (Airplane!). More recent efforts include the 2005 Jodie Foster vehicle Flightplan and 2008's Passengers with Anne Hathaway.

When tragedy strikes, Hollywood typically waits for the dust to settle before making a move. It took nearly three months after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings before the first project based on the events emerged when screenwriters Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy (The Fighter) picked up feature rights to Boston Strong.

Similarly, nearly five years passed after the 9/11 terror attacks before the first high-profile movies based on the events began to surface in 2006 including Oliver Stone's World Trade Center and Paul Greengrass' United 93.

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With Flight MH370, the appetite for the story is voracious. CNN, with its wall-to-wall coverage, has benefited the most. The network climbed to second place for the week of March 10 -- in total viewers and the adults 25-54 news demographic, in both total day and primetime -- up a staggering 109 percent in the key demo from the same week last year.

One challenge a potential Hollywood project might face is the dearth of American characters either onboard the plane or in the search. Most of the passengers and crewmembers came from China and Malaysia (three U.S. citizens were passengers). But one top literary manager notes that if done right, the story could still be attractive to studios. 

"They would keep it the way it really happened," says the manager. "I can't think of a close comparison besides Captain Phillips."

Another potential obstacle is the ambiguity surrounding the cause of the plane's disappearance. Though Malaysian authorities said the act was deliberate, that assessment could be trumped by new evidence.

"I think people will wait to see how [the investigation] turns out," says Alex Heineman, who produced this year's hit airline thriller Non-Stop, which has earned $143 million worldwide to date. "They say truth is stranger than fiction, and this story is so bizarre. No one knows what happened -- or maybe people do, and they're not saying what happened."

Still, Heineman says it's not a project for him.

"I wouldn't chase a story like this -- a true-life disaster story -- because it's sad, and I don't want to be exploiting that kind of situation," he says.

Email: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com
Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27