Universal Picks Up Laura Hillenbrand's WWII Bestseller 'Unbroken'

Unbroken book Cover - 2011

"Water for Elephants" director Francis Lawrence is in talks to helm the adaptation.

Universal is taking another crack at the story of Louis Zamperini, the World War II-era hard-luck kid-turned-Olympic hero-turned-Japanese POW.

The studio has picked up the rights to Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling novel, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. Francis Lawrence, who just tackled a period piece with the upcoming Water for Elephants, is in talks to direct the adaptation. Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff will produce. Filmmaker (and Zamperini's son-in-law) Mick Garris is exec producer.

Scott Cooper, the filmmaker behind last year’s Crazy Heart, is on the shortlist of scribes being considered to write the script.

A kid who liked to getting into street fights, Zamperini joined his school track team and earned a place on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team that competed in Berlin. While he didn’t win any medals, his performance caught the eye of Hitler, who wanted to meet the youth.

When America joined the war, Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force, becoming a bombardier. After several missions, his plane crashed in the ocean. He and another survivor endured 47 days adrift in treacherous waters before being rescued by the Japanese Navy. Zamperini was placed in a POW camp run by a sadist whose goal was to slowly break the man.

The camp was liberated and Zamperini freed by war’s end, but then he began to suffer decades of post-traumatic stress disorder. In the end, Zamperini was able to overcome the psychological prison with the help of his wife and evangelist Billy Graham.

Unbroken is Hillenbrand’s second book, after Seabiscuit, which Universal adapted into an Oscar contender in 2003.

The studio has long been trying to tell the story of Zamperini, first optioning his autobiography as a vehicle for Tony Curtis. In the past decade, Nicolas Cage tried to produce a version as a starring vehicle. With Hillenbrand’s tome on the best-seller charts, the time seems right for another run.

Hillenbrand is repped by CAA and Tina Bennett of Janklow & Nesbit Associates. Lawrence is repped by CAA and 3 Arts Entertainment. Zamperini is repped by CAA and attorney Andrew Rigrod.