Laura Hillenbrand's 'Unbroken' to Become a Universal Picture

Universal has optioned the film rights to Laura Hillenbrand's latest non-fiction tale of triumph of the American spirit, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. According to Deadline, Universal, the studio that turned Hillenbrand's first non-fiction bestseller, Seabiscuit, into an inspirational film phenomenon nearly on par with that of the book (if not the thoroughbred), has hammered out a deal to produce a film based on Hillenbrand's telling of the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who endured unimaginable litany of abuse and hardship during his tour of duty as an Air Force pilot bombardier. The short version: His plane crashes into the Pacific. He survives forty-seven days at sea on a flimsy raft. He trades unrelenting hunger and shark attacks for a fate much worse when he's held captive as a POW and routinely tortured by the Japanese army until the end of the war. And then comes the revenge mission. It's an incredible story complete with a tailor-made Hollywood ending -- one that's so outlandishly heroic, it would be tough to believe if it weren't backed up by Hillenbrand's notoriously exhaustive research and Zamperini's own 1957 memoir, Devil at My Heels.

Universal has reportedly already zeroed in on a director, Francis Lawrence, a moody, stylistic filmmaker, who established himself early on with dark sci-fi thrillers like "Constantine" and "I Am Legend." However, he recently shifted gears in style and substance, with his adaptation of the beloved Sara Gruen novel Water for Elephants, about a recently orphaned veterinary student who drops out of school to join the circus.  Though Lawrence may not be the most obvious choice to direct "Unbroken" -- that would have to be Spielberg, no? -- his version is guaranteed to drive home story's visceral intensity, conveying the internal and external horrors Zamperini endured at sea and behind enemy lines with palpable, in-your-face immediacy.

Another wild card potential hire: Scott Cooper, who wrote and directed last year's "Crazy Heart" (for which Jeff Bridges finally won his long overdue Best Actor Oscar), has been mentioned to adapt the script. Kind of makes you wonder who they'll pull out of left field to play Zamperini. That leaves out Christian Bale or Jeremy Renner -- they'd be too obvious, right?

  • Sarah

    Maybe I'm way off base, but I imagine LZ being well portrayed by Joseph Gordon Levitt or Emile Hirsch. Both these guys have great range in the type of movies they have chosen up until now.

    • Charles Felts

      Ken Watanabe is one of my favorite actors and would be perfect dead ringer for the "Bird" just so happens he has the same name. Crazy.

    • Ginette

      Adrian Brody is the ONLY choice for Louie!

  • Roy

    I like Gary Sinese to portray LZ. Great actor, with great range in everything he's ever done. Plus, his close friendship with Laura would be a plus! I'm 71 and would like to say that Unbroken was a like-changing experience for me. I've never been more moved, emotionally. I hope to meet Ms. Hillenbrand someday and just thank her for writing this moving story. Laura Hillenbrand is truly national treasure!!

  • Kay

    Kudo's to Laura! "Seabiscuit" was great but she has topped it with "Unbroken"; a truly incredible follow-up effort. Laura Hillenbrand is truly in a class all by herself at this point. And I'm praying for her daily. For the movie lead, how 'bout Jim Caviezel as LZ?

    • John Hubbard

      Yes, I agree. He would be perfect. He even resembles Louis (at a young age).

  • Melissa

    Wonderful book and would hope the film will do it justice. How about Jon Hamm as LZ?

  • Thomas

    This is such an amazing story. My girlfriend gave me Unbroken for Christmas and it is my favorite book. I am so glad they will be making a movie. I only hope they do it justice.

  • Elisa

    Update to the Facts: Zamperini was a bombardier, not a pilot. He spent 37 days at sea, not 47. The book is amazing!!!

    • Clay


      You might want to check your facts. While you're right in that he was a bombardier, he did, in fact, spend 47 days at sea, not 37.

  • Word and Film

    Thanks for pointing out the errors, Elisa! We've corrected pilot/bombardier, and we're looking into the 37 vs 47 days now. Our readers are so on top of things!

  • Lawton

    Jake Gyllenhall is the obvious choice for Louie. He looks exactly like him--they have the same puckish mouth.

    • BEH

      I agree, Jake Gyllenhaal would be a fantastic actor for this part, both because of his age--he still looks young enough to fit the story, and his striking similarity in appearance with Zamperini.

    • Duane Howard

      I'm with you, Lawton...
      To play LZ, Jake Gyllenhall would be my choice as well.
      Let's get this movie made, soon!..Oscar material!!

  • COL Edye Moran

    This story is too unbelievable to be fiction. Louis Zamperini is my hero, and so is Laura Hillenbrand. The level of detail involved in writing this book is unfathomable, and makes this book LIVE and BREATHE. I have to say this is my favorite book. God bless you both. Thank you to all of the true-hearted, courageous WWII veterans--my father included.

    • COL Edye Moran

      This story is too unbelievable to be fiction. Louis Zamperini is my hero, and so is Laura Hillenbrand. The level of detail involved in writing this book is unfathomable, and makes this book LIVE and BREATHE. I have to say this is my favorite book. God bless you both. Thank you

  • Cori Zee

    Thanks to Louis for giving a face and voice to all our brave men who suffered so much. So many of those guys didn't live to speak their own story. God smiled down on this champion and survivor and we are all uplifted by his story, his faith, and by extension then all our heroes are remembered... JAKE Gyllenhaal does resemble Louis in the same unique and handsome way. Whether he could inhabit his spirit and bring "Zamp" fully to life on screen is yet to be known.

  • Deborah

    Any idea on when the film would be released?

  • sharbo

    Oh gosh! No Spielberg! He would make to corny and over the top! Nice guy with good message but alwayyyyysss predictable and corny. Gary Sinese? Too old! :)

  • Audali

    JAMES FRANCO!!!!!!

  • Matt

    This book is amazing. Louie zamperini is the true example of what it means to be a great American. And heshould definitely be played by Christian bale. He's a fantastic actor and if you don't think he can pull off this type of role I suggest you rent the movie rescue dawn and get proven wrong

  • Mitch

    sorry to say but im very lazy and dont read much... dont judge. so is there no version of the movie because i have to do a book report on this...?

  • taylor

    Louie visited my college and he said the choices for the role of LZ will be between Ryan Gosling and James Franco.

  • Duane Howard

    This book got me back to reading....I am so glad that Hollywood saw the foresight to make this "unbelievable true story" into a movie...Oscar material, no doubt! My choice to play LZ would be Jake Gyllenhall...perfect fit from others suggested.

  • teresa magana

    I think the book is very good to read and the man was a good run for his high school runer. he ran in the olympic games with some his classmates. he is a very fast runing and his recordwas 4:13.7 and is a very strong man for his team mates.

  • my2cents

    Jake Gyllenhall or James Franco!

  • my3cents

    The main character LZ needs to be a new face. If produced and directed properly and stays accurate with the facts this Epic will sweep at Oscar time. C'mon Hollywood what are you waiting for?

  • Alycat

    Leonardo D.? I think he has the looks and the acting chops to handle this one.

  • Robert Mack

    The book was great but when is the movie coming out? We never see movies, but I would go see this movie.

  • Warren

    One of the best books I have read! Can't wait for the movie.

  • Roger Hart

    Fantastic in audio book version too! How about Lost's Matthew Fox to play Louis in the movie?

  • Chaning C.

    Louis Zamperini is definitely an inspiration. There’s another hero still out there that needs his story told for all the world to see and gather strength from, Col. Bud Day, the most decorated living American veteran. His story is one of unbelievable strength, honor and conviction to all that is good and right. Every American should know the story of Col. Bud Day and every veteran should thank Col. Day for what he has accomplished.

  • George

    Would Louis Zamperini have had some monetary rights to his story, or would everyone but him stand to make a buck on his story?

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