It seems strange that Hollywood hasn’t already made a movie where Jason Statham fights a giant shark, which is more or less the plot summary of Meg, a movie that just cast Rainn Wilson as the well-meaning billionaire who unleashes said giant shark by mistake. But Meg is a movie with a decades-long history of not getting made that lays bare just how hard it is to make a movie that seems like a slam dunk.
Meg first pinged Hollywood’s radar in 1997, when the thriller of the same name from prolific thriller author Steve Alten first hit bookstores. Alten’s book was practically designed for Hollywood: It followed Navy SEAL and diving expert Jonas Taylor, who stumbles over a giant shark in the Marianas Trench and is immediately dismissed as a crackpot. He goes back to help retrieve a submersible and a series of accidents unleashes the giant shark on the ocean. Alten’s mix of old-school monster movie and Tom Clancy-esque technothriller was unique, and he’s kept returning to the concept with five other novels.
Alten’s book was, quite literally, optioned before it was printed. Alten’s agent used the plot to tempt Disney into optioning the novel and then turned that around to get Alten a publishing deal. But before Disney could start building sharks, Deep Blue Sea, a movie about sharks with human intelligence eating Samuel L. Jackson, went into production, so Disney held off. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Renny Harlin’s gleeful B-movie did okay at the box office, but wasn’t the globe-spanning hit Disney was hoping to see. Disney threw Meg back, but it didn’t stay in for long, as in 2004, the producers behind Hellboy, along with the editor of CHUD.com at the time, Nick Nunziata, optioned it for Guillermo Del Toro to direct.
Unfortunately, as fans of his many, many abandoned projects can tell you, Del Toro’s eyes are often bigger than his stomach. So, in 2007, it went to another filmmaker, Speed director Jan de Bont. De Bont, by the way, hasn’t directed a movie since 2003’s Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, and in 2010, Meg was released into the wild yet again.
Aside from a brief mention in 2011 from Alten that the movie was back on track, Meg was dormant until 2015, when it was announced Eli Roth was taking over directorial duties. What changed?
The short answer was that China was interested. Just as The Rock and Matt Damon have turned up in Chinese-funded projects, Meg will largely be paid for by obscure production company Gravity Pictures, which will distribute it in China. But even with the funding on lock, there was still the matter of finding a director, as Roth left and was replaced by National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub.
It seems Meg has finally escaped production hell. In addition to Wilson, Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose and Chinese megastar/pop singer Fan Bingbing have signed on, and Meg is on track to arrive in March 2018. But, of course, if the giant shark has learned anything from Hollywood, it’s that even a sure thing may be harder to make than it looks.