How 'The Meg' Made It to The Big Screen

After being in production hell for over 20 years, Steve Alten’s novel has finally seen the light of day.

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After being in production hell for over 20 years, Steve Alten’s novel has finally seen the light of day.

It is not unusual for a project to take a long time to get off the ground. In recent years, The Dark Tower and Blade Runner 2049, both were completed and released. They were long considered pipe-dream movies. The films fans have always anticipated, but never came to fruition. The same holds true for The Meg. After 20 years of on-again/off-again status, the film adaptation swam to theaters. It wasn’t easy to get this film to big screen.

The Meg was never a high concept story. Following the adventure of Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), The Meg depicts how one man must stop the biggest of all sharks, the Megalodon. The ridiculous size of the animal, and, the need to film on and underwater, always made the film a tough sell. One the biggest questions surrounding the development of The Meg was just who would pay for this.

Author Steve Alten has always had high hopes for his franchise. In a 2017 podcast, he imagines it could exist in the same realm of box-office success that graced Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Had the franchise began in 1996, it could be “… a billion-dollar franchise… Unfortunately, the timing hasn’t worked out.” The Meg has been considered a Jurassic Park type of film and Alten credits the success of Jurassic World to the underwater Mosasaurus existing in the film. He believes that the true horrors of the world lie beneath the ocean.

Productions have budgets and producers attached. With The Meg, there was a lot of money needed and as Steve Alten puts it, “So many producers attached and too many cooks in the kitchen.” Alten worked on the novel for The Meg in 1996. Known as “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror”, the book was a hot property and Disney Hollywood Pictures scooped up the rights to the adaption “…before it was finished in 1996.” Disney Hollywood Pictures was a short-lived division of mature films from Disney similar to their Miramax or Touchstone Pictures labels. I can’t imagine The Meg finding a home in any of the studios Disney runs, but that is not what ended the collaboration with Disney.

There were multiple reasons The Meg didn’t get made by Disney, chief among them was the passing of the guard at the studio. Michael Lynton (who would become the chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment) optioned The Meg. He was fired with the closing of the Hollywood Pictures division and the new president didn’t greenlight any of the pictures from Lynton. Think of it as the new guy wanting to make a name for himself.

Another major issue was the existence of Deep Blue Sea and its lack of success. Both Deep Blue Sea and The Meg were being developed by rival studios at the same time. Warner Bros. released Deep Blue Sea in theaters in the summer of 1999 and the film was a disappointment. Deep Blue Sea also shared a lot of DNA with The Meg being they were both shark attack movies. Producers deemed that audiences just weren’t into shark movies at the moment and Deep Blue Sea had a major role in the lack of production of The Meg.

It would be almost 6 years later until rumors of a Meg adaptation were alive. In 2005, the rights were with New Line Cinema (famous for Lord of the Rings). The Meg had gotten to New Line from a bizarre chain of collaborators. Alten passed the script to CHUD founder Nick Nunziata, who passed it to director Guillermo del Toro, who then shared it with his Hellboy producer Lloyd Levin. New Line liked The Meg but felt it was too close to Jurassic Park. The studio hired Armageddon scribe Shane Salerno to take a crack at the script.

Steve Alten was furious with the script that Shane Salerno turned in. It wasn’t The Meg anymore. It was more akin to “Moby Dick.” Regardless production continued forward with The Meg at New Line Cinema. They hired Speed and Twister director, Jan de Bont, to shepherd the film to completion. De Bont brought in a team of special effects and production experts to assist with the project, but then after 2 1/2 years, the project was over.

New Line Cinema had gotten spooked on the inflated budget of The Meg. They were happy if the picture had come in around $100 million, but in 2005 the film couldn’t be made at that price. De Bont and Salerno showed them a script that started at $157 million and could inflate to $200 million. The first step was trying to remove various high-cost scenes from the script to remove some expense from the film. De Bont and Salerno managed a saving of almost $20 million, but it wasn’t enough to keep the shark film afloat.

Alten took to the internet in 2007 to give a status update on the film.

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Status on The Meg would go quiet for a lot of years. Monster movies like Godzilla and Jurassic World came back to the multiplexes and the interest in shark movies was back. In 2015, director Eli Roth was attached to the project. The same Eli Roth that directed movies Hostel and The Green Inferno. His version of The Meg would’ve turned out different from what we got.

It wasn’t until director Jon Turteltaub came to the picture in 2016 that it took on the name The Meg. The National Treasure director had the experience of big-budget films and solved getting the troubled project to the big screen. Alten gives a lot of credit to producer Belle Avery in getting financing for the feature. She took the film to Chinese investors and Gravity Pictures signed on. Once that was settled, Warner Bros. was interested in picking up the rest of the budget.

The Meg has been a surprise success story for Warner Bros. The film opened domestically to a tune of $40 million dollars, double of early estimates. The Meg has also been a big winner overseas and should reach profitability soon. Alten has said the vision of The Meg that is in theaters is the closest they’ve ever come. That is quite the statement considering the number of rewrites the script had and the multitude of studios and producers who have been attached to the project at some point. Alten suggests it “wasn’t easy,” but the film is here now.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.