'Falling': Universal Wins Rights To Novel Described As 'Speed' At 35,000 Feet [Update]

Update 2/11/21: According to THR, Universal won a heated bidding war for the screen rights to Falling, paying $1.5 million and beating out other suitors including Neil Moritz, Jason Bateman, Matt Reeves, and Jerry Bruckheimer. Our original story from February 8 continues below.

You've probably never heard of T.J. Newman, and until a few days ago, Hollywood hadn't either. But the rookie author is currently on the minds of several major players who are all jockeying for the rights to adapt her debut novel, Falling, into a film or TV show. The book, which is set on an airplane, has been described as "Speed at 35,000 feet" and sounds like a throwback to the kind of thriller that used to be commonplace in the 1990s, but that we'd love to see make a large scale comeback.

The Hollywood Reporter says that "more than 14 major studios, networks, streamers, and top filmmakers are pursuing screen rights" to Newman's book, which was written on an iPad and on the backs of airplane napkins during her red-eye route when she was working in that industry. Here's the premise of Falling:

140-plus passengers on a crowded flight from New York to LA don't yet know that a half-hour before takeoff, their pilot's family has been kidnapped. Now, in order for his family to live, the pilot must follow orders and crash their plane. While much of the story takes place in the air, there is also said to be a relentless FBI agent trying to save the family on the ground.

Hollywood used to make movies like this all the time, but as studios became less willing to take chances on mid-budget projects and instead began inching toward primarily making movies with budgets that are either sub-$10 million or $200 million-plus, these types of movies started to disappear. That's a shame, because they were a great way to let movie stars be charming and effective without wearing tights or a cape.

As of right now, at least two formal offers have been made to hopefully bring this book to the screen – one by a studio for a film version, and one by a network hoping to make a limited series. Unfortunately, we're not sure exactly which studios, networks, streamers, or "top filmmakers" are vying for the rights. I'd love to see somebody like Bong Joon-ho, Alfonso Cuaron, or Emerald Fennell take a crack at a story like this.

Of course, airplane thrillers seem en vogue at the moment thanks to the Kaley Cuoco-starring The Flight Attendant, which aired its first season on HBO Max and recently scored nominations for multiple Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Critics' Choice Television Awards, as well as a Writers Guild of America Award for Best New Series.