Ron Howard Reveals Which Of His Movies Tested Highest With Audiences, And It’s Not One Of His Classics

Colin Farrell in Thirteen Lives.
(Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

Ron Howard has had a string of stone-cold classics in his time. Some of them have been box-office behemoths like Solo: A Star Wars Story or the Dan Brown adaptations he did with Tom Hanks. Others have been critically acclaimed, with A Beautiful Mind earning Howard two Oscars for Best Picture and Director. These are some of Ron Howard’s Top 10 movies. But according to the Academy Award-winning director, none of the above movies received the highest test scores from preview audiences. In fact, Apollo 13 used to be his highest… until this movie came along. 

Ron Howard was attending the SCAD Savannah Film Festival last month, where the acclaimed director was bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award. This gave CinemaBlend the opportunity to cover his entire career during an exclusive interview, even though he brought his recent drama Thirteen Lives to Georgia to show to audiences. And when he started talking about that harrowing story, he admitted to us:     

Thirteen Lives is the highest testing movie I've ever had. Even higher than Apollo 13, which was my previous high. I've had a lot of other movies that, you know, by testing standards were very successful. But there's something about Thirteen Lives that is – and it's the reason I wanted to do the movie. It’s that idea of volunteers who don't have to even be there risking their bodies, risking their psyches, sometimes their careers just simply to try to do the right thing. Crossing these cultural, ideological barriers and just getting things done. Ignoring politics and just doing it. It’s been gratifying.

Thirteen Lives came out earlier this year, and falls into the camp of Ron Howard stories that convey real-life experiences, with a layer of Hollywood drama. In the case of this movie, Howard recreated the miraculous rescue efforts to retrieve a team of young soccer players and their coaches who’d become trapped in a cave system in Thailand.  

Perhaps because of the language barrier, Ron Howard wondered how the movie would connect with a larger, mainstream audience. But as he told CinemaBlend:

What's exciting to me is that there's a lot of Thai spoken in the movie. So therefore, here in the U.S., there are a lot of subtitles. (And that) did not hold audiences back from appreciating the movie, no matter where we've tested it. And that's incredible. To me, that's a turning point. And again, a sign that that kind of appreciation for cultural authenticity, including hearing the native language, just with subtitles, is kind of moved from festivals into streaming in a big way.

This could be what Thirteen Lives played so well when audiences with an Amazon Prime Subscription started to screen it over the summer. You have to listen to Ron Howard talk about the movie at length. He’s really a fascinating storyteller. 

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If you still are on the fence about pressing play on Thirteen Lives, our official review sings the movie’s praises, and critics overall gave the film high marks. It could compete for year-end awards if enough people see it, but we still have so many 2022 movie theater releases, the competition could get stiff from here on out.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.