Red Sonja (film)

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Red Sonja
Red sonja film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Christian Ferry
Written by Clive Exton
George MacDonald Fraser
Based on Characters 
by Robert E. Howard
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
Brigitte Nielsen
Sandahl Bergman
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Edited by Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment Company
Release dates
  • July 3, 1985 (1985-07-03)
Running time 89 minutes[1]
Country Netherlands
United States
Language English
Budget $17.9 million[2]
Box office $6,948,633[3]

Red Sonja is a 1985 Dutch-American sword and sorcery action film directed by Richard Fleischer. The film introduces Brigitte Nielsen as the title character with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Ronald Lacey, Ernie Reyes, Jr., Paul L. Smith, and Pat Roach in supporting roles. The film features the sword-wielding Marvel Comics character Red Sonja, created by Roy Thomas, who first appeared in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian series (#23) in 1973. Red Sonja was based on Red Sonya of Rogatino, a character invented by R. E. Howard appearing in his short story, "The Shadow of the Vulture" (1934). The film acknowledges that it was "based on the character created by Robert E. Howard" in the introductory credits.

As in Howard's stories of Conan, the film takes place in the Hyborian Age, a fictional prehistoric time that had been depicted previously in the films Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. The film was shot in Italy, on location in Celano and the rest of the Abruzzo region, and in the Stabilimenti Cinematografici Pontini studios near Rome.


Red Sonja is visited by a spirit who grants her the strength to seek her revenge against Queen Gedren. In a flashback scene, Gedren murders Red Sonja's brother and parents after Sonja rejects the queen's sexual advances, and Sonja is raped by Gedren's troops.

Later, Gedren's army and her aide-de-camp Ikol attack a temple full of white-robed priestesses, who are preparing to destroy a large, glowing green orb called the Talisman, used by the Creator to forge the world. This dangerous artifact's destructive power is growing, and the priestesses intend to destroy it before it gets out of control and destroys the world. Only the priestess Varna manages to escape and she is mortally injured. Varna encounters Lord Kalidor and begs him to help her find her sister, Red Sonja. Kalidor finds Sonja and tells her that her sister is dying. Before dying, Varna tells Sonja what happened at the temple, and urges her to find the Talisman and destroy it. Sonja begins a journey to Berkubane, Gedren's Kingdom of Eternal Night.

Sonja sees a storm in the distance, indicating that someone is using the Talisman. Kalidor offers to help her, but Sonja rejects his offer and rides to the now-ruined kingdom of Hablock. There she meets the young Prince Tarn and his servant, Falkon. They tell her that Gedren wiped out Hablock and its army with the Talisman because Tarn refused to surrender. Tarn announces that he is raising a new army to crush Gedren and invites Sonja to work for him as a cook. She declines and goes her own way.

Sonja kills Lord Brytag after he refuses her passage through the mountain passes. His troops surround Sonja, and Kalidor, who has secretly been following her, attacks their rear, allowing Sonja to escape. Sonja comes across Tarn and Falkon in the mountains. Tarn is being tortured by bandits. Falkon rejoins Sonja to help her kill the brigands and free the prince. They travel onward toward Berkubane.

At Castle Berkubane, Gedren and Ikol watch Sonja and her party approaching on a magic screen. Gedren recognizes Sonja and orders that she be brought back to the fortress unharmed. She and Ikol use the Talisman to conjure up a storm, forcing Sonja's band to take shelter in a watery cavern. Gedren unleashes an "Icthyan Killing Machine" in the cavern. Kalidor reappears, and helps Sonja blind the beast.

Sonja now accepts Kalidor's company, but also warns him that "no man can have her" unless he can defeat her in a swordfight. Kalidor challenges her and they fight to a draw. Kalidor, Sonja and Falkon then infiltrate Castle Berkubane. To protect Tarn, they convince him to stay behind in order to prevent Gedren from escaping. Sonja confronts Gedren, while Kalidor and Falkon deal with her guards in the castle's dining hall. Ikol tries to escape with gold looted from Hablock, but is stopped by Prince Tarn, who accidentally kills him.

The Talisman, which Gedren has placed in a Chamber of Lights, is becoming too powerful to control. Its power breaks the floor open, revealing a chasm of molten lava beneath the castle. Sonja and Gedren fight in the Chamber, but Sonja eventually gains the upper hand and runs Gedren through with her sword, sending the evil ruler plunging to her doom in the lava pit below. Sonja throws the Talisman in after her, destroying it and starting a chain reaction that tears Castle Berkubane apart. The heroes manage to escape just before the castle is consumed by the rising volcano. Sonja and Kalidor kiss. Prince Tarn and Falkon look on before departing.



In Conan the Barbarian, Sandahl Bergman played Valeria, a thief and the love of Conan's life. Bergman was offered the role of Red Sonja, but turned it down, choosing instead to play the villainous Queen Gedren.[4] Recently revealed in an interview, De Laurentiis met with actress Laurene Landon and was set to offer her the role of Red Sonja until he discovered she was in an earlier film called "Hundra;" fearing it too similar, she did not get the part. It took Dino De Laurentiis almost a year to find an actress "Amazonian" enough to play the title character; he was still looking eight weeks before the scheduled production, when he saw Brigitte Nielsen on the cover of a fashion magazine. The 21-year-old native of Helsingør, Denmark, in Milan for a modeling job, soon found herself on a plane heading for Rome and a successful screen test.[5]

George MacDonald Fraser, who had recently adapted Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for De Laurentiis was hired to work on the script during filming.[6]


The musical score of Red Sonja was composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone.


Track Listing for the First Release on LP

  1. Symphonic Suite for Chorus and Orchestra - Part I (16:37)
  2. Symphonic Suite for Chorus and Orchestra - Part II (18:42)

Track Listing for the CD Release

  1. Prologue (01:24)
  2. Main Title (02:22)
  3. The Talisman (03:15)
  4. Temple Raid (01:39)
  5. Touch It (01:03)
  6. Sonja and the Sword Master (01:49)
  7. Vanna's Death (02:00)
  8. The Gate of Brytag (01:47)
  9. Sonja vs. Brytag (01:14)
  10. Fighting the Soldiers (03:36)
  11. The Chamber of Lights (02:02)
  12. Sorcery (00:46)
  13. Sonja Teaches Tam (01:33)
  14. Treasure in the Cavern (02:07)
  15. Kalidor and Sonja (01:43)
  16. A Fair Fight (01:50)
  17. Entering the Castle (02:12)
  18. Defeats the Queen (01:36)
  19. End Credits (03:42)


The film received generally negative reviews from critics.[7] Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 20%, with the site's critical consensus stating, "Dull, poorly directed, and badly miscast, Red Sonja is an uninspired conclusion to Schwarzenegger's barbarian trilogy."[8] Schwarzenegger commented, "It's the worst film I have ever made." He joked, "Now, when my kids get out of line, they're sent to their room and forced to watch Red Sonja ten times. I never have too much trouble with them."[9][5][10]

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy gave it a scathing entry. The main criticism was that it was a "B-movie" with bad characterization, bad acting and an entirely clichéd display of swords and sorcery. In particular, the Encyclopedia accuses the movie of being homophobic and of purposely portraying homosexuality as a negative, evil trait. Gedren is portrayed as a lesbian whose rivalry with Sonja is based partly on the fact that Sonja once rejected her sexual advances.[11]

Leonard Maltin seemed to agree, giving the movie 1.5 out of 4 stars and calling it "Spectacularly silly...It might amuse juvenile viewers, but the only real point of interest for adults is deciding who gives the worse performance, Nielsen or Bergman."

An even harsher evaluation was given by "Phantom of the Movies" Joe Kane: "An unwise return by Schwarzenegger to his first hit property. Only, instead of sword-and-sorcery, this is 'grunt-and-groan'...he grunts while we groan. Yet it should be noted, in Arn's defense, that he manages to stay off-screen for more than half the movie. Though the fur and heads fly in a few scattered battle scenes, the title character is wooden...and the film itself is clankier than a knight's shining armor."

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Subject Result
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Actress Brigitte Nielsen Nominated
Worst New Star Won
Worst Supporting Actress Sandahl Bergman Nominated

Comic book adaptation[edit]

Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film by writer Louise Simonson and artists Mary Wilshire and Vince Colletta in Marvel Super Special #38.[12] The adaptation was also available as a two-issue limited series.[13]


A second Red Sonja film has been in development for some years. In 2008, Robert Rodriguez and his production company Troublemaker Studios were working on a version that would have starred Rose McGowan as the titular character.[14] By 2009 however, the Rodriguez project had been scrapped, and as of February 2010, rights holders Nu Image are moving forward with another projected new film, to be directed by Simon West. Producer Avi Lerner has said he would like to see Amber Heard take the role of Sonja, after having worked with her on Drive Angry. Lerner says the film will shoot before the sequel to Conan the Barbarian.[15] In August 2012 at the premiere of The Expendables 2 West said that the film is still a go and will be out soon. [16]


  1. ^ "RED SONJA (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1985-08-01. Retrieved 2012-12-16. 
  2. ^ "Movie Red Sonja - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  3. ^ Red Sonja (1985) – Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "Comic Book Movies: Red Sonja". 
  5. ^ a b "Marvel Movie Madness! Part 20: Red Sonja". Rotten Tomatoes. 2011-06-23. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  6. ^ George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p264-271
  7. ^ Maslin, Janet (1985-07-03). "Movie Review - Red Sonja - THE SCREEN: 'RED SONJA' -". Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  8. ^ "Red Sonja". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  9. ^ "Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Red Sonja' | Stars Who Slam Their Movies |". Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  10. ^ Jones, Emma. "Arnold Schwarzenegger, Red Sonja - Actors who hate their own films". Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  11. ^ The Encyclopedia of Fantasy
  12. ^ Marvel Super Special #38 at the Grand Comics Database
  13. ^ Red Sonja: The Movie at the Grand Comics Database
  14. ^ "Rose McGowan Explains Why Red Sonja Never Happened". ReelzChannel. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  15. ^ "Amber Heard For Red Sonja? | Movie News | Empire". Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  16. ^

External links[edit]