Red Sonja (film)
Theatrical release poster by Renato Casaro
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Christian Ferry|
|Written by||Clive Exton|
George MacDonald Fraser
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Edited by||Frank J. Urioste|
Dino De Laurentiis Corporation
|Distributed by||MGM/UA Entertainment Co.|
|Box office||$6.9 million|
Red Sonja is a 1985 Dutch-American epic sword and sorcery film directed by Richard Fleischer and written by Clive Exton and George MacDonald Fraser. It is based on the character of the same name, created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, who itself is based mainly on the character Red Sonya of Rogatino, created by Robert E. Howard. The film introduces Brigitte Nielsen as the title character, with Sandahl Bergman, Paul Smith, Ronald Lacey, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in supporting roles.
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 (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984).
Red Sonja was theatrically released in the United States on July 3, 1985, by MGM/UA Entertainment Co.. Upon release, the film received generally negative reviews from critics. It grossed $6.9 million in the United States under a budget of $17.9 million, becoming a box-office bomb.
Sonja, a young, red-haired woman, is raped and left for dead by the soldiers of Queen Gedren, a despot who murdered Sonja's parents and brother after she scarred the queen's face in rejection of her sexual advances. Answering her cry for revenge, the red goddess, Scáthach, appears to her and gives her heightened strength, stamina, agility and fighting skills on the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. She trains under a sword master called "The Grand Master" and is distrustful of all men besides him. At a nearby temple, Varna, Sonja's sister, is a member of an order of priestesses who are preparing to banish a mystical light-powered relic, the Talisman, that created the world and all living things. The Talisman can only be used and touched by women – men vanish if they touch it – and has become too powerful to control. However, Gedren's army and her aide-de-camp Ikol intervene and slaughter most of the priestesses and shield maidens before they can imprison the Talisman in permanent darkness.
Varna watches Gedren steal the Talisman and imprison the surviving priestesses in the vault that contained it before escaping, but is mortally wounded. She is discovered by Kalidor, the Lord of Hyrkania, who goes to find Sonya and bring her back to Varna. Before dying, Varna tells Sonja to find the Talisman and send it into darkness before it ravages the world with storms and earthquakes. Kalidor asks to accompany her, but she rejects the offer. After witnessing the Talisman in use, Sonja arrives to the now-ruined kingdom of Hablock. She meets the young, pig-headed Prince Tarn and his servant Falkon, who say that Gedren used the Talisman to completely decimate Hablock when Tarn refused to surrender. Tarn, demanding vengeance, announces that he will crush Gedren and invites Sonja to work for him as a cook. She politely declines before being told that Gedren is based in Berkubane, the land of Perpetual Night.
Arriving at the mountain gate, Sonja fights Lord Brytag after he refuses her passage for not paying him a 'tender tribute'. When she kills him and takes his key, his troops surround her; Kalidor, who has secretly been following her, attacks their rear, allowing Sonja to escape. Sonja comes across Tarn again, being tortured by bandits. She frees Tarn and kills the bandits with Falkon. They decide to stay together and travel onward toward Berkubane, and Tarn takes Sonja's advice and utilises some good manners over sword practice. Gedren's wizard uses a large magic dish to show the approaching party; Gedren recognizes Sonja and orders that she be brought to the fortress unharmed. Using the Talisman to conjure up a storm, she forces Sonja's group to take shelter in a watery cavern in Ictyan where Gedran's “Killing Machine" is unleashed upon them. Kalidor appears and helps Sonja blind the mechanical beast so they can escape.
Sonja accepts Kalidor's company after learning he is a descendant of the lords who entrusted the Talisman to the priestess temple. He flirts with her, so she warns him that "no man can have her" unless he can defeat her in a sword fight. Kalidor challenges her and they fight to a draw, despite Tarn trying to knobble Kalidor to tip the duel into Sonja's favour. The party arrives at Castle Berkubane and, to protect Tarn, they convince him to stay behind and guard the front entrance. Ikol, realizing Gedren is insane when she refuses his pleas to stop utilizing the unstable relic, plans to escape the castle with bags of Hablock's gold. Sonja confronts Gedren in her council chamber while Kalidor and Falkon deal with her guards in the castle's dining hall. Ikol is stopped by Tarn at the entrance and is crushed to death by the door.
No match for Sonja, Gedren flees to the Chamber of Lights where the Talisman is stored. Now powerful beyond control, the Talisman causes the floor to split open and reveal a chasm of molten lava beneath the castle. Sonja and Gedren duel in the Chamber; Sonja runs Gedren through with her sword, sending the evil ruler plunging into the lava 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 as the castle is consumed by the rising volcano.
- Brigitte Nielsen as Red Sonja
- Arnold Schwarzenegger as Lord Kalidor
- Sandahl Bergman as Queen Gedren of Berkubane
- Paul L. Smith as Falkon
- Ernie Reyes, Jr. as Prince Tarn, the spoiled boy heir of Hablock
- Ronald Lacey as Ikol
- Pat Roach as Lord Brytag
- Terry Richards as Djart
- Janet Agren as Varna, Red Sonja's priestess sister
- Donna Osterbuhr as Kendra (High Priestess)
- Lara Naszinsky as Queen Gedren's handmaid
- Hans Meyer as Red Sonja's father
- Francesca Romana Coluzzi as Red Sonja's mother
- Stefano Maria Mioni as Barlok (Red Sonja's brother)
- Tutte Lemkow as Wizard
- Kiyoshi Yamasaki as Kyobo
- Tad Horino as Swordmaster
- Sven-Ole Thorsen as one of Lord Brytag's bodyguards
- Erik Holmey as Lord Brytag's bodyguard who battles Red Sonja before she kills him
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. 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 that it was too similar, de Laurentiis decided not to give her the part. On a 2015 episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, soap opera actress Eileen Davidson revealed that she auditioned for the role and was actually runner-up to Brigitte Nielsen. It took 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.
The musical score of Red Sonja was composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone.
Track listing for the first release on LP
- Symphonic Suite for Chorus and Orchestra - Part I (16:37)
- Symphonic Suite for Chorus and Orchestra - Part II (18:42)
Track listing for the CD release
- Prologue (01:24)
- Main Title (02:22)
- The Talisman (03:15)
- Temple Raid (01:39)
- Touch It (01:03)
- Sonja and the Sword Master (01:49)
- Vanna's Death (02:00)
- The Gate of Brytag (01:47)
- Sonja vs. Brytag (01:14)
- Fighting the Soldiers (03:36)
- The Chamber of Lights (02:02)
- Sorcery (00:46)
- Sonja Teaches Tarn (01:33)
- Treasure in the Cavern (02:07)
- Kalidor and Sonja (01:43)
- A Fair Fight (01:50)
- Entering the Castle (02:12)
- Sonja Defeats the Queen (01:36)
- End Credits (03:42)
The film received generally negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 15% based on 26 reviews, with the site's critical consensus stating, "Dull, poorly directed, and badly miscast, Red Sonja is an uninspired conclusion to Schwarzenegger's barbarian trilogy." On Metacritic the film has a score of 35% based on reviews from 6 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
Schwarzenegger commented, "It's the worst film I have ever made." He joked, "Now I tell my kids that, if they get out of line, they'll be forced to watch Red Sonja ten times in a row. It must be working, because I've never had much trouble with them."
John Grant, who authored the film's entry in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), gave Red Sonja a negative review, commenting "Morally dubious (Gedren's lesbianism is depicted as one of her evil attributes) and worse-acted than words can explain, Red Sonja is a great embarrassment."
Film historian Leonard Maltin seemed to agree, giving the movie 1.5 out of a possible 4 stars. He went on to cite the picture as: "Spectacularly silly...While it might amuse juvenile viewers, most of the fun for adults is in deciding who gives the worse performance -- Brigitte Nielsen or Sandahl Bergman." 
Joe Kane, the "Phantom of the Movies", gave the film an even worse review -- 1 out of 4 stars. According to him, "While Conan the Barbarian was sword-and-sorcery, this is grunt-and-groan: the actors grunt, while the audience groans...Amid wooden thespianism, redundant comedy relief, and clunky storytelling, Arnold Schwarzenegger's most impressive feat is managing to stay offscreen for more than half the running time despite being top-billed." 
Siskel and Ebert also gave the film negative reviews. Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert agreed that the film was poorly made, yet it contained enough campy humor that it might have been intended as a spoof; Ebert noted the "dialogue which sounds like the actors have already read the Mad magazine parody of this film". Both critics laughed during their reviews, notably when Siskel noted the awkward position of the Buddha statue.
Andrea Wright writing for the Journal of Gender Studies has argued that the film represents a problematical representation of women, because the character of Red Sonja is sexualized and relies on a male counterpart.
The film was nominated for three Golden Raspberry Award's, Worst Actress, Worst New Star (Nielsen) and Worst Supporting Actress (Sandahl Bergman). Nielson won in the Worst New Star category, shared for her performance in Rocky IV.
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. The adaptation was also available as a two-issue limited series.
A second Red Sonja film had been in development for several 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. By 2009 however, the Rodriguez project had been scrapped, and as of February 2010, rights holders Nu Image were moving forward with another projected new film, to be directed by Simon West. Producer Avi Lerner said he would like to see Amber Heard take the role of Sonja, after having worked with her on Drive Angry. Lerner said the film would shoot before the sequel to Conan the Barbarian. In August 2012 at the premiere of The Expendables 2 West said that the film was stuck in production. In February 2015 it was reported that Christopher Cosmos had been hired as a screenwriter for the new film.
In November 2017, Deadline reported that Millennium Films would finance and produce a new Red Sonja film with Avi Lerner and Joe Gatta producing alongside Cinelou Films’ Mark Canton and Courtney Solomon and written by Ashley Miller. In September 2018, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the studio was eyeing Bryan Singer to direct the film. In October 2018, Singer was confirmed to direct the film. On February 11, 2019, Millennium Films announced Red Sonja was no longer on their slate of films, due to recent sexual abuse allegations against Singer. In March 2019, according to a Charlotte Kirk article, Lerner dropped Singer from the project because he was unable to secure a domestic distributor. In June 2019, Joey Soloway signed on to write, direct and produce the film.
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- "Movie Red Sonja - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
- Red Sonja (1985) – Box Office Mojo
- "Comic Book Movies: Red Sonja". Filmwerk.co.uk.
- "Marvel Movie Madness! Part 20: Red Sonja". Rotten Tomatoes. 2011-06-23. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p264-271
- Maslin, Janet (1985-07-03). "Movie Review - Red Sonja - THE SCREEN: 'RED SONJA' - NYTimes.com". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- "Red Sonja". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- "Red Sonja". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
- "Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Red Sonja' | TheDailyBeast.com: Stars Who Slam Their Movies | Comcast.net". Xfinity.comcast.net. Archived from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- Jones, Emma. "Arnold Schwarzenegger, Red Sonja - Actors who hate their own films". Entertainment.ca.msn.com. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- Grant, John. "Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997): Red Sonja". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- Maltin's TV, Movie, & Video Guide
- The Phantom's Ultimate Movie Guide (1989)
- Wright, Andrea (2012-12-01). "A sheep in wolf's clothing? The problematic representation of women and the female body in 1980s sword and sorcery cinema". Journal of Gender Studies. 21 (4): 401–411. doi:10.1080/09589236.2012.681183. ISSN 0958-9236.
- John Wilson (2002-02-01). "Home of the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation". Razzies.com. Archived from the original on 2014-10-13.
- Marvel Super Special #38 at the Grand Comics Database
- Red Sonja: The Movie at the Grand Comics Database
- "Rose McGowan Explains Why Red Sonja Never Happened". ReelzChannel. Archived from the original on 2012-05-09. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- "Amber Heard For Red Sonja?". Empire Online. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- "Red Sonja Movie is Back on with a New Screenwriter". Coming Soon. February 27, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
- Busch, Anita (November 4, 2017). "Millennium To Produce Female-Strong 'Red Sonja' With Cinelou". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- Busch, Anita (April 4, 2018). "'X-Men: First Class,' 'Thor' Writer Ashley Edward Miller Hired On For 'Red Sonja'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
- Siegel, Tatiana; Kit, Borys (September 17, 2018). "Bryan Singer in Talks to Direct 'Red Sonja' for Millennium (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
- Siegel, Tatiana (October 5, 2018). "Bryan Singer Nabs Huge Payday for Directing 'Red Sonja'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
- Wiseman, Andreas (February 11, 2019). "Millennium's 'Red Sonja' Movie Put On Back Burner Amid Bryan Singer Controversy". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
- Kim Masters; Tatiana Siegel (13 March 2019). "Powerful Friends: After Kevin Tsujihara, More Executives Pushed to Cast Actress Charlotte Kirk". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (21 June 2019). "'Transparent' Creator Jill Soloway To Write & Direct 'Red Sonja'". Deadline.
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