Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, is a fantasy sword and sorcery heroine made famous by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. Roy Thomas is the responsible party for taking Robert E Howard’s Red Sonya character and inserting her into the Conan timeline in Conan the Barbarian issue #23 (1973).
The Red Sonya (with a “y”) character was originally created in 1934 by Robert E. Howard as “Red Sonya of Rogatino” and she first appeared in the Howard story ‘The Shadow of the Vulture’. In Howard’s story, she was a 16th century Russian woman fighter who participated in the battle against the Turks in Vienna and had absolutely nothing to do with Conan, or the Conan world of Hyboria.
The Red Sonja (with a “j”) character was effectively created by Roy Thomas in 1973 and set in Conan’s Hyborian Age. Thomas must have figured that since Conan’s love interests, Bêlit and Valeria, wouldn’t show up until much later, this was his best option for getting a strong female protagonist into his incredibly popular new comic series.
The character was a hit with comic book readers, and after several years, and even a couple of Conan films, the Conan rights owners wanted to do a Red Sonja movie too, but the way that the rights were structured prevented them from including Conan in the film. You see, Red Sonja and Conan are owned by different entities. While both characters live in the Hyborian age, they cannot cross over unless the publishers and rights owners both approve. When Marvel held the publishing rights to both, it was easy to do the comics, but other media crossovers were not always possible.
In 1985, a Red Sonja film was produced that received generally negative reviews from fans and critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives 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.” Schwarzenegger has commented, “It’s the worst film I have ever made.”
In 2009, a remake of the film was announced, with Robert Rodriguez to direct and Rose McGowan to star as Red Sonja, succeeding Brigitte Nielsen in the role. However, due to the failure of the 2011 remake of Conan the Barbarian, production on Red Sonja was abandoned and both Rodriguez and McGowan backed out of the project. As of 2015, the remake was still in development hell.
In 2016, it was rumored that director Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) had been developing a television series for the character to air on a pay channel or streaming service and that it would be R-rated. Earlier this year, Deadline Hollywood announced that Ashley Edward Miller would be writing a new Red Sonja film for Millennium Pictures. Millennium was also the company that produced the 2011 Conan remake.
Now, the Hollywood Reporter has announced that Bryan Singer is in talks to direct the film for Millennium, but he has not signed on officially. This is an interesting choice to be sure and not exactly the expected or politically correct choice in the #MeToo era. We’re not the only ones who think so. Forbes also weighed in.
There were allegations against Singer right before X-Men: Days of Future Past opened in May of 2014, but the film still went on to earn $233 million domestic and $758m worldwide, still the biggest non-Deadpool movie in the X-Men franchise. And even with the controversies over Bohemian Rhapsody, the film is getting strong buzz and Singer was able to get sole directing credit even with Dexter Fletcher taking over as a relief pitcher. So, it’s hard to argue that the allegations against the director will affect moviegoers’ moviegoing decisions in China or Russia or Mexico. Moreover, at the end of the day, if folks want to see a Red Sonja movie, especially if their kids do, they are unlikely to deprive themselves of the opportunity due to allegations and scandal associated with the director.
Now having said all that, what exactly does Millennium gain from hiring Bryan Singer than they couldn’t gain from hiring any number of unblemished male filmmakers or, heaven forbid, a female filmmaker for the female-led comic book sword and sorcery flick? If you take the X-Men franchise out of the equation, he’s the guy who delivered an underwhelming Superman reboot (Superman Returns earned $391 million worldwide in 2006 on a $200m-$270m* budget) and crashed and burned with Jack the Giant Killer ($195m on a $175m budget in 2013). To the extent that any filmmakers are marquee directors in 2018, and you can make the case for a few of them (Nolan, Tarantino, Burton, Spielberg, etc.), Singer isn’t one of them. Hiring Singer to helm the movie puts the media narrative, especially the social media narrative, against your movie right from the start for no benefit.
Anyone else find it surprising at all that a female director wasn’t selected?
Of course, this could turn out to be nothing more than Hollywood chatter and another director could take over, or the project could go dark again. I contend that with the right casting, a beautiful red-headed warrior in a chainmail bikini could easily surpass the terrible Brigitte Nielson film – which had no sex appeal at all, very little action, and an awful script.
Who knows what will happen next? We’ll keep you posted on any updates.