Red Sonja: How M.J. Bassett broke the reboot out of development hell

A reboot of Red Sonja spent nearly fifteen years in development hell before going into production last year with director M.J. Bassett (Solomon Kane) at the helm. Before Bassett signed on, the project had passed through the hands of directors Robert Rodriguez, Simon West, Bryan Singer, and Joey Soloway, with Hannah John-Kamen, Rose McGowan, and Amber Heard being considered for the lead role. Today The Hollywood Reporter posted an interesting article about how Red Sonja was able to escape from development hell… and it basically boils down to a director’s enthusiasm for the material and a producer’s desperation to get the movie made.

The 50-something Bassett says she has been borderline obsessed with Red Sonja since her childhood, and “I cursed every time they announced someone else (as director). I kept telling them, ‘When you change again, let me know.’” And they did let her know when Soloway vacated the director’s seat in spring of 2022. Yariv Lerner, the CEO of Nu Boyana Film Studios says Soloway “just didn’t feel competent to do the movie”, while Soloway says they left the project because they were inspired to direct a documentary series inspired by research they did while developing their take on Red Sonja. Regardless, by the time Bassett had the chance to pitch her version of the material to Lerner’s father Avi Lerner, he interrupted her and said, “Just make me a movie I can sell.” So Bassett set out to do just that.

Bassett wasn’t satisfied with the script Soloway and Tasha Huo had turned in, and ended up rewriting it a half dozen times. As Bassett explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “the previous script was much more sexual politics. Obviously in my personal life I’m interested in that. But as a storyteller I don’t think it’s interesting.” She also removed rape from Sonja’s back story, saying, “I have no interest in fictional women who use [rape] as an engine of motivation. It’s not a strong motivation. She’s just a human being in the world of femininity.” This movie about a powerful woman isn’t about gender. Instead, Bassett “wants Sonja’s journey to be an allegory for more existential questions around the survival of the species in the face of climate change.

The writer/director also felt that there have been so many different versions of Red Sonja in the pages of comic books that she was a “blank canvas”. Bassett felt free to bring her own vision to the character. As The Hollywood Reporter recounts, “The original Red Sonya of Rogatino first appeared in a pulp magazine story by Robert E. Howard in 1934, then was adopted as a Marvel character in 1973. She was a big-breasted, wasp-waisted, scantily attired warrior, a woman of extremes. Over time, other threads emerged to complement her legend. One involved the Marvel character Wolverine; another placed her in the future. In one comic book version, penned by Gail Simone, Sonja was bisexual.” And while Bassett describes the character’s famous chain-mail bikini as “preposterous”, she also confirmed that Sonja will be wearing a chain-mail bikini in the film.

Matilda Lutz (Revenge) is playing Sonja in Bassett’s movie, and put on 13 pounds of muscle for the role. Bassett cast Lutz because “She’s a beautiful, feisty, tough, committed young woman who people are going to want to watch.” The Sonja she plays is a “woman alone in the world, trying to survive in a very crazy environment.

Lutz is joined in the cast by Wallis Day (Sex/Life) as Annisia, Robert Sheehan (The Umbrella Academy) as Draygan, Michael Bisping (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) as Hawk, Martyn Ford (F9: The Fast Saga) as General Karlak, Eliza Matengu (Thor: Love and Thunder) as Amarak, Manal El Feitury (Code Red) as Ayala, and Katrina Durden (Doctor Strange) as Saevus, with Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) in an unspecified role.

Red Sonja is being produced by Jeffrey Greenstein, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Andrea Sperling, Yariv Lerner, Jonathan Yunger, Les Weldon, Joe Gatta, and Tanner Mobley. Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Trevor Short, Luke Lieberman, Nick Barrucci, and Dorothy Canton serve as executive producers.

Red Sonja hasn’t secured U.S. distribution yet, but we’ll share the news whenever release details are announced. In the meantime, let us know if you’re looking forward to Bassett’s Red Sonja by leaving a comment below. And to read more about the making of the film, click over to The Hollywood Reporter.

Red Sonja was previously brought to the screen in a 1985 film where the character was played by Brigitte Nielsen. Here’s Matilda Lutz as Red Sonja:

Red Sonja Matilda Lutz
Source: The Hollywood Reporter

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.