Red Sonja (1985)

red sonja

“I don’t hate ALL men, Grandmaster.”

The Scoop: 1985 PG-13, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sandahl Bergman

Tagline: A woman and a warrior that became a legend.

Summary Capsule: Scantily clad barbarian folk run about whacking things with swords. There’s some kind of plot or something too, but we kept getting distracted.

Shalen’s rating: Two out of three stiff-walking bodybuilders.

Shalen’s review: So here’s another rating of a Schwarzennegger movie from back when he was still really into controlled substances instead of introducing legislation. Sure, it’s supposedly about Brigitte Nielsen’s aggressive redhead barbarian, but Arnie steals enough scenes that we’re pretty sure it’s his movie.

Anyhow, evil Queen Gedren destroys Sonja’s (Nielsen’s) village, kills her family, etc., then promptly offers her carte blanche and is turned down.1 She doesn’t take this well, but fortunately Sonja survives being gang-raped. Then a fuzzy white-robed person whose identity is never clear appears to give her the strength she will need to go on and get her revenge.

Cut to much later, when the same Gedren (looking no older) is stealing some kind of mystic orb from a temple full of just women. See, it turns out the orb disintegrates any man who touches it. Very Freudian. Arnold Schwarzennegger shows up too late to save anybody but manages to run off and find Sonja, drag her back to her dying sister the high priestess, and we’re off to the races. Sonja has just finished training with this older Asian gentleman and his entourage and picked out her sword and got her mullet and everything, so she’s all ready to go.

We then promptly head off into our typical kill-the-bad-guy-seize-the-artifact eighties sword and sorcery flick. The script is bad. The dialogue is bad. The acting is bad. In fact, all of this badness combines to create an effect that I personally found hilarious. It’s not Lord of the Rings, but it’s not the Film Which Must Not Be Named either.2

Of course, I was willing to cut the film some slack because Brigitte Nielsen’s character practically never has to be rescued, nor does she break down in tears whenever something bad happens.3 Plus it has Grace Jones (She was in A View to a Kill, remember?) as an auxiliary amazon character,4 because back in the eighties they still let women look actually muscular instead of just so skinny that every tendon shows. Not that our protagonist does, but this is a Hollywood movie. I also awarded it Shalen Bonus Points because practically everyone is scantily clad and inadequately armored, not just the female characters. One more thing to love about old school sword and sorcery is the equal opportunity skin exposure.

There’s some swordfight action, but it’s pretty slow. If you’ve seen House of Flying Daggers or Hero or any of the Once Upon a Time in China films, you’re not going to be really impressed by Brigitte Nielsen trying really hard to wield that mighty sword5 with her skinny little arms or Arnie lumbering around clenching his biceps so hard you expect them to burst off and come flying out of the screen to attack the audience. Be sure and check out Queen Gedren’s Women in Tights motif in her different outfits as the film goes on. With the amount of glitter she is wearing, one begins to wonder if she is really a lesbian6 or actually some sort of drag queen. Anyway, we can’t say she’s not convincing. Her and her girltoy spend most of their time arguing and pouting, just like a real couple.

This movie has some important rules we could all stand to remember:

    • 1. Never proposition someone after you’ve just killed their entire family.
    • 2. There are non-draft horses strong enough to carry Arnold Schwarzennegger in full Mr. Universe mode.
    • 3. Stabbing someone in the stomach with a sword makes a “thud” noise.
    • 4. You can create a realistic decapitation effect by throwing an obviously rubber head up in the air after the “thud” of a sword slicing through a neck.
    • 5. Having your whole family killed and your virtue assailed at the orders of a woman will cause you to hate men for the rest of your life.
    • 6. Large fur diapers make practical, comfortable clothing to fight in, and so do leather thongs.
    • 1 Another Hollywood trend that’s still going on: Lesbians in armor are nearly always evil. I’m not sure how they decided this, since my own personal experience is lacking in any combination of those elements at the present time, but hey, Hollywood is a different kind of town.
    • 2 Dungeons and Dragons.
    • 3 Such as her sister dying painfully from an arrow wound. Apparently Gedren missed her during that whole slaughter-the-whole-village scene.
    • 4 You can never have too many of them around. Besides, playing a mostly-naked amazon could hardly be less dignified than pretending to be turned on by wrinkly old guys. I have nothing against Roger Moore, it’s just that this is like Kathy Griffith getting into that hot tub with Vin Diesel. Imagine the outcry.
    • 5 Ha ha.
    6 Not that we mean to suggest lesbians do not or should not wear glitter. We fully support the right of everyone to wear glitter at all times, including men, women, children, and Kyle.
Before spandex head bands, tiaras were a very important battle accessory.
Before spandex head bands, tiaras were a very important battle accessory.


  • It is commonly believed (A/N: By whom?) that Robert E. Howard created the character of Red Sonja in one of his Conan short stories. In reality, he created a character with a similar name (Red Sonya) that appeared in a minor role in a non-fantasy work of historical fiction. “Red Sonja”, the character popularized by the 1985 movie, actually first appeared in a Conan comic book written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith.
  • Nice scenery. I think it’s in Norway.
  • The Swordmaster must be REALLY good, to be able to fight while dressed like a Maypole.
  • Arnie’s protruding arm veins. Scary.
  • Those are some really, um, realistic looking swords.
  • The amazing headgear on Brytag’s guards, sort of like extras from a goth version of The Little Mermaid: The Musical.
  • Yep. Tights are evil.
  • Why is mild-mannered Falkon using a human thigh bone as a weapon? Anybody?
  • The comic sidekick guy is actually athletic-looking, but he acts goofy and he’s not Arnie, so he gets to be the wimpy one. This is a typical incidence of the Protagonist Rule, which explains why everyone on Buffy thinks David Boreanaz as Angel is more attractive than Nicholas Brendan as Xander despite the fact that their looks are very comparable.
  • Apparently it’s possible to run around outdoors in practically nothing without sunblock and never get a tan. Who knows, maybe this IS true in Norway.

Groovy Quotes

Gedren: Touch it! (Guard touches the orb and is vaporized)(Uh, and by “touches the orb” we mean…)

Swordmaster: Hatred of men in a lovely young woman… Such could be your downfall.
Red Sonja: I don’t hate ALL men, Grandmaster.
Swordmaster: Those words would have brought music to my heart, thirty years ago.

Red Sonja: No man may have me, unless he’s beaten me in a fair fight.
Kalidor: So, the only man that can have you, is one who’s trying to kill you. That’s logic.
[Red Sonja goes and lies down. Kalidor picks up his sword and holds it to her throat]
Kalidor (leering hilariously): If you yield only to a conqueror, then prepared to be conquered.
Red Sonja: Don’t be a fool, I don’t want to kill you.
Kalidor: Try it.

Brytag: I’m going to feed your eyes to the birds, red-hair!
Red Sonja: I don’t need eyes to find you, I can smell you at a hundred paces!

Sonja: You should try to be more like Falkon. (A/n: pudgy sidekick guy) He’s a real man.

Gedren’s Handmaid: [A/N: only line, and apparently “handmaid” is what they called girlfriends back then] She’s gone. Oh, I’m so glad that you’ve come. Please, will you protect me? I’m so frightened.

Gedren: So it is true that only women may touch it!

Prince Tarn: Why does she fight so hard? She doesn’t want to win.

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  1. I file ‘Red Sonja’ with other movies like Roadhouse and Grease 2; if you look at the individual elements of each film (script, plot, acting, characters, etc), they should be train wrecks, but somehow they come off as not only watchable, but fun. Not good films, lord knows, just enjoyable. Red Sonja has its place on my dvd shelf, even if it is when I want a laugh from a film that was unintentionally comedic! Good review.

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