In what appears to be another case of slightly missing the point, Millennium Films is chasing the success of Warner Brothers’ ‘Wonder Woman’ by digging in the crates and going even further back. The studio is hoping to begin production on a movie based on ‘Sheena, Queen of the Jungle’ next year. While DC’s Amazing Amazon premiered in late 1941, Sheena predates her, having debuted in the British magazine ‘Wags’ #1 in 1937 and was the first female character to go on to star in her own comic series. While she had supernatural abilities, Sheena emerged from earlier pulp novels, much like her male counterpart Tarzan, and was not exactly what we now call a “superhero.”
If you’re not old enough to remember, something very similar occurred after Tim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’ broke records and became an international sensation. Movie studios scrambled to cash in on the first big-budget “comic book movie” but rather than adapting other contemporary superhero properties, studios dove WAY back and released films based on ‘Dick Tracy’, ‘The Shadow’ and ‘The Phantom’ none of which had much in the way of name recognition with young people of the early 90s. Disney adapted ‘The Rocketeer‘, but while that comic series was published in the 1980s, it was set during the 1940s and echoed the retro vibe of these other projects and suffered a similar lackluster fate at the box office.
But along those lines, rather than adapting a modern female superhero (or a superhero period), Millennium is hoping to strike gold with this Golden Age champ. Sheena comes with a pretty impressive pedigree, having been co-created by Jerry Iger and Will Eisner. Sheena was orphaned in Africa and raised by the witch doctor Koba, who taught her to communicate with animals.
Sheena was portrayed by Irish McCalla in a TV series in 1955. On this series, as in the comics, Sheena spoke broken English.
In 1984, 80s it-girl Tanya Roberts (‘The Beastmaster’, ‘A View To A Kill’) played a more supernatural version of ‘Sheena, Queen of the Jungle’ in a live action film. In this version (pictured at the top), Sheena’s ability to communicate with animals was a form of telepathy. Unfortunately, the film was a critical and financial disaster. But for whatever reason, it retains a certain fan following. *ahem*
More recently, Gena Lee Nolan portrayed ‘Sheena’ in a syndicated TV series in 2000. This version went even further into the realm of super powers, giving the Jungle Queen the ability to shapeshift into any animal she locked eyes with. She also transformed into a powerful killer mode called the Darak’Na. Both Nolan and Roberts’ versions of Sheena spoke fluent English.
Coincidentally enough, Gal Gadot had signed on for the Millennium Studios film ‘Criminal’ before leaving for ‘Batman V Superman’.
Last year, ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ starring Alexander Skarsgård either lost money at the box office or barely broke even (depending on who you ask) and let’s be honest, even though Tarzan hasn’t had that strong a place in pop culture in modern times, he’s still a character that almost everyone knows on some level. Can the same be said of Sheena?
But hey, depending on whom they cast, if the director squeezes in an up-the-skirt shot of her climbing down a tree, that might entice a few people into theaters.
Are you a fan of Sheena in any iteration? Do you think she can succeed in a feature film?