Actresses Bo Derek, Jodie Foster and Raquel Welch were all considered for the title role of Sheena which in the end was cast with actress Tanya Roberts. Welch was originally touted to play Sheena when the picture was first developed a number of years earlier during the 1970s. Welch had previously headlined the cast of the similar adventure genre piece One Million Years B.C. (1966).
Will Eisner's and S.M. Eiger's "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle" was first launched as a comic book in Jumbo Comics #1 in 1938. Their work as creators of Sheena went uncredited in the credits of this movie.
Armoury featured in the movie, according to the Internet Movie Firearms Database (IMFDb), included a Flamethrower; a M1911A1 sidearm pistol; Winchester Model 12 shotguns; a Heckler & Koch MP5A2 submachine gun with a slimline forearm and straight West German Police magazines; early-model Heckler & Koch MP5A3 submachine guns; a long barrel Remington Model 31 shotgun; a scoped rifle with a scope on it; Armalite AR-10 rifles with front sights, .62 x 51 mm magazines, and both carry handles and charging handles; a Browning M1919 machine gun; a pair of Browning M3 aircraft guns attached to a helicopter; an engraved Walther Model 8 single action pistol; and a 4" large N-Frame nickel finish Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Remington Magnum revolver with wood grips.
Star Tanya Roberts said of this movie for the film's publicity: "It was the hardest film I've ever worked on but at the same time the most gratifying. It was so amazingly beautiful in Africa, the wildlife, the sunrises and sunsets, the skies, the land, and the people".
Director John Guillermin said of this movie's location filming: "This country (Africa) is harsh but magnificent. The people are proud but helpful. The Kenyan government went out of its way to help us, and, of course, the wildlife is the greatest remaining living heritage still left on this earth".
Several trained animals were flown to Kenya from Hollywood and it was important to see that these tamed animals were not harmed by those which roamed wild around the set. According to Animal trainer, wrangler & coordinator, "we flew over an elephant, a rhino, five lions, four leopards, four chimpanzees, five horses, and sixteen birds. It was probably the largest shipment of animals back to Africa for a film, and just getting all the necessary permits to bring them in and out of the country was a superhuman task".
Producer Paul Aratow landed a development deal for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle with Universal Pictures as early as 1975 as a proposed starring vehicle for Raquel Welch. However, numerous script rewrites led to the project being put into turnaround. The project was picked up by United Artists, then after a failed script put in turnaround to Filmways (later Orion Pictures) where another failed script led to another turnaround deal at Avco-Embassy, who courteously released the project before their contract had expired to Columbia pictures. The first screenwriter at Columbia (in 1980) was Leslie Stevens. At Columbia the script was subsequently completely rewritten by David Newman and later tweaked by Lorenzo Semple Jr.. At some point Bo Derek was considered for the title role, and Harrison Ford was offered the male lead, but casting eventually ended up with Ted Wass and Tanya Roberts in the role of Sheena. The production was green-lighted in 1982.
Prior to starring as Sheena in this movie, Tanya Roberts two years previously had played a similar leading role as Kiri in The Beastmaster (1982). Both movies feature Roberts in a nude bathing sequence.
The movie was made and released about forty-seven years after its source comic strip "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle" by Will Eisner and S.M. Eiger and had been first published in 1937. Both comic book creators went uncredited in the picture's billing.
According to executive producer Yoram Ben-Ami, "Sheena" was a complicated production from a logistical standpoint. He said: "People always tell you to shoot pictures in simple locations and never use animals! We broke both rules". In breaking those rules, however, director John Guillermin and his crew wound up with spectacular locations and a unique film experience.
Director John Guillermin said of this movie's production: "We spent about two years in pre-production looking for locations and for ways to shoot the picture. We did not want to go into the studio and I think that decision was sound as far as this film is concerned. We are telling a story which has many elements of fantasy, and authentic settings are invaluable in helping convince an audience. The feel of the finished product is very important. There would be no way to get that 'feel' except by working and living in Africa. All of us, Tanya [Roberts], Ted [Wass], the rest of the cast and crew, felt the imprint of Africa as we were shooting. That reaction made the story come to life".
Taking an entire production crew comprised of several different nationalities to a location as vast and inaccessible as Africa was no small achievement. Executive producer Yoram Ben-Ami remarked, "in Hollywood, if you need an actor, prop or piece of equipment, all you do is make a phone call. In Kenya, it sometimes took two days to get to a phone".
Another problem the filmmakers faced was the length of time it took to get the dailies back from London, which was the closest place to have the film processed. It took two weeks before the dailies arrived back in Africa and by that time the crew would have moved on to another location. Director John Guillermin and his crew had to hope that everything they shot was right the first time around.
Moving from place to place was difficult, at best. "The locations we used were all quite far from one another and involved big moves each time", said executive producer Yoram Ben-Ami who added, "we were very lucky to be able to move from place to place without losing too much time, which is key because time is money".
One thing that helped ease the problems of shooting in such a vast location was the use of three film crews. They all worked simultaneously, with director John Guillermin and executive producer Yoram Ben-Ami moving from one location to the next to coordinate what amounted to three different phases of production happening all at once.
Logistics were further complicated by the problem of communication among a cast and crew consisting of people from several different countries. There were at least twenty-eight different languages on the set at any given time, with people from fourteen different countries, and groups of African natives each with its own distinct dialect.
The film's schedule was long and demanding which involved four and a half months of shooting in various regions of Africa with climactic variations, and the added hazard of trying to fit an eighteen week schedule into a twelve week dry season.
"Incoming crew should be informed that they should have clothing to protect them against heat and dust, sun and fast eroding laundry service" read a telex from Nairobi headquarters. Several times throughout production, a punishing equatorial sun heated the set to temperatures which reached 49° Celsius (120° Fahrenheit) by 10 a.m. in the morning.
One of the key elements in the filming of "Sheena" was the use of animals. Veteran animal trainer Hubert Wells was responsible for making sure the animals performed according to the needs of the script, as well as ensuring the safety of the cast and crew working with these animals.
Despite all the difficulties encountered during production on "Sheena", the production notes for the movie said that everyone connected with the film agreed that the end result was worth all the time and effort.
Reflecting on the production, executive producer Yoram Ben-Ami commented on the film's difficult shoot: "To be perfectly honest, it's like fighting for something and winning. The film looks great, the scenery is beautiful, the acting is beautiful, and the locations look incredible".
Producer Paul Aratow describes the picture as "an action-adventure-fantasy piece with a beautiful, exotic setting. It's also kind of fun and sexy, and those are all attractive elements. Sheena is a character who represents positive things. She cares about the land, the animals and her fellow man"/
The movie was nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards at the 5th annual ceremony held in 1985. The nominations included Worst Picture, Worst Director (John Guillermin), Worst Actress (Tanya Roberts), Worst Screenplay and Worst Musical Score, but the film failed to win a Razzie in any category.
Many movie posters for the film featured a long text preamble that read: "She is an ancient prophecy fulfilled. A golden God child possessed with a mystic gift. A gift which grew in strength as she grew in years. A gift about to be put to the ultimate test: Innocence against evil."
The nick-name of Sheena (Tanya Roberts) was the "Queen of the Jungle". The phrase has also often been used as a promotional subtitle for the movie, as it was for the title of its source comic book series i.e. "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle".
According to show-business trade paper 'Variety', the picture had been a "long-in-the-works project" and was an "attempt to install this 1930s jungle heroine in the pantheon of contemporary adventure icons".