When the project was announced in 2013, Darren Aronofsky was in talks to direct it. Aronofsky dropped out in 2014, and in the same year, David Fincher and Rooney Mara were in talks to direct and star in the film, respectively. In July 2015, it was reported that Francis Lawrence was in talks to direct the film. In September 2015, Jennifer Lawrence was announced in the lead role with Francis Lawrence as the director.
Based on a 2013 novel of the same name by retired CIA operative Jason Matthews. Before the novel was even finished, Matthews sold the film rights for a seven figure sum. The novel is the first book in a trilogy, with the others being Palace of Treason and The Kremlin's Candidate.
Director Francis Lawrence shared his feelings on the comparisons between Red Sparrow and Black Widow from the Marvel comic books, played in the MCU by Scarlett Johansson: "There's people who think it's very similar to the Black Widow story. This is not pulled from Black Widow, this is pulled from Red Sparrow, you know, it's written by a guy who was in the CIA. It's like, his references are coming from a very, very different place from that. But there'll always be that. People like to put thing in boxes, and I think is a really unique film. This is a thriller, it's no action, again it's not gadgetry. It's a hard-R. There's violence, it's a bit perverse, it's suspenseful, a lot of intrigue. It's a different kind of spy film."