Released in 1987, the big-screen adaptation of the Masters of the Universe toyline by Mattel was a critical and commercial failure. The film was seen as arriving too late after the popularity of He-Man dropped considerably a few years prior, struggling to contend with other top brands of the time.
However, like many older big-screen flops, the film has since gone on to gain a genuine cult fanbase and is seen as a flawed but fun adventure. Starring a unique mix of talent in front of and behind the camera, there’s a lot to dissect from this interesting piece of ’80s cinema.
10 Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” Was A Huge Inspiration
Comic-creator John Byrne compared the look of the MOTU film with that of New Gods, part of the legendary Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series. It turned out that this similarity was more than a coincidence, as the film’s director, Gary Goddard, confirmed that he took much inspiration from that series as well as Kirby’s other works.
Goddard wanted the film to come across as a “motion picture comic book” which was a tough sell for the studio at the time. He also wished to add a tribute to Kirby in the closing credits, but this was rejected.
9 He-Man Is Dolph Lundgren’s Least Favourite Role
MOTU was the first leading role for Swedish actor and martial artist Dolph Lundgren, hot off the success as his turn as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. While undoubtedly a physical match for the role of He-Man, many believed that Lundgren didn’t have the acting chops at that time to carry such a large movie. He would likely be the first to agree.
In the years since the film’s release, Lundgren has stated that He-Man is his least favorite performance. His accent was also a major hurdle for the production, but he would work on it through filming and with ADR to reach a level that producers were happy with.
8 Frank Langella Was Excited To Portray The Big Bad
A star of stage and screen, Frank Langella may have seemed an odd choice for the role of Skeletor. While viewers would be forgiven for thinking that he took the job just for the money, the truth is far sweeter.
Langella’s young son was a huge fan of the original toyline at the time and when the role of Skeletor came up, he jumped at the chance to play the scary villain. He stated that he “didn’t even blink… I couldn’t wait to play him.” Similar reasoning would be given by the late Raul Julia for taking the role of M. Bison in 1994s Street Fighter.
7 It Was Courteney Cox’s First Movie
While world-famous today thanks to her starring role in the global juggernaut Friends, Courteney Cox was totally unknown when she landed the role of Julie. At that time, her most notable credit was an appearance in the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” along with a few TV spots.
Cox would have a charming presence in the film and help ground the more outlandish elements as her character hailed from Earth, with much of the action taking place in California. Actress Christina Pickles also appeared in the film as the Sorceress of Grayskull, and would later go on to play Cox’s onscreen mother in Friends.
6 The Character Gwildor Was A Replacement For A Classic Sidekick
When the film was released, many fans would have wondered who the new character of Gwildor was and, perhaps more importantly, where was Orko? At the time of production and with the restrictive budget, the character Orko was deemed too difficult to translate to live-action.
In his place stood Gwildor, a Thenorian locksmith, who created the Cosmic Key, a device that can be used to travel between different worlds and dimensions. The Key was a crucial plot element and something that Skeletor was determined to possess. Gwildor served a purpose in the film but wasn’t generally well-liked and has largely been forgotten in the years since. He did get an action figure eventually, at least.
5 Sets Were Torn Down During Filming
In the final fight between He-Man and Skeletor, the two engage in a dramatic swordfight to the death. At one point, their swords clash and the resulting energy plunges Skeletor’s chamber into darkness. While this comes across as a cool effect to showcase the power of the two warriors, the truth behind the decision was far less impressive.
Simply put, the production company, The Cannon Group, was quickly running out of money and had to start dismantling the sets to save costs, regardless of whether they were still needed or not. When the scene could continue shooting, the filmmakers had to turn the lights off and get creative to work around the huge problem.
4 The Musical Score Had Many Problems
Bill Conti, whose previous film scores include the likes of Rocky and The Karate Kid, completed a strong and exciting soundtrack to this project as well. The process of getting the music finished was quite the challenge it turns out, due to a musicians’ strike at the time.
The music would be recorded at various European orchestras and with different conductors which resulted in different levels of quality. As Conti put it, “We didn’t have anything that went from beginning to end without a problem.” Regardless of the issues, the score is seen as a fan favorite with comparisons to Superman and Star Wars.
3 The Movie Had A Post-Credits Scene Before It Was Cool
After the climactic battle between He-Man and Skeletor ends with (spoilers for a 34-year-old movie) the villain falling into a massive pit, everything seems well for the heroes of Eternia. At the time, most viewers probably called it quits once the credits rolled. These days it’s very common for a big studio film to have at least one mid/post-credit scene to tease a follow-up, but a certain film tried this tactic long before Marvel made it popular.
At the very end of the credits, the head of Skeletor emerges from the watery pit and breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience “I’ll be back!” As it turns out, he wouldn’t, as no sequel ever materialized despite considerable efforts to greenlight one.
2 The Cancelled Sequel Became A Van Damme Project
The Cannon Group had grand ambitions that ultimately didn’t get them far. In the mid-1980s, they acquired the rights to Spider-Man and also released the ill-fated Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in the same year as MOTU. After several box-office disasters, Cannon was desperate for a hit. Both a sequel to MOTU and a Spider-Man film were announced and sets were built for the projects, with the intent of both being filmed at the same time.
Due to their financial issues, Cannon had to cancel both projects but still needed to find a use for the sets that were already finished. This led to the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme cyberpunk action flick Cyborg. Interestingly, the film sometimes receives the title of Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg on certain television stations.
1 A Reboot Has Been Teased For Years
In 2004, director John Woo was tapped to direct a MOTU reboot that ended up going nowhere. Producer Joel Silver would try and get things moving again but couldn’t agree on a creative direction with Mattel. Many more attempts would fail to get off the ground over the following years.
Most recently, directing-duo Aaron and Adam Nee would be attached with Noah Cenineo lined up to play He-Man. Principal photography was set to begin in Prague in July 2019 but delays kept forcing the production to move back. Finally, Centineo would officially leave the project, once again leaving it in limbo.
NEXT: Revelation: 5 Things We Want To See In The New Masters Of The Universe Series (& 5 We Don’t)
10 MCU Sidekicks Who Hide Their True Powers (& Why)
About The Author