Masters of the Universe (film)

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Masters of the Universe
Official poster of the film
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGary Goddard[1]
Written byDavid Odell
Based on
Produced byYoram Globus
Menahem Golan
Edward R. Pressman
Narrated byPeter Brooks
CinematographyHanania Baer
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Music byBill Conti
Distributed byThe Cannon Group, Inc.[2]
Release date
  • August 7, 1987 (1987-08-07)
Running time
106 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million[4]
Box office$17.3 million[5]

Masters of the Universe (stylized as Masters of the Universe: The Motion Picture) is a 1987 American superhero film directed by Gary Goddard, produced by Yoram Globus and by Menahem Golan and written by David Odell. The film stars Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Jon Cypher, Chelsea Field, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox, Robert Duncan McNeill, and Meg Foster. It is based on the Mattel toy line of the same name and tells the story of two teenagers who meet the mighty He-Man, who arrived on Earth by chance from planet Eternia and now goes on a mission to save the universe from the mighty evil Skeletor, his nemesis.

Masters of the Universe was released theatrically in the United States on August 7, 1987. It was a critical and commercial failure, grossing $17 million worldwide against a budget of $22 million, but is now regarded as a classic cult film.[6][7][8]


On the planet Eternia, at the center of the Universe, Skeletor's army seizes Castle Grayskull, scatters the remaining Eternian defenders, and captures the Sorceress of Grayskull, planning to add her power to his own by the next moonrise.

Skeletor's archenemy, the warrior He-Man, veteran soldier Man-At-Arms, and his daughter Teela rescue Gwildor from Skeletor's forces. Gwildor, a Thenorian locksmith, reveals that Skeletor has acquired his invention: a "Cosmic Key" that can open a portal to anywhere by utilizing musical notes. The device was stolen by Skeletor's second-in-command, Evil-Lyn, allowing Skeletor to breach Castle Grayskull.

With Gwildor's remaining prototype of the Key in hand, He-Man and his friends travel to the Castle. They attempt to free the Sorceress but are overwhelmed by Skeletor's army and forced to flee through Gwildor's hastily opened portal, transporting them to Earth. The Key is misplaced on their arrival and discovered by two California teenagers, orphaned high school girl Julie Winston and her boyfriend Kevin Corrigan. While experimenting with the device, they accidentally send a signal that allows Evil-Lyn to track it. She then sends her henchmen—Saurod, Blade, Beast Man, and Karg—to recover it.

Kevin, an aspiring musician, mistakes the Key for a synthesizer and takes it to a music store run by his friend Charlie. Karg's team arrives and chases Julie until He-Man rescues her. Karg's team returns to Grayskull where, incensed by their failure, Skeletor kills Saurod and sends the others back to Earth, with a larger force under Evil-Lyn's command. Unable to find Julie, Kevin is taken to Julie's house by Lubic, a detective investigating the disturbance created by Karg's team. Suspecting the Key is stolen, Lubic confiscates it from Kevin and leaves. Immediately afterward, Evil-Lyn captures and interrogates Kevin for the Key's location with a mind-control collar, before pursuing Lubic.

Julie and the Eternians release Kevin from the collar before they go after Lubic and the Key. They arrive at Charlie's store, but Skeletor's forces catch up with them and a pitched battle ensues. Evil-Lyn recovers the Key and summons Skeletor to Earth. Skeletor's forces capture the Eternians, and Julie is mortally wounded by Skeletor's lightning blast, which simultaneously erases the memory storage of Gwildor's Key. He-Man surrenders to save his comrades and is returned to Eternia as Skeletor's slave. He-Man is brought into the throne room in chains and secured to the floor. Skeletor informs He-Man that he will kneel before him for all of Eternia to witness, before he is killed. He-Man adamantly refuses. Skeletor then threatens He-Man with torture. On Skeletor's orders, Blade ignites a laser whip and begins to lash He-Man. As the torture eventually forces He-Man to one knee, Skeletor stops the whipping and asks He-Man if he is ready to kneel (voluntarily). Before He-Man can answer, Skeletor is alerted that the moon has reached its apex and takes his place before the Great Eye of Greyskull. When the eye opens, four comets orbit around Skeletor as he absorbs the power. Declaring himself the Master of the Universe, Skeletor uses his new powers to force He-Man to kneel.

Back on Earth, Gwildor repairs the Cosmic Key and Kevin re-creates the tones necessary to create a gateway to Eternia. The group, including Lubic who attempts to arrest them, are transported to Castle Grayskull, where they begin battling Skeletor's forces. Resenting that Skeletor absorbed the power of the Universe without sharing it with her, Evil-Lyn deserts him along with the other henchmen. Skeletor accidentally frees He-Man, who reclaims the Sword of Grayskull, and they battle until He-Man shatters Skeletor's staff, removing his new powers and restoring him to his normal state. He-Man offers mercy, but Skeletor draws a concealed sword and attempts to kill He-Man; He-Man knocks Skeletor into a vast pit below. The freed Sorceress heals Julie and a portal is opened to send the Earthlings home. Hailed as a hero for his bravery, Lubic decides to remain on Eternia.

Julie awakens on the morning of her parents' deaths by plane crash. She prevents them from taking the ill-fated flight by taking their keys, and runs outside to find Kevin. Kevin confirms that their experiences were real, producing a souvenir from Eternia: a small blue sphere containing a scene of He-Man in front of Castle Grayskull with his sword raised above his head.

In a post-credits scene, Skeletor's head emerges from the water at the bottom of the pit, saying "I'll be back!"


Frank Langella in 2012. Langella chose to portray Skeletor because of his son's love of the character.


Development and writing[edit]

One of the original drafts from the script by David Odell (whose previous writing credits include Supergirl and The Dark Crystal) was reviewed in the third episode of the He-Man and She-Ra podcast, Masters Cast. The original draft included more time spent on Eternia and Snake Mountain, had Beast Man in a speaking role, and even revealed that He-Man's mother was originally from Earth, as per the character Queen Marlena from the Filmation animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, thus linking the two planets.[9] Describing her character, Foster said that Evil-Lyn is not villainous, "she is just doing her job and she knows how to get results, even if it means being harsh." Langella agreed, calling Evil-Lyn a female more dedicated to Skeletor's cause than any man; she is obsessive around Skeletor because she is slightly lovelorn.[10] The filmmakers considered having Foster wear contact lenses to mask her naturally pale-blue eyes, but decided that her natural eyes fit the character better. However, they did augment Foster's chest, fitting cleavage into the character's costume. Foster wanted the character to have a large hairstyle, rather than the short style featured in the film.[11]

When offered the role, Langella said that he "didn’t even blink…I couldn't wait to play him." Langella cited his then-four-year-old son's love of Skeletor while running around his house yelling He-Man's battle cry "I have the power!" as the reason he chose to play He-Man's archenemy.[12]

Jack Kirby inspiration[edit]

Comic book writer/artist John Byrne compared the film to Jack Kirby's comic book metaseries Fourth World, stating in Comic Shop News #497:

The best New Gods movie, IMHO, is Masters of the Universe. I even corresponded with the director, who told me this was his intent, and that he had tried to get [Jack] Kirby to do the production designs, but the studio nixed it. Check it out. It requires some bending and an occasional sex change (Metron becomes an ugly dwarf, The Highfather becomes the Sorceress), but it's an amazingly close analog, otherwise. And Frank Langella's Skeletor is a dandy Darkseid!

Director Gary Goddard clarified this in a letter appearing in John Byrne's Next Men #26, in which he stated:

As the director of Masters of the Universe, it was a pleasure to see that someone got it. Your comparison of the film to Kirby’s New Gods was not far off. In fact, the storyline was greatly inspired by the classic Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom epics, The New Gods and a bit of Thor thrown in here and there. I intended the film to be a "motion picture comic book," though it was a tough proposition to sell to the studio at the time. 'Comics are just for kids,' they thought. They would not allow me to hire Jack Kirby who I desperately wanted to be the conceptual artist for the picture… I grew up with Kirby's comics (I've still got all my Marvels from the first issue of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man through the time Kirby left) and I had great pleasure meeting him when he first moved to California. Since that time I enjoyed the friendship of Jack and Roz and was lucky enough to spend many hours with Jack, hearing how he created this character and that one, why a villain has to be even more powerful than a hero, and on and on. Jack was a great communicator, and listening to him was always an education. You might be interested to know that I tried to dedicate Masters of Universe to Jack Kirby in the closing credits, but the studio took the credit out.

Brian Cronin, author of the "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed" column, concludes that "the film itself was not intended to be literally a reworked Fourth World, although the intent WAS to make the film a tribute to Jack Kirby—just a tribute to ALL of his work, not just the Fourth World."[13]



The musical score of Masters of the Universe was composed by Bill Conti. It was recorded by several European orchestras, chiefly the Graunke Orchestra of Munich (the only one to be credited on the soundtrack album) and conducted by a number of conductors, chiefly Bruce Miller and Harry Rabinowitz (Rabinowitz received sole credit). Conti did not conduct his score because it could not be recorded in the United States as "there was a musicians strike or something like that…So it went to various places." He and the score mixer Dan Wallin assembled the score from the various recorded takes, because there were problems with the orchestral performances ("We didn't have anything that went from beginning to end without a problem").[14]

The soundtrack album was released on record, cassette, and compact disc by Varèse Sarabande in 1987; it was subsequently issued in an expanded version by Edel. In 2008, La-La Land Records released a two-disc edition with the complete score and the original album presentation; in 2012, Intrada Records issued the complete score (the entirely of disc one and tracks 1–5 on disc two) on one disc.


Home media[edit]

Masters of the Universe was released on DVD October 23, 2001. A 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc was released by Warner Home Video on October 2, 2012.[15]


Box office[edit]

Prior to releasing the film, The Cannon Group touted Masters of the Universe as the Star Wars of the 1980s. Despite releasing alongside the height of the success of the toy line, animated series, and related merchandise, Masters of the Universe began as the third-highest-grossing film of the weekend in North America on August 7, 1987, earning $4,883,168, behind Stakeout ($5,170,403) and The Living Daylights ($7,706,230). The film quickly left the charts altogether with a North American gross of $17,336,370.[16][2][5][17]

The film was released in the Philippines by Solar Films on September 10, 1987.[18]

Critical response[edit]

Masters of the Universe received negative reviews from critics and holds a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews. The critical consensus reads: "Masters of the Universe is a slapdash adaptation of the He-Man mythos that can't overcome its cynical lack of raison d'etre, no matter how admirably Frank Langella throws himself into the role of Skeletor."[19] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 35 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[20] Variety called it a "Conan-Star Wars hybrid ripoff" that is "a colossal bore."[21] Walter Goodman of The New York Times wrote, "If you liked the toy, you'll love the movie."[22] Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times called it "a misfiring, underdone epic."[23] Johanna Steinmetz of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the film, while predictable and derivative, entertains audiences through its side plots set on Earth.[24]

In a retrospective review, Glenn Heath Jr. of Slant Magazine called it a "jarring mix of corny screwball comedy and choppy action heroics."[25] Chris Eggertsen of HitFix, in an article identifying the film's campy, positive qualities, called it "an objectively bad film with a big heart."[26] Joshua Winning of Digital Spy wrote, "…beloved of '80s kids but scorned by critics, it's a high camp oddity that we should celebrate on its own terms."[4]

Despite the film being panned, actor Frank Langella expressed to press that he loved playing Skeletor, and worked very hard to make the role as exciting as possible, remarking that it was a positive experience.[27]

Billy Barty received a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actor for his performance in the film, but lost to David Mendenhall for Over the Top.


The commercial failure of Masters of the Universe, among other films such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Lifeforce, contributed to the eventual closure of Cannon Films.[11] Cannon Films had intended to create a Masters of the Universe sequel, indicated by the end credits with a revelation that Skeletor survives his fall. The sequel, titled Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg, was written; the script followed He-Man, who returned to Earth to battle Skeletor, who had left Earth as a postapocalyptic wasteland; and the film was to feature Trap Jaw and She-Ra. Pro surfer Laird Hamilton was originally to replace Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and the only aspect known about the sequel's screenplay was that He-Man would have returned to Earth disguised as a professional quarterback.[28] With a low budget of $4.5 million, the sequel was to be directed by Albert Pyun, consecutively with the aborted Spider-Man movie. The project was abandoned when Cannon would not pay Mattel's fees. The production instead utilized the already-made costumes and sets for the low-budget sci-fi film Cyborg.[29][30][31]

Masters of the Universe was Lundgren's first leading role in a feature film following his success in Rocky IV, and he later labeled it as his least favorite film role.[10] Conversely, Langella considers Skeletor one of his favorite roles.[12]

Skeletor's question to He-Man ("Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of evil?") is slightly reworded in the crossover comic miniseries, Injustice vs. Masters of the Universe.[32]


A new He-Man film directed by John Woo was reportedly being developed in 2004, but despite many rumors circulating the Internet regarding the film's production status and casting, the project was never officially green-lit. The film rights to He-Man have reportedly since reverted to Mattel.[33]

In September 2009, Sony took over the rights from Warner Bros. to produce the live-action adaptation after Mattel and producer Joel Silver, who was previously involved with a potential film, couldn't agree on creative direction for the film.[34] Sony and Escape Artists' Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, and Steve Tisch were to start developing the project from scratch for Columbia Pictures. In April 2010, Sony hired screenwriters Mike Finch and Alex Litvak to draft a new script.[35] Warner announced that John Stevenson, director of Kung Fu Panda, would direct the upcoming feature. On May 12, 2009, it was announced that the scripting duties had been handed to Evan Daugherty, with Stevenson still attached to direct.[36]

In late 2012, it was reported that Jon M. Chu was in talks to direct the film.[37] Original He-Man actor Lundgren did an interview with IGN about a possible role in the film as King Randor.[38] On October 12, 2012, Richard Wenk was hired to rewrite the script for the film.[39] On March 28, 2013, Chu said that the film is still early is in the experimentation and also it won't be campy but an origin story.[40][41] On October 7, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Terry Rossio would script and that Black, Blumenthal, and Tisch would produce the film and it would be set on Eternia; the report stated Chu would not direct the film.[42]

On January 10, 2014, Schmoes Know reported that Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Rian Johnson (Looper), Andrés Muschietti (Mama), Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders (The Croods), and Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) were named as frontrunners to direct the film.[43] On February 26, it was reported that directors Mike Cahill, Jeff Wadlow, Harald Zwart, and Chris McKay are on the short list to direct.[44][45] On April 9, Schmoes Know reported that Wadlow would direct the film, but The Hollywood Reporter announced that he's rewriting the script of the film.[46][47]

On August 19, 2015, it was announced that Chris Yost had been hired to write the film.[48]

On January 22, 2016, Deadline reported that McG would direct the film and would also oversee a rewrite of the latest script by Alex Litvak and Mike Finch, while Escape ArtistsTodd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch as well as DeVon Franklin were on board as producers.[49] On June 24, 2016, Kellan Lutz tweeted that he had scheduled a meeting with both McG and Mary Viola about the role of He-Man.[50][51] On April 27, 2017, it was announced that the film would be released on December 18, 2019. At the same time, McG left the film and David S. Goyer was hired to rewrite the script.[52]

In December 2017, it was reported that Goyer was now set to not only write but direct the film.[53][54] In February 2018, Variety reported that Goyer had decided to step away as director to focus on other projects, but he would remain on board as an executive producer and screenwriter and the studio was said to be very happy with the script he turned in and was currently meeting with potential replacements.[55] Carlos Huante, a creature designer and former artist at Industrial Light and Magic who also worked on the original Filmation cartoon, was hired by Goyer to work on his film, however, in an interview, Huante said that Sony felt that Goyer's script would be too expensive to bring to life as Goyer intended for the movie to be on the epic scale of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and that his ideas for the film would no longer be used.[56]

In April 2018, Variety reported that the Nee Brothers (Aaron and Adam Nee) would direct the film.[57][58] In January 2019, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway were brought in and it was announced that they would rewrite a new draft for the film.[59] Principal photography on the film was scheduled to begin in mid-July 2019 in Prague.[60] On March 20, 2019, it was reported that Noah Centineo was in talks to play He-Man[61] with Centineo confirming a month later on April 29, 2019, that he had been officially cast to play He-Man.[62] Sony then announced that the film's release date would be changing to March 5, 2021.[63] In January 2020, the film was pulled from Sony's release schedule, with its March release date filled by Uncharted (which was later pushed back several months).[64] In April 2021, it was reported that Centineo exited the film, vacating the role of He-Man.[65]


  1. ^ "'Masters' A Lesson In More Thrills For Less". Chicago Tribune. August 13, 1987. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Arts, ' (August 11, 1987). "Weekend Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 17, 2010.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ "Masters of the Universe (1987)". British Board of Film Classification. September 16, 1987. Archived from the original on July 12, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Winning, Joshua (May 3, 2015). "In Defense Of... Masters of the Universe, Dolph Lundgren's fantasy flop". Digital Spy. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Masters of the Universe". Box Office Mojo. July 12, 2014. Archived from the original on April 6, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  6. ^ Kroll, Justin (August 19, 2015). "'Thor: Ragnarok' Scribe to Pen 'Masters of the Universe' for Sony". Variety. Retrieved April 1, 2016. spawned a movie... that subsequently became a cult hit
  7. ^ Miller, Leon (September 3, 2017). "Masters Of The Universe: 15 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About The Movie". Screen Rant. Retrieved September 10, 2017. it’s since gone on to become a cult classic
  8. ^ Colburnon, Randall (April 28, 2017). "Believe it or not, a Masters of the Universe reboot is slated for a 2019 release". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved September 10, 2017. the colossal flop turned campy cult classic that was 1987’s Masters of the Universe
  9. ^ "Masters Cast – Episode 3". Masters Cast. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  10. ^ a b SFX 2013, p. 84.
  11. ^ a b SFX 2013, p. 85.
  12. ^ a b "Frank Langella calls Skeletor "One of my Very Favourite Parts"". IFC. August 7, 2012. Archived from the original on May 10, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  13. ^ "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #75". Comic Book Resources. November 2, 2006. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  14. ^ "Bill Conti's Music of the Universe," pg. 8, liner notes, Masters of the Universe: Complete Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, La-La Land Records LLLCD 1071.
  15. ^ "Masters Of The Universe: 25th Anniversary (BD) | | Warner Bros". Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  16. ^ SFX 2013, p. 82.
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  28. ^ Lambie, Ryan (July 6, 2016). "How a He-Man sequel and a Spider-Man movie became Cyborg". Den of Geek.
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  31. ^ "Sequel Baiting Endings That Didn't Work". Empire. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  32. ^ Injustice vs. Masters of the Universe #4 (October 2018)
  33. ^ Clint Morris, Fox2000 no longer has the Power of Grayskull, Moviehole, November 30, 2006.
  34. ^ "Barbie's a living doll at Universal – Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. September 23, 2009. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  35. ^ drees, Rich. "MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE Gets Screenwriters". Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  36. ^ Kit, Borys. "'Grayskull' lands new writer". Archived from the original on May 16, 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2009.
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  40. ^ "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Jon M. Chu Production Update - IGN Video".
  41. ^ "TR Interview: Jon M. Chu Talks G.I. Joe: Retaliation...and Masters of the Universe! - The Robot's Voice". March 28, 2013.
  42. ^ "'Lone Ranger' Co-Writer Tapped to Write 'Masters of the Universe' (Exclusive)".
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  49. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 22, 2016). "McG Orbiting 'Masters Of The Universe' At Sony". Deadline.
  50. ^ Kellan Lutz [@kellanlutz] (June 24, 2016). "Hey @HeManTheMovie and all MOTU fans, Had an amazing meeting with @McGsWonderland and @ItsMaryViola talking MOTU! ITS IN GREAT HANDS! 💪⚔" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  51. ^ Burlingame, Russ (June 24, 2016). "Kellan Lutz Met With McG About Masters Of The Universe Movie".
  52. ^ Chavez, Danette (April 27, 2017). "Masters Of The Universe gets a release date, but loses its director". The A.V. Club.
  53. ^ Gonzalez, Umberto (December 1, 2017). "David S. Goyer in Talks to Direct He-Man Film 'Masters of the Universe' for Sony (Exclusive)". The Wrap.
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  • "Masters of the Universe". SFX. Future plc (240): 82–85. November 2013.

External links[edit]