Jump to content

Masters of the Universe (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Masters of the Universe
Official poster of the film
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGary Goddard[1]
Written byDavid Odell
Based on
Masters of the Universe
Produced byYoram Globus
Menahem Golan
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 fantasy film based on the Masters of the Universe franchise by Mattel. The film was directed by Gary Goddard, produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, and written by David Odell. It stars Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Jon Cypher, Chelsea Field, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox, Robert Duncan McNeill, and Meg Foster. The film follows two teenagers who meet He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe, who travels to Earth with his friends to stop their archenemy, the evil Skeletor from obtaining a cosmic key that will enable him to take over their home planet of Eternia and the entire universe.

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. At the time of release, it was met with negative reviews from film critics, but is now regarded as a cult film.[6][7][8] On May 1, 2024 a second live-action film was announced to be directed by Travis Knight and released on June 5, 2026.[9]


On the war-torn planet Eternia, the warlord Skeletor has seized control of Castle Grayskull, the center of power in the universe. His army has scattered the remaining Eternian defenders and Skeletor has captured the Sorceress of Grayskull, imprisoning her within a power-draining field and planning to seize power over the entire universe by the next moonrise. Skeletor's archenemies—the warrior leader He-Man, veteran soldier Man-At-Arms, and Man-At-Arms' daughter Teela—rescue the Thenorian locksmith Gwildor from Skeletor's troopers. Gwildor 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 a hastily opened portal via Gwildor's Cosmic Key, transporting them to Earth. The Key is lost upon their arrival and discovered by two California teenagers—orphaned high-schooler Julie Winston and her boyfriend Kevin Corrigan. While experimenting with the device, they accidentally transmit a signal. Tracking it, Evil-Lyn sends Skeletor's henchmen Saurod, Blade, Beast Man and Karg to recover the device.

Kevin, an aspiring musician, believes the Key to be a new Japanese synthesizer and takes it to a music store run by his friend Charlie. At the school, Skeletor's henchmen arrive through a portal and chase Julie, who is rescued by He-Man while he and his companions search for the Key. The henchmen retreat 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. Kevin returns to the school to find police investigating the damage caused by Skeletor's men, and no sign of Julie. Kevin is taken to Julie's house by Lubic, a detective investigating the disturbance. They find no trace of Julie, but Lubic is suspicious of the Cosmic Key, which he suspects Kevin may have stolen. He confiscates the Key and leaves for Charlie's store to verify Kevin's story. Evil-Lyn and her team break into the house and interrogate Kevin regarding the Key's location using a mind-control collar, before pursuing Lubic.

Julie and the Eternians arrive and release Kevin from the collar, then pursue Lubic and the Key. They arrive at Charlie's store, but Skeletor's forces catch up with them and a battle ensues. Evil-Lyn recovers the Key and summons Skeletor to Earth. Skeletor's forces capture the Eternians, and Julie is 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. Skeletor attempts to torture He-Man into submission to make his victory complete, but He-Man refuses to yield. The moment arrives for Skeletor to receive the power of the cosmos and declare himself the Master of the Universe.

On Earth, Gwildor repairs the Cosmic Key and Kevin re-creates the tones necessary to create a gateway to Eternia. The group, including Lubic as he 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 his other henchmen. He-Man retrieves the Sword of Grayskull and shatters Skeletor's staff in a battle, restoring him to his normal state. He-Man offers mercy, but Skeletor draws a concealed sword and attempts to kill him. To stop him, He-Man knocks Skeletor into a pit below. The freed Sorceress heals Julie, and Gwildor opens a portal to send the Earthlings home. Hailed as a hero for his bravery, Lubic decides to remain on Eternia.

Back on Earth, Julie awakens on the morning of her parents' deaths in a plane crash. Realizing the Key has transported her back in time, she prevents her parents from taking the ill-fated flight by taking their keys. Kevin later confirms to her that their experiences were real, producing a souvenir from Eternia: a sphere containing a scene of He-Man with his sword in front of Castle Grayskull.

Skeletor's head later 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]

The Masters of the Universe toyline started in 1982, which was then followed up by the television series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe from 1983 to 1985. The first theatrically released movie to star He-Man and feature Masters of The Universe characters The Secret of the Sword released in 1985. Work then started on producing a live action Masters of the Universe film. 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 revealed that He-Man's mother was originally from Earth, like the character Queen Marlena from the Filmation animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, thus linking the two planets.[10]

Describing her character, Foster said 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 her a female more dedicated to Skeletor's cause than any man; she is obsessive around him because she loves him.[11] The filmmakers considered having Foster wear contact lenses to mask her naturally pale blue eyes, but decided they fit the character better. They augmented her chest, fitting cleavage into the costume. She wanted Evil-Lyn to have a long hairstyle, rather than the short style featured in the film; Mattel objected, considering it too far a departure from the toy.[12]

When offered the role, Langella said that he "didn't even blink ... I couldn't wait to play him". He 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 played He-Man's archenemy.[13]


According to director Gary Goddard,[14] Mattel caused problems for the production crew by not paying their half of the production budget on time. A member of staff was forced to put lens caps on cameras on several shooting days, to prevent any more filming from taking place. Due to the production running out of budget, Goddard had to finance the filming of the battle scene between He-Man and Skeletor himself. Only Lundgren and Langella were present along with a skeleton crew, with the set's lighting made dark to emphasize the actors' presence.

Mattel was also initially very controlling over how He-Man was depicted in the film, insisting that the character could not appear doing anything morally wrong (such as swearing or killing). Sales of He-Man toys dipped in the middle of production, after which Goddard noted that Mattel relaxed their rules and allowed the director to have more liberties with the character.

During filming, Mattel held a contest for children for a chance to appear in the film.[15] Richard Szponder won the competition, but his victory was announced as filming was nearing completion. All the scenes taking place on Earth had been shot, so Goddard cast him as the minion character Pigboy, who holds Skeletor's staff as he returns to Grayskull.

Two sound stages needed to be connected to film the interior of Castle Grayskull, with matte paintings filling in the pits of the central walk-way. Unhappy with Lundgren's reading of He-Man's dialogue, Goddard initially planned to have Lundgren's dialogue dubbed over by another actor, but was not permitted to do so due to contractual reasons. Lundgren's dialogue was subsequently re-recorded and dubbed over the original footage to better meet Goddard's standards.

Actor Frank Langella told the press he loved playing Skeletor and worked very hard to make the role as exciting as possible, remarking that it was a positive experience.[16]

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."[17]


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").[18]


Home media[edit]

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. 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.[19]


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). It quickly left the charts, with a North American gross of $17,336,370.[20][2][5][21]

The film was released in the Philippines by Solar Films on September 10, 1987.[22]

Critical response[edit]

Masters of the Universe received generally negative reviews from critics and holds a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 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."[23] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 35 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[24] Variety called it a "Conan-Star Wars hybrid ripoff" that is "a colossal bore."[25] Walter Goodman of The New York Times wrote, "If you liked the toy, you'll love the movie."[26] Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times called it "a misfiring, underdone epic."[27] Johanna Steinmetz of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the film, while predictable and derivative, entertains audiences through its side plots set on Earth.[28]

Several reviewers praised Frank Langella's portrayal of Skeletor, including Rose DeWolf in the Philadelphia Daily News (though saying his costume looked like a Halloween mask)[29] and Roger Hulburt of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.[30]

In a retrospective review, Glenn Heath Jr. of Slant Magazine called it a "jarring mix of corny screwball comedy and choppy action heroics."[31] Chris Eggertsen of HitFix, in an article identifying the film's campy, positive qualities, called it "an objectively bad film with a big heart."[32] 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]


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.[12] 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: Revenge of the Beast, was written; the script featured He-Man returning to Earth to battle Skeletor, who had returned to Earth and possessed the body of a big business entrepreneur named Dark, taking control of the technology of Dark Industries in a new effort to take over the universe. On Skeletor's trail, He-Man was to take on the guise of a professional quarterback to pursue his enemy undercover. Pro surfer Laird Hamilton was set to replace Dolph Lundgren as He-Man.[33] 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 was unable to pay Mattel's fees. The already-made costumes and sets were instead utilized for the low-budget sci-fi film Cyborg, which led to this film occasionally being screened as Masters of the Universe II: The Cyborg.[34][35][36]

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.[11] Conversely, Langella considers Skeletor one of his favorite roles.[13]

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.[37]

Gwildor, a character created for Masters of the Universe as a replacement for Orko due to the complexity of the character to make in live action, was brought into the canon of the 1983–1985 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated series in 2024's Masters of the Universe: Revolution. In it he serves much of the same role of inventor as he does in the movie, and also poses as a foil to Orko.


  1. ^ "'Masters' A Lesson In More Thrills For Less". Chicago Tribune. August 13, 1987. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Weekend Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. August 11, 1987. Archived from the original on March 23, 2022. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  3. ^ "Masters of the Universe (1987)". bbfc.co.uk. 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. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Masters of the Universe". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. 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. Archived from the original on January 12, 2018. 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. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021. 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. Archived from the original on January 17, 2023. Retrieved September 10, 2017. the colossal flop turned campy cult classic that was 1987's Masters of the Universe
  9. ^ https://x.com/hollywoodhandle/status/1785863888807854258. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ "Episode 3". Masters Cast. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  11. ^ a b SFX 2013, p. 84.
  12. ^ a b SFX 2013, p. 85.
  13. ^ a b Marshall, Rick (August 7, 2012). "Frank Langella calls Skeletor "one of my very favorite parts"". IFC. Archived from the original on May 10, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  14. ^ Masters of the Universe DVD commentary
  15. ^ "Q & A with Richard Szponder (Pigboy)!". Archived from the original on November 28, 2021. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  16. ^ Baer, Brian C. (2017). How He-Man Mastered the Universe: Toy to Television to the Big Screen. North Carolina: McFarland Publishing.
  17. ^ "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #75". Comic Book Resources. November 2, 2006. Archived from the original on June 9, 2020. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ "Masters Of The Universe: 25th Anniversary (BD) | WBshop.com | Warner Bros". Wbshop.com. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  20. ^ SFX 2013, p. 82.
  21. ^ "August 7–9, 1987". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. July 12, 2014. Archived from the original on April 3, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  22. ^ "Grand Opening Today: A Super Roadshow Presentation" (DWKC 93.9 FM the official radio station of "Masters of the Universe"). Manila Standard. Standard Publishing, Inc. September 10, 1987. p. 10. Archived from the original on January 28, 2021. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  23. ^ "Masters of the Universe". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Archived from the original on November 30, 2017. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  24. ^ "Masters of the Universe (1987) reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  25. ^ "Review: 'Masters of the Universe'". Variety. 1987. Archived from the original on November 26, 2018. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  26. ^ Goodman, Walter (August 8, 1987). "Masters of the Universe (1987)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  27. ^ Wilmington, Michael (August 12, 1987). "Movie Review : 'Masters Of The Universe' Misfires". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 11, 2019. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  28. ^ Steinmetz, Johanna (August 12, 1987). "Surprise! 'Masters' Isn't Bad". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on September 4, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  29. ^ DeWolf, Rose (August 10, 1987). "A Couple of "S" Words Earn a 'PG' for this Kiddie Flick". Philadelphia Daily News. Archived from the original on August 24, 2022. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  30. ^ Hulburt, Roger (August 11, 1987). "Too much villain, too little hero". South Florida Sun Sentinel. Archived from the original on August 24, 2022. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  31. ^ Heath, Glenn (July 29, 2012). "Summer of '87: Masters of the Universe: He-Man, Voice of Reason". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on January 13, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  32. ^ Eggertson, Chris (August 25, 2015). "'Masters of the Universe' wasn't all bad: 13 things to actually admire about the 1987 flop". HitFix. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  33. ^ Lambie, Ryan (July 6, 2016). "How a He-Man sequel and a Spider-Man movie became Cyborg". Den of Geek. Archived from the original on November 15, 2019. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  34. ^ Cronin, Brian (January 30, 2013). "Movie Legends Revealed: He-Man & Spider-Man Films Became Cyborg?". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on June 9, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
  35. ^ "Masters of the Universe DVD (1987)". BBC. Archived from the original on December 18, 2010. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  36. ^ "Sequel Baiting Endings That Didn't Work". Empire. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  37. ^ Injustice vs. Masters of the Universe #4 (October 2018)


  • "Masters of the Universe". SFX (240). Future plc: 82–85. November 2013.

External links[edit]