Masters of the Universe (film)

Masters of the Universe (film)
Masters of the Universe

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gary Goddard[1]
Produced by Edward R. Pressman
Yoram Globus
Menahem Golan
Written by David Odell
Stephen Tolkin
Starring Dolph Lundgren
Frank Langella
Meg Foster
Chelsea Field
Billy Barty
Courteney Cox
Robert Duncan McNeill
Jon Cypher
James Tolkan
Christina Pickles
Music by Bill Conti
Cinematography Hanania Baer
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Distributed by Cannon Films
(Warner Bros. Pictures)[2]
Release date(s) August 7, 1987 (1987-08-07)
Running time 106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $22 million
Box office $17,336,370

Masters of the Universe is a 1987 science-fiction fantasy film based on the toy line by the same name. The movie stars Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor. Other actors include Jon Cypher as Man-At-Arms, Chelsea Field as Teela, Billy Barty as Gwildor, and Courteney Cox.

The film was released in the United States on August 7, 1987 after the popularity of the toy line and cartoon had peaked.



On the Planet Eternia, at the center of the Universe, the forces of Skeletor (Frank Langella) have managed to seize control over Castle Grayskull, and after defeating (off-screen) the biggest part of Eternia's armies, capture the Sorceress of Grayskull (Christina Pickles). Skeletor is planning to exploit Grayskull's hidden powers when the "Great Eye of the Galaxy", a portal in the castle's throne room, opens and Eternia's moon is correctly aligned with it.

The remaining Eternian forces are scattered and outnumbered. One of Skeletor's patrols is attacked by Eternia's greatest warrior and Skeletor's archenemy, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), veteran soldier Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher) and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field). During the battle, He-Man rescues a Thenorian inventor/locksmith named Gwildor (Billy Barty), who reveals to his rescuers his newest invention: a "Cosmic Key", which can open a portal to any location in time and space. Skeletor stole the Key from him and used it to get into Castle Grayskull, but Gwildor managed to keep the prototype. Gwildor leads the others into a secret passageway straight to the Castle before a field commander of Skeletor's armies named Karg can storm the Thenorian's house.

At Grayskull, the group is surrounded by Skeletor and his troops. Gwildor uses his key to open a random gateway through which the group escapes to Earth, but on arriving there, the key is lost and the Eternians split up to find it. Nearby, in the village of Whittier, California, two teenagers, Julie Winston (Courteney Cox) and Kevin Corrigan (Robert Duncan McNeill), discover the Key in a crater, and start pressing its buttons. Back at Grayskull, Skeletor's second-in-command, Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster), tracks the Key to Earth and prepares a small team of mercenaries to recover it. They consist of Saurod, Blade, and Beastman, with Karg appointed as their leader.

Back in Whittier, Kevin and Julie are spending their last evening together at their high school, because Julie is moving away following the death of her parents in a plane crash. Curious about the Key's origins, Kevin, an aspiring musician, mistakes the object for a Japanese synthesizer, and takes it to a friend at a local music store to get a second opinion. At that moment, however, a portal opens, with Skeletor's mercenaries storming into the gym. A fearful Julie narrowly escapes and stumbles into He-Man. He-Man attacks the accompanying troops and saves Julie, while Man-At-Arms and Teela chase the mercenaries away. Upon their return to Grayskull, Skeletor is infuriated by the mercenaries' failure and kills Saurod. He then sends them back to Earth with a larger force under the command of Evil-Lyn.

Kevin returns to the school, which has nearly been burned down as a result of the melee. The detective on scene, Lubic (James Tolkan), takes Kevin to Julie's house to look for her. Over the phone, Julie reveals to Kevin the importance of the Cosmic Key, but Lubic confiscates it, suspecting it to be stolen. Immediately afterwards, Evil-Lyn captures and interrogates Kevin, then leaves to acquire the Key from Lubic. Julie, along with He-Man and his comrades, meets up with Kevin and then proceeds to the music store, where Lubic has taken the Key for expert analysis. Lubic suspects the Eternians to be responsible for the attack at the school and attempts to arrest them and Gwildor, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Evil-Lyn and her troops. A battle ensues, during which Evil-Lyn, masquerading as Julie's dead mother (Gwynne Gilford), persuades her to steal the Key. Julie acquires it, and Evil-Lyn subsequently uses the Key's powers to open another doorway through which Skeletor arrives on Earth.

He-Man manages to retrieve the Key from Evil-Lyn, but Skeletor captures his friends - during the course of which Julie is fatally injured by Skeletor's magic and the second Key is damaged - and threatens to kill them all unless He-Man surrenders unconditionally. He-Man gives in and returns to Eternia as Skeletor's prisoner. Gwildor tries to repair the Key, but the Key's memory storage containing a special sequences of tones needed to return to Eternia was erased. Fortunately, Kevin remembers them, and uses a modern-day keyboard to recreate the tones and open a portal. Just as the opening of the portal is underway, Lubic blunders his way into the group and is transported along with them.

On Eternia, Skeletor tortures He-Man in order to break his spirit, but He-Man resists. When the Great Eye opens, Skeletor absorbs the power absolute and transforms into an armored warrior god. He continues to try to force He-Man to submit, but is interrupted by the arrival of Kevin and Lubic, who have just arrived through the portal that they'd managed to open. He-Man is freed and reclaims his sword, absorbing the power of Grayskull once more. Now evenly matched, He-Man along with his friends engages Skeletor's forces in combat, during which he breaks Skeletor's staff, causing him to lose his newfound powers. Skeletor continues to engage He-Man with his sword, but is ultimately vanquished and sent plummeting into a deep pit.

After He-Man's victory, Julie is healed by the Sorceress. While Lubic decides to stay behind in Eternia, Julie and Kevin bid farewell to their new friends before leaving through a doorway back to Earth. When Julie awakens in her bed, she suddenly finds her parents alive and well and is able to stop them from their fateful flight. She then finds Kevin, who confirms their shared experiences were not just a dream and holds out a souvenir from Eternia: a blue, marble-sized sphere showing the image of He-Man in front of Castle Grayskull.

After the credits, Skeletor's head pops out of the pink liquid at the bottom of the pit, with the words "I'll be back!"


One of the original drafts from the script by David Odell (whose previous writing credits include Supergirl and The Dark Crystal) was reviewed in episode 3 of the He-Man and She-Ra podcast, Masters Cast. The original draft included more time spent on Eternia, Snake Mountain, Beastman had a speaking role, and even revealed that He-Man's mother was originally from Earth, thus linking the two planets.[3]



Despite debuting at No. 3 at the box office[4] with a budget of $22 million, the movie only grossed $17,336,370 in the U.S [5] (This isn't taking into account Box office totals from other countries in the world) It is referred to as a "flop" by Variety magazine,[6] and has a 13% "rotten" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[7] The film was poorly received by critics including by the New York Times[8] and the Los Angeles Times.[9] The film earned a Razzie Award nomination for Billy Barty as Worst Supporting Actor.

Comparison with Jack Kirby's Fourth World

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."[10]

Abandoned sequel

Cannon Films intended to create a sequel, which is indicated after the end credits when it is revealed that Skeletor in fact survives his fall. The low budget ($4.5 million) project that was to be directed (back to back with their aborted "Spider-Man" movie) by Albert Pyun was abandoned when Cannon wouldn't pay for Mattel's fees and the production used the already-made costumes and sets for the low budget sci-fi movie Cyborg.[11]

Future film projects

A new He-Man movie directed by John Woo was reportedly being developed in 2007, but despite many rumors circulating around 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 back to Mattel.[12]

In September 2009, Sony took over the rights from Warner Bros to produce the Masters of the Universe live action film after Mattel and producer Joel Silver, who was previously involved with a potential film, couldn't agree on creative direction for the film.[13] Sony and Escape Artists' Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch will now 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.[14]


  1. ^ "`Masters` A Lesson In More Thrills For Less". Chicago Tribune. 1987-08-13. Retrieved 2010-08-28. 
  2. ^ "Weekend Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  3. ^ Masters Cast - Episode 3 -
  4. ^ "Weekend Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  5. ^ Box Office/Business information for the film at the Internet Movie Database.
  6. ^ ""He-Man Returning to the Big Screen"''Variety''; May 24, 2007". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  7. ^ "Masters of the Universe at Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  8. ^ "Film: He-Man Seeks Key". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-08. [dead link]
  9. ^ Wilmington, Michael (1987-08-12). "'Masters Of The Universe' Misfires". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  10. ^ "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #75". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  11. ^ "Masters of the Universe DVD (1987)". BBC. Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  12. ^ Clint Morris, Fox2000 no longer has the Power of Grayskull, Moviehole, November 30, 2006.
  13. ^ By (2009-09-23). "Barbie's a living doll at Universal - Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  14. ^ drees, Rich. "MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE Gets Screenwriters". Retrieved 2010-04-12. 

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