Back in the 1980s, Filmation’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series – and the Mattel action figure toy line it was based on – was the hottest thing going (if you were kid, at least).
It came as no surprise when a live-action adaptation of the story of Prince Adam (and his heroic alter ego, He-Man) was released in 1987. What did catch people unawares was just how terrible the film turned out to be!
Director Gary Goddard and production company Golan-Globus – the guilty party responsible for the even worse Superman IV: The Quest For Peace – served up an adventure barely recognizable to fans.
Sure, several of the franchise’s key ingredients – such as He-Man, his archvillain Skeletor, and Castle Grayskull – are present and accounted for. But just as many major aspects of Masters Of The Universe lore (including Prince Adam himself!) are nowhere to be seen.
Whilst Masters Of The Universe performed poorly at the box office – a $22 million haul against $17.3 million budget – it’s since gone on to become a cult classic, and there’s plenty of interesting trivia surrounding its troubled production.
With this in mind – and in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary last month – here’s a round up of 15 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About The Disastrous Masters Of The Universe Movie.
15. Filming Was Shut Down Early
Masters Of The Universe was the most expensive film notoriously thrifty Golan-Globus (and distribution company Cannon Films) ever produced.
Unfortunately, beefing up the movie’s budget by $5 million – coupled with a string of box office bombs released by the studio – finally tipped both production and distribution businesses into the red.
This led Golan-Globus and Cannon Films to make the rather extreme call to shut down filming three days shy of the planned end date, which understandably left the filmmakers in a bit of a bind.
While the lion’s share of footage was in the can, the climactic showdown between He-Man and Skeletor still needed to be shot. Without a suitable finale and with no budget for additional filming, Masters Of The Universe looked destined never to be released!
Fortunately (or not, depending on your point of view), Goddard was able to successfully lobby Golan-Globus and Cannon Films to scrape together the funds needed to recommence shooting.
Although the messy closing scenes filmed reflect the panicked atmosphere present on the set, they do at least ensure that the film saw the light of day!
14. The Evil-Lyn Costume Was Super Heavy (And Painful) To Wear
It’s not uncommon for the flamboyant costumes seen in fantasy films to prove uncomfortable for the actors who wear them – but Meg Foster’s Evil-Lyn outfit really does take the cake!
For starters, the whole ensemble – including a fibreglass breastplate – weighed a whopping 45 lbs, and caused Foster severe bruising around her groin.
It was also frustratingly restrictive, only allowing the actress a relatively limited range of movement – which also explains why Evil-Lyn is never seen sitting in Masters Of The Universe!
For her part, Foster actually credited her awkward wardrobe with helping her to remain in character, and suggested that its immobile design informed her character’s signature posture.
Interestingly, several viewers have assumed that Evil-Lyn’s icy stare was achieved via contact lenses, when in actual fact, Foster’s natural (and distinctive) peepers were on display!
13. He-Man Wasn’t Allowed To Kill Anybody
As license owner of the overall Masters Of The Universe property, Mattel set a few ground rules that the filmmakers were obligated to follow.
Of these, the strictest was the stipulation that neither He-Man nor any of his allies were allowed to kill any flesh and blood characters.
This caused Goddard a considerable headache, as the director felt audiences would expect to see at least some bloodshed. After all, in addition to the carnage seen in adult blockbusters, even family-friendly fare like Star Wars allowed the heroes to blow the bad guys away!
The solution was to fill the ranks of Skeletor’s army with robotic troops, a compromise which enabled He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Teela to defeat plenty of enemies without harming a single living creature!
12. The Cosmic Key Props Were Super Fragile
A key plot device in Masters Of The Universe is the so-called “Cosmic Key” – a tool capable of opening portals leading anywhere the user desires.
Visual effects guru Robert Edlund whipped up three Cosmic Key props for the shoot, all of which were insanely delicate and prone to breaking. The Key props were such a hassle that they actually required a dedicated team of on-set prop technicians to handle repairs on the spot, to ensure filming didn’t grind to a halt!
Given that only a handful of Cosmic Keys were ever constructed – and factoring in how hard it is to find one in near-mint condition – the props have since developed into a much sought-after collector’s item.
If you do happen to get your mitts on a Cosmic Key, hold onto it – back in 2012, the props were valued at $6,000 a pop!
11. Dolph Lundgren Was Almost Dubbed Over
Hollywood has a long history of dubbing over the voices of foreign actors with thick accents, with perhaps the most (in)famous example being Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hercules In New York.
Considering that He-Man himself, Dolph Lundgren, was neither an experienced actor nor a fluent English speaker, it’s no surprise that Goddard likewise intended to replace his vocals with an American actor.
However, Lundgren’s contract for Masters Of The Universe ended up throwing a spanner in the works. In a clever bit of negotiation, the legal agreement afforded the Swedish star three attempts at re-recording his dialogue before could be dubbed over.
As the shoot was running behind behind schedule – and given the time needed to potentially re-record He-Man’s dialogue multiple times – Goddard ultimately decided to retain Lundgren’s distinctive line readings in the finished film.
10. The Real-World Setting Was A Cost-Saving Decision
As touched on earlier, the vast majority of Masters Of The Universe takes place in our world, rather than in the fantasy kingdom of Eternia.
Interestingly, this wasn’t always intended to be the case. Prior to drafting the screenplay, the filmmakers discussed setting the film entirely in He-Man’s native land, something which didn’t carry across to the finished script.
There’s a fairly mundane rationale behind this creative choice: shifting the story to Earth meant that less elaborate (and expensive!) sets and creatures need to be fabricated.
Apparently, we have Gary Goddard to thank for the few Eternia-based scenes we do get in the movie, as at one point these were canned completely!
According to the director, the script he received unfolded entirely on Earth, and he had squeeze more money out of Golan-Globus in order to add additional, otherworldly locales to proceedings.
9. Dolph Lundgren Did All His Own Stunts
Say what you will about Dolph Lundgren’s performance in Masters Of The Universe, but physically, it’s hard to imagine a better match for He-Man.
Standing 6’5” tall and so ripped that his muscles seem to have their own muscles, the Swede cuts a suitably larger than life figure – so much so that finding a convincing stunt double proved impossible!
As such, Lundgren was called upon to do all of his own stunts in the film, and despite his strong martial arts background, the end results are a decidedly mixed bag.
Lundgren wasn’t the only performer to struggle during the action set pieces, either. To bring reptilian goon Saurod to life, Pons Maar wore contact lenses that severely limited his vision – meaning he performed all of his stunts blind!
8. The Greyskull Set Was The Largest Constructed In Over 40 Years
As the seat of power for the entire universe, you’d expect the Castle Grayskull set to be suitably impressive – which explains why it was the biggest Hollywood set built in over 40 years!
In order to accommodate the scale production designer William Stout had in mind, the wall separating two vast sound stages was demolished. This created one enormous space in which to erect Grayskull’s throne room environment.
In a genuine stroke of creative genius, Stout incorporated both good and evil-looking architecture into the throne room’s design as a reference to the dual nature of the power stored there.
This led to a two-tiered layout, with the bronze statue-adorned upper level representing the divine potential of Grayskull, and the gargoyle-like figures in the lower level suggesting its more demonic side.
7. A Sequel Was Developed But Ultimately Abandoned
Masters Of The Universe features a post-credits stinger which sees Skeletor threaten to return once more, setting up a sequel that failed to ever materialize!
Interestingly, a follow-up film was scripted and even cast, with Laird John Hamilton hired to fill He-Man’s boots (Lundgren apparently wanted too much money to return).
Before the sequel was abandoned, director Albert Pyun – set to take over from Gary Goddard – began development work on a script tentatively titled Masters Of The Universe: Cyborg.
The screenplay would have seen Skeletor invade our world once more, this time in the guise of an evil corporate tycoon, and would have introduced He-Man’s sister She-Ra and cybernetic villain Trap Jaw.
However, after Masters Of The Universe tanked at the box office, Golan-Globus and Cannon Films – edging ever closer to bankruptcy – swiftly pulled the plug on production.
They then repurposed the script, sets, costumes and props from the planned sequel – along with those belonging to another scrapped project – for Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Cyborg, helmed by Pyun.
Oh, and that other unrealized film? Only a small production called Spider-Man…
6. A Contest Winner Was Shoehorned Into The Movie
As if the Masters Of The Universe shoot wasn’t stressful enough, Mattel also forced Gary Goddard to fit an additional extra into the film.
This came about because Mattel held a contest that promised the successful entrant a role in the movie, and when fan Richard Szponder snagged the prize, Goddard had to think up a part for him.
Despite filming being well underway, the director was able to find room for Szponder within the wider cast, setting him up as the extra who passes Skeletor his staff upon his return to Eternia.
Incidentally, the name given to this character was “Pigboy” – which seems like an unkind moniker to bestow upon a loyal fan, not to mention a contest winner!
5. Miniatures Were Taken From Blade Runner And Ghostbusters
In case it hasn’t already become clear by now, the filmmakers were forced to cut a lot of corners in order to keep the budget down on Masters Of The Universe.
In fact, Golan-Globus and Cannon Films kept the purse strings so tight that a second unit filming crew – typical for a blockbuster film – was deemed prohibitively expensive.
This meant that Gary Goddard had to personally call the shots on every single frame of footage recorded – including cutaways, close-ups of props, and other pick-up material.
That’s a pretty crushing workload for any director, let alone a rookie auteur helming his first ever flick!
4. Snake Mountain Was Originally Set To Appear
Although Skeletor sets up shop in Castle Grayskull during Masters Of The Universe, his Snake Mountain lair – popularized in the Filmation series – nearly made an appearance, too.
Plans for Skeletor’s hideout included a matte painting to realize the exterior of the peak, whilst William Stout devised a palace-like interior that diverged from the location’s established look.
Gone were the bone-strewn caverns, replaced by a series of lava-filled streams criss-crossed by a network of walkways, a layout which echoed the Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of Japan’s Imperial Hotel.
Unfortunately, once the film’s initial budget of $17 million was set, the decision was made to drastically cut the number of Eternia-based sets, in favor of cheaper real-world locations.
As a result, Snake Mountain was swiftly excised from the script, and Skeletor’s nefarious activities would be largely confined to the Grayskull throne room, instead.
3. Gwildor Was Created To Replace Orko
It wasn’t just elaborate sets that were culled from Masters Of The Universe due to budgetary constraints – several characters and creatures were removed for this reason, as well.
Chief among those excised from the script was cartoon comic relief character Orko, whose inhuman physique and perpetual floating would have admittedly stretched even a more affluent production.
Instead, the filmmakers came up with a stand-in for Orko called Gwildor, who was able to handle his Trollan counterpart’s duties, without the need for sophisticated special effects.
Another prominent fantastical being trimmed from the film was He-Man’s tiger-like mount, Battle Cat.
As with Orko, the visual effects and animatronics needed to bring a gigantic, green and yellow jungle cat to the screen would undoubtedly have cost a fortune.
Considering how cash strapped the filmmakers were, Battle Cat was therefore never seriously considered for inclusion in the movie.
2. The Whole Thing Is A Homage To The Work Of Jack Kirby
Gary Goddard was a huge fan of Kirby’s work growing up, and when it came time to adapt the larger than life world of Masters Of The Universe for the big screen, he looked to “The King” for inspiration.
It’s not hard to see the impact of Kirby’s hyperbolic storytelling on the movie’s screenplay, especially his Fourth World comics, which feature a similar saga of god-like beings engaged in a titanic battle of good versus evil.
In fact, Goddard went so far as to attempt to hire Kirby as a concept artist on the film. When that fell through, the director tried to acknowledge his debt to Kirby’s output with a dedication during the credits – but again, this was scuttled by the studio.
1. Dolph Lundgren Had Significant Creative Input
Film stars offering creative suggestions – solicited or otherwise – for their films is fairly common, and such was the case with Dolph Lundgren’s involvement in Masters Of The Universe, for better or worse.
Apparently, the actor lobbied director Gary Goddard to both beef up the He-Man role in the movie, and to add additional action set pieces to the screenplay, too.
He also unsuccessfully tried to have He-Man’s knee-high boots swapped for contemporary kick boxing footwear, only relenting when advised that this made him look effeminate.
It wasn’t just Lundgren who made changes to the film, though – Frank Langella apparently regularly improvised dialogue on set, resulting in most of the (few) good lines delivered by Skeletor!
Know any other shocking Masters of the Universe facts? Let us know in the comments!
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