Masters of the Universe (1987)

masters of the universe

“Let this be our final battle!”

The Scoop: 1987, PG Directed by Gary Goddard and starring Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster,  Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeil.

Tagline: A battle fought in the stars. Now… comes to Earth.

Summary Capsule: Looking to get some of that sweet, sweet Hollywood coin, Mattel takes a page out of Hasbro’s playbook and pimps out their toys to the big screen. The most 80’s fantasy movie ever ensues.


Mike’s rating: Sword and sorcery with a side of ham and cheese.

Mike’s review: Adaptations of any media property are a tricky proposition. This goes double when the property being adapted happens to be toys. Sure Clue was the funniest movie ever not made by Mel Brooks or the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abraham, but Battleship was a crappier rip-off of the Michael Bay-helmed Transformers movies which were already the result of scientific experiments designed to weaponize film against the IQ’s of the movie-going public. In fact, action figures and dolls have a worse track record for motion-picture treatments than video games, which is kind of like finding out that the other members of One Direction think you’re a bit too effeminate. While Masters of the Universe was the film that started this unfortunate trend, and was undoubtedly  the box office bomb heard ‘round the world, it has in the intervening years only improved with age.

The movie opens on the far off world of Eternia, where the nexus of power over the whole universe (AKA where I keep my stuff) is housed within Castle Greyskull, watched over by the benevolent Sorceress and protected by He-man, a muscled, shirtless collection of glandular secretions to boggle the mind. The antagonist takes the form of Skeletor, an aptly named, skull-faced wizard who’s only lacking the facial hair (and, you know, the face) to be a mustache-twirling villain of the highest order. When Skeletor gets a hold of a dimension-warping key made by a disturbing dwarf/troll thing called Gwildor and uses it to invade Greyskull, He-Man finds himself on the run with said dwarf/troll thing and his friends Man-At-Arms and Teela. One misused portal later, and the crew find themselves in late eighties California and meeting Monica Geller and Tom Paris as teens, because all American movies need a sappy love story shoehorned in, even if the movie features a half naked body builder swinging a sword at lizard-men armed with laser guns.

As undoubtedly cheesy as this film comes off (and it’s mighty cheesy), this is for all intents and purposes a pretty entertaining romp. Lundgren’s oiled performance as He-Man is actually pretty good, and Frank Langella is having all kinds of fun practically gnawing the scenery as Skeletor (no small feat, as he’s forced to act underneath full skull makeup). The “fish out of water” concept does lead to some chuckle-worthy one-liners, and Principal Strickland has an enjoyable performance as a grizzled cop suddenly dealing with insane cosplayers wielding  live steel and plasma weapons. The visual effects are dated, but only approach cringe-worthy very occasionally (I’m fairly sure a ken doll was used at one point).  What really lifts the movie above the b-movie material though, is the score. The full orchestral score, written by Hollywood legend Bill Conti, is everything  a fantasy score should be; epic, rousing, and just fun. MotU also has the distinction of being the motion picture debut of both Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan Mcneil.

While this movie is the result of a shameless cash-grab by a multi-million dollar toy conglomerate, and won’t be on anyone’s “best-of” lists any time soon, that shouldn’t suggest that it’s a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination.  What you have here is actually a pretty solid sci-fi flick, based on one of the more beloved toy lines and cartoon series of the eighties, with just a tad of silly dialog and the occasional overacting; in other words, it’s the perfect storm of cult movie tropes.

Andie’s rating: When I was little and watched this cartoon, I wanted to be Evil-Lyn SO badly!

Andie’s review: I just bought this movie about a week ago because somebody ordered it at Blockbuster and then decided they didn’t want it anymore. I forgot how much I really liked it. It’s such a fun fantasy/adventure movie. I think they did a nice job bringing He-Man and the gang to life. They should do this with more cartoons. I can’t wait for live-action Scooby Doo!

Anyway… Masters of the Universe tells the tale of evil doer Skeletor capturing Castle Grayskull on the planet Eternia. He seizes control of not only the castle, but the Sorceress too. So it is up to He-Man and his pals to take it back. When they first attempt to defeat Skeletor, they are forced to travel, via a Cosmic Key invented by a little troll named Gwildor, to Earth to escape Skeletor and his minions. On the way they lose the key and have to start looking for it before Skeletor finds them or the key. The key is found by two earthlings, Julie and Kevin. They evil minions find Julie and Kevin and the key, but He-Man, Teela and Duncan triumphantly defeat the bad guys and everybody lives happily ever after.

This movie is so cool because it has campy action sequences, funny characters, and Dolph Lundgren in nothing but glorified underwear. I’m kidding. Dolph Lundgren is actually the weakest link in the movie because while he is nice to look at it, he’s dumber than brick. His acting abilities are scary, they’re so bad! At one point he asks about the whereabouts of the Cosmic Key and Julie says that Kevin has it and Dolph tries so hard to look all concerned and he goes, “He’s in terrible danger.” being about as convincingly concerned as if he just said, “I like green beans.” Skeletor is definitely very scary, as are his little army of defenders. I was so freaked out by Skeletor when I was little, it was ridiculous. Between the Flying Monkeys in Wizard of Oz, the Wheelers and the Headless Princess in Return to Oz, and Skeletor in Masters of the Universe, I’m surprised I wasn’t scarred for life by the time I was seven.

Other fun characters include Teela. She’s a cool, ass-kicking female and her father Duncan is a pretty cool old man. Gwildor is kind of creepy, but he’s absolutely hilarious when he gets to Earth and starts discovering all these new things. The scene where he meets a cow and keeps trying to communicate with it is hilarious. Julie and Kevin are fun and it’s neat to see Courteney Cox in one of her earliest roles. There’s also James Tolkien, who was in like every movie from 1986/87. He played an officer in Top Gun, Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future and a cop on Earth in Masters of the Universe.

But my absolute favorite character is Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn. She’s cool for her costume and makeup alone! Her voice is also very cool because it’s low and seductive and scary. But what really makes her great is that she’s also very funny. When Skeletor’s minions tell her that they were defeated on Earth because they were outnumbered, she scans around with her “all-seeing” glasses things and says, “I see only He-Man. And a native girl. It must’ve been she who tipped the scales against you.” Evil-Lyn just plain kicks butt and it’s too bad she doesn’t get more screen time.

Masters of the Universe is a great adventure for everybody, but especially if you grew up in the 80s and were a fan of the cartoon. I watched the cartoon religously and my brother and I had most of the action figures. I was always so disappointed they never made a live-action version of She-Ra Princess of Power.

Justin’s rating: I have the mullet!

Justin’s review: While watching Masters of the Universe for the first time, a little part of my mind just went -snap- and I began to giggle and thrash about like a haunted madman. No worries, dear reader, that I lost my mind. Nay, I merely entered into a state of utter ecstasy by viewing perhaps one of the greatest movies of all time. Get behind me, E.T., your days of geranium-reviving charm are over!

Admittedly, it’s not the greatest story ever told, nor is the acting worth picking up the ol’ electronic pen and scribing a piece of electronic mail to your electronic mother. But there’s just pure lunatic genius present in this film that keeps topping great idea with greater idea, until it’s a massive, messy tower of crazy goodness. Let me show you what I mean.

We begin on the planet of Eternia — no one ever accused the He-Man cartoon series creators of wasting more than a fraction of a second on names — where Skeletor (Darth Vader) has beaten down the remaining freed people (the Rebel Alliance) and has now taken wing in his massive fortress of doom, Castle Greyskull (the Death Star). For reasons unknown, He-Man and his pals want the castle back, even though the words “Skeletor” and “Greyskull” go together like bologna and mayonnaise. It was just meant to be, people. Our pal Skelly has a face only a corpse could love, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the outfits of the good guys: He-Man as an over-oiled, caped, minimal-wearing Dolph Lundgren, spandex-and-headband-sporting Teela (Chelsea Field), and action figure-ready Man-At-Arms (a moustachioed Jon Cypher).

Although he won the battle for Eternia, Skeletor still has a bone up his craw because he doesn’t have the ambiguous “power” to rule them all. Getting the “power” involves an overly complex scheme involving a captured Sorceress, a moon waxing or waning or becoming blue cheese, a “cosmic key” that plays notes and opens dimensional rifts, and He-Man’s sword. I’m not quite sure how all of these fit together, nor am I sure the writers had any clue. But they get a special bonus sticker for trying.

So seeing the mere awesomeness of Dolph running around like a grounded Superman and using both a sword AND laser gun to vanquish the Stormtroopers (who are we kidding at this point?) would’ve made a decent flick. Fortunately for us, the filmmakers decided to turn the gonzo level to 11, open a portal from Eternia to Earth (Great quote: “Opening a dimensional door is relatively easy.” Sure. Easy. How many have you opened today?), and throw all of the good and bad guys into 1980s suburbia. Can you even comprehend, or start to imagine, how incredible that setup is? What if I told you that, on earth, the good guys team up with both Courtney Cox (yes, THAT Courtney Cox) and the bald guy who played Strickland in Back to the Future? Is it possible your head might just well ripen to a bursting point and overflow with lovely joy?

It’s so goofy, it works. He-Man, Skeletor, and various toadies aren’t the most subtle folk in these new parts, but for some reason, no one actually lives in this town other than our three human characters. We see massive battles, actual parades of enemy troops marching down roads, hovercraft blasting cannons, and a beastly guy named Karg with horrid ’80s hair tearing up the place… and no one seems to even notice or mind. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it. You’ll become so saturated with lunacy watching this that by the time enemy troopers are blasting through a music store and our heroes are both firing laser guns back and trying to play music to open a dimensional rift and an evil magic lady is pretending to be Courtney Cox’s dead (and ugly) mother, you won’t bat an eye. You’ll be at home.

I could gush for hours about how terrific Masters of the Universe was; my wife sure wishes I’d shut up about it. He-Man cracks me up as Dolph acts with his muscles, hugs with his muscles, and blurts out the most hokey-sounding line in the bunch: “I… have… da POWAH!”

In the other corner, Skeletor is a nifty villain, full of witticisms, nasty tricks, a penchant for whipping his near-naked foes and sheer contempt for his lackies. As He-Man got the worst line, Skelly gets the best: after someone says “You dare threaten her life?” Skelly gets to rebut with “I dare anything!” I need to say that more in daily conversation, for I really do dare anything. My only sadness is that many of the elements of this nostalgic cartoon are absent: Orko in particular, Cringer, and how He-Man transforms from wimpy Prince Adam into a quivering mound of pecs and biceps.

If, like me, you’ve never seen this film, then I envy you the imminent head explosion that will come upon its rental. MOTU should be taught at all major universities and colleges, for no reason other than educating us that while eating BBQ ribs might be “barbaric” to other worlds, but fighting with broadswords is still quite the trend.

So that is what you earthlings call.."twerking"? Never do it again.
So that is what you earthlings call..”twerking”? Never do it again.


    • Anthony De Longis (Blade) trained Dolph Lundgren in swordplay. He also choreographed and stunt-doubled for Langella in the final sword fight between He-Man and Skeletor.
    • Christina Pickles (the Sorceress) would later play Courteney Cox’s mother on Friends .
    • Many viewers of the film commented on actress Meg Foster’s eerie  contact lenses. She didn’t actually wear any. Those are her actual eyes. She would utilize these eyes to great affect years later in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as the goddess Hera.
    • Goddard had planned to have all of Dolph Lundgren’s lines dubbed by another actor, but after re-dubbing, he decided to use Lundgren’s natural voice instead.
    • Due to the 50-plus pound weight of his Blade suit, Anthony De Longis  would regularly pour out the water out from his sweat from his boots at the end of the day.
    • Dolph Lundgren does all his own stunts in the movie.
    • Director Gary Goddard saiud that the film was meant as an homage to Jack Kirby’s New Gods stories as well as his Marvel Comics work. Goddard had tried to hire Kirby as a conceptual artist, and had also planned to dedicate the film to Kirby, but the studio objected to both ideas.
    • The reptilian henchman Saurod’s throat was made to expand and contract by having the performer, Pons Maar, blow into a tube that ran from his mouth to the throat of his costume.
    • Frank Langella went on record in an interview stating that playing Skeletor was one of his favorite roles. His young son was a huge fan and was running around the house shouting “By the power of Grayskull”, so he took the role for him. He wrote some of his lines, like: “Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of evil?”.
    • In the official “Masters of the Universe” comic book adaptation, an alternate ending is used that was written for the movie but never filmed. In the comic, after the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor, Man-At-Arms comes from the depths of Castle Grayskull carrying a NASA and US flag. The NASA flag has “Starfinder 5. July 10, 2221” written on it, revealing that the first humans on Eternia were actually from a future American space mission.
    • Body Count: 43 (Mostly Skeletor’s troops)
    • “The center of the universe”? That’s pretty precise.
    • The Darth Vader helmets on the bad troopers
    • If they got laser guns, should you be fighting with a sword?
    • He-Man likes no clothes and lots of hot oil
    • Teela has a metal thong
    • The stormtroopers destroyed the gnome garden!
    • He had a secret passage into Greyskull? Then why the comic key to get in there too?
    • Good advice for any situation: “Monitor the frequencies”
    • Cow! Moo!
    • Loads of technobabble
    • Holy crap, Courtney Cox with horrible hair and a cowboy outfit
    • They like to say “sector” a lot
    • Karg has righteous hair!
    • Blade is an enthusiastic fellow
    • Why do the baddies retreat?
    • It’s Strickland from BTTF
    • He-Man really likes cuddling with the ladies
    • The cop’s reaction to the key
    • Evil-Lyn brought her SUV
    • The good guys always enjoy a hearty laugh
    • Music stores deserve to be destroyed
    • The bad guys have… HOVERBOARDS!
    • The Skeletor Parade
    • Skelly is a pretty good bad guy, but he doesn’t like philosophy
    • Duncan has a little bit of everything to fix stuff
    • Skeletor’s funky new headpiece
    • He-Man as “Samson”
    • Nice that the mood lighting changes for the final battle
    • Skeletor is really just the Emperor from Return of the Jedi, isn’t he?
    • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? After the credits, Skeletor’s head pops up from the lake and says, “I’ll be back!” which sets the stage for a sequel that was never made. However, a script for a “Masters of the Universe” sequel was written, only to be re-written and become the script for the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Cyborg.
    • Much of the movie, including the music store battle and the scenes with the villains marching triumphantly down a street, was filmed in Whittier, California. Many of the buildings in the downtown areas shown in the film are no longer standing, having been destroyed during major earthquakes in the 1990s.
    • Dolph Lundgren does all his own stunts in the movie.
    • Due to financial difficulties, Cannon Cinema made a decision to discontinue all filming 3 days before its scheduled end, leaving the movie in a quandary. All the climactic scenes were completed bar the final battle and resolution between He-Man and Skeletor. After 2 months, the Cannon Cinema executives allowed director Gary Goddard to film the ending in a complete, albeit rushed manner.

Groovy Quotes:

He-Man: When we find the Key, Gwildor will set the coordinates for Grayskull. We’ll use the element of surprise…
Duncan: Oh, sure! We’ll drop right into the throne room, fight off two or three thousand of Skeletor’s crack troops, break into the force field and free the Sorceress.
He-Man: Right!

Skeletor: Fool! You are no longer my equal! I am more than man! More than life! I… am… a… GOD! Now. You… will… KNEEL!  KNEEEEEL!

Skeletor: YOU! You will no longer stand between me and my destiny!
He-Man: But I will! I told you that it’s always between us!
Skeletor: I ache to smash you out of existence! To drive your cursed face from my memories forever!
He-Man: Enough talk!
Skeletor: YES! Let this be our final battle!

Gwildor: Look! I’ve found some native clothes! If we dress like this, no one will recognize us.
Kevin Corrigan: What the hell is that?!
Gwildor: See?

Kevin Corrigan: Look you’ve got the wrong song maker, Gwildor; I’m just a stupid keyboard player in a high
school band. There’s a million of me.
Gwildor: Only one of you, Kevin. Only one of anybody.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Beastmaster
  • Willow
  • Conan the Barbarian


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