I am a He-Man fan. A huge one. The amount of money I’ve spent on Masters of the Universe toys, new and old, is frankly tragic. Of all my favorate franchises — Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Saga, Avengers, whatever — it is by far my favorite. So please understand I’m not saying this lightly: There should never, ever be Masters of the Universe movie. Ever.
You’d think that I’d be first in line to buy an MotU movie ticket, and honestly, I probably will. But I’ll be buying it out of fan obligation, not out of any actual desire. The chances of Hollywood making a good Masters of the Universe movie are pretty much nil, because it’s too damn weird and all-encompassing and inherently paradoxical to actually make. But more importantly — and this is a major element of what makes MotU so special — even if Hollywood did manage to make a He-Man movie accurate to the franchise, it would still be terrible because Masters of the Universe is really fucking stupid.
This is quite a contradiction, I know. How can I be a fan of something so stupid? How can the properties that inspire a fandom be so unfilmable? But Masters of the Universe is founded on contradictions such as these. It’s science fiction and fantasy simultaneously, like Star Wars on PCP — there are barbarians in loincloths and sentient robots, there are bizarre war-vehicles and castles full of magic, there are snake men and ninjas and wizards and cyborgs monsters and bee people and a dude with a robotic elephant head.
Masters of the Universe’ greatest strength is this insanely wide scope, and that’s not something Hollywood handles at all well. Think of how the G.I. Joe movies cut down the massive military team to less than half a dozen operatives, just for simplicity’s sake. There’s no way a Masters of the Universe movie can possibly contain all this variety, and that variety is MotU’s key attraction — the heroic Buzz-Off is completely ludicrous by himself, but when you add him to Stratos and Man-at-Arms and Mekanek and Sy-Klone and all the other heroes, the total is more than the sum of its (silly, silly) parts. The mor you break He-Man down, the more it loses its appeal, and that's not just in regards to the characters, but to the overall storyline. If you break it down to just a barbarian saga, it's like any other barbarian movie — it's adding all the other stuff, the the robots and monsters and lasers and things that make He-Man interesting and unique. Hell, even if you simplify it as a recent MotU script supposedly did — as a technology-loving Skeletor trying to destroy magic loving He-Man — it instantly becomes a dull mess.
And this scope isn’t just about the characters or the storyline, but the stories themselves. Sure, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is, at its core, about a big hulking barbarian that fights a massive variety of bad guys with a sword. That’s Conan, folks, and you don’t need to read DC’s ridiculously violent Masters of the Universe comic to see the PG-13 or even R-rated potential. For all that the series is based on an ‘80s toyline, the toys all have unique action features that are primarily concerned with killing their enemies. You could theoretically save money by teleporting He-Man to Earth to hang out with young Courtney Cox, but someone already tried that and it didn’t work out then, either.
But (as DC’s He-Man comic also proves), having an R-rated He-Man is terrible, not just because because it's based on a kids’ toyline, but because it’s about a dude named He-Man. And that’s not the silliest name, not by a longshot. You can’t have the gravity of a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic battle when you have to keep referring to the participants as Snout Spout, Buzz-Off, Man-E-Faces, Two-Bad, or Stinkor. Maybe — maybe you could do it just for He-Man fans like myself, but that’s going to net you only about 100,000 tickets sales, tops, nowhere near the money you’d need to make a bad Masters of the Universe movie, let alone a decent one.
So what if you make the movie for the kids? Well, there are several problems, the first one being is that kids do not give a shit about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The median age of a He-Man fan is well over 30, old enough to have owned the figures released between 1982-87. The 2002 relaunch of the He-Man toyline — and its accompanying cartoon on Cartoon Network — gained no traction at all among kids, who likely found the name He-Man as dumb as… well, modern mass audiences would find it in a major motion picture.
The second problem is that Masters of the Universe’s kid-level conceit is ridiculously dumb. I’ve mentioned the 1st-grade-level pun-based character names already, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. According the the old Masters of the Universe cartoon, by far the best known iteration of the franchise, Skeletor’s minions are borderline imbeciles. One of the most prominent heroes is Orko, a wacky wizard whose buffoonery inevitably got the good guys into trouble at the beginning of the episode, and then out of it at the end. And then there’s Cringer, who is literally “a scaredy-cat.” Kids tolerated this nonsense in the less sophisticated days of the ‘80s, but this nonsense would render any He-Man movie completely unwatchable in the 2010s.
So He-Man is too childish to make for adult audiences, and its childishness is too dumb to appeal to today’s children. What’s the solution? Well, you could drop comic relief characters like Orko and Cringer, and change the names of the most egregiously named characters — heck you could even do away with Prince Adam entirely. But all those things are part of Masters of the Universe’s gestalt, and its weird charm. These are the reasons that make fans love it — along with Masters of the Universe’s simultaneous potential to tell epic, Conan the Barbarian-level “adult” adventures, just with robots and shit.
The best-case scenario would be for the movie to take all of Masters of the Universe’ weirdness and goofiness and play it completely straight — go ahead and call the characters Clamp Champ and Webstor and Clawful and Fisto, and never once pretend like its anything other than completely normal names — and to just accept the weird dichotomy of magic and technology and monsters and war machines and everything else and treat it like a given, without spending half the movie trying to explain why it’s all there together. But even if Hollywood had the balls to trust mass audiences that much (and they don't), would they audiences actually accept it? I sincerely doubt it (although fans like me would be happy for the first time ever).
And that’s hardly the only issue. Hollywood would need to give a Masters of the Universe movie the massive, Lord of the Rings-style budget to be as epic as it would need to be to appeal to anybody in the first place — and it would take a lot of money for a property that effectively disappeared in the ‘80s, unlike its brethren Transformers and G.I. Joe, both of which have pretty much been running non-stop for the last 30 years — which is unlikely in the extreme.
Look. There’s no way Hollywood is going to do a Masters of the Universe movie “right”, because even if it does do it “right”, it’s probably going to be terrible — the world of He-Man is just too damn contradictory, in every aspect, to make it to the screen in a way that satisfies adults or kids or fans, let alone all of them. Please, Hollywood, I beg of you, don’t even try. Not for the fans — because I know you don’t give a shit about us — because you can’t possibly turn Masters of the Universe into something modern audiences will be interested in, and you will lose a shit-ton of money making it. Just… don’t do it.
In regards to a Masters of the Universe movie, you don’t have the power, and you never will.