The History Of The Failed Masters Of The Universe Reboot Movie Explained

For someone who has the power, He-Man sure doesn't have the luck when it comes to live-action films. Over the years, plans for a "Masters of the Universe" movie reboot have formed and then died off on numerous occasions. The last time audiences saw He-Man and Skeletor in the flesh (and skull) was in the 1987 feature film starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella. Since then, it's been false starts galore, with He-fans stuck in a cycle of anticipation and disappointment.

Given Hollywood's obsession with franchises, it seems strange that a studio or streamer has yet to make a new "Masters of the Universe" movie. After all, no one can deny it's a merchandising monster: The franchise pulled in over $350 million in toy sales alone in 1984. Netflix seemed like the obvious contender to make it happen, as it continued the story of the original animated series in "Masters of the Universe: Revelation" and produced a new CG show titled "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe." However, the streaming giant pulled the plug on a planned live-action movie, sending the reboot back to square one.

At this point, the long-gestating "Masters of the Universe" reboot seems like it's cursed. Several studios have tried and failed to get it off the ground since He-Man last graced the big screen. We've taken a deep dive into the reboot's struggle to escape development hell.

Cannon's Masters of the Universe 2 would have been B-movie to the core

Interestingly, the 1987 "Masters of the Universe" movie nearly received a sequel, even though it cost $22 million to produce and only made $17.3 million at the box office. However, Cannon Films wasn't about to fork out $20 million-plus for it — nor did it have the money to do so. The genius plan was to shoot both the "Masters of the Universe" sequel and a "Spider-Man" film at the same time, with the same director — B-movie maestro Albert Pyun — at the helm of both. Surfer Laird Hamilton was reportedly lined up to take over as He-Man from Dolph Lundgren, who wasn't interested in reprising the role.

Speaking to Gizmodo, Pyun explained how the two productions would have co-existed. "We were going to shoot the first part [of 'Spider-Man'], before Peter was bitten," he said. "And then we were going to break and shoot 'Masters of the Universe 2.' And then come back — and that way, Peter Parker [would have] had time to work out. It would have worked, because the 'Masters' shoot would have been long enough to allow him to bulk up." After Cannon couldn't pay Marvel and Mattel for the rights to make these movies, both were canceled. Pyun utilized what had already been shot to make "Cyborg," the sci-fi action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

John Woo and Masters of the Universe was a match made in action heaven

After the boom of the toys, animated series, and movie in the 1980s, the "Masters of the Universe" franchise's popularity slowed to a halt in the '90s. Hollywood had other priorities at the time, and there was little interest in the loincloth-wearing hero and his peculiar pals from Eternia. It all went quiet on a He-Man movie until October 2004, when Variety reported an exciting piece of news: John Woo was set to direct and produce a "Masters of the Universe" movie for Fox 2000, with Adam Rifkin handling the scripts.

Rifkin was best known for his comedy writing at the time, but he was beginning to dip his toe into more serious fare with films like 2001's "Night at the Golden Eagle," a drama about an ex-con trying to go straight. Woo, meanwhile, was a Hong Kong action cinema icon who had successfully transitioned to Hollywood, impressing with his outstanding work on "Broken Arrow," "Face/Off," and "Mission: Impossible II." The pairing of Woo and "Masters of the Universe" was a fascinating one. As an action film visionary, he would have undoubtedly brought a fresh and exciting spin to the franchise. It's almost ludicrous that Fox didn't push to get this film made at all costs.

Joel Silver's Grayskull would have been super gritty

Over the next few years, the "Masters of the Universe" reboot pinballed around Tinseltown. By 2009, John Woo was off the project and veteran producer Joel Silver was now involved, having teamed up with Warner Bros. in an effort to get the He-Man ball rolling again. "Kung Fu Panda" co-helmer John Stevenson was being eyed as director for the project, while a then-unknown scribe by the name of Evan Daugherty would be taking a stab at the latest version of the screenplay. Daugherty would go on to contribute to 2012's "Snow White and the Huntsman," 2014's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and 2018's "Tomb Raider."

The reboot was given the tentative title "Grayskull" and the plan was to make it a much grittier adaptation of the He-Man story, one where Adam is presented as "a soldier who sets off to find his destiny, happening upon the magical world of Eternia. There, Skeletor has raised a technological army and is bent on eradicating magic," The Hollywood Reporter revealed. Of course, this was the period in which darker superhero films like "The Dark Knight" and "Watchmen" were all the rage, so it's no surprise that a grittier He-Man was being pushed. Sadly, this iteration of the reboot also fell by the wayside.

Dolph Lundgren said he wouldn't mind appearing in the reboot

Just like Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man to a generation of fans, the same can be said about Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. At his physical peak, he looked like an intergalactic superhero, someone who was worthy to wield the Power Sword. Despite the fanfare, Lundgren admitted the movie was a strange experience for him. It was a different era in showbiz and superhero properties weren't exactly in vogue for actors or studios at the time. Also, he wasn't too thrilled about his outfit — or lack thereof — when he was filming the movie in the throes of winter. The poor guy only had a modest loincloth on for the shoot.

That being said, he once admitted that he wouldn't say no to appearing in a "Masters of the Universe" reboot. Speaking to IGN in 2012, he stated that he would be interested in a part such as King Randor. "I thought He-Man was a cool character. I had fun doing it. I wouldn't want to take my shirt off again for three months, wear that diaper" he said with a laugh, adding, "I would rather play the king." The bait was cast, but Lundgren didn't get any bites. While the original star was game for a return to Eternia, no studios stepped forward to offer him that chance.

Jon M. Chu wanted to make a more serious Masters of the Universe movie

Fast-forward a few more years and director Jon M. Chu is now attached to the "Masters of the Universe" reboot, with the game of musical chairs continuing. Chu had experience with toy-inspired franchises, having directed "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Sure, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" isn't an Oscar-worthy movie by any means, nor is it likely to be placed inside a time capsule for future generations to enjoy, but it made a lot of money, pulling in $375.7 million from a $130 million budget.

The expectation was that Chu would perform the same magic with "Masters of the Universe." Speaking to Topless Robot, the director explained his specific vision. "We're going for slightly more serious, and I wouldn't say 'serious' as a dark tone you don't necessarily want He-Man to be in, but it's not campy," he said. "We're not going campy. It's sort of an origin story of how He-Man came to be, and to me that gives you a lot of opportunity to create real culture in this world."

Chu said that the team had started making initial designs for the movie and that he intended to explore things like the different languages used in this world. He wanted to truly flesh out Eternia, as well as the various creatures and beings that are a part of this fantastical setting. Unfortunately, his vision was never realized and the reboot returned to development hell.

McG confirmed he met with Kellan Lutz for He-Man

By 2016, Jon M. Chu had departed the production, with mononymous director McG (fresh off the Kevin Costner thriller "3 Days to Kill") now in the hot seat. However, there was a different feeling about the movie this time around. The golden age of comic book movies and superheroes was in full swing. Marvel Studios was practically printing money with its releases, while every other production company in Hollywood scrambled to secure the rights to any and every superhero property.

Thanks to his role in "The Legend of Hercules" and a bit of lobbying on his part ("Got those Golden Bangs on point, don't you think He-Man!" the actor said when he tweeted a photo of himself next to a picture of He-Man), "Twilight" actor Kellan Lutz was the hot favorite to become the new He-Man. In August 2016, McG confirmed to IGN that he had met with Lutz for the part. "Kellan's a good guy, and we had a great meeting, and he's passionate about He-Man, he's passionate about the Adam story," he said. "He really knows a lot about it. I was charmed by his focus and intensity. He'll be considered very, very carefully." Alas, it wasn't meant to be for Lutz — or McG, for that matter.

David S. Goyer loved the Masters of the Universe script he wrote

Filmmaker and screenwriter David S. Goyer's impact on Hollywood is undeniable. Whether it be "Blade," "Batman Begins," or "Man of Steel," Goyer crafts stories about popular characters that resonate with mainstream audiences. At one point, his attachment to the "Masters of the Universe" reboot appeared to be the shot in the arm the project needed. His script reportedly delighted Sony Pictures so much that the head honchos offered him the chance to direct the feature himself, with a 2019 release date in mind.

Goyer passed on the opportunity since the project would clash with "Foundation," the sci-fi series he developed for Apple TV+ based on author Isaac Asimov's work. His story was still set to serve as the blueprint for whomever boarded the project, with Goyer staying on as an executive producer. Discussing his script with The Hollywood Reporter, Goyer revealed that he was very pleased with the story he devised.

"The idea was there had always been He-Men and different recipients of the Sword of Power and that Battle Cat had always served at their side," he said. "And this was a new He-Man that Battle Cat and many people didn't think was worthy of the sword." As Goyer explained, this He-Man would gain Battle Cat's friendship and trust throughout their journey. It sounds like Goyer had a really clear vision for the reboot, but without him at the helm, the project never really gained any momentum.

Noah Centineo confirmed he was cast as He-Man in the reboot movie

If you're a Netflix subscriber, then you'll surely know who Noah Centineo is. Flipping through the platform, it's almost impossible to not see his face pop up in a teen rom-com at some point. Seemingly, he also made quite the impression on Sony Pictures, as the studio wanted to work with him again after he appeared in 2019's "Charlie's Angels." That same year, the studio bestowed the power of Grayskull on him, choosing him to be the next He-Man in a "Masters of the Universe" reboot. Aaron and Adam Nee ("The Lost City") had been hired to direct.

Centineo confirmed his casting on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in 2019. Then, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight in 2020, he discussed how he was preparing to get into He-Man shape. "It's a lot of eating," he said. "You would think it's awesome but it's like, 6,000 calories a day." Unfortunately, he never got to show off his He-Man body on the big screen — at least, not as He-Man. While Centineo didn't get the chance to wear the loincloth or get the iconic haircut, at least his physical preparation helped him look good as Atom Smasher in 2022's "Black Adam."

Kyle Allen replaced Noah Centineo as He-Man

In January 2022, there were two further twists in the "Masters of the Universe" reboot tale. Not only did Noah Centineo exit the project, but it was also announced that the movie had moved from Sony Pictures to Netflix, making Centineo's departure all the stranger. Replacing him was Kyle Allen, who had recently shone as Balkan in Steven Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story" and as Mark in Amazon's "The Map of Tiny Perfect Things." Aaron and Adam Nee remained attached as directors.

According to a Netflix press release (via People), the latest version of the film imagined Adam as an orphan who "discovers he is a prince destined to be the savior of a faraway land and must quickly learn of his power and the importance of saving his true home from an evil force." The streaming giant was seemingly excited about the prospect of a new live-action "Masters of the Universe" film, and so was Mattel. "With our partners at Netflix, we look forward to showing audiences that anything can happen in Eternia," Mattel Films exec Robbie Brenne said. "We are continuing to unlock this global franchise in new ways, and we can't wait to see Kyle battle it out with Skeletor in this epic live-action saga."

While Allen has some big screen experience under his belt, many fans were left unconvinced by his casting in the "Masters of the Universe" reboot. Some commentators felt he didn't have the required physique to play a character like He-Man. "This guy is a good actor yes but, why him?" said Twitter user @Springfield1225 said. "With all the buff actors that could have played the part, why grab a guy not big enough to really fit?"

Aaron and Adam Nee planned on a colorful and fun movie

Sibling directors Aaron and Adam Nee caught the attention of the public with their 2022 adventure-comedy "The Lost City," starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum. However, they were working on the "Masters of the Universe" reboot long before "The Lost City" came out, becoming attached to the project back in 2018. While they were originally going to direct from David S. Goyer's script, they ended up co-writing their own screenplay with David Callaham, best known for penning Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

The brothers made it clear that they wanted to make a movie that paid tribute to the origins of the franchise, revealing how "Masters of the Universe" impacted them as children. "It's this empowerment that you get from the fantasy of it, but also colorful, vibrant, fun, and irreverent," Adam told Collider. "You can't have characters like Snout Spout and Ram Man without having some jokes in there. So we just want to make a really fun 'Masters of the Universe' film." The plan was for them to start shooting the film in 2023, but yet another setback put the future of the project in jeopardy.

The potential for Mattel movies is endless according to the CEO

When Ynon Kreiz became Mattel CEO in 2018, he knew the company needed to evolve from simply making toys to building multimedia franchises. As he explained to The New Yorker, he believed Mattel was "second only to Disney" in terms of the properties it owned, so it had all the tools in its proverbial toybox to create a media empire. Part of this transition would also mean reviving franchises that had been on the periphery for too long, such as "Masters of the Universe."

According to Kreiz, the lore of "Masters of the Universe" is so deep that a movie franchise could easily rival the ones made by Marvel and DC. "It's hundreds of pages of characters and sorcerers and vehicles and weaponry — you name it," he said, utilizing an encyclopedia about the franchise to illustrate his point. "And then you flip through the pages, and here's a movie, and here's a movie, and here's a TV show... It's endless!"

The Netflix Masters of the Universe reboot is now dead

"Masters of the Universe" fans were dealt another blow in July 2023. Despite the fact that a movie based on Barbie — another Mattel toy — had been a massive hit, Netflix had decided not to go ahead with its He-Man movie. The news came as a surprise, but the reason soon became clear: money. According to Variety sources, the project was costing the streamer more than it wanted to spend. Some insiders said that $30 million had already been spent on development, while others claimed the number to be closer to $60 million.

While this is yet another stumbling block for the "Masters of the Universe" reboot movie, it's highly unlikely that Mattel will lock up the franchise in the dungeons of Castle Grayskull and leave it to rot. After "Barbie" annihilated the box office, the toy manufacturer will no doubt want to test the waters with its other properties. It may take a few more years, but He-Man will inevitably return to the live-action world. Just who will be playing him is anyone's guess.