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Film / Masters of the Universe

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"I have the power!"

"At the center of the Universe, at the border between the light and the dark stands Castle Greyskull. For countless ages, the Sorceress of Greyskull has kept this universe in harmony. But the armies of darkness do not rest, and the capture of Greyskull is ever most in their minds. For to those who control Greyskull will come . . . the Power.

The Power to be
supreme . . .

the Power to be
almighty . . .

the Power to be . . . MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE!"

A 1987 film directed by Gary Goddard for The Cannon Group, a Live-Action Adaptation of the toy/animation franchise of the same name.

The movie features Skeletor acquiring the Cosmic Key, a teleportation device from Gwildor, an eccentric inventor, which gives him an edge in his war against He-Man. Eventually the heroes find an identical device and use it to escape capture, accidentally traveling to a distant planet — Earth. Skeletor is not far behind. Starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor, Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn and a young Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill as teenage sweethearts Julie Winston and Kevin Corrigan, who are caught up in the events.

A fictionalized version of the making of the live-action film was later used as the basis for a story arc in Paul Chadwick's Concrete. Additionally, there's no Prince Adam in this version, only He-Man, in keeping with its early origins: Adam originally didn't exist in the toy line or the (pre-Filmation) mini-comics that came with it. Besides the original line of toys made when the movie came out, in 2019 a high-end set of action figures based on the movie was announced.

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Teela is a female soldier whose first instinct is to attack.
  • Adaptational Badass: The cartoon version of Skeletor was a Laughably Evil goofball and rarely got things done. This Skeletor had already taken over Eternia by the intro, and is shown to be a capable and terrifying villain that doesn't mess around.
  • Adaptational Modesty: Skeletor wears heavy robes instead of a loincloth and minimal chest armor (toy designs made heavy use of Palette Swap, Skeletor's body and clothing was not much different than He-Man). Frank Langella was interested in a musculature-friendly outfit, as he was in pretty good shape for his age, but the director was worried about portraying Skeletor as sexy.
  • Age Lift: The Sorceress in prior works was generally depicted as youthful looking, comparable to Teela in age. Christina Pickles was in her fifties and the Sorceress design had her look like an older sage.
  • Agent Scully: It takes awhile for Lubic to realize what happening is the real deal.
  • Antagonist Title: If the filmmakers decided to stay true to the cartoon's original opening narration.
  • Aliens Speaking English: The Eternians can easily speak it with no explanation.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Eternia is besieged and falls to Skeletor and his armies.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Teela has to be repeatedly stopped from simply attacking every problem our heroes encounter.
  • Badass Boast: Skeletor dishes them out like they're nothing.
    I dare anything! I am Skeletor!
  • Big Bad: Skeletor, who has finally conquered Castle Grayskull, but still has the heroes in his way.
  • Big Entrance: He-Man, when he first arrives on Earth. Skeletor and his army made a pretty big entrance themselves when they first arrived on the scene. In fact, Skeletor loves this trope, as he makes many entrances in this film often with low camera-angles and up-beat, dramatic music.
  • Big Fancy Castle / Bright Castle: Castle Grayskull.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Kevin, when Julie is shot.
    • Julie, when she realizes that she gave the Cosmic Key to Evil-Lyn, who was disguised as Julie's mother at the time.
    • Evil-Lyn when He-Man manages to snatch the key back from her (although he's captured not much later).
    • If you listen closely, you'll find Skeletor is doing this rather than simply screaming during his Disney Villain Death at the end.
  • Blinded by the Light: When Skeletor goes One-Winged Angel, the light he emits is so bright that everyone has to shield their eyes, except for Evil-Lyn, who doesn't even blink.
  • Blade Enthusiast: They don't call him "Blade" for nothing.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Karg comes knocking with a bunch of robots in tow, prompting Gwildor to make a very swift change of plans.
  • Canon Foreigner: The film was designed in part to promote a new toyline and thus include new movie characters. The commentary track and other documentaries sheds a lot of light on why the movie lacked certain key characters from the franchise and why other characters were so drastically altered. Suffice it to say, they had only a little money (most of it spent building the insanely elaborate Grayskull set they only barely got to use) and an extremely limited amount of time to film things.
    • Kevin and Julie are the Earth bound protagonists, but the franchise has generally avoided returning to Earth.
    • Gwildor joins He-Man, Duncan and Teela as a Mad Scientist gremlin-like creature, somewhat fulfilling Orko's comic relief role.
    • Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, and Beast Man are the only recurring villains, with an eyepatch-wearing bald swordsman named Blade who sort of fills the role of The Dragon while the reptilian Saurod and simian Karg are present in some actions scenes. There is also a mysterious pig-faced boy in the Grayskull throne room, which was a contest winner cameo given to the director at the last minute.
    • An urban legend, popularized by 4th World fan (and comics pro) John Byrne, was that the movie was a Spiritual Licensee to Jack Kirby's Fourth World, with Skeletor taking the role of Darkseid and other characters (including the ones created for the movie) having a surprising correlation to each other. Read here for the full story. The director has admitted to being a fan of the comics, but he still tried to make a legitimate MOTU movie.
    • Blade and Saurod made appearances in the comic book continuity, making them Canon Immigrants of a sort, despite Saurod getting killed by Skeletor in the film. Possibly, however, they were following on from the movie's comic book adaptation, which did not include Saurod's death. He, Blade and Gwildor also both received toys in the original toyline.
    • Much later, Gwildor and his invention were introduced into the mainstream He-Man story. He, Blade, Karg and Saurod were integrated into mainstream continuity by way of their Masters of the Universe Classics toy bios.
  • Cape Swish: Skeletor appears to have a fetish for this.
  • Carnival of Killers: Skeletor hires a group of mercenaries to follow He-Man and the others to Earth to recover the Cosmic Key. They consist of the Master Swordsman Blade, the Beast Man, the reptilian Saurod, and the hook-handed Karg. When they fail in their first mission and return empty-handed to Skeletor, he kills Saurod and forces Evil Lyn to join them.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kevin is a musician and initially mistakes the Cosmic Key as a fancy synthesizer, as it uses musical tones as part of its operation. A music shop employee even teases him as "Mr. Perfect Pitch." In the climax of the Earth-based story, the heroes' Cosmic Key is badly damaged. Gwildor was able to repair its basic function but the memory and targeting system are fried, making it functionally impossible to return to Eternia. Kevin is able to recreate the same musical composition (Qwildor describes him as a "master songmaker" due to this particular talent), bringing them right back to Grayskull.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Skeletor just goes all out when he's gaining his newfound power, giving an impressive, highly expressive monologue for two hearty minutes. (He comes close to making this trope literal with his manner of speech: watch how he gnashes his teeth while countering He-Man's insistence that he'll never kneel to Skeletor: "Yes you will! Yes you will!")
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Averted. Blade would prefer to "persuade" Kevin with his knives, but Evil-Lynn more sensibly opts for using some kind of mental manipulation collar that pacifies him and forces him to speak the truth. While this is shown to be rather mentally uncomfortable and painful to Kevin when they're putting the collar on him and later when his friends are breaking it off, it apparently has no lasting harmful effects.
  • Comic Book: There was Masters Of The Universe: The Motion Picture written by Ralph Macchio for Marvel's Star Comics imprint.
  • Could Have Been Messy: An In-Universe and out-of-universe example. When the mercenaries are pursuing Julie, they come very close to hitting her with their blades and projectiles several times, even as Karg is yelling at them not to kill her because they need her alive for questioning. Then all this mayhem manages to touch off an electrical fire on the stage in the gym, from which she narrowly escapes. According to the director's commentary track on the DVD, the fire in this Trash the Set moment was quite real—albeit controlled—and the filming crew came dangerously close to burning the whole building down for real when the fire momentarily got out of hand. Mercifully for everyone, they managed to contain it before it did too much real damage.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Skeletor's forces at the beginning lay one on the Eternians offscreen, resulting in most of the Eternian military being either killed or captured.
  • Darker and Edgier: When compared to the 80's cartoon.
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted. Skeletor falls down a chasm at the end of his duel with He-Man, but The Stinger reveals he survived.
  • Don't Create a Martyr: Skeletor gives this as his reason for not outright killing He-Man immediately (though it's obvious there's ego involved, too).
    Evil-Lyn: The people wait for He-Man. They believe he will return to lead them. For you to rule completely he must be destroyed.
    Skeletor: If I kill him, I make him a martyr, a saint. No, I want him broken first!
  • Evil Is Hammy: Skeletor is certainly going all out on this trope.
  • Final Battle: In the climax, Skeletor declare it this to He-Man, who finally defeats Skeletor for good. Or so it seems.
  • Flynning: In the otherwise epic final battle, He-Man is pretty clearly swinging for Skeletor's staff. Ends up being justified when breaking the staff takes Skeletor out of One-Winged Angel mode.
  • Genre Shift: Scenes with Julie and Kevin have a Teen Drama feel to them.
  • Girls with Guns: Teela. It's a Running Gag that her first impulse is to shoot everything.
  • A God Am I: Skeletor has one of these speeches at the climax, right down to the line "I am a god!". He also does show some signs of being a Physical God, albeit hardly an omnipotent one.
  • Golden Super Mode: Skeletor's armour turns gold when he absorbs the Sorceress's power.
  • Great Offscreen War: Right before the events of the film Skeletor's forces have taken Castle Grayskull and He-Man, Man-At-Arms and Teela are practically fugitives.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Julie fends off Beast Man by splashing ammonia in his face.
  • Hook Hand: Karg has a hook for a hand.
  • Human-Focused Adaptation: As opposed to the Human Aliens from Eternia, Kevin and Julie take up a lot of the screentime.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Skeletor isn't inept, but his dragoness Evil-Lyn proves to be very competent when she's forced to work with the mercenaries. She looks through Karg's lies, successfully interrogates Kevin, and tricks Julie to hand her the key.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Despite Teela's disgust at the idea of eating an animal, she seems to have no qualms about shooting anything that draws her attention, as she pulls her sidearm at the slightest provocation.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Teela remarks "What a barbaric world!" when Man-At-Arms shocks her and Gwildor by telling them in a matter-of-fact way that the food they were eating on Earth used to be a live animal.
  • I Choose to Stay: Lubic chooses to stay in Eternia after he is hailed a hero for his part in defeating Skeletor's minions and meets a beautiful Eternian woman.
  • I Gave My Word: He-Man agrees to surrender to Skeletor if Skeletor won't harm his friends, and Skeletor agrees as he knows He-Man will keep his word.
  • I Lied: Said verbatim by Skeletor after he breaks his promise not to kill He-Man's friends.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: It wouldn't be Skeletor if he didn't do this at least once.
    He-Man: It's over, Skeletor.
    Skeletor: Yes... for you!
  • I Want Them Alive!:
    • Skeletor orders He-Man brought to him alive because he wants to break his spirit and humiliate him before his people.
    • This is a case of Pragmatic Villainy when Karg starts yelling at the other mercenaries who are shooting and throwing things at Julie not to kill her because they need her alive for questioning; she's one of the few people on Earth who might have any idea where the MacGuffin they've been sent to retrieve is.
  • Incoming Ham: Is the music becoming loud and bombastic? Do you hear echoing thumping sound and someone shouting with a growling voice? Skeletor has arrived.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One:
    • Kevin and Julie, two normal earth teens don't like the idea of being chased around and nearly killed just because they happend to find the MacGuffin that everybody wants. Heck Kevin even tried to refuse the call!
    • And what are they supposed to do afterward? Tell people they saved the universe from a monomaniacal god at the center of the universe in an alternate timeline? Sure, people will believe that.
  • Jerkass: Detective Lubic.
    • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Well hey, he does actually do his job in helping Kevin look for his girlfriend even if he's a bit of a dick about it; and he's perfectly happy with his reward of a lovely woman and a cushy retirement on Eternia at the end.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Skeletor becomes a god and demands He-Man kneel before him, using magic Eye Beams to force him to his knees.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Large Ham aside, Skeletor is a terrifying villain. He doesn't mess around, the only humour from him are a few sarcastic quips and he fries Saurod when the mercenaries fail him.
  • Large Ham:
  • Left the Background Music On: The soundtrack swells as Kevin tries to remember the Cosmic Key tune to get them to Eternia and finally shouts, "I can't hear myself think. I wish someone would turn that thing off", indicating the music coming from the loudspeaker in the park. On cue, Teela blasts it.
  • Light Is Not Good: Skeletor when he absorbs the power of the Great Eye.
    Tell me about the loneliness of Good, He-Man.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Skeletor leaves the damaged Cosmic Key and its inventor in the middle of a moderately technologically-advanced civilization along with all the heroes except He-Man. Between them, they have all the parts they need to fix it, and somebody who can figure out how to set it to transport them directly into Grayskull's throne room.
  • Male Gaze: In the beginning, as Duncan and Teela are covering a door, the camera lingers on Teela's rather prominently displayed rump.
  • Mage in Manhattan: Skeletor and by default, Evil-Lyn.
  • Magic Music: The Cosmic Key uses a type of Functional Magic via music. Playing certain notes on the instrument sets the coordinates to which it transports, thus sending the dialers wherever they wish to go.
  • Master of Illusion: Evil-Lyn can turn into just about anyone she wants with this power, she used it twice in the film. Once on Gwildor (off screen) and again on Julie.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Skeletor's "crack troops" are a bunch of black-armored robots.
    • Hardcore fans have supposed that the plot could actually work within the cartoon's timeline, assuming Skeletor killed Hordak and stole his limitless armies.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Not only is Skeletor a Large Ham in speech, he's gesturing like crazy with dramatic turns and pointing.
  • More than Mind Control: Evil-Lyn uses her magic to confuzzle poor emotionally vulnerable Julie.
  • Movie Superheroes Wear Black: As it came from a popular toyline the original characters were all manner of bright colors, Skeletor had purple skin and cloak while He-Man had silver chest armor and red loincloth. The movie has both wear a lot of black, with Skeletors cloak covering him and He-Man gaining black shoulder armor. Duncan and Teela's bronze armor became more of a muted silver.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Though Earthlings are outgunned because the technology of Eternia is clearly more advanced than Earth's, it appears to derive from similar sources and be fairly easy to master with native technical skill. One scene demonstrates this in that a microwave Kevin happens to be using interferes with the bad guys' scanners (just as it has been known to interfere with our own radio, television, and wi-fi signals). Kevin is able to operate the musical key effectively once Gwildor helps him hook a Casio keyboard from the local music shop up to it, with the alien even describing Kevin as a "master song maker" whose natural talents make it easy for him to use the Key. In one rather entertaining scene, Lubic demonstrates that good old-fashioned shotgun slugs work just as well on those Mecha-Mooks as any of Eternia's energy weapons.
    Lubic: HEY! Nobody takes potshots at Lubic!
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Gwildor regrets creating the Cosmic Key. He states out loud that he wishes he never had.
    • Julie, upon realizing that she handed the Cosmic Key over to Evil-Lyn.
    • Also, Julie feels it's her fault her parents died because she chose to stay home and finish her studies while they went on vacation.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Just before receiving the powers of Grayskull, Skeletor names himself "Master of the Universe". In the original cartoon, Skeletor and his forces were the eponymous "Masters of the Universe" before the opening narration was changed.
    • Skeletor's plan to drain the Sorceress’s life force and use it to become powerful mirror the episode “The Dragon Invasion”.
    • Even though Snake Mountain doesn't appear due to budget issues, Gwildor does refer to Skeletor as "The Lord of Snake Mountain."
    • When Skeletor is receiving the powers of Grayskull his face is briefly turned yellow because of the energy surge, thus resembling his cartoon counterpart.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Skeletor becomes a Physical God at the climax of the movie, the Sorceress is near-death, and everyone heroic is either captured or fighting a losing battle. had the good guys fail to repair the Cosmic Key to return to Eternia to stop Skeletor, then the story's over and Skeletor won... 100% pernamently.
  • Neutral Female: A mild aversion. When He-Man first finds Julie in a panic, he calms her down, puts her in a safe place, gives her a gun and tells her to defend herself. And she does actually shoot someone in the ensuing chaos.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Subverted to hell and back. Skeletor and Evil-Lyn assume that they have the only Cosmic Key after she stole it from Gwildor, but he had a prototype model that he hid from her, thus allowing the Eternians to have a fighting chance of defeating Skeletor.
  • One-Winged Angel: Skeletor's gold costume, worn when he becomes a god.
  • Peggy Sue: Julie gets to go back and save her parents at the end.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Gwildor gets some of the funniest scenes.
  • Race Against the Clock: The heroes have until an Eternian moonrise before the Great Eye opens and Skeletor absorbs the power of Greyskull by draining the Sorceress. They fail to stop him in time, but He-Man manages to save the day regardless.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The loud and bombastic Skeletor (Red) and the cold and pragmatic Evil-Lyn (Blue).
  • Refusal of the Call: Initially, Gwildor is reluctant to accompany the heroes when they're going to go rescue the Sorceress. He shows them the way, but seems as though he might not go with them.
  • Rapid Aging: As more and more of her power is drained, the Sorceress ages to the point of death.
  • Running Gag: Teela's first impulse when presented with a problem is to shoot it.
    • People keep mistaking the cosmic key for a new Japanese synthesizer, including the clerk of a music store.
  • Save Both Worlds: Eternia and Earth.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Evil-Lynn and the remaining mercenaries wisely decide to clear out and beat the rush while Skeletor and He-Man are having their Final Battle.
  • Sequel Hook: The Stinger has Skeletor promising he'll be back. Unfortunately, no sequel came out.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: After Skeletor is defeated, Gwildor transports Julie and Kevin back to before her parents' deaths, allowing her to save them.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Skeletor quotes Richard III before disintegrating Saurod: "I am not in the giving vein this day."
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: By Gwildor.
  • The Sixth Ranger: Detective Lubic (eventually).
  • Small Universe After All: Several galaxies scroll past on the screen as Skeletor zooms in on Earth while tracing the key's signal.
  • The Stinger: "I'll be back!"
  • Straw Vegetarian: Played for Laughs. Duncan, Teela and Gwildor steel a bucket of chicken for food, Teela says she likes it but wonders why it is placed on these "white sticks." Duncan tells her it is a rib bone and both Teela and Gwildor pause with disgust that it came from an animal, in the sense that they never heard of the concept of being a carnivore. Duncan, being an Old Soldier, doesn't seem to mind.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Double Subverted. While He-Man is still the hero of the movie and the focus character on Eternia, when he arrives on Earth, the role of POV character goes to Kevin, then back to He-Man once everyone is back on Eternia.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Gwildor was made to replace Orko, who would have been impractical to do in live-action.
  • Sword Fight: The film climaxes with two sword fights between He-Man and Skeletor.
    • The latter after Skeletor's staff breaks filmed on the director's dime, once the money ran out.
  • A Taste of the Lash: After Skeletor manages to capture He-Man, he has Blade torture He-Man with a laser whip.
  • Teleporter Accident: When He-Man's friends show up in a Big Damn Heroes moment at the end, they teleport half a car and a chunk of wall along with them.
  • Terminator Twosome: Early drafts and the Comic-Book Adaptation had Eternia turning out to be an Earth colony in the future with He-Man's gang and Skeletor's mooks having to go back in time to reach modern day Earth.
  • Throwing the Distraction: He-Man gets one of Skeletor's Mecha-Mooks to come over to him by tossing a bit of metal onto the ground during the warehouse shootout.
  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: The Cosmic Key can take you to any point in space or time.
  • Tracking Device: The Cosmic Key has one, of a sort. When the large red button is pushed, it sends out a unique energy signature than can be tracked.
    How accurate?
    Within a parsec-eon.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer shows Skeletor frying Saurod.
  • Trapped in Another World: After it changes hands several times, Skeletor finally wrecks the device the Eternians need to get home, thereby forcing them to stay on Earth.
  • Treacherous Spirit Chase: In the movie, Julie immediately accepts her dead mother turning up in the middle of a siege by magic aliens from another dimension to lure her out the back door of the shop in which she and her friends are holed up defending a powerful alien artifact. Moments later, she accepts that her dead mother needs her to hand over said artifact. Needless to say, it's not really her dead mother.
  • Too Important to Walk: Skeletor arrives on Earth sitting comfortably atop one of his intimidating-looking hover-thrones.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The town where Julie and Kevin live doesn't seem to be named, but it's (apparently) in New Jersey. Because why wouldn't it be?
  • Wizards from Outer Space: Or... "Aliens from Eternia".
  • You Have Failed Me: Poor Saurod is vaporized by Skeletor when the mercenaries return empty handed.


Video Example(s):


He-Man Honest Trailer

The Honest Trailer for Masters of the Universe complains about all the changes made from the original cartoon.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

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