Why MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE Should Be a Series, Not a Movie

No IP has had as much trouble getting to movie status again as much as Masters of the Universe. After a long time in development at Netflix, to the point they even cast Noah Centineo as He-Man, they stopped pre-production on the movie and let the rights lapse. This was after years of trying to get the fantasy heroes of Eternia off the ground as a theatrical film. Now, Amazon and MGM have the rights, and are preparing to start shooting Masters of the Universe with director Travis Knight this summer. They’ve even found their He-Man, in Red, White, and Royal Blue star Nicholas Galitzine. But is a movie the right way to go for Amazon? We actually think Masters of the Universe should instead become an episodic live-action series on the platform. And here’s why.

A He-Man Live-Action Series Could Explore the Whole Mythology

Packaging art for the retro style Masters of the Universe Origins line from Mattel toys.

The Masters mythology, from both the original toy line and all its animated incarnations, is pretty expansive, especially for a property that really only had a relatively brief pop culture dominance. The original toy line ran from 1982 to ’87, while the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon show only had two seasons. Which, to be fair, were re-run in syndication for years. The toys’ and show’s mythologies differed greatly at times, and since the toy line ran longer than the cartoon show, there are elements from the toys that the classic cartoons simply never got around to.

He-Man rides Battlecat in front of Castel Grayskull in art from Dark Horse Comics.

Yet a live-action series could incorporate all aspects of the Eternian mythos. A movie will barely have time to scratch the surface. Whether it turns out great or terrible, like the Masters of the Universe  film from the ’80s starring Dolph Lundgren was, the truth is that a He-Man movie with a two-hour runtime is going to focus on just the heavy hitters: He-Man, Teela, Skeletor, Evil-Lyn. This means that many fan favorites from the cartoon and toy line would end up left out. Or worse, just be Easter eggs in the background.

Modern Masters of the Universe action figures recreating the classic look from the '80s.

On a show, you have hours upon hours to explore all the beautiful craziness of this franchise in detail. There were over 60 action figures in the original toy line. If you reinvented this property as a live-action series, you might actually see some of the wackier characters come to life. Like half-man/half-bee Buzz-Off, or the Snake Men, or even Stinkor—the guy whose super power was smelling bad! Chances are, none of these guys would show up in a movie, unless that movie was so successful it spawned a franchise. But that’s always a big “If.”

A Masters of the Universe Series Would Have More Pop Culture Staying Power Than a Streaming Movie

The 1983 Filmation He-Man from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

These days, a streaming series has more pop culture staying power than a movie. We won’t name names, but think of all the big-budget streaming films that have hit in the last few years. Many with huge stars in them. All almost instantly evaporated from the pop culture consciousness. Because streaming series parse out episodes over time (at least they should) they have time to build an audience. A Masters of the Universe show on Prime Video might vanish from everyone’s radar after a weekend. A series has a better chance to build an audience.

Once, we would have said that Masters was simply too elaborate a fantasy world for anyone to properly realize as a live-action series. However, times have changed. We now live in the era of major fantasy epics on streaming platforms like House of the Dragon and Rings of Power. Both of those series spared no expense in creating vibrant fantasy worlds on screen. If they can do it for those properties, nothing is stopping them from doing the same for Masters of the Universe. 

The heroes and villains of Masters of the Universe, reimagined for the 21st century.

A series also offers the creators a chance to go a little bit darker. There shouldn’t really be an R-rated He-Man per se, as this is a property originally designed for kids. But a movie in theaters would have to push the “fun for the whole family” aspect extra hard. If only to make it a four-quadrant blockbuster, and become profitable for the studio. A series, on the other hand, has a little more leeway. It can push the horror design aspects of the villains a little more than a movie could.

There is proof that these characters could look super badass if done right. A few years ago, a concept artist named Paul A. Gerrard, who has worked on projects like The Hellboy reboot, created some astounding concept art for a live-action MOTU. A lot of these pieces were for deep-cut characters that might not appear in a movie. Who wouldn’t binge-watch a show in order to see some of these designs brought to life? The series itself could be a stinker, but we’d still watch to see a cool version of Moss Man.

He-Man and Skeletor fight it out in Netflix's animated Masters of the Universe: Revelation.

Masters of the Universe continues to hold sway in our collective memories. The adult collector’s toys have been selling to grown ups for years, as has the Funko Pop! line. Netflix and Kevin Smith did two animated continuations of the He-Man lore, with Masters of the Universe: Revelation and Revolution. Both proved that long-form storytelling is the way to go with the property. Now, all that’s left is for them to do the right thing for the franchise, and make this movie into a backdoor pilot. Here’s hoping the powers that be they still “have the power” to know when to switch gears.

Originally published on January 29. 2020

Top Stories
More by Eric Diaz
Trending Topics