Cannon Films originally had plans to make a Spider-Man movie but opted instead to take the money and split it in two for two other films: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) and Masters of the Universe. The plan was to take the profits from both movies and make a large-budget Spider-Man movie. Both movies bombed at the box-office and the Cannon-produced Spider-Man movie never materialized.
Director Gary Goddard had planned to have all of Dolph Lundgren's lines dubbed by another actor, as Lundgren had only limited acting experience, a thick Swedish accent, and was not yet fluent in English during filming. However, Lundgren had stipulated in his contract that he would have at least three opportunities to redub his lines in post production. With the film running behind schedule, Goddard decided to use Lundgren's natural voice instead.
Anthony De Longis, who played the character of Blade, trained Dolph Lundgren in the use of a sword as well as choreograph the sword fight between He-Man and Blade and the climatic duel between He-Man and Skeletor. De Longis also played Skeletor during this final fight instead of Frank Langella.
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?".
Many viewers of the film commented on actress Meg Foster's eerily effective contact lenses which gave her character of Evil-Lyn a sinister and unearthly air. Actually she wore no contact lenses, her eyes naturally having blue/grey irises and tiny pupils giving her a striking appearance. She has often been cast in sci-fi/fantasy roles because of them and jokes that she appeals to casting directors as she brings her own special effect with her for free.
Mattel, the toy company that produced the original He-Man toys, ran a contest where the winner would get a role in the new He-Man movie. But since the movie was already under the gun to be finished in time and over budget, director Gary Goddard had to squeeze in the contest winner into the shoot. The winner, Richard Szponder, is featured as "Pigboy" who hands Skeletor his staff when he returns from Earth.
Meg Foster's costume weighed a reported 45 lbs., and the actress sustained bruises to her groin from the breastplate she wears throughout the film. Constructed of fiberglass, Foster has said the breastplate restricted her movements a great deal, which is why Evil-Lyn is never shown sitting during the film. Foster has also said that the discomfort from the costume helped inform her performance, as the weight and design of the costume forced her to puff out her chest during every take, thus generating the character's slinky posture.
Due to the 50-plus pound weight of his Blade suit, Anthony De Longis said in an interview with the MOTU Movie website that when he would remove his boots, he would regularly pour out his sweat from them at the end of every day he was filming the movie.
The Throne Room set of Castle Grayskull originally were two large, adjoining sound stages. The wall between the sets was knocked down to make one gigantic sound stage. At that time, it was the largest set Hollywood had seen in over forty years.
Dolph Lundgren went on record in a French magazine interview by saying that working on the "Masters of the Universe" movie was "a nightmare" for him. Lundgren said it was a five month filming schedule, two of which were done during night time, and he was proposed by the crew in doing a sequel while filming Red Scorpion (1988), but he turned down the offer. Ironically, in an interview with the IO9 website while he was promoting The Expendables (2010), Dolph Lundgren said he would return to appear in a new "Masters of the Universe" movie, as either a cameo or even reprise the role of He-Man.
Mattel, the company that owned and produced the "Masters of the Universe" toyline, mandated early in production that He-Man not be allowed to kill anyone on screen. This necessitated making Skeletor's troops into robot soldiers, though this fact is never stated outright in the film.
Many viewers reviewed the motion picture in comparison to the cartoon, when it really was an adaptation of the toys only (which initially depicted He-Man as a barbarian in the first mini-comics (not Prince Adam or Orko). Ed Pressman was interested in the property before the cartoon was even aired and purchased the movie rights of the Mattel characters, not Filmation's who had no involvement whatsoever in the film. Also it was logistically too complicated and expensive to include creatures such as Battle Cat.
A sequel to the film, which was to be titled "Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg" was written and followed He-Man, who returned to Earth to battle Skeletor, who has left Earth as a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the film was to feature Trapjaw and She-Ra and Albert Pyun was hired to direct. But because of the film bombing at the box office, Mattel and Cannon decided to cancel production on the sequel and Albert Pyun decided to rewrite the script and it became the script for Cyborg (1989).
Beastman's prosthetic teeth were so large that performer Tony Carroll was unable to close his mouth when in costume. After a while he would begin to drool, filling his chinpiece with saliva and weighing it down.
A "Masters of the Universe" sequel was actually written and cast, but was never filmed. Director Albert Pyun proposed to producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus that he would make the sequel and a "Spider-Man" film back to back at De Laurentiis' studio in Wilmington, North Carolina. The sets for the two movies were built, the costumes were made, both films had been fully cast, and the budget for "Masters of the Universe Part 2" was set at $4.5 million. The Mattel toy company also gave their approval to many of the characters that would appear in the sequel. The only known actor cast for the sequel was surfer Laird John Hamilton as He-Man and the only aspect known about the sequel's screenplay was that He-Man would have returned to Earth and was disguised as a professional quarterback. Pyun would also be using the same high school sets for Kevin and Julie later when he would direct "Spider-Man". It is not known, though, if there were any new characters introduced from the "Masters of the Universe" cartoon and/or toyline for the sequel. However, Cannon would be unable to make both the "Masters of the Universe" sequel and "Spider-Man" as Cannon Films would later go out of business.
Meg Foster who played Evil-Lyn has stated that she based her character on that of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. In the beginning of the film, she is a pantomime villainess but obviously deeply in love with Skeletor. As the storyline progresses, she gradually comes to realise that he does not truly care for her and in the end she abandons him to his fate, her withdrawal of her forces leading to his eventual defeat. In Foster's opinion, the character progresses from out and out evildoer to scorned woman to tragic heroine.
Production designer William Stout intentionally wanted the interior of Castle Grayskull to combine elements of both good and evil. Stout said of Castle Grayskull in an online interview, "This was the seat of power for the entire universe. I reasoned that power is neither good nor bad - it's what you make of it and how you use it. So above floor level were what I called the Space Gods, giant bronze statues of those who had used the power based in that room for good. Below floor level was the dark side, demonic creatures that represented power used for bad or evil."
At the 1987 Cannes Festival press conference, producer Menahem Golan announced that lead actor Dolph Lundgren was set to reprise his role as He-Man and that he had already signed on for two more movies. However, Lundgren refused to reprise his role when he was offered it while filming Red Scorpion (1988) and went on record in a 1989 interview with Comics Scene magazine that he felt playing He-Man was his "lowest point as an actor". His role was recast with surfer Laird Hamilton but the "Masters of the Universe" sequel ultimately never happened.
The contact lenses that Pons Maar wore were extremely painful and reduced his vision considerably. During the action sequences, because of the dim lighting, Maar could not see at all and had to perform all his stunts blind.
A total of three working Cosmic Key props were built for the film, each personally constructed by Richard Edlund. The props were extremely fragile and broke down easily, so a special team of prop technicians had to be on hand at all times to repair damage during filming. As of 2012, they are valued at $6,000 each.
Pons Maar particularly enjoyed working with Frank Langella. When in costume, Maar was unable to sit and had to lean against a special board with a hole cut out for his tail. Langella would always stop by to talk to him, and ask if he needed anything to read.
Because of financial difficulties, Cannon Cinema made a decision to discontinue all filming three 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 two months, the Cannon Cinema executives allowed director Gary Goddard to film the ending in a complete, albeit rushed manner.
In a deleted scene, Kevin Corrigan is actually seated alone in a pizzeria and is testing out the Cosmic Key. When he pushes a button, the Key plays a musical melody and the cups, plates and pizzas around the pizzeria all float through the air. When the musical melody stops playing, the pizza slices, cups and plates all crash to the ground and in response, Kevin says "Radical." This scene was not filmed, but was used in novelizations and was mentioned in the official movie and poster magazine.
Director Albert Pyun had planned to film a sequel to "Masters of the Universe" (with professional surfer Laird John Hamilton replacing Dolph Lundgren as He-Man) at the same time as Spider-Man. Right before filming was to begin, Mattel and Marvel revoked the rights to both properties due to non-payment by Cannon Films. Cannon was reaching their end as a company at the time, as a result of the 1987 stock market crash on junk bonds (which Cannon had used extensively to finance films) and poor overall financial management. In order to recoup some of the money spent on sets, costumes and props from both intended films, Cannon had Pyun quickly get a script written, Cyborg, for one of Cannon's promising new action stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme; although Pyun had Cannon regular, Chuck Norris, in mind to star at first. There has been some confusion over the years in some television listings for Cyborg (1989), with it being billed as "Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg". This lead some to speculate that the script for the proposed sequel had been rewritten for Cyborg. In reality, it was because of the connection of both productions during the demise of the Cannon Films studio.
The original idea was to have the film set on Eternia throughout and be much more faithful to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), but since the first draft the script was written to have it set on Earth and reduce the amount of sets, and strange characters they would need to create.
Costume designer Julie Weiss called production designer William Stout in a panic while during a costume fitting with Dolph Lundgren. Weiss told Stout that Lundgren was insisting on wearing kick-boxing boots that were cut mid-lower leg for his He-Man costume, but Weiss and Stout wanted him to wear the knee-high boots they approved of. When Stout arrived and Lundgren asked him what he thought of the new boots, Stout told the actor the kick-boxing boots looked terrific, except the shorter boots he wore made Lundgren look effeminate. According to Stout, Dolph quickly took the short boots off and this is why Lundgren ended up wearing the taller boots in the film.
The original concept for Blade was to have him in heavy alien make-up, chain mail, and a black rubber body glove. However, because of the daunting action sequences, Anthony De Longis feared for his health, so the rubber was trimmed away in the areas that the chain mail would not cover to allow his skin to breathe. De Longis also did not want to wear heavy make-up, so he offered to shave his head instead.
Anthony De Longis said the chain-mail of his Blade outfit was 10 six foot lengths of steel pipe cut into 1/4 inch pieces and weighed over 50 pounds, though De Longis didn't know how much it actually weighed. De Longis' costumer/dresser actually wrote the actor a letter because she was worried about his health and the strain it would put on physically since the weight was put on top of a suit of surgical rubber. De Longis was able to convince the crew to cut the arms out of his wardrobe to reveal more skin and breathe better.
When the extra scene after the end credits where Skeletor says "I'll be back!" was filmed, Frank Langella, wearing his skull mask, was placed into a tank filled with red water. When director Gary Goddard called "Action!", Langella would surface, look back at the camera and give his line.
Director Gary Goddard clarified in a letter to John Byrne's "Next Men #26" that Byrne was correct in his comparison of the film to Jack Kirby's New Gods stories and characters for DC Comics, but the film was also an homage to all of Kirby's Marvel Comics work as well. Goddard had tried to hire Kirby as a conceptual artist, and had also planned to dedicate the film in the closing credits to him, but the studio, Cannon Films, objected to both ideas. Despite one of the studio's other licensed properties in development at the time being Spider-Man, Goddard's vision of a "motion picture comic book" take on the film was met with the studio stance that "comics are just for kids".
Production designer William Stout took an existing fast food stand in Lake View Terrace and transformed it into "Robby's Ribs 'n' Chicken" where the Julie character works. According to Stout, the same fast food place was later the site of the infamous Rodney King beating.
According to Gary Goddard, the draft of the script he received took place completely on Earth in order to keep the budget down. Although he liked the fish-out-of-water aspect, he asked for more money so he could at least start and end the film on the planet Eternia.
Snake Mountain was actually going to be in the live-action "Masters of the Universe" movie. A matte painting was to be done for the exterior, while the interiors, known as Skeletor's Palace, were drawn by production designer William Stout. Stout had drawn a series of byways throughout the floor plan with small rivers of lava flowing through the ground around Skeletor's throne in the throne room. The shapes for Skeletor's throne room, also called the Lava Lounge, were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's design of the Imperial Hotel in Japan. Plans for Snake Mountain were quickly scrapped before a set could be built to keep the film's budget low, much to the ire and disappointment of He-Man fans.
Producer Edward R. Pressman hired Gary Goddard to direct based on the Universal Studios tour stage production "The Adventures of Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular" which Goddard created, wrote and directed.
This project was originally going to be a Warner Brothers production, produced by Howard G. Kazanjian. Concept artist Ralph McQuarrie produced many designs for the film which went mostly unused. He did this as early as 1984 during a break in his work for Cocoon (1985).
In an alternate introduction scene for Teela, Teela is actually held captive in the dungeons of Snake Mountain, but she escapes and helps several imprisoned resistance fighters outside. This scene was not filmed, but was used in novelizations and was mentioned in the official movie and poster magazine.
Skeletor's storm troopers are meant to be robots. Mattel did not want He-Man and the other heroes killing people, since they never did so in the cartoon, but director Gary Goddard felt that a "no killing rule" would not work on film, especially not when compared to the action fare of the day. The compromise ultimately was the storm troopers who, again, are meant to be robots so that they could be killed off in place of the flesh and blood villains.
Cannon's budget was so tight that the production was not allowed to have a second unit to film pickup shots. therefore, every cutaway shot and close-ups of props had to be overseen by director Gary Goddard himself.
Kevin's band, mentioned on a banner at the height school gymnasium, is named 'The Illusions'. This was the name of Gary Goddard's actual high school band, and the original members of the Illusions all received a 'special thanks' credit.
Director Gary Goddard only mentions Dolph Lundgren twice on his audio commentary. Rumors have circulated that Goddard and Lundgren did not get along during filming, partly because of Goddard's disappointment in not being able to secure Matthew Modine for the role of He-Man, as Dolph Lundgren had already been cast when Goddard was hired.
It is unclear what happened to Blade (Anthony De Longis) in the final battle. In the final battle, Blade is seen whacked in the face with a blaster rifle by He-Man. According to Wiki Grayskull website, Blade is knocked into the bottomless pit beneath the throne room.
A possible alternate ending, which would had disregarded the extra scene after the end credits and the abandoned sequel, would've seen Skeletor not survive the fall into the bottomless pit beneath Castle Grayskull in his final showdown with He-Man.
Chelsea Field (Teela) previously had a cameo in the 1985 film "Commando" as a flight attendant and shared a scene opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later worked with Dolph Lundgren (He-Man) in "The Expendables" films.
He-Man's pet tiger Cringer/Battlecat does not appear in the film because of the film's budget and that the character would had been animatronic and would had been expensive to make and it's most likely Cringer/Battlecat and other characters from the cartoon that didn't appear in the film, may had gotten killed when Skeletor used the Cosmic Key and attacked the city and captured Castle Grayskull.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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 United States 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.
The Snakemen and She-Ra were in early drafts for "Masters of the Universe". William Stout was able to get Gary Goddard to approve his redesigned She-Ra costume, which was a futuristic white and gold suit consisting of a gold crown, a long sleeved top that revealed She-Ra's cleavage and midriff, a gold chain-mail skirt and knee-high boots. However, the Snakemen and She-Ra were cut out due to the film's limited budget.
Cannon executives allowed the production seven weeks of additional photography and a $7 million overrun on the budget, but still the plug before the climax was in the can. Gary Goddard pleaded with them let him at least finish the final battle and was granted one more day to finish up. Originally, the fight between He-Man and Skeletor was supposed to end with Skeletor falling over the altar and through the big circular window behind it, but this could not be realized as the Castle Grayskull set had already been pulled apart. Therefore they opted to have him fall into a bottomless pit instead.
In an online interview with the Planet Origo website, director Albert Pyun mentioned his plans to direct "Masters of the Universe Part 2" planned for release in 1988. He mentioned the film had Skeletor go back to Earth after being defeated by falling into a pit in the finale of the first movie. Pyun said that Skeletor disguised himself as an evil industrialist known as Aaron Dark who destroyed most of the world before He-Man can arrive on Earth to stop him, and that "Masters of the Universe Part 2" had ended with the Earth devastated as a post-nuclear world. A sequel never happened because of Cannon Films going out of business.
Anthony De Longis choreographed the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor, which De Longis also substituted for Frank Langella as Skeletor for those scenes. De Longis said in an online interview with the MOTU Movie website that most of the fight choreography, including twirling the staff around his head or his body, was cut due to the helmet Skeletor wore when he was god-like. This is because the staff would have clipped and ruined the horns of the helmet if he had done more complicated fight moves with the staff.
Production designer William Stout mentioned in an interview with the MOTU Movie website he was disappointed, along with several crew members, that one of the new villains of the film, Saurod, met an early demise.
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 but was never made.