Dolph Lundgren explains why he wasn’t sure he should take on the role of He-Man in the live-action Masters of the Universe film. Although Masters of the Universe is now a sprawling multi-media franchise, it began as a brand created by the toy company Mattel in 1981. Combining sword-and-sorcery fantasy with high-tech science fiction, the story usually revolved around the planet Eternia, where the muscular He-Man was locked in battle with the evil Skeletor. Over the years, the franchise has expanded to include a toy line, several animated series, comic books, children’s books, video games, and even a strange He-Man Christmas special in 1985.
The property has only ever been adapted into a live-action film once, in 1987. The film, which was directed by Gary Goddard, starred Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor, with an ensemble cast filled out by Courteney Cox, Barry Livingston, Christina Pickles, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Anthony De Longis, and Tony Carroll. Unfortunately, the film was a flop in theaters, debuting at #3 and only making $17 million against its $22 million budget, partially leading to the shuttering of production company Cannon films, which had already been battered by the failure of films like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to attend the panel Masters of the Universe: 40 Years, which was hosted by Kevin Smith at San Diego Comic-Con 2022. During the panel, Lundgren reflected on the fact that he was initially unsure about taking the role of He-Man. Although the event was live, so this is not an exact quote, Lundgren revealed that he didn’t think playing a toy was a good sign for his career. There was also a lot of pressure from Mattel, the filmmakers, and himself to do a good job. However, the fact that the film is still being celebrated all these years later certainly shows how his fears were unfounded and the franchise has endured.
Although Lundgren is now an established star, that wasn’t the case back in 1987. He-Man was his first lead role after his breakout as Ivan Drago in 1985’s Rocky IV, and he had a lot riding on his next film being a success. Luckily, his career survived the ding of Masters of the Universe flopping, but that wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
For a long time, Lundgren publicly stated that his role in the Masters of the Universe movie was his least favorite of his career. It sure seems that this sentiment has softened with time. Especially as the cult around the project has grown with each subsequent generation, it’s definitely gratifying that the actor has been able to embrace his history with He-Man enough to appear at an event like this SDCC 2022 panel.