Skeletor has triumphed over the forces of Eternia, as TheWrap has confirmed that Netflix has scuttled its iteration of the long-developing “Masters of the Universe” movie.
Mattel will be searching for a new producing/distribution partner for a big-budget adaptation of the 1980s action figure property, with at least $30 million in development costs already spent since 2007 in prior attempts to make a new movie. This latest version had Kyle Allen — still officially attached — starring as He-Man with Adam and Aaron Nee (“The Lost City”) set to direct.
The project has been bouncing around Hollywood for over 15 years, with Warner Bros. and Sony, as well as filmmakers like Jon M. Chu and McG temporarily involved. This recent attempt was shelved due to concerns over the budget, which reportedly ran over $200 million and was shut down even after the filmmakers allegedly brought the costs below $180 million.
A Netflix rep declined to comment, while Mattel didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. Insiders affirmed that the budget was the sticking point, and denied that the decision had anything to do with Netflix share prices while noting that its content spend remained flat at $17 billion.
It’s another example, along with the shelving of Nancy Meyers’ $130 million “Paris Paramount,” that exemplifies the challenges of green-lighting big-budget films for the streaming ecosystem with no explicit revenue stream beyond helping mitigate theoretical subscriber churn. It’s also a reminder that, even as “Barbie” prepares to conquer the box office, Mattel’s public ambitions of making movies from “Hot Wheels,” “Polly Pocket” and other in-house IP are thus far merely that.
Featuring a blonde muscle man loosely inspired by Conan the Barbarian and his skeletal nemesis, the “He-Man” franchise began life as an afternoon cartoon series implicitly intended to hawk its action figures and related merchandise. It was an early offering following a 1981 bill that allowed children’s programming to be used to promote or sell merchandise. “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” began airing in 1985, when it joined “Inspector Gadget” as the first cartoon series to be produced for first-run syndication.
It inspired a live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella as He-Man and Skeletor, but “Masters of the Universe” earned poor reviews and indifferent box office in the summer of 1987. While the animated iterations have seen several reboots and revamps, including two recent animated shows at Netflix along with the acclaimed “She-Ra” reboot, that film remains the only live-action feature film attempt. The Gary Goddard-directed film debuted in theaters, two years before Tim Burton’s “Batman” and 20 years before Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” when the very idea of a big-budget theatrical action fantasy based on a kid-targeted cartoon was unique unto itself.
Should the film ever get made, it will face competition from like-minded franchises, in terms of trying to franchise existing kid-friendly properties and comparisons to Marvel’s recent Chris Hemsworth-starring “Thor” films. A “Masters of the Universe” movie was unique unto itself in 1987. In 2027, it would risk being merely par for the course in terms of how Hollywood makes a would-be blockbuster.
Variety first reported this news.