It was 28 years ago on Friday that Cannon Films released Masters of the Universe, starring Frank Langella and Dolph Lundgren. Based on the Mattel toy line of the same name, this film — along with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace — was supposed to propel Cannon from a low-budget B-movie factory into a major Hollywood studio. Needless to say, this didn’t work and everybody died.
Okay, nothing that dramatic, but it still wasn’t nearly the success Cannon had hoped for. Still, even after nearly 30 years, Masters of the Universe has a cult following and a fond place in the memories of those of us who dragged our parents to see it when we were kids. To recap, take a look back at five interesting facts about the film that you may or may not already know.
Frank Langella loved playing Skeletor.
When a movie based on an existing license comes out — especially a toy license like Masters of the Universe — they often get a big name actor to fill a major role, just for the name recognition. As great of a job as they usually do — Super Mario Brothers might have been terrible, for example, but it’s hard to deny that Dennis Hopper was awesome in it — you never hear them talk about what a great experience it was.
Not so with Frank Langella, however. The Tony-winning/Oscar-nominated actor has mentioned in the past about how much fun he had playing the role. He originally took the role because his then-4-year-old son was such a fan of the franchise. However, he had so much fun playing the character that he was disappointed that the sequel teased at the end of the movie never took place.
Masters of the Universe and Superman IV saved us from a Cannon Films Spider-Man film.
Cannon Films, founded and owned by the legendary team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, was kind of on a roll when it came to snatching up properties in the ’80s. They already had the license for Masters of the Universe, as well as the rights to the next Superman film. But, more importantly than those, they had the rights to finally make a big-budget Spider-Man film.
Cannon Films’ plan was to produce both Masters, as well as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, then use the profits to make their long-awaited Spider-Man film. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your perspective — neither film did well at all, and Cannon Films went out of business before they could even think of making a Spidey film.
Masters of the Universe was intended to be a tribute to Jack Kirby.
If watching Masters of the Universe reminds you of the work of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby, congratulations — it was meant to.
For years, an urban legend has been spread around fandom that the Master of the Universe script was actually reworked from one based on Kirby’s Fourth World comics for DC — the same comics that gave us Darkseid, Orion and the Highfather of New Genesis. The truth of the matter, however, was that the film’s director, Gary Goddard, intended the film to be a tribute to Jack Kirby’s work overall.
John Byrne, the writer and artist behind such comics as She-Hulk and the Superman reboot after Crisis on Infinite Earths, had mentioned in a column for Comic Shop News the similarities between Masters and Kirby’s New Gods. Upon reading this, Goddard wrote to the letter column of Byrne’s Next Men, praising him for noticing the similarities and that his “comparison of the film to Kirby’s New Gods was not far off.”
The man who designed Darth Vader nearly designed Skeletor.
Most fans of Star Wars know the name Ralph McQuarrie. In his attempt to sell the concept of his space opera to studios, George Lucas hired McQuarrie to draw up some concept art based on the scenes he had written. What McQuarrie came up with was, more or less, what ended up on the screen. His work is absolutely legendary in movie lore. So, it’s no surprise that Goddard approached him when it came time to make Masters.
McQuarrie’s designs didn’t make the finished product, but not because they weren’t good enough. When Goddard approached him, McQuarrie was working on Ron Howard’s Cocoon. However, a break during production gave him some time off to work with Goddard on some designs. McQuarrie offered to work on Masters until Cocoon went back into production — which is exactly what happened three weeks later.
Rodney King was allegedly beaten at an old filming location.
Take this one with a grain of salt.
While filming on location, the production team took an old fast food stand in Lake View Terrace and turned it into “Robby’s Ribs ‘N’ Chicken,” where Courteney Cox’s character, Julie, worked. According to William Stout, the concept artist who eventually worked on the film, that exact same location was where the infamous Rodney King police beating video was filmed.