“Masters of the Universe,” a live-action movie based on He-Man and a slew of other popular Mattel toys, is officially dead at Netflix, according to multiple Variety sources.
Insiders said that close to $30 million has already been spent on development costs and the cash that’s been shelled out to hold on to talent – like previously announced lead Kyle Allen and the film’s heatseeking directing duo Adam and Aaron Nee (“The Lost City”). Other knowledgable sources estimate all-in costs for development at twice that figure.
The latest headaches for He-Man and friends only further complicates the property’s torturous journey to the screen, one that goes as far back as 2007. It’s a long road that’s crossed through two other studios, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures, and countless writers and directors like Jon M. Chu and McG. The latest implosion at Netflix, according to five individuals with knowledge of the project, was over budget concerns.
A spokesperson for Mattel confirmed that “Masters of the Universe” is no longer at Netflix, but did not provide any further comment. A Netflix spokesperson had no comment.
Set on the planet Eternia, “Masters of the Universe” largely focuses on the conflict between He-Man, a blonde muscle god, and his devious nemesis Skeletor. The characters formed a much-loved 1980s animated series, which developed a cross-generational fan base during its syndicated runs. For the latest film iteration, the budget came in at over $200 million with cameras set to roll this February, sources said. Last spring, however, Netflix was confronted with a stunning stock drop that saw the powerful streamer shed $50 billion in value after investors became concerned about the company’s subscriber losses.
In the aftermath of the sell-off, Netflix film head Scott Stuber and chief content officer Bela Bajaria tried to reassure the industry that they still had money to spend amid their Wall Street woes. However, sources close to “Masters of the Universe” said after that point the streamer refused to shell out more than $150 million to see up-and-comer Allen (“American Horror Story,” “A Haunting in Venice”) pick up He-Man’s sword. A source familiar with Netflix said the stock drop was irrelevant to budget issues on “Masters,” noting that its content spend has been flat at $17 billion for two years, despite market fluctuation.
The Nee brothers, who came in riding high as directors of Sandra Bullock’s rom-com hit “The Lost City,” worked with producers including Todd Black and Mattel’s Robbie Brenner to get the budget down — even as significant pre-production around the film still took place. Producers brought back a proposed $180 million budget to the table and Netflix still balked, never handing the movie an official green light. One source with knowledge of the budget talks said the final figure included costs spent on development. Netflix and filmmakers even considered shooting “Masters of the Universe” and a proposed sequel simultaneously to amortize the expense, they added. Multiple parties said streamer is enamored with the filmmaker siblings, but could not reach a middle ground.
It’s telling that Netflix would bail after such a significant investment (part of the at least $30 million spent in development was paid to Sony, which sold the “Masters” film rights to Netflix in 2019, per sources). And the decision to do so further illustrates the challenges of making huge film franchises exclusively for streaming platforms. Black, an Academy Award nominee who has produced “Fences” and “The Equalizer,” has been relentless in trying to find a new buyer for the property. Black engaged Universal Pictures in the past month or so about acquiring the film, two other sources familiar with his efforts said. The studio passed on the project. Black and leadership at Mattel are doubtlessly hoping this weekend’s “Barbie,” projected to take in north of $100 million at the box office, will shore up their position in finding a new buyer.
Mattel has reached media saturation in the past months, as Warner Bros. marketing has been at hyper speed promoting the July 21 opening of “Barbie.” While the Netflix fallout over “Masters of the Universe” hasn’t surfaced in the significant amount of press the corporation has participated in, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz has been been touting its value in plain sight.
“It’s as big as Marvel and DC,” Kreiz told the New Yorker recently. “It’s hundreds of pages of characters and sorcerers and vehicles and weaponry — you name it. And then you flip through the pages, and here’s a movie, and here’s a movie, and here’s a TV show. . . . it’s endless!
Meanwhile, the dual SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes have disrupted all of Hollywood and complicated the involvement of an actor like Allen. While he remains attached to play He-Man on paper, production schedules across town have been spun into chaos and may look very different by the time the strikes end. He could well move on to other projects. This is especially true of the Nee brothers, who insiders said have a deal at Universal to develop a new hybrid live-action animation film around the Lego franchise (that pact was signed long before the strike). Universal signed a five-year partnership with the Lego Group in 2020 to produce new films and series based on the toys.
What is most palpable, nearly a dozen conversations with people close to the project have illustrated, is a growing sadness that He-Man, She-Ra and their cohorts won’t make it to screen anytime soon.
“It was very important to us that with ‘Masters of the Universe’ we hold onto what that was for us as kids,” Aaron Nee told Variety in 2022. “It wasn’t silly to us or absurd to us, it had a depth and a meaning to it.” The brothers wanted to “hold onto something that has a core human empathy to it and yet isn’t afraid to have fun and get crazy … what we’re going to be able to do in this movie is gonna blow people away.”