He-Man, owned by the toy company Mattel, was a character that enjoyed tremendous popularity in the 80s and 90s, and appears ready to make a comeback, thanks to a live-action movie under production.
There was a lot to love about the earlier He-Man toys and cartoon serial that debuted in 1983. The show always began with the introduction to Prince Adam of Eternia and his pet green tiger Cringer. Whenever there was trouble on the horizon, Adam drew his mystic sword, uttered the magic oath and became the mighty He-Man, The Strongest Man In The Universe (Superman and Goku fans would like a word).
The cartoon featured a host of sidekicks for He-Man that were fascinating characters in their own right. Man-at-arms, Teela, Orko and several other warriors were together known as The Masters Of The Universe. Opposing them was the magical and sinister Skeletor!, who looked like the grim reaper on steroids and who was aided in his quest to conquer Castle Grayskull by a band of dim-witted but ferocious minions, from the huge and hairy Beastmaster to the dainty but redoubtable Evil-Lyn.
So popular was the show and He-Man toys that Mattel even commissioned a live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. The movie was the first attempt at setting up a cinematic universe for The Masters Of The Universe but was a critical and commercial flop. Let's take a look at some strange and unexpected facts surrounding He-Man that not many people know about. As always, SPOILERS BELOW:
30 He-Man's Conception Was Not Planned
Mattel did not want to make He-Man toys. They certainly did not want to make his TV show or the live-action film. Everything about He-Man, from his conception to his popularity was a happy accident, with Mattel cashing-in on the happy accident.
Originally, Mattel was gearing up to create a line of Star Wars toys to profit from the success of George Lucas's brainchild. However, the president of Mattel was unwilling to fork over the $750,000 royalty that Lucas demanded.
Star Wars moved on to another toy manufacturer, and never stopped making obscene amounts of money. Mattel makers came to regret their decision to pass up on the films and determined to come up with their own franchise.
Thus was born the idea of a Conan The Barbarian rip-off who fights in outer space. That early pastiche of Conan and Star Wars finally evolved into He-Man.
29 An Indecent Toy Was Almost Part Of The Line-up
The original intention behind creating He-Man was always to sell toys, and sell toys Mattel certainly did, to the tune of a cool 2 billion+ in sales. The creators were constantly on the lookout to add more character toys to The Masters of the Universe action figure line-up.
Naturally, all the cool warrior figures needed equally cool transport. The Bashasaurus fulfilled this requirement. It carried at its front a giant spherical mace that could be swung into any oncoming obstacle to reduce it to dust.
Thing is, the Bashasaurus was originally called something that parents would definitely have had a problem with. The toy's original name given to it by Mattel was 'The Ball Buster', and that was how it would have been introduced on the show if the president of the animation company hasn't quickly nipped the idea in the bud.
28 Teela Has Serious Questions About Her Past
As the only female Master of the Universe, Teela had a responsibility towards young female viewers to be a strong and independent role-model. This role she fulfilled for many episodes, until the conspiracies behind her parentage began to overshadow her personal contributions.
In some stories, Man-at-arms is Teela's biological father, while in other stories he is her foster father. Teela's mother is the sorceress, a fact that Teela herself is unaware of. So basically, Teela lives a life where her father lies to her about being her true father, her best friend lies to her about being He-Man, and the sorceress refuses to reveal the truth about their relationship. Add to all that the fact that Teela seems to have no friends other than Adam, and you begin to see her as quite a tragic figure, constantly being lied to by loved ones.
27 He-Man Needed To Look As Generic As Possible
Say what you will about the show, but a lot of its popularity boiled down to the fact that He-Man looked every inch the part of a wild, noble hero. Those bulging biceps. The barbarian's clothing. The magic sword strapped to his back. He-Man's distinctive appearance went a long way towards making him popular among fans.
That's why it's pretty surprising to consider that the character was originally specifically designed to be as generic as possible. He-Man was primarily meant to be a toy that would go with any type of adventure. For this, he needed to be so generic that he could be fitted convincingly into any setting, from magic to science fiction. That is why the original He-Man toy favored a tiny loincloth and a tiny chest plate over any more distinguishing features like a full costume, mask or cape.
26 He-Man Had The Biggest Handicap Among Superheroes
The Masters Of The Universe were fierce, powerful warriors, and their unquestioned leader was He-Man. He was The Most Powerful Man in the Universe. The superhero to end all superheroes. And yet he had a handicap that rendered him even more helpless than Superman when faced with kryptonite: the censors.
The TV show's main aim was to create a following among the very young who would buy He-Man action figures. That meant the show had to be very careful about the content it showed, otherwise the censors would not give it a 'General Audience' rating and parents would not let their kids watch the show.
So in spite of being super strong and carrying a sword, He-Man was never actually shown fighting or hurting his enemies. The most action he was allowed to indulge in was smashing rocks, or gently pushing away enemies.
25 His Symbol Was Deemed Highly Offensive
Every hero needs a symbol that his fans can rally behind. Superman has an S. Batmans has a Bat. Hulk has... shredded purple pants, I guess. In the same way, He-Man needed a symbol emblazoned across his chest plate that fans could immediately identify. Later, the symbol on his chest was fashioned into something resembling the bat-signal. When a flare cast a giant replica of He-Man's signal across the sky, it was a warning that people were in danger and in need of help.
There was just one problem. He-Man's original symbol looked disturbingly similar to the swastika used by Nazis. Added to this was the fact that He-Man's blonde, bodybuilder physique seemed an ideal representation of the Aryan race the Nazis believed should rule the Earth. To step away from such a distasteful association, He-Man's symbol was changed to a simple H.
24 The Company Went To Great Lengths To Keep Costs Down
While adults may have fond memories of the cartoon from their childhood, rewatching the series will force you to conclude the actual quality of the show wasn't very good.
This is because every effort was made to keep the costs of production of the show as low as possible, even if it meant compromising on story narrative. For instance, the makers originally intended to show a skinny Prince Adam suddenly developing muscles upon transforming into He-Man. But showing such a dramatic transformation would have cost more, so Adam was kept as muscular as He-Man, with only the clothes changing during the transformation.
Also, Orko was originally named Gorpo. His name was changed because animating and reusing the character's footage was easier with the letter O on his chest for Orko than doing the same with the letter G of Gorpo.
23 Parents Hated The Toy's Accessories
As we've mentioned already, the main purpose of the show was to make He-Man popular enough that kids would buy his toys. That was the cash cow that Mattel ended up riding all the way to the bank. They did so by cranking out every conceivable part of the He-Man mythos in action figure form.
One action figure accessory that caused parents of He-Man fans no end of grief was the Slime Pit. In-universe, the pit compelled any character who was submerged in its slime to become Hordak's slave. In the real world, this meant the Slime Pit was a prized possession for young fans, who gleefully dunked their actioned figures into its depths. Parents had to regularly replenish the contents of the pit, and, as a bonus, wash slime stains off every household surface. It became such a nuisance that the LA Times even covered the news.
22 The Series Was Accused Of Promoting Satan Worship
One thing every popular piece of fiction aimed at children has to contend with is a chorus of chants blaming it for having a negative effect on impressionable minds.
In the case of He-Man, concerns were raised over the possibility that the show promoted Satan worship. The main reason for this complaint was Skeletor. His physical appearance was sinister enough. But what sealed the deal was his staff. It carried on its head what appeared to be the skull of a ram/eldritch abomination.
Skeletor had a habit of brandishing the staff in the middle of his frequent monologues, like a cult priest extorting his followers to go out and commit mayhem in the name of the lord of darkness. It's actually understandable that parents would have some concern. Mercifully, the religious controversy died down before it could seriously dent the show's popularity.
21 Mattel Backed Out Of A Deal With Fans
If there's one thing that shows designed by a company to sell toys places emphasis on, it's pandering to the crowd. Mattel was less interested in expanding He-Man's mythology in a creatively satisfying way and more in giving the fans what they wanted, as long as they continued to throw money at the action figures.
As part of the fan-outreach strategy, Mattel organized a contest that asked fans to design their own characters to be a part of He-Man. The competition caught on, and the company was flooded with character designs from across the country. A winner was picked, but when it came to making the design into an action figure, Mattel backed out of the deal.
It seems all Mattel was looking for was a way to generate popular interest through the contest, without the troublesome followup of awarding the prize.
20 The Movie Was Beset With Troubles On All Sides
The live-action He-Man movie was often criticized by fans for getting nearly everything wrong about the source material. But considering the numerous troubles the movie ran into, it's a miracle it was made at all.
Dolph Lundgren has such an imposing physique, it was impossible to find a stuntman who would stand in for him during stunts, forcing the actor to do his own stunts and severely limiting the action that could be shown. His Swedish accent was also a problem, especially since there was no time left for another actor to dub over his lines, forcing the makers to go with Lundgren's thick accent.
The actress playing Evil-Lyn was in a constant state of pain trapped inside her restrictive costume. Seems the cast and makers were just as miserable making the film as the audience was while watching it.
19 The 'Life Lessons' Were A Cynical Defense Against Criticism
One aspect of He-Man that is often mocked whenever the show is viewed in retrospect is the 'Life Lessons' which were added to the end of every episode. These lessons summed up the moral value that each episode's narrative was apparently working towards. Characters from the show used the extra time to impart words of wisdom to their young audience, like the importance of sharing, team-effort or expressing empathy.
While the intent behind these lessons might appear noble, they were only added to avoid controversy. The parents of young children were not exactly thrilled to have a TV made specifically to advertise a bunch of toys to children. They protested that watching the show was a waste of time for children, which is why the makers decided to tack on the 'Life Lessons' to make the show appear meaningful.
18 Rioting Occurred In The Show's Wake
These days, the general public has pretty much forgotten He-Man. The TV has been relegated to the realm of internet memes. It's only the hardcore fans who still seek out and rewatch the old episodes.
But there was a time when the He-Man universe was the equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. Children were crazy about He-Man and his preposterously-named sidekicks. They watched the shows religiously, they bought all the toys faster than Mattel could manufacture them, and still, they wanted more.
No greater proof of this devotion exists than the time a TV station temporarily stopped the running of the show on its channel. A riot erupted among children who screamed and begged for He-Man, and their parents, who just begged for some peace and quiet after all the screaming. Fortunately, the show started airing soon afterward and order was restored.
17 The Mighty Fisto Had Disturbing Hobbies
Fisto is a former villain who once served Skeletor before an encounter with He-Man showed him the error of his ways. He then became a noble warrior whose main super-ability lay in his oversized hand, that could be made into a giant fist which could smash through any obstacle.
As you may have noticed right off the bat, the name 'Fisto' itself raises a few eyebrows, referencing as it does a grown-up activity that definitely does not belong in a children's cartoon. Additionally, the first time we meet Fisto is the middle of a forest. He's evil at that time, and the proof of his evilness lies in the way he harasses young elf boys who're passing by. Fisto shoots white, sticky webbing at the boys from afar, proving he'd make a better prankster than an evil mastermind. Still, that's some innuendo-heavy imagery...
16 The Planet That Raises Adult's Collective Eyebrows
Next, we come across an episode that seems to be playing fast-and-loose with the definition of 'Children's Program'. This time, the action takes viewers to a new planet called Trannis. That's right, its called Tranni-s.
Just in case you thought the name was an unfortunate accident, keep in mind that the path to Trannis was through a rainbow portal. So the creators of the show were definitely going for some heavy symbolism in their choice of names and portals. A bit much, but probably something that flew over the heads of young audiences.
The real problem starts with the arrival of the ruler of the planet. While most villains in the show were impossibly beefed up hulks with terrifying faces, this time the antagonist is a large, pink rabbit. A rabbit that lisps and is called Plunder, the spoiler. Talk about offensive stereotyping...
15 The She-Ra Spin-Off Was A Result Of Feminist Claims
The thing about the He-Man show was it didn't offer much to young female viewers. There were only, like, four female characters in the show, and only one (Prince Adam's mother) was allowed to wear full-length clothes. The sorceress only ever made glorified cameos as an exposition machine. Teela and Evil-Lyn had slightly more to do, but even they were mainly there to prop up He-Man and Skeletor.
To address this gender imbalance, the spin-off show called She-Ra was created, about Prince Adam's long-lost sister Adora who became the titular Princess of Power, She-Ra. The show ended up overcompensating so that while it featured plenty of women in strong, meaty roles, the men in the show were mostly clumsy, dim-witted second-stringers who added little meaning to the plot. Whatever their gender, seems its always the side-characters who get shafted...
14 The Sword That Could Cut Through Plot Holes
Let's keep to the subject of She-Ra for a second. Sure, the show wasn't technically about He-Man, but it followed all the same beats: a powerful mystical protector who used an enchanted sword and the support of outrageously named friends to fight evil, with the whole thing being an excuse to sell more toys, this time to girls.
One department where She-Ra had the edge over He-Man was when it came to owning a cool sword. Sure, He-Man had the bigger sword, but it was still just a sword. On the other hand, She-Ra's sword could turn into anything the plot needed it to be. Over two seasons it transformed into a rope, a shield or any other implement the heroine needed to solve a problem. It was a conveniently lazy method of wrapping up convoluted story arcs. Talk about plot armor...
13 The Show Dropped A Terrible Character From The Toy-Line
Since the only reason the He-Man TV show was created was to sell action figures, the creators of the show had to follow strict instructions to insert every character from the line of toys into multiple episodes.
There was only one action figure deemed too stupid by the writers to be inserted into the show: The Mighty Stinkor! Exactly as the name suggests, Stinkor was a D-list villain who's superpower was the ability to give off such a terrible smell as to render foes immobile.
Calling the character a 'Walking fart joke', the writers refused to bring him into the TV universe. The only reason fans still remember Stinkor is for the notoriety he gained for having the only action figure that was uniquely treated to give off a stink decades after manufacturing!
12 No One Thought The Show Would Work
If you ever caught an old episode of He-Man, with its cheap animation and over-simplified storylines and wondered why anyone would find it appealing, you're not the first person to have such thoughts. Turns out that no one had any doubt that the show would bomb hard when it came out.
The pilot was shown to every major studio network at the time, including CBS, ABC, and NBC, and none of them wanted to have anything to do with the adventures of a G-rated barbarian whose only purpose was to sell action figures.
As a last resort, the president of the company that created He-Man had to opt for weekday afternoon syndication. This turned out to be a blessing since kids were exposed to the show five days a week. He-Man then went on to become the highest-rated kid's show in America at the time.
11 Skeletor Has Suffered More Than Any Other Character
Viewers are supposed to despise Skeletor. The writers do everything to make him unlikable, from giving him a fearsome appearance and cackling laugh to showing him constantly scheming to take over Eternia.
It's hard to feel sympathy for Skeletor until you discover the truth about his past. A long time ago, Skeletor was Keldor, elder brother to Prince Adam's father Randor. He was a skilled warrior and a scientist, and the obvious choice to be the next king.
But Keldor was a half-breed, with half of his genes belonging to the animalistic Gar race, giving him his distinctive blue appearance. In a display of racism against his own son, Keldor's father decided to make Randor king instead. Later, a curse was placed on Keldor that drove him mad, and his face was decayed and eaten down to the bone as a result.
10 The Show Inspired Some Frightening Copy-Cats
Since He-Man was a show specifically aimed at very young children, it also had to contend with the troubles that come with engaging with impressionable minds. Children who watched the show were not simply content with playing with the action figures. but also tried to mimic He-Man's activities in real life.
No matter how sanitized the action on the show was, there was always the haunting worry that some young fans could seriously hurt themselves while pretending to be one of the Masters of the Universe.
Ram-man bore the full brunt of this worry. His special move was ramming hard objects with his head. Reports began to surface of fans ramming their own heads into walls to imitate Ram-man. Finally, the show was forced to dedicate an entire 'Life Lesson' segment to Ram-man warning young viewers not to imitate his actions on the show.
9 The Movie Almost Got A Terrible Sequel
Everyone agrees that the live-action He-Man movie was bad. That is why it seems difficult to believe now, but a sequel to the movie was being planned, to begin production even after the first one bombed at the box-office.
Not only was the sequel being planned, but all accounts, it was going to be even worse than the first one. The original movie had changed so many things about He-Man that the character that finally appeared onscreen almost seemed unrecognizable. The sequel would have taken things one step further by transporting the story from Eternia to Earth. Dolph Lundgren would have been replaced by Laird Hamilton, who would play a He-Man who lives on earth disguised as a quarterback. Skeletor would also be in the movie, living in the disguise of a big-shot producer. Quite a change-of-pace for The Masters of The Universe!
8 She-Ra Almost Put He-Man Out Of Commision
All good things must come to an end. He-Man had been enjoying explosive popularity for many years, doing $400 million in sales in a single year. But then sales began to decline. This was around the same time that the TV show was nearing its end, and the live-action movie had just been released and suffered a spectacular crash at the box office.
Instead of asking what could have been a reason for a decline in quality that led to He-Man becoming unpopular, the makers of the toyline decided to look elsewhere to lay the blame.
They finally settled on She-Ra, who's series and action figures had been launched around that time. Apparently, some people in He-Man's sales departments were convinced that the association with She-Ra was mainly responsible for He-Man's declining popularity, and not the fact that audience was suffering from franchise fatigue.
7 The Masters Couldn't Find Work After The Show
We like to believe our fictional heroes are immortal, living eternally within the respective universes they inhabit, playing out the same dramas over and over again. But sometimes we get a glimpse of what happens after the show ends, and it ain't always pretty!
For instance, after He-Man ended, fans waited with bated breath to see where their favorite space barbarian would end up next. A smash hit movie? A critically acclaimed video game? A novelization?
Nope, the next time you see He-Man and his pals are as guests on She-Ra. You can understand the logic here, with He-Man giving a popularity boost to his long-lost sister. But it is still jarring to see the strongest man in the world being reduced to a cameo in his own universe. Apparently, She-Ra and her pals have taken over the duty of protecting Eternia...
6 He-Man Is No Longer The Most Powerful Master
The central appeal of characters like He-Man, Superman and Goku is that they are the most powerful beings in their universe. Sure, occasionally a villain may come along who appears to be stronger, but by the end of the episode, the hero always manages to beat them and regain the title of the strongest man.
However, it turns out He-Man was never the strongest Master of the Universe. You see, Teela is revealed to be the biological daughter of the sorceress who resides in Castle Grayskull. She is next-in-line to become sorceress once her mother passes away. This means it is only a matter of time until Teela gets the keys to Castle Grayskull. Considering that He-Man's power comes from the castle, it's safe to say that sorceress Teela will one day overtake He-Man to become the most powerful Master of the Universe.
5 The UK Had A Bizzare Copy Of He-Man
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But in the cut-throat world of toy manufacturing, all it means is some mook is trying to muscle in on your territory. That's why Disney is so paranoid about copyright that they tried to put a claim on the Spanish holiday Dia de Los Muertos because it featured prominently in their movie Coco.
Mattel had to deal with a similar kind of problem in UK, with the emergence of He-Finn. The character is an unholy union between the strongest man in the universe, and some kid from a UK cartoon called Adventure Time. The result is a statue of ridiculously overmuscled warrior He-Man wearing a teenager's costume, but inexplicably missing his pants. If that sounds like something you want staring at you in the dead of night, you can order the statue online.
4 He-Man Caused A Huge Set-Back To Spiderman
In Hollywood, you're only as good as your last movie. Sure, He-Man may have been a giant in animation and toys, but as soon as his first movie bombed, producers pulled back from the franchise and refused to take a chance on the sequel (which, as we discovered earlier, turned out to be a wise decision).
One unfortunate side effect of the movie's failure was that it lost Cannon, the producers of the film, the rights to He-Man as well as Spiderman. Cannon's original plan to have the guy who directed He-Man also direct Spiderman was buried in the ground.
Interestingly, production had already begun on He-Man 2 when the project was terminated. Instead of letting the props and set pieces go to waste, Cannon re-directed the resources of He-Man 2 into a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, which eventually became the hit film Cyborg.
3 A Second Spin-Off Almost Got Made
Although She-Ra, even at its peak, never enjoyed the wild popularity of He-Man, the show was fairly successful in its own right. While interest in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had begun to flag in the 90s, Filmation wasn't done with the characters yet.
The President of Filmation pitched the idea for a second spin-off. This show would follow the adventures of He-Ro, the heroic alter-ego of Dare, the adopted son of Prince Adam and Teela, now the king and queen of Eternia (who else was going to be the queen, anyway? Teela was literally the only female of Adam's age in the show).
The show would have also brought Skeletor back from the dimension whence he had been banished. The project was canceled, and fans missed out on the chance of seeing He-Ro and He-Man gang-up against a trembling, geriatric Skeletor.
2 So Many Big Names Worked On The Show
Don't be fooled by the apparent poor quality of the earliest He-Man cartoons. The truth is, the animation company tried its best to make a good cartoon with the budget they had. One way they managed to raise the quality of the episodes was by having an eye for talent. Many of the people who worked on the show went on to become big names in their field of work.
For instance, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm both worked on He-Man and later went on to apply their skills to bring us such legendary shows as Batman: The Animated Series, G.I. Joe and Transformers. J. Michael Straczynski was a writer on He-Man, and he later went on to receive accolades for his work on The Real Ghostbusters, Babylon 5, Jaycee and the Wheeled Warriors, and Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.
1 The Action Figures Were Embarrassingly Unimaginative
As has been pointed out again and again, the only reason the He-Man cartoon existed in the first place was to sell toys. So it would make sense to assume Mattel devoted all their time and energy towards coming up with an array of action figure characters that bore testament to their imagination and creativity.
Nope, not really. The vast majority of action figures of He-Man's sidekicks and villains were just He-Man's body doubles colored differently, with the heads swapped out and the occasional machinery tacked on.
This gave consumers an array of so-called 'Masters of the Universe' who were just thinly-disguised variations of He-Man. These masters had weirdly random powers, such as the ability to extend their neck or tongue, and the company would call them the 'Master of Extension', or 'Master of Tonguing' and give them ridiculous names like Extendar or Tung-Lashor.