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The post-credits scene, or “stinger,” has become so popular now that entire sites are devoted to letting cinema goers know if they need to stay put when a movie is allegedly over or if they can actually go evacuate that Big Gulp they’d consumed during its runtime. Dating back to 1966, the practice is far more common today than it was in the ’70s and ’80s, largely due to the inexpensive nature of shooting on digital and overwhelming popular demand. Audiences crave more bang for their buck, and Hollywood is meeting those demands with longer runtimes and stingers, both during and after credit sequences, for better or worse. Often they are used to wrap unresolved storylines or hint at continuations to come. But is more truly “more” when the movie ostensibly sucks? And what happens when those hinted-at sequels never materialize? Such is the case with 1987’s Masters of the Universe.
To be fair, Masters of the Universe doesn’t objectively suck — it’s actually a fairly respectable action film from the late 1980s with competent fight scenes, big action sequences, inventive costume and production design, and a satisfying good vs evil storyline. Where it fails is subjectively, or rather referentially, in that it’s supposed to be an adaptation of Mattel’s action figure He-Man and its subsequent Filmation cartoon series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. As any fan of the children’s cartoon could attest, this film is a far cry from the fantasy world depicted on the small screen.
Where ‘Masters of the Universe’ Failed
Masters of the Universe was rushed into cinemas in 1987 by notorious studio Cannon Films, headed by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The duo famously ran the studio with a scattershot approach — to make as many viable properties as cheaply as possible on the bet that a handful would find success. To their credit, they did churn out a fascinating number of memorable films, such as Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport, and the Chuck Norris-led Missing in Action and Delta Force franchises. For the uninitiated, check out the fascinating documentary chronicling the meteoric rise and unbreakable fall of Cannon Films by Mark Hartley called Electric Boogaloo.
Starring the hugely bankable Dolph Lundgren as He-Man (after his success in Rocky IV) and Frank Langella as Skeletor, Masters of the Universe set out to bring the Eternian conflict to the big screen. Also present in the film were series mainstays Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, Man-at-Arms, Teela, and The Sorceress. Skeletor’s minions were rounded out by characters created specifically for the film, as some of his more recognizable henchmen from the cartoon were deemed unfilmable. Kid-friendly Trollan magician Orko was replaced by Gwildor, and a MacGuffin called The Cosmic Key was created to bring the proceedings from the alien world Eternia to Earth under the guise of a dim-witted teenager. This plot device allowed for minimal set design on Earth-based locations and the introduction of relatable ancillary antagonists, such as Courtney Cox and the talented James Tolkan, as Julie Winston and Detective Lubic, respectively.
The film focused more on the science-fiction elements of the mythos than the sword-and-sorcery that were its pivotal draws with the young audience, with even the heroic He-Man himself shooting at bad guys with laser guns. Lundgren’s He-Man doesn’t even really draw his sword until the final act. Gone is his alter-ego as Prince Adam, or indeed any reference to a royal family of Eternia. Sadly, the characters exist as their action figure and animated counterparts in name and conflict, alone. He-Man never even utters his signature phrase in its entirety in the film, only going so far as to exclaim at one point, “I have the power!”
‘Masters of the Universe’ and Its Ambitious Stinger
Despite its many discrepancies from the source material, and existing as a master class in how not adapt a popular franchise into a movie, Masters of the Universe is a decent action film with strong performances and big set pieces. Though Lundgren wasn’t quite the erudite thespian that he has since become, his shortcomings are overshadowed by the presence of Langella. The actor was unrecognizable beneath prosthetics to become the bone-faced villain, and he celebrated his anonymity by hamming up his performance to a megalomania that would do the Ruler of Snake Mountain proud. It was reasonable to think his breakout performance would bring audiences clamoring back for more, so the geniuses at Cannon Films added a post-credit scene featuring the villain popping out of the pink pool below his throne room, staring directly through the fourth wall, and declaring “I’ll be back!” However, the film was a critical and box office bomb, and fans of the original cartoon didn’t plan on coming back — even if Skeletor did — so any talk of a sequel was soon scrapped. The scene exists as an ironic footnote to the history of bad adaptations and the general bad decision-making that led to the collapse of the notorious Cannon Film empire.
Masters of the Universe didn’t turn a profit, but it didn’t single-handedly bankrupt the studio, either. (After all, it’s no Cutthroat Island or The Adventures of Pluto Nash.) A sequel was discussed in earnest, with a recast He-Man and a script developed, but Globus and Golan’s haphazard approach to film funding had caught up with them by the time that production was set to begin, and they defaulted on their licensing fees to Mattel. With the franchise left dead in the water, unlike its unsinkable antagonist, Skeletor was destined to be made a liar. Though admirable in its optimism, this hopeful stinger goes down in history as the most ludicrously ambitious post-credits scene in a superhero movie. (Except perhaps for the stinger on 1993’s Super Mario Bros., but that is a discussion for another time.)