“Masters of the Universe,” a live-action movie based on He-Man and a slew of other popular Mattel toys, is officially dead on Netflix, according to multiple Variety sources.
Insiders said nearly $30 million has already been spent on development costs and the money spent on retaining talent — such as previously announced lead actor Kyle Allen and heat-seeking directorial duo Adam and Aaron Nee (“The Lost City”). Other well-informed sources estimate the all-in costs for development at double that.
The latest headache for He-Man and friends only complicates the torturous journey from the property to the screen, a journey that dates back to 2007. It’s a long road crossed by 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 people with knowledge of the project, was due to budget concerns.
A Mattel spokesperson confirmed that “Masters of the Universe” is no longer on Netflix, but declined to comment further. A spokesperson for Netflix 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 scheming nemesis Skeletor. The characters formed a beloved 1980s animated series, which developed a multi-generational fan base over its syndicated runs. For the latest film version, the budget came in at more than $200 million with cameras due to launch in February, sources said. Last spring, however, Netflix faced a stunning stock drop, with the powerhouse streamer losing $50 billion in value after investors worried about the company losing subscribers.
In the wake of the sell-off, Netflix chief of film 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 the streamer declined to spend more than $150 million afterward to see pick up newcomer Allen (“American Horror Story,” “A Haunting in Venice”). -Man sword. A source familiar with Netflix said the stock drop was irrelevant to budget issues on “Masters,” noting that content spending has been stable at $17 billion for two years, despite market fluctuations.
The Nee brothers, who were highly regarded as directors of Sandra Bullock’s rom-com hit “The Lost City,” teamed up with producers including Todd Black and Mattel’s Robbie Brenner to keep the budget down — even as major pre-production. production around the film still took place. Producers brought back a proposed $180 million budget, and Netflix still declined and never officially greenlit the movie. A source with knowledge of the budget talks said the final figure included development costs. Netflix and filmmakers even considered shooting “Masters of the Universe” and a proposed sequel at the same time to recoup costs, they added. Multiple parties said streamer is in love with the filmmaker’s siblings but couldn’t find a middle ground.
It’s telling that Netflix would bail on such a significant investment (part of the at least $30 million spent on development was paid to Sony, which sold the “Masters” movie rights to Netflix in 2019, according to sources). And the decision to do so further illustrates the challenges of making massive movie franchises exclusive to streaming platforms. Black, an Academy Award nominee who produced “Fences” and “The Equalizer,” is relentless in finding a new buyer for the property. Black contacted Universal Pictures last month about acquiring the film, two other sources familiar with his endeavors said. The studio passed on the project. No doubt Black and Mattel’s leadership hope that this weekend’s “Barbie,” which is expected to gross more than $100 million at the box office, will strengthen their position in finding a new buyer.
Mattel has reached media saturation in recent months as Warner Bros. promoted the opening of ‘Barbie’ on July 21 at high speed. While the Netflix feud over “Masters of the Universe” hasn’t surfaced in the considerable amount of press the company has participated in, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz has touted its value in plain sight.
“It’s as big as Marvel and DC,” Kreiz recently told the New Yorker. “It’s hundreds of pages of characters and wizards and vehicles and weapons — you name it. And then you turn 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 playing He-Man on paper, production schedules in the city have turned into chaos and could look very different by the time the strikes end. He can very well move on to other projects. This is especially true of the Nee brothers, who insiders said have a deal with Universal to develop a new hybrid live-action animated movie centered 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’s most palpable, according to nearly a dozen conversations with people close to the project, is a growing sadness that He-Man, She-Ra, and their cohorts won’t be on screen any time soon.
“It was very important to us that with ‘Masters of the Universe’ we hold on to what that was for us as kids,” Aaron Nee said. Variety in 2022. “It wasn’t crazy to us or absurd to us, it had a depth and a meaning.” The brothers wanted to “stick to something that has a core of human empathy yet not be afraid to have fun and go crazy… what we can do in this movie is going to blow people away.”
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