May 18, 2024

In “Masters of the Universe,” He-Man’s nemesis is the evil wizard Skeletor. In Hollywood, his greatest threat has been a list of studio partners that have sidelined him from the big screen for nearly two decades. 

The blond barbarian, based on a popular set of Mattel toys, may finally win the day. Amazon MGM Studios is in serious talks to mount a live-action “Masters of the Universe” movie from Adam and Aaron Nee, the writing and directing team behind “The Lost City,” according to multiple insiders. Conversations are taking place with Amazon after Netflix dropped a planned version of the Nee brothers film in July. 

Netflix spent nearly $30 million in development costs over two years for the project, which was meant to star Kyle Allen (“A Haunting in Venice”). The streamer walked away when the tentpole’s budget, originally set for more than $200 million, could not be meaningfully reduced. 

The Amazon talks are tenuous, another source cautions, but should the studio advance, it will need to close new deals with the Nees for a script polish and to direct. Allen is still in the mix to star as He-Man. Mattel and producer Todd Black, who has been devoted to the film across multiple former studio homes, including Warner Bros. and Sony, will also be seeking a significant theatrical release — something that was not quite on the table at Netflix. Amazon MGM and Mattel had no comment. 

Like any good superhero tale, this deal has an antagonist that threatens its very existence. The rights to “Masters” are entangled in a dizzying web, one that stretches back more than a decade to when DreamWorks Animation purchased them as part of a larger content library. The deal said Mattel could exploit “Masters” characters for filmed adaptations through 2026, two sources say. As DWA is now owned by NBCUniversal, this means the conglomerate could interfere with any potential sequels that Amazon MGM would want to develop — an essential option a producer needs when investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a big movie.

NBCU and Mattel have been in talks for weeks over a possible extension of the rights, sources say, and may reach a deal. A spokesperson for NBCUniversal declined to comment. 

Multiple insiders say the budget is hovering below $200 million (roughly $170 million, according to one source). Should the rights negotiations pan out, it would represent the first big kill for Amazon’s new head of theatrical film and streaming, Courtenay Valenti. Before coming to Amazon, Valenti was head of production at Warner Bros., where she worked on the studio’s adaptation of Mattel’s “Barbie.” Its success, which includes $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office and Oscar buzz, may be motivating her to make a deal for He-Man. 

The “Masters” characters invoke major nostalgia in some audiences and are the basis of a popular contemporary animated series on Netflix. Coupled with the Nees’ flair for splashy big-screen adventures (they were recently hired to develop a new take on the “Lego” movies at Universal), Amazon would be justified in its visions of a mighty franchise.  

Mattel is not starving for studio partners or development properties. After “Barbie,” movies based on Magic 8 Ball, Hot Wheels, Polly Pocket and Uno are gestating all over town with renewed fervor. But you’ve got to hand it to He-Man — he never stops trying to break out of the box and leap onto the screen.

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