The collectors’ market has seen many toy lines come and go. While Masters of the Universe continues to be a popular toy line for collectors, it has changed over the years with different companies owning the licensing rights and the figures themselves changing in appearance.
Originally created for children by Mattel in 1981 and released in stores in 1982, Masters of the Universe (MOTU) instantly became a sensation. In just the first year the product line made $38 million. In 1985 and 1986, the market was overflowing with MOTU figures and by the time 1987 came along, Mattel was in a bind. New figures had a hard time making it to retailers because toy stores like Toys “R” Us had an overabundance of action figures with similar lines and competitive prices.
First Wave of MOTU
The first wave of MOTU were 5½-inch action figures, vehicles, play sets, and gift sets, that included: He-Man, Skeletor, Teela, Stratos, Zodac, Mer-Man, Beast Man, Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram, Wind Raider, He-Man & Battle Cat, and He-Man & Wind Raider.
All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the United States.
The early figures have sharp detail compared to later versions. Many of the figures had boots that were painted on using spray paint, which sometimes showed up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures used the dipping method for the painting application. The lower backs of the figures had the "© Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan" stamped on them, others were found on the undersides of the character’s heads.
Masters of the Universe Classics surpassed the original 1980s toy line in terms of length, running continuously for seven years with more than 150 different figures produced with more articulation and character. These figures were produced in a number of countries with different variants.
Fast forward to the early 2000’s, Mattel wanted redesigned versions of the MOTU characters as production began on a new animated series. At the same time, Mattel issued a MOTU Commemorative Series of figures that were based on the original molds from the ‘80s. That line ultimately didn’t last as long as they had hoped.
Along with the Classics series, MOTU Minis and Giants figures were also released by Mattel in 2014 and 2015. Mattel ended production on the MOTU Classics when Super7 acquired the Masters of the Universe license.
Super7 began making MOTU toys geared toward the adult collector. They started producing 3¾" figures and many figures in the style of the small pink M.U.S.C.L.E. from the ‘80s. Super7 releases include 1980s Mattel-inspired figures from their animation special, The Curse of the Three Terrors, the Masters of the Universe "Ultimates" line (which consists of "deluxe" rereleases of Classics figures), and the continuation of the previous Classics and Club Grayskull lines.
Super7 made numerous MOTU figures in the retro-style over the years, including multiple color variants. They have done an incredible job continuing the MOTU Classics line, while also adding ReAction and Filmation style figures.
In 2020, Super7 lost the MOTU license, after the BattleCat and Panthor were released in January of 2019. Once Super7 rejuvenated the MOTU brand, it was then that Mattel stepped back in. Mattel reclaims the Masters of the Universe toy license from Super7 in 2019 with its Masters of the Universe Origins.
Super7 came up with the idea for the vintage “As Seen on TV” line before Mattel Origins was announced. Origins has new sculpts, including articulation and are aimed at children. That line was initially put on hold for the Mattel’s Origins debut.
Below we compared a Super7 and Mattel He-Man figure released around the same time.
- 5 ½ -inch tall
- Body is very tan and has a glossy shine
- Hair is a mustard yellow color
- Includes a harness that is darker in color and has no detail
- Loin cloth and boots are a dark brownish-red color
- Head and waist of figure twists
- Includes: Power sword, half sword and shield
- Packaging includes a custom character history
- Original art on the back of each card by classic MOTU artist Errol McCarthy
- Ages 14+
Classic Masters of the Universe toy inspired design
- Described as 5 ½ -inch, but visually taller
- Body has a matte finish
- Hair color is bright yellow
- Includes a harness that is a lighter color with more detail
- Boots have a yellow fur-like top
- Posable wrists, arms, knees, legs, and feet: 16 movable joints
- Has a shorter loin cloth a dark brownish-red
- Waste of figure twists
- Has teeth showing
- Includes: Sword, axe, shield, and mini comic book
- Thicker card-based packaging
- Ages 3+
Mattel Regained Authority
Mattel regained the authority of Masters of the Universe and created the Origins line. They started its wave in 2020 with two figures, He-Man and Skeletor. Noted differences from the original Mattel MOTU to now are the points of articulation. These figures back in the 80's had only 6 points, but now have up to 16.
Masters of the Universe is currently owned by Mattel and Classic Media/Dreamworks. Dreamworks owns entertainment rights to MOTU and POP and acts as a licensing agent for Mattel regarding these 2 brands. Mattel has the toy rights through 2023.