The early prototypes OF Masters of the Universe were a trio of macho roles with the idea that He-Man would span many action settings, much like the early G.I. Joe or Mattel’s own Big Jim line.
The figures were designed with simplicity in mind and the male form exaggerated in its heroic proportions. Repurposed Big Jim figures were bulked out with modelling clay and then molded in plaster and given painted sheet wax outfits.
They were a soldier, who literally had a neck-breaking tank gun on his face, a fantasy spaceman with a suspiciously Boba Fett style helmet and rocket pack, and lastly a familiar looking barbarian.
One of the most abounding rumours when it comes to the hazy beginnings of this toy line is that it was originally being created by Mattel in the very early 1980s as a direct tie-in for the upcoming 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Mattel were in negotiations but eventually declined and released the Masters figures with their own mythology. Conan’s right’s holders did attempt tried to sue Mattel and have the figures withdrawn, but Mattel won.
He-Man and Masters of the Universe remains one of the most popular toy franchises from the '80s to this day and a large loyal fanbase. The original toy line still commands as much attention as it did nearly forty years ago, and it's easy to see why; these were plain, simple, fun toys.
The simplicity of the basic He-Man figure, the same muscular body type over and over, actually allowed for a variety of unique action features that were incorporated into the identity of that specific character. When it was good, it was really good.
Here are the ten best vintage He-Man action figures, ranked.
As Stewie Griffin once explained to Brian, Man-E-Faces is just cool because he has many faces. Man-E-Faces is a classic example of the action figure gimmicks inherent to the line that was leveraged as the actual character feature.
Click the button on his back, and he can change his face from a man to an alien, and to a robot. A hero for the forces of Eternia, Man-E-Faces debuted in the second series of Masters of the Universe action figures in 1983.
Snout Spout is a fireman on Eternia, and he's the single coolest fireman ever. A kind of robot elephant man, he shoots water out of his trunk and kids could too. Pour a little water into his backpack, press the button, and kids had instant fire suppression.
Snout Spout was originally called "Hose Nose" by Mattel designers, which would have been just as good, really. He debuted in 1986, a year after the similarly themed and colored G.I. Joe firefighter, Barbeque.
First, the Horde Trooper just looks cool. Second, it's an unwritten rule in sci-fi fantasy fare from the '80s, such as Star Wars, that any kind of trooper is automatically awesome.
The Horde Trooper tilts a little more on the sci-fi side of the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum of Masters of the Universe. A mindless drone in service to the evil Hordak, the upper torso of the figure could "explode" with the press of a button concealed in the design as the Horde emblem on his chest.
Orko set himself apart from the other Masters of the Universe figures with a radically different visual design. Not a muscular hulk or robotic half-something or other, Orko was a small, floating magical wizard who aided He-Man on his adventures. His gimmick was simply that he was cool.
He actually did have another gimmick, though. Kids could pull a ripcord through his body and send him "flying" across a surface like a kitchen table at the most inappropriate times. Orko debuted in 1984 and remains a highly popular character today.
Roboto's basic deal is, well, he is a robot. This was pretty cool, especially because he had functioning gears. Kids could twist his waist, which would then set off the big multi-colored plastic gears in his chest.
Functionality was everything for He-Man toys, and so was something now known as the "toyetic" quality. Did it lend itself to being a toy? Could a kid play with it? That's a feature virtually gone from modern toys, which tend to be hyper-realistic recreations of movie or TV characters. And a lot less fun and is probably one of the main reasons for the demise of action figures popularity with kids.
The trees on Eternia must be pretty tall. Even so, having a neck that can extend a foot or more off the neck of a warrior comes in pretty handy when fighting against Skeletor and company. Just don't stick it out too far.
Mekaneck is another figure driven by the action feature built into his waist. Twist it, and his neck periscopes up. Debuting in 1984, he upped the spy game for the good guys in a big way. Mattel even planned on calling him "Spy Guy," but Mekaneck was so much cooler.
Often a Masters of the Universe action figure would be just what it said on the box, and that is absolutely true of Trap-Jaw. Trap Jaw was a villain from 1983 with a lower steel jaw that was articulate, and a robotic right arm that could be swapped out for various nefarious implements and weapons.
His awesome design and very '80s neon color scheme made him an instant favorite and he remains consistently an instant go-to for any new He-Man action figure line
Skeletor was scary enough, as will become apparent, but Mattel wasn't content with that. They had to turn him into a ghost. The Scare Glow figure debuted near the end of the original run in 1987 and featured two action figures.
One was the pretty standard action figure with a feature of turning the waist and then the figure snaps back into an action punch. The second was his unique glow-in-the-dark design. The combination of spooky yellow-green glow and the skeletal head was a creepy winner.
This figure HAD to be included, as what would MOTU or He-Man be without him!! The original and perhaps simplest of the vintage toy line, He-Man nevertheless is a quintessential 1980s toy.
Like many of the figures, he had the twist-waist and power punch action feature. The musclebound figure was inspired by Conan the Barbarian and other fantasy fare and inspired a spin-off line aimed at girls, She-Ra: Princess of Power, which was the subject of a recent and acclaimed reboot.
A hero is only so good as his villain, and there are few cooler villains than Skeletor. The Filmation cartoon may have made him out to be a little less scary than anyone picking up the action figure might have thought but look at that action figure.
The yellow and blue color scheme, combined with the criminally simple skeletal face creates a powerful, iconic figure that rules to this day. Like many of the early Masters of the Universe figures, he featured the twist-waist feature to throw a power punch.