There can be only one! But there wasn’t in the end. After Highlander became an unexpected hit in 1986, movie after movie followed. Unfortunately, none of them were considered very good. The transformation of Highlander from a beloved film into a disastrous franchise nonetheless makes for a fascinating story. Indeed, plenty of strange and interesting things were going on behind the scenes of those movies.
40. Kurt Russell nearly played the main role
The original plan for MacLeod was to have Kurt Russell, star of Escape From New York, play him. But eventually Russell changed his mind – apparently because his partner Goldie Hawn urged him not to take the role – and the part instead went to French movie star Christopher Lambert.
39. Extras were paid more if they brought a horse
During production of Highlander, horses seemed to be in short supply. The animals were needed, however, so a bonus was offered to extras who brought a horse to the set. These horse-wielding extras were apparently good sports, too, and were fueled by whiskey according to director Russell Mulcahy, who admired their work ethics.
38. Real wrestlers appeared in the movie
The film begins with a wrestling bout, and the participants aren’t actors but actual wrestlers. They were Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell, Sam Fatu aka The Tonga Kid, Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy. Moreover, that’s not the only connection between Highlander and the WWE: Hulk Hogan has claimed that he was considered to play Connor MacLeod.
37. Clancy Brown nearly passed on the film
Clancy Brown, who played The Kurgan, came close to passing on the part. The role involved the use of prosthetics, and Brown was hesitant. That was understandable, as Brown had played the role of Frankenstein’s monster Viktor in The Bride a year before Highlander, and the allergic reaction he suffered to the glue used in the prosthetics was so powerful that he ended up in hospital.
36. John C. McGinley tried something with his voice
John C. McGinley told Daily Actor in 2018 that he considers Highlander II to be “the worst job I’ve ever done in a film.” He wanted to sound like Orson Welles, and even signed up for voice-coaching lessons to that end. “[Unfortunately] I’m horrible in the movie because all I’m doing is trying to be Orson Welles’ voice,” McGinley admitted ruefully.
35. Some deleted scenes were lost in a fire
There are some lost scenes that Highlander fans will never get to see. Several deleted sequences – including one featuring a new character called Yung Dol Kim and another depicting an encounter between MacLeod and Thomas Jefferson – were burnt away in a warehouse fire. This was back in the days when films were shot on celluloid, so no digital copies exist.
34. The filmmakers attempted to glue new horns on a stag
The Highlander team needed a stag with horns for one particular scene. Unfortunately, it happened to be the season when the animals shed their horns. So they came up with a solution: sedate a deer and stick horns on it. It didn’t work, of course, and the poor stag understandably fled. Unsurprisingly, parts of the sequence in question ended up consisting of stock footage.
33. Lambert was cast because of his eyes
The film’s director was drawn to one particular feature of Lambert’s. “It was so much to do with what he told you with his piercing eyes,” Russell Mulcahy told the website Money Into Light in 2016. “They seemed to span centuries. He had an air of mystery, and he could convey something with just the flick of his eyes. They told a thousand words.”
32. The script was a university project
Gregory Widen actually wrote the original Highlander script – which was much more hard-edged than the finished product – for a class at UCLA. He was inspired by both a visit to an armory and a viewing of the 1977 Ridley Scott movie The Duellists. His efforts proved lucrative, as he managed to sell the screenplay for $200,000. And the rest is history.
31. Clancy Brown didn’t like his costume
The Kurgan’s outfit is pretty memorable, but Clancy Brown wasn’t a fan. In 1986, the same year the movie came out, he told Starlog that he would have preferred his baddie to wear a classy suit and hat. “You expect a heavy metal punker with skulls on his jacket to be a bad [guy],” he explained. “But the really tough, mean and nasty people don’t necessarily wear clothes like that.”
30. The opening was meant to be temporary
“Simple” is one way to describe the opening titles of Highlander. They explain the premise of the story using a red font on a black background. If Highlander was made today they’d probably consist of something a bit fancier, and indeed that was the plan for the original film. But everyone was so taken with the red placeholder font that they kept it as it was.
29. Sean Connery’s costume was saved
Sean Connery’s Ramirez has some pretty spectacular costumes in Highlander, including one particularly striking outfit that’s reminiscent of a peacock. Director Russell Mulcahy decided to save it and later handed the item over to the London Film Museum, which hosts a large collection of costumes and props from famous movies.
28. Queen were scheduled to do just one song
“Queen were meant to do only one track – it was the opening credits, ‘Princes Of The Universe,’ that was the deal,” Lambert told Den of Geek in 2018. “So they sat down for a private screening for them in a movie theater. And Freddie Mercury, when he came out, said, ‘I’m doing the whole f***ing album! This movie is too f***ing great!’ He wrote the songs in four weeks and went into studio, and it was one of the biggest-selling albums of their career.”
27. Connery only filmed for seven days
Sean Connery didn’t come cheap, and he was only on set for a week. Moreover, if the production had to keep him for any longer, he would receive additional payments. So for the last half-hour that Connery was on set, Mulcahy filmed him with three cameras in order to get as much footage as possible for the money.
26. The film used some new technology
Highlander utilized a new drone-like contraption called a SkyCam for filming. “I think when we used it, it was only the first or second time it had ever been used on a film,” Russell Mulcahy told Money Into Light in 2016. “We only had ten minutes to shoot the wrestling match in Queens in New York, and I wanted to start the film off big, so we used the SkyCam.”
25. The church scene horrified some priests
The movie’s church scene was a little awkward to film, seeing as how it was shot in a real place of worship. Clancy Brown improvised some of his dialogue in that scene – including the famous “better to burn out than to fade away” line – and he apologized to the church’s nuns and priests afterwards. Apparently, some of them had been making the sign of the cross during his performance.
24. Filming in Argentina was disastrous for the second film
Who’s most responsible for Highlander II being terrible? Well, the decision to film in Argentina apparently didn’t help matters. While the filmmakers were there, the country’s economy crashed, and the production began to cost more and more money. The film’s insurers then began interfering in the editing process, and the result was… well, the movie.
23. Sean Connery had plenty to say
Sean Connery was a veteran by the time he was cast in Highlander, and as a result he would sometimes tell the crew how they ought to be going about things. “He would group us together and air his views on why so and so wasn’t doing his job correctly,” Mulcahy told Cinefantastique in 1986. “This was free advice – very expensive, I might add – that none of us needed.”
22. Virginia Madsen’s role nearly went to Sharon Stone
Virginia Madsen played Louise Marcus in Highlander II, but another actress almost got the role. “It’s funny because it was between me and Sharon Stone. Me and Sharon were up against each other for at least five movies,” Madsen told A.V. Club in 2013. “I would get one, she wouldn’t, and then she would get one, and I wouldn’t. So, of course, she ended up winning the lottery – and I got Highlander II.”
21. Peat was dumped over a car park
One of the places Highlander was filmed at was Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. It had been built in the 13th century and so was almost perfect. The only problem was that it had gained a modern addition in the years since – a car park. So the filmmakers decided on a simple solution and laid a ton of peat on top of it.
20. Even the cast and crew don’t like Highlander II
“Highlander II was basically a mistake. The original film had been written as a one-piece story,” Russell Mulcahy admitted to Money into Light in 2016. Actor John C. McGinley was even harsher. “I got down to Buenos Aires, and it was a train wreck by the time I got there,” he told IGN in 2006, adding that Sean Connery “looked like he was ashamed to be there.”
19. The garage duel wasn’t filmed in a garage
One of the standout scenes in Highlander is the garage duel between MacLeod and Fasil, the latter of whom was portrayed by the film’s stunt coordinator Peter Diamond. It wasn’t a garage they fought in, though: it was a fruit market in London. No real London garages were suitable because the ceilings in them were conspicuously lower than American ones.
18. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first choice for The Kurgan
According to The Skinny, in 2016 Clancy Brown stated at the Edinburgh International Film Festival that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been asked to play The Kurgan first. The Austrian passed on the role as he was tired of playing villains. So Sting – yes, that Sting – recommended Brown to Russell Mulcahy. “Thank you, Sting and Arnold,” Brown said.
17. Connery and Lambert got along very well
Highlander’s two main actors struck up a friendship on the set. “We became very, very good friends. We clicked immediately, it was great,” Lambert told the website HeyUGuys in 2016. “Like most Scottish people, what you see is what you get. If they like you, they love you, if they don’t like you, they punch you.”
16. Lambert and Madsen might have had a romance
On the DVD commentary for Highlander II, producer Bill Panzer hinted that Christopher Lambert and Virginia Madsen had embarked on a fling. “When actors get down on a distant location like that, people become friends. And I think we could say that they certainly… became friends,” he stated. Madsen has apparently never spoken about the matter publicly.
15. Connery said only three words to Clancy Brown
When speaking at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2016, Clancy Brown explained that he and Sean Connery hadn’t become particularly close on the Highlander set. “Sean said only three words to me the entire show: ‘Do you golf?’ I said no, and that was the last time he spoke to me,” Brown recalled.
14. Highlander was supposed to have a different first scene
The first Highlander film opens with a wrestling bout, but it was originally intended to consist of something else: a hockey game. Rumor has it that the National Hockey League refused to let that happen, as it was worried about hockey being depicted as vicious.
13. Lambert fell in love with Scotland
Appropriately for his character, Lambert absolutely adores Scotland. “I love Scotland, and I loved making Highlander there. The people are so grounded, and what you see is what you get,” he told the Daily Record in December 2018. Indeed, he’s been back to the places there where Highlander was filmed on several occasions.
12. The Falklands War was a problem on the set
When the Highlander II team went to Argentina, it was in the wake of the Falklands War. The Argentinian and British crew members were uneasy around each other as a result, and occasionally it all spilled over into actual violence. Allegedly, a food fight once escalated into a real battle, with bottles being hurled.
11. The cast was told to not mention James Bond
Upon joining the Highlander II cast, Virginia Madsen was informed that no one was allowed to mention James Bond to Sean Connery. If you did so, in fact, it could lead to you losing your job on the film. Madsen, full of disbelief and anger, instead walked right up to Connery and immediately referenced his role as Bond. Thankfully, Connery grinned and hugged her.
10. Lambert has explained why he took the main role
Lambert was interested in the role of MacLeod not because the character was an action hero, but because MacLeod was allowed to show vulnerability. “What’s really interesting is the combination of the romantic side of immortality touching the action side that’s been put in the story,” he told The Hollywood News in 2018. “That’s what I’m missing today. Today a lot of action movies are lacking that romanticism, the sensitive moments.”
9. Clancy Brown has never seen Highlander II
Originally, there were plans to put The Kurgan in Highlander II. So Clancy Brown was sent a short sample of the script… and he disliked it instantly. He subsequently asked for more money, and the filmmakers refused. So not only did Brown not appear in the film, but he’s also never even actually watched it.
8. Sean Connery gave a voice-over from his bathroom
The start of Highlander features the voice of Sean Connery, but it sounds a little odd, like it had a special effect added. That wasn’t the case, though. Connery in fact did the voice-over at his home in Spain – in the bathroom, to be precise. And because voice technology wasn’t at its peak back then, no one realized how strange it sounded until too late in the day.
7. Highlander III ignores its prequel
Highlander II was, to put it mildly, not very well received. So when a third movie popped up in 1994, it ignored everything that had happened in Highlander II and created its own story instead. It did, however, reference the Highlander TV series, which was much more of a hit than Highlander II.
6. There was a lot of drinking on the set
The extras who worked on Highlander liked a good drink. “I’m not saying Scottish people drink all the time, but if they drink, they drink. It’s not a sip of wine, it’s a quarter of a bottle of scotch,” Lambert told The Guardian in 2016. And Sean Connery himself was apparently fond of a tipple.
5. Virginia Madsen actually enjoyed filming Highlander II
Despite its status as one of the worst films ever made, Virginia Madsen enjoyed her time on Highlander II. “I was working with Tarzan and James Bond. In Argentina! So excellent. That was the whole reason for doing that job,” she told Mandatory in 2014. “I got to go to Buenos Aires for three months and live there and work with these two extraordinary men.”
4. Lambert hardly spoke English when he was first cast
Lambert had only ever been in one English film before Highlander, which was a Tarzan movie called Greystoke. And in that, he communicated mostly in grunts. Mulcahy had no idea that his young star couldn’t speak much English at the time, in fact, but Lambert picked up the language quickly, and it all worked out for the best.
3. There are three official cuts of Highlander II
Lots of attempts over the years have been made to salvage Highlander II. At the moment, there are three versions of it floating about. These are the original theatrical edition, the director’s cut (sometimes called the Renegade Version) and finally the Special Edition. The latter two cuts remove all the Zeist bits from the story.
2. Michael Ironside’s stunt double was reportedly on drugs
In a 2015 interview with The A.V. Club, Michael Ironside let slip something about Highlander II. According to him, his stunt double was “hammered out of his mind on drugs” during the shoot. Not only did he once wake up Ironside at night while not wearing any clothes, but he was also so out of it that he messed up a stunt and broke his own ankle.
1. A reboot is planned
Good news for Highlander fans: there may eventually be another film. A whole reboot, in fact. Ryan Reynolds was originally attached to the project, but he dropped out. At the moment, Chad Stahelski is meant to be directing, and Dave Bautista is penciled in to play The Kurgan.