Highlander is a 1986 fantasy action film directed by Russel Mulcahy and based on a story by Gregory Widen. The original draft of the script was titled Shadow Clan and was a much darker story than the finalized one. The film stars Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, and Roxanne Hart amongst its cast.
The film tells the story of Connor MacLeod, a 16th century Scottish Highlander who is an Immortals, who cannot die unless he is beheaded. And there are others like him. The film follows the period of his life that occurs in New York City during the year 1985, with the particular focus being his battles with the last remaining Immortals, in order for him to finally win "The Prize." The film has proved inspirational enough to spawn a franchise that includes four film sequels, and a 1992 television series spin-off.
The movie is set in 1985, and includes flashbacks to various periods in Connor's four and a half century long life time. The movie launched Lambert to super stardom and is considered one of his best roles yet. Critically, the movie was panned by a few, however, it has since gained a cult following and is considered by both critics and fans as the best movie by far in the franchise.
Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) was born in the year 1518 "in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel." In 1536, his clan was in conflict with the Clan Fraser, and Connor rode alongside his fellow MacLeods into his first battle. The Frasers were working with a giant of a man known as The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who recognized that Connor was a pre-Immortal and hoped to use the battle to kill him before he became aware of his abilities. On the battlefield, Connor felt a strange sensation, especially when he saw the Kurgan on top of a hill, and thunder and lightning also appear. The Kurgan had also struck a deal with one of Fraser's men, Murdoch, who promised The Kurgan that none of his men would attack or even challenge Connor during the battle, leaving him for The Kurgan himself.
As the battle raged, Connor wondered why none of the Fraser's forces would attack him, until he came across the Kurgan and was struck again by an odd pain (from sensing the proximity of another Immortal, though he didn't know it at the time). This left him open to attack, and as Connor was no match for this Russian warlord, the Kurgan mortally wounded Connor and prepared to decapitate him, but his MacLeod kinsmen intervened just in time to save his head, forcing the Kurgan to flee, vowing to return for Connor. The clan mourned Connor's death, but he was miraculously revived shortly after being declared dead, leading his fellow MacLeods to accuse him of witchcraft. As a result, his kinfolk cruelly shunned him, beat him severely and drove him from their village. Connor's cousin Angus (James Cosmo) intervened and ordered them to exile Connor instead. Connor escaped with his life, but was banished forever from his clan and birthplace, vowing never to return again. MacLeod eventually became a blacksmith in Glencoe, where he married Heather (Beatie Edney). In 1541, he was located by a much older Immortal, who introduced himself as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery). He explained that the pain Connor felt in the Kurgan's and Ramírez's presence is "The Quickening". Ramírez appointed himself MacLeod's tutor in the ways of being Immortal, sword combat, their pursuit of The Prize, and the rules of an age-old "Game," which will end when the few who remain participate in "The Gathering", noting that "in the end, there can be only one." Immortals can only die by decapitation and can only avoid battle on holy ground. Ramírez later explained that his own name was just his current alias, being Egyptian by birth. He adopted it while serving as Chief Metallurgist for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (also King of Spain between 1516-1556). His sword was a katana he received in Japan in 593 B.C., made by his then father-in-law Masamune. Masamune, a genius far ahead of his time in the forging of swords, was the father of Shakiko, Ramírez's third wife. Ramírez also takes it upon himself to improve MacLeod's swordsmanship, which he declares is "no better than that of a clumsy child."
Ramírez warned MacLeod to leave his wife or face heartbreak, explaining that "I was born 2,437 years ago. In that time, I've had three wives. The last was Shakiko, a Japanese princess... When Shakiko died, I was shattered. I would save you that pain. Please, let Heather go." He also explained that Immortals were incapable of having children. MacLeod refused to leave his wife, though he continued to train under Ramírez, who also explained the origins of the Kurgan and the risk for the world if he won the Prize.
One night, the Kurgan arrived at MacLeod's home while MacLeod himself was absent, though Heather and Ramírez were there. The Kurgan and Ramírez dueled, with the frightened Heather their only spectator. During the extended fight, which destroyed the old castle keep, Ramírez slashes the Kurgan deep in his throat. The wound is non-fatal but leaves the Kurgan with a much deeper tone in his voice. The Kurgan still managed to defeat Ramirez, driving his sword through the old man and decapitating him. He receives the Quickening from the dead Ramírez and grabs Heather and rapes her before fleeing.
MacLeod soon returned to find his home in ruins, his mentor killed, and his wife alive but traumatized. MacLeod remained with Heather until her death from old age. Dying in MacLeod's arms, she confided that her only regret was not having his children. After burying Heather, MacLeod burned their residence and wandered the world.
In 1985 New York City, the few surviving Immortals were drawn to "The Gathering", a final series of confrontations to determine the winner of "The Prize". Eventually, the last two surviving are MacLeod, under the alias of "Russell Edwin Nash" and the Kurgan, under the alias of "Victor Kruger." Meanwhile, the spike in what appear to be murders by decapitation has drawn the attention of the New York Police Department. One night while attending a wrestling match in Madison Square Garden, Connor sensed an Immortal close by and leaves. He went to the garage under the garden where he was confronted by Iman Fasil (Peter Diamond) who lunged at Connor with his sword. But Connor countered this move and kicksed Fasil and took out his katana and fought him.
The fight swings back and forward, Fasil eluding MacLeod amongst the cars, rushing at him out of the shadows. Then the momentum swung to Fasil, as he separated MacLeod from his sword, but he cannot press his advantage and MacLeod vanished. Out of sight, MacLeod recovered his sword and then stepped out to face Fasil. This time, there was nowhere to go and Fasil was the one disarmed. The two look at each other for a last moment, before MacLeod beheaded Fasil and received his quickening.
Picking himself up, Connor hides his sword in an overhead grating before driving out of the garage. But he is not quick enough and is arrested by police arriving to investigate the disturbance. The police question him but he denies killing Fasil or Osta Vazilek (another Immortal killed in New Jersey a few nights before) and with no evidence, they let Connor go but still consider him as their prime suspect.
Among the investigators of the case is forensic scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart), who is well-versed in the provenance of swords. Samples taken from the crime scene reveal the sword used is more than 2000 years old (MacLeod is now using Ramírez's sword) and she begins investigating him, primarily over interest in the sword. MacLeod returns to Madison Square Garden to collect his sword, but finds that he is not the only one searching. Brenda Wyatt is also there collecting samples. Connor later follows her to a bar but strikes a nerve with her and she leaves. As Connor does the same, Brenda follows him and is amazed when the Kurgan attacks Conner. The fight is interrupted by a police helicopter and both men flee, the giant’s parting shot being that they will meet again. Brenda follows MacLeod, asking what the giant meant. Why did he call him “Highlander”? And if there can be only one, only one what? Connor tells her to go home and leaves her standing on the street corner. More determined than ever to find out what is going on, Brenda uses a little subterfuge to confirm that the man she followed from the bar is Russell Nash, the antiques dealer questioned over Fasil’s death. She goes to his antiques store, but is stonewalled by Nash’s secretary, Rachel Ellenstein (Sheila Gish) until the man himself appears, inviting himself to dinner at her apartment. That evening, as he prepares to go out, Rachel confronts him about what he is doing. She is more to him than a secretary, being his adoptive daughter and confidant. Connor found her orphaned amongst the ruins of the Second World War and the young Rachel saw him killed, only to come back to life and save them both. For her, on many levels, this man has a kind of magic and she is concerned at his eternal isolation and loneliness. Connor goes to Brenda’s apartment, already knowing that she is with the police. He lets her know that he knows by giving her a copy of her own book on the metallurgy of swords. He accuses her of trying to set him up with the cops, but she is desperate to find the sword and only that. She demands answers, but he tells her she has no right to them. He leaves, but as he walks away, Ramirez’ voice comes unbidden to mind. “You must leave her, brother."
Days later, Connor meets his best friend and fellow African Immortal Sunda Kastagir (Hugh Quarshie) in Central Park and the two men share a night of partying one last time. Later, Kastagir challenges the Kurgan in an alley. Unfortunately, the fight attracts a street full of witnesses. One of them, a survivalist named Kirk Matunas, tries to gun down the Kurgan after he kills Kastagir but is impaled on the Kurgan’s sword and thrown against the wall. Unable to move, he has a front row seat as the Kurgan receives Kastagir’s Quickening. The Kurgan makes his escape, leaving the survivalist to give a description to the police, who are less than pleased that their mysterious head-hunter isn’t Russell Nash.
Later, Connor goes to church, his yearly remembrance of his promise to Heather, but his reflections are disturbed by the Kurgan, gloating in the death of Kastagir. They are the last and the Kurgan has every intention of taking Connor’s head and the Prize. He mocks Connor, telling him how Ramirez died on his knees and how he raped "His woman". Connor’s reaction tells him that his long-held belief that she was Ramirez’ woman was wrong. The Kurgan gloats, believing that he has wounded Connor, but he soon realizes that all he has done is light a fire under MacLeod. Now, the Highlander has a reason to want him dead that goes beyond mere survival. Connor returns to the store to find Brenda demanding to see him. When she tells him that she knows the truth about Nash, he tells her the rest of it. And kills himself to prove it. The Kurgan then sees a way to distract the Highlander. As Brenda returns home, the Kurgan is waiting and forces his way into her apartment, kidnapping her. He terrifies her with a high speed rampage through the New York traffic, playing chicken with trucks and mowing down pedestrians. When he finally has her cowed, he leaves a message for Connor, inviting him to come get her. Rachel knows that, win or lose, Connor is not coming back and says her goodbyes to both Russell Nash and Connor MacLeod.
Connor goes to the abandoned movie studio where the Kurgan is waiting and finds Brenda tied to the neon sign on the roof. As he tries to free her, the Kurgan comes out of the dark and attacks him. Connor eludes the Kurgan, who smashes through the supports for the neon sign, causing it to crash down. As it does, it
down the water tower next to it and floods the roof. Brenda scrambles from the wrecked sign in time to see Connor and the Kurgan fall through a roof light into the building below. Both men are winded, but the Kurgan is quicker and kicks away Connor’s sword. He is ready to finish the Highlander when Brenda hits him with a piece of pipe. Distracted, he turns his attention on her, giving Connor time to retrieve his katana and blocks the Kurgan's sword from hitting Brenda. "What kept you?" Connor says to Brenda and continues the fight. The two of them face off for a final time, but each time they clash, it is the Kurgan who feels steel slicing through his skin. The two stare at each other, but for the first time fear mingles with the madness in the Kurgan’s eyes and Connor steps through, and with one stroke of his sword taking the Kurgan’s head.
The final Quickening is unleashed and Connor is lifted into the air as the power of the Prize rages around him in the empty building. When it is finished, Connor leaves New York, taking Brenda with him, and returns to his homeland Scotland. He knows the thoughts of all men and can guide them as he wishes, he can live, grow old and have children. He is at one with all living things. He has power beyond imagination and, in his mind, he hears Ramirez urging him to use it wisely, and not to lose his head.
Gregory Widen wrote the script to Highlander, then titled "Shadow Clan", as a class assignment while he was attending the workshop of Richard Walter, chairman of the screenwriting department at University of California, Los Angeles. Widen sold the script in 1982 for two US$10,000 paychecks.According to Bill Panzer, producer of the Highlander franchise, " Gregory Widen was a student at film school, and he wrote this as his writing class project. He was apparently traveling through Scotland on his summer vacation and he was standing in front of a suit of armor, and he wondered, 'What would it be like if that guy was alive today?' And that's where everything fell into place - the idea that there are Immortals and they were in conflict with each other, leading secret lives that the rest of us are unaware of.
Widen's original screenplay was dark and gritty. The original script for the film, which he wrote in 1981 as part of a class project, was a much darker portrayal of both Connor MacLeod and the Highlander univers. Major differences between Widen’s script and the final film included:
|Feature Name||Draft Name|
|Connor Macleod/ Russell Nash||Connor Macleod/Richard Taupin|
|The Kurgan/ Victor Kruger||The Knight/ Carl Smith|
|Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez||Juan Cid Romirez|
|Brenda J. Wyatt||Brenna Cartwright|
|Sunda Kastagir||Ling Kah|
Interesting points about the original screenplay include:
- The main story takes place in Washington DC and Worstick, Pennsylvania rather than New
- It is revealed through different dialogue throughout that apparently, Immortals in
Widen’s Highlander universe can have children. Connor states that he has had 38 children throughout his life and sadly buried them all.
- Immortals in the script are depicted as not being as resilient when it came to healing
from mortal wounds. This is seen when after being mortally wounded by the Knight, Connor’s recovery from what should have been a fatal wound is slow to the point that he uses a Shepard’s stick as a cane to walk. Also when Ramirez stabs him in the chest to prove a point about him being immortal, it takes Connor three days to recover from his mortal wound. Connor also has visible sword and bullet scars on his body that have faded with time.
- The church scene in the final scene was original a flashback sequence set in the 18th
- The Final battle between MacLeod and the Knight takes place outside the Jefferson
Memorial at the entrance by the Bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson.
- In the script, Connor was born on December 11th 1408 in the village of
Ardverk on the Highland plains of Strathnaver in the clan of MacLeod under the King of Scotland. He had a mother and father named Ian and a younger brother. In the Present day his alias was Richard Tupin.
- Ramirez is a Spaniard rather than an ancient Egyptian. He is the chief surveyor and
alchemist to his majesty of Spain.
- Brenda in the script is a historian working at the Smithsonian who occasionally
assists the police. She once studied law but dropped out of law school.
- The Kurgan in the script was known as the Knight. His origins were unknown.
Interestingly, his clothes in the script consisted of Levi jeans and leather jacket much like what Connor wears in the film at some point.
- MacLeod’s clansmen give him the cold shoulder in the tavern but are not physically
violent with him. They begin to chant religious scripts which make him really pissed and storms out of there. Prior to this, he went to see Mara, the young girl whom he was recently engaged to marry. She tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. After speaking with his parents, he packs his satchel and leaves the village forever. Five years after he left the village, he now owns a blacksmith shop in another village where he lives alone (No wife named Heather).
- Ramirez tells Connor about how he was crushed by a cart driven by a drunken fool. When he didn’t die and recovered from his wounds, he was driven away from his
- “It is always less with my living. Far or near. But if I were to die the push would be stronger than ever before. there is power in this. and as long as you and I
live, the knight can never have it all.”
- The battle between the Knight and Ramirez takes place in MacLeod’s home. the Knight
cuts off Ramirez’s leg and as Ramirez attempts to crawl away, the knight takes his head and quickening. A few minutes later in the blacksmith barnyard, Connor senses the quickening and runs back home only to find the Knight gone and Ramirez’s head on the floor. He begins to cry.
has a farmhouse in Worstick Pennsylvania which he lived in around 1928 as William Taupin. When he faked his death, he left the deed to himself as his son Richard and the home has been taken care of by a man named Mr. North for many years now. When Connor returns to the home, North comments on how amazing he resembles his father. After cleaning up the place, he returns to DC.
- The African Immortal named Sunda Kastagir in the film is an Asian named Ling Kahn
in the 1st script. He meets MacLeod in a small pub and after having a few drinks, then they leave, later they sit on the steps of a government building at the Washington Mall at night talking about old times. After a while, they sneak into the Washington zoo while walking around and looking at the animals, they begin to seriously discuss the gathering and the importance of life.
- At some point in the script, there is a scene where the Knight calls Brenna with
information about Conner and to meet him at the same bar where Conner and Khan were. She waits for him at the bar but he never shows up. When she leaves, she runs into him in the street and he begins to chase her on foot down the street through and auction house and into the subway where she finally loses him. She then goes to MacLeod’s apartment for help only to find it ransacked by the knight earlier. After finding an old photo of MacLeod from 1928 in front of his farmhouse, she goes to find him.
- There is a long flashback of when Connor using the alias DuPont, Major of the French
infantry in 18th century Europe. He meets an immortal named Mulet who is part of a new regiment under his command. During the night, they talk and MacLeod offers to help the young immortal (as Ramirez did for him) but Mulet is stubborn and refuses his help. They begin to fight. MacLeod with cutlass and Mulet swing his battle axe. MacLeod quickly cuts off both of Mulet’s arms and takes his head. After, Connor drags Mulet’s body into a swamp, hiding the headless body. Later in the flashback, Connor sits in a cathedral at night. The Knight dressed in uniform like Connor sits behind him. The Knight talks about MacLeod killing Mulet and how he has become ambitious like him. When Connor thinks that the Knight might try to take his head, the Knight tells him there is nothing to worry about here
- As Connor receives the prize, there is no massive energy surrounding
him like in the film. Instead he doubles down in pain as he feels an invisible force inside of him.
Marc Singer was the producers' first choice for the role of Connor MacLeod. But Singer proved to be unavailable for the role, and he had to turn it down. Among the other actors considered for the role of Connor were Michael Douglas, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Mickey Rourke, Patrick Swayze, and Mel Gibson. The musician Sting, who ended up being a contributor to the film's soundtrack, was also considered for the role.
The role eventually went to Christophe(r) Lambert, an American-born actor who had been reared in French-speaking Switzerland and whose first language is actually French, not English. Lambert was still learning English by the time he accepted the role; indeed, Highlander marked only his second English-language film, the first having been Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Lambert was given a dialect coach to develop a Scottish accent as well as an American one.
Rutger Hauer, Nick Nolte, Roy Scheider, and Scott Glenn were all considered for the role of The Kurgan before Clancy Brown was finally signed. Brown had initially intended to turn down the role when he found out that the film would require him to wear prosthetics, as he is allergic to makeup; he had been hospitalized in 1985, during filming a movie, due to a severe reaction to it. But in the end, He accepted the role.
Glenn Close, Jennifer Beals, Diane Lane, Karen Allen, Rosanna Arquette, Sigourney Weaver, Annabella Sciorra, Sean Young,Lorraine Bracco, Jessica Capshaw, and Tanya Roberts were all considered for the role of Brenda Wyatt before Roxanne Hart was signed. Brooke Adams was the original choice for the role of Brenda.
Before Sean Connery was cast as Ramirez, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman,Lee Van Cleef,Malcolm McDowell and Peter O' Toole were considered for the role.
Virginia Madsen auditioned for the role of Heather MacLeod. Catherine Mary Stewart was originally cast as Heather. But for unknown reasons, she was replaced.
Filming began in April 1985 and ended August 30, 1985. It took place on location in Scotland and United States of America (New York City). Director Russell Mulcahy filmed it using music video techniques including fast cutting and pacy music. Director of Photography Arthur Smith filmed the scene where fish fall out of Macleod's kilt, but Lambert's kilt was too short. Smith says, "I stuck part of a drain pipe above Chris's kilt out of camera range, and fed live trout down the tube." Smith also had difficulties shooting the scene where Macleod meets the Kurgan. It was raining and the crew had to use umbrellas and hair dryers to prevent the water from hitting the camera lenses and appearing on the film. Smith also remembered that Lambert, who is near-sighted, "kept forgetting to take off his glasses as he came over the hill on his horse. The filming of the parking garage scene took place in two different places.
According to New York location manager Brett Botula, "the garage exterior is Manhattan, across from Madison Square Garden, and the interior is 'somewhere in London. The location for the scene where the Macleod clan sets off to battle is Eilean Donan Castle, which is in the same general area where the action is supposed to take place, but is really on the shore of Loch Duich, a sea loch near Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye. During the film scene at Eilean Donan castle, the car park by the castle had to be covered up with tons of peat to disguise it, the house located by the bridge out to the Castle was boxed in with hardboard and painted over so that it looked just like real stone even when you stood right beside it.
Extras were paid £25 a day with a £10 bonus if they took their own horse. A lot of the locals took days off work to do it. According to the DVD commentary, the film's climax was originally intended to take place on top of the Statue of Liberty. Then it was changed to an amusement park, and finally changed to the rooftop of the Silvercup Studios building. The opening sequence was originally intended to take place during an NHL hockey game. But the NHL refused to allow the crew to film there because they were intending to emphasize the violence of the match. The church scene involving Kurgan (Clancy Brown) was filmed at night time with the permission of the priests in charge. Still, Brown's lines were ad-libbed and were reportedly considered so sacrilegious that the priests off-camera were making the sign of the cross as he said them. The 'Rachel Scene', which is missing in the US version of the film, was considered so important to the story and McLeod's character, that the producers and director personally paid to have it shot after the film had ended filming.
The opening scene was intended to take place during an NHL hockey match, but the NHL refused to allow the crew to film there because, by the crew's own admission, they were intending to emphasize the violence of the hockey match.
- The sword fight between MacLeod and Fasil was filmed in Earls Court 2 car park London, England not in New York, Madison Square Garden.
- The brief snippet of "New York, New York" performed by Queen during the movie has never been released officially on an album or single by the group. It wasn't included on the official soundtrack either. The soundtrack was released and then deleted, and re-released in 2003 as a numbered limited edition.
- Christopher Lambert had just barely learned to speak English when he took this role. The only other English-speaking film he had been in at that point was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, in which he spoke only a few words.
- The final battle between Conner and The Kurgan was originally intended to take place at the Statue of Liberty. Then it was changed to an amusement Park and then finally The Silver Cup Movie studio.
The Highlander original orchestral score was composed by Michael Kamen. David Bowie and Sting were considered to do the films soundtrack. Marillion turned down the chance to record the soundtrack because they were on a world tour, a missed opportunity which guitarist Steve Rothery later said he regretted. The band's lead singer, Fish, had also been offered a part in the film. The eventual soundtrack includes several songs by Queen, such as "A Kind of Magic" and "Princes of the Universe" (the latter also being used for the Highlander television series title sequence). Queen wrote many of the songs specifically to match the mood of the scenes when the songs play, notably Brian May's "Who Wants to Live Forever", concerning the doomed love of Connor and his wife Heather.
Despite a mention in the end credits, to date a complete soundtrack album for Highlander has not been released. However, Queen's 1986 album A Kind of Magic features most of the songs from the film (although sometimes in different arrangements). Songs from the film that appear on the album are "Princes of the Universe", "Gimme the Prize (Kurgan's Theme)" (the album version includes snippets of dialogue from the film), "One Year of Love", "Don't Lose Your Head", "Who Wants to Live Forever", and "A Kind of Magic". The album and single edits of "A Kind of Magic" feature a different mix from the one in the film; a 2011 re-release of the album includes the long-unreleased Highlander version of the song. The album does not include Queen's recording of "Theme from New York, New York", which features briefly in Highlander. "Hammer to Fall", a Queen song heard playing from a car radio in one scene, was from an earlier album, The Works.
The 1995 CD Highlander: The Original Scores includes five cues from Kamen's Highlander score (along with six cues from Stewart Copeland's Highlander II score, and four cues from J. Peter Robinson's Highlander III score). Furthermore, a rearrangement of an excerpt from Kamen's score (specifically, the beginning of the track "The Quickening") was used as the theme music for New Line Cinema's logo indent in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
A duel sequence that introduced an Asian immortal named Yung Dol Kim was cut from the film and the footage for the scene, along with certain other deleted scenes, was later destroyed by fire. A few stills from the sequence, some in color and others in black & white, did survive and were later used in the collectible card game based on Highlander for cards featuring the Kim character. All that is known about Kim is that he was working as a night security guard in a New York City office building at the time of the Gathering, where he was challenged and ultimately beheaded by the Kurgan. In the continuity of the film, the Kurgan's duel with Kim takes place before his duel with Kastagir.
Connor, Kastagir and Bedsoe partying at a bar. The scene expanded more on Kastagir and Connor's relationship and revealed that they met during the American Revolutionary War.
In the scene following Connor taking the Kurgan's head, director Russell Mulcahy had originally envisioned an animated dragon with the Kurgan's skull battle helmet emerging from the Kurgan's decapitated body and challenging Connor again. Only after Connor had defeated this Ghost-Dragon would he have received the final quickening and subsequent Prize. This idea was eventually cut due to budget restraints.
The European version of the film contained scenes not found in the American version. The Director's Cut is based upon this version, and it runs eight minutes longer than the U.S. version. The additional scenes include:
- MacLeod having a short flashback about his first battle in Scotland during the wrestling match.
- A longer fight scene between Connor and Fasil, mainly Fasil doing backflips through the garage.
- A scene showing Connor's first love, Kate, bringing him flowers before he goes to battle.
- A flashback to World War II that further develops the character of Rachel Ellenstein.
- Longer sex scene between Connor and Brenda.
- A scene where the Kurgan can be seen in the background trailing MacLeod and Brenda at the zoo.
- Much longer fight scene between MacLeod and the Kurgan at the end of the movie.
There are several changes in dialogue from the theatrical version:
- Whenever an Immortal is sensed, you can now hear whooshing sounds.
- When Connor and Ramirez jump into the water during training, Ramirez (in the theatrical version) shouts, "MacLeod, this is the Quickening!"
- When Connor is talking about the 1783 bottle of wine (in the theatrical version), after he says, "Brandy, bottled in 1783", you can see Brenda's head moving but there is no sound. In the new release, she says, "Wow, that's old."
- After Connor wins The Prize and is being comforted by Brenda (in the theatrical version), he looks up and says, "I want to go home." This is missing in the new release.
The new release is also missing a short scene of Detective Bedsoe spilling coffee on himself while staking out Brenda's apartment. 
The French theatrical version of "Highlander" is mainly the same version as the U.S theatrical. It does add the World War II flashback but it also removes the interior shot of Detective Bedsoe in his car while on a stakeout. This has been issued on 2-disc and 3-disc DVD sets in France with French dialogue only. 
The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy and scripted by Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson, and Gregory Widen. Upon initial U.S. release, it was not well-received, but it gained wide and persistent popularity in Europe and on other markets, as well as on home video. It has since obtained status as a cult classic film in both domestic and non-domestic markets, leading to four sequels, a television series, and various other spin-offs.
The movie made $2,453,021 on its opening weekend and ended up making $5,735,847 domestically. Internationally, the movie made $12,885,193.
Danél Griffin of Film as Art awarded the film four stars (out of four), saying: "The key to Highlander's success is in its approach to its subject matter. What could have been a premise that breathes cliché is given a fresh approach due to Mulcahy’s unique directing style and a cleverly-written script. [...] Highlander is certainly a classic film that will continue to be cherished and watched as the world of movie making continues to grow and change. It is a triumphant example of the art of cinema, and watching it reminds us all of why we like going to the movies in the first place." Christopher Null of FilmCritic.com gave the film four and a half stars out of five, "Highlander has no equal among sword-and-sorcery flicks." Null later called Highlander "the greatest action film ever made," saying that it features "awesome swordfights, an awesome score, and a time-bending plotline that only a philistine could dislike."
Matt Ford of the BBC gave the film three stars out of five, saying: "From the moody, rain-soaked, noir-ish streets of late 20th century America to the wild open spaces of medieval Scotland, Mulcahy plunders movie history to set off his visceral fight scenes with suitably rugged locations. [...] What the film loses through ham acting, weak narrative, and pompous macho posturing it more than compensates with in sheer fiery bravado, pace, and larger than life action." Dean Winkelspecht of DVD Town also gave Highlander three stars out of five, saying: "The film's slow pace and dated look will turn away many a new viewer [...] However, there is a certain appeal to the film that brings back many for a second or third helping. I have learned to appreciate the film over the years, [and] the film's story is unique and entertaining."
Also giving the film three stars out of five, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk said, "The screenplay spots a number of intelligent, creative ideas, and I find the very concept of displacing the sword-and-sorcery genre to then-modern-day New York City to be fairly inventive. The dialogue and performances don't quite match many of the film's concepts, though. The tone seems somewhat uneven, as if Highlander is unsure if it wants to be seen as a straight adventure epic or if it's a campy action flick." IGN, awarding Highlander a score of 8 out of 10, said: "This 80s classic has a lot going for it. The hardcore MTV manner in which it was filmed is common these days, but was groundbreaking then. This movie features some of the best scene transitions committed to celluloid. [...] To this is added some fun performances by Connery and especially Clancy Brown."
Home Video Releases
The video was a domestic hit in the United States. The theatrical release of Highlander II: The Quickening in 1991 significantly increased the rental activity on Highlander even though the sequel was not a box-office success. Highlander was first released to DVD in the United States in 1996, in a "10th Anniversary Edition" Director's Cut that contained the international uncut version of the film. A "15th Anniversary" edition was released in Australia in 2001, which also contained the International cut of the film. Highlander was again released in 2002 in two editions: a special edition "Immortal Edition" with several extra features and a standard edition, both of which contain the International uncut version. On the 17 June 2009 French distributor StudioCanal issued the film on Blu-ray with identical releases following in Germany, UK, Holland, Australia and Japan. The U.S. director's cut is currently available on DVD in North America from Lionsgate under license from the film's current owner, StudioCanal. 20th Century Fox, the theatrical distributor, remains the television rights holder.
A novelization of the film was written by Gary Kilworth. It expanded more on the movie by telling how The Kurgan met his first death, his training with an Immortal Arab only known as "The Bedouin" and eventually killing him. The novel also reveals how The Kurgan gets his customized Broadsword and his battle with an Immortal Mongol before meeting MacLeod in 1536. The novel also expands on Connor's friendship with the African Immortal Sunda Kastagir. There is a flashback of them during the Zulu Natal Wars of 1879 in which Connor was captured by Zulu King Cetewayo's men and Kastagir helps his friend escape and showed Connor the way to the closest British camp. Rachel in the novel is posing as Connor's mother.
References in Popular Culture
- References to Highlander are common in entertainment, such as in the Cartoon Network animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force, wherein a character (Master Shake) within it considers the film to be an actual documentary, and that the events happened in real-time. Also, in the Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros., #21 becomes convinced that Hank Venture is an Immortal, saying that "I've personally seen you die, like, ten times." In the film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell's character, Ricky Bobby, compares the intense rivalry with NASCAR driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) with the plot of Highlander. While explaining the movie to Girard, a Frenchman, he states that it won the Academy Award for "Best Movie Ever Made." Later in the film, Girard claims he had seen the movie, and says "It was shit!"
- Parodies have also been made of the film, copying the plot and visuals while comically substituting known personalities as the characters in the film. Among these, another Cartoon Network animated series, Robot Chicken, parodies the film using Hollywood as the setting, and several teen idols such as Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, and Hilary Duff as Immortal characters.
- Marie-Pier Côté, a 12-year old Canadian, published a novel called Laura l'immortelle. On March 13, 2007 the French-language newspaper La Presse published an article noting a list of similarities between Laura l'immortelle and Highlander. Côté later admitted that the story was a plagiarized Highlander fan fiction originally written by a Frenchman.
- In the USA Network show Psych the movie was referenced, keeping with the show's trend of referencing obscure trivia. The main character, Shawn Spencer and his father, Henry Spencer are investigating a robbery, when his father says, about the house that was robbed, "This house was chosen for a reason." Shawn then replies by saying "There can be only one," (as Christopher Lambert) and then telling his father he thought they were doing lines from Highlander. He then imitates Sean Connery who played Ramirez in the movie. His father then replies, "Everybody can do Connery, your Lambert sucks."
- In the online first person shooter Team Fortress 2, the Demoman, a one-eyed black Scotsman, can obtain a sword called The Eyelander. The sword is a reference to the film's title and the Demoman's missing eye. It is capable of decapitations, which is the only way to kill Immortals. Players can also earn an achievement playing as the Demoman titled "There can be only one."
- The 2008 Seth Rogen film Zack and Miri Make a Porno references Highlander when Rogen's character, named Zack, goes to his high school reunion and runs into one of his classmates, also named Zack (but his name badge says Zack 2), who says "There can be only one". Zack 2 explains that he use to shout it whenever the 2 passed in the halls.
- The movie Ninja Assassin follows the same general structure of a modern investigation interleaved with flashbacks leading to a final confrontation. In the climax of the movie, the heroine assists the hero in his battle against the primary villain leading the hero to joke, "What took you so long?"
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, there are small blue creatures called the Nac Mac Feegles which uses a battle cry of "There can be only one thousand".
- Elder Dragon Highlander was the original name of a player created format for the popular trading card game Magic: The Gathering. The inclusion of Highlander in the format's original name was a reference to the film's tagline of "There can only be one," as one of the format's defining rules was limiting players to only a single copy of any non basic land card, rather than the typical four copies allowed in most other formats. Despite the game's publisher Wizards of the Coast adopting it as an official format and changing it's name to Commander in 2011, many players still refer to it by it's original name.
- In 2014, an ABC television series, Forever, featured a character who is immortal (Ioan Gruffudd), who had been wandering the world for over two hundred years and kept recovering from fatal occurrences. His character is an ME in NYC and in one episode the body on the table was that of a guy killed by a single thrust of a sword. The suspect: a delusional guy who thought he was immortal. The assistant ME, said he'd put out an APB for the Highlander.