Highlander is one of the most enduring and underrated sci-fi/fantasy franchises ever conceived, but it’s also one marred by a host of problems from continuity errors to rampant studio interference. As such, the franchise has waned from the public consciousness in recent years, failing to age gracefully and feeling more and more like a relic of its time.
However, most fans memorialize the shining 1986 original as the best of the bunch, and for good reason. Highlander was completely different from any other sword-swinging epic of the time, and its multi-layered themes helped sell it as an action vehicle and a love story at the same time. Here are just a few of the amazing facts about what went into the making of this nostalgic classic.
10 Christopher Lambert Couldn’t Speak English
Unbeknownst to most audiences, Christopher Lambert spoke virtually no English when he took on the role of Connor MacLeod. His work on Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan afforded him the opportunity to act out his scenes without much in the way of dialogue.
Even the filmmakers were aghast when they signed Lambert for the role, only to discover his inability to speak fluent English soon after. Yet, Lambert not only made it through the film intact, but he managed to give a convincing performance as an English speaker.
9 Clancy Brown Scared The Crew
Imposing actor Clancy Brown must have been using the method acting approach when he took on the role of the Kurgan, since his on-set presence was enough to cause ripples. According to the crew, Brown was widely regarded as the Kurgan, even when his scenes weren’t being shot.
In reality, Brown was highly respectful of everyone in between takes, so much so that he openly apologized to the nuns and Priest for his character’s rough-tongued, blasphemous dialogue during a confrontation scene between himself and Connor MacLeod.
8 Queen’s Inspiration
According to rock band Queen, they were only scheduled to write one song for the film, but the subject matter inspired them so much that they wrote several more which have made the film’s soundtrack one of the most iconic in film history. This includes “It’s A Kind Of Magic,” which was used during the end credits.
After seeing an unfinished cut of the film, lead guitarist Brian May wrote the iconic classic “Who Wants To Live Forever,” which has been a staple of the franchise for decades. It continues to pull on the heartstrings as a tragic reminder of the losses incurred by watching loved ones die as one moves undying through the ages.
7 A Quickening For Real
Clancy Brown might have intimidated cast and crew alike with his mammoth size and highly intimidating performance, but, apparently, he was nervous as a kitten when it came time to share a scene with Sean Connery who played Ramirez, one of his most wacky roles. Originally, Brown was supposed to rush in and slice a table in half before engaging Connery in a battle.
However, director Russell Mulcahy reported that Brown instead took a swing at the candelabra and nearly decapitated Connery on the spot, which could have landed the incident on the list of the worst on-set tragedies in film history. The veteran actor stormed off the set in anger, prompting Brown to apologize profusely. The two quickly made amends, however, with Connery cracking a joke about Brown using his stunt double for those kinds of scenes.
6 The Kurgan’s Backstory
Although the film only provides a brief snippet of the Kurgan’s violent past, the novelization goes into far greater detail. It reveals that the Kurgan first died at the hands of his own father, only to reawaken as an immortal and slay him outright.
From there, the Kurgan participated in blood-soaked campaigns alongside simple bandits before working his way up to the Vandals, the Goths, and later Attila the Hun, the Vikings, and Genghis Khan, to name a few.
5 Drunk Extras
The opening scenes of the film portray battles in the Scottish Highlands between warring clans and the extras brought in to assist were a bit too enthusiastic. Their on-set shenanigans necessitated the presence of a full-blown medical team to deal with “accidents” that took place during filming.
According to legend, the extras would take a lunch break comprised largely of copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. Many would return to set already in the bag. They were then given weapons and told to make the ensuing battles convincing. One can guess how things went from there.
4 A Purging Fire
Many deleted scenes from the original film could have ended up in a future Director’s Cut, but they have sadly been lost forever due to a warehouse fire. They provided a bit more exposition, extra action, and lengthier flashback scenes that would have helped flesh the movie out.
Some scenes lost to the fire include a battle between the Kurgan and a dual-sword Asian immortal named Yung Dol Kim, a flashback of Connor and Kastagir, and a scene where MacLeod shows Brenda his katana blade.
3 A-Listers Galore
Many prominent A-list actors were given a shot at the role of Connor MacLeod, but they either didn’t work out or were turned down. The role eventually went to Christopher Lambert, which was a stroke of luck considering his talent for playing a tired immortal who had grown jaded throughout the centuries.
Some of the heavy hitters in line for the role included Michael Douglas, Sam Shepard, Kevin Costner, Sting, Mickey Rourke, action vet Kurt Russell—who pulled out during pre-production—and Mel Gibson. Ironically, Gibson would go on to portray Scotsman William Wallace in the 1995 smash hit Braveheart. Even more insane is the fact that Lambert was later offered the part of Martin Riggs in the first Lethal Weapon film, only to turn it down.
2 A Longer Final Battle
Russel Mulcahy originally intended for the final battle with the Kurgan to go on longer than just the point where he is beheaded. His original vision was for an animated dragon to appear in the shape of the dragon helmet the Kurgan wore at the start of the film.
This dragon was supposed to challenge MacLeod as an ultimate test that he was unprepared for, having battled opponents sword-to-sword for so many centuries. Only after defeating it would the final prize become his. Unfortunately, the $13 million dollar budget left no room for such a climax.
1 The Nature Of The Quickening
Most fans believe that immortals gain their everlasting life upon pain of their first death, but the Dynamite comics series gives another explanation which expands on a key ingredient: the Quickening, itself.
According to this explanation, immortals cease to age only after they have taken their first head and absorbed a Quickening. A simple death and reanimation causes them to continue aging, which means immortals that go through life without a battle could theoretically grow old and die.
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