Highlander (1986)
April 3, 2018 7:10 PM - Subscribe

There can only be one.

NYTimes: What, you may ask, is an actor like Sean Connery doing with fourth-place billing in a movie like ''Highlander''? Well, since you asked, he is a 2,437-year-old Egyptian who shows up in 16th-century Scotland to inform young Connor MacLeod that they are both immortal and that MacLeod must go through the centuries until the climactic ''last gathering'' when the immortals will engage in a duel to the end, for ''there can be only one.''

Variety: Adding to the confusion in time, director Russell Mulcahy can’t seem to decide from one scene to the next whether he’s making a sci-fi, thriller, horror, music video or romance – end result is a mishmash.

Chicago Tribune: About halfway through the violent, fantasy adventure "Highlander," one character talks about how it was the custom during ancient times to throw babies into a pit of hungry dogs.

BBC: 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. Stylistically "Highlander" may have dated as badly as Christopher Lambert's mullet, but so what?

AV Club: Exiting the theater that night, I was left with a rhetorical question: Why are so many people in love with this cheesy, plodding, badly written, laughably acted, showily directed piece of shit? (A piece of shit that inspired several sequels, including the infamous Highlander 2: The Quickening, a TV show, and an in-the-works remake.)

Twenty years later, I wanted to revisit Highlander and turn that rhetorical question into an actual one. And to my surprise, the answers were easy and the question too harshly phrased. Cheesy? Plodding? Badly written? Laughably acted? Showily directed? Absolutely. A piece of shit? Not at all, because the film, however significant its flaws, delivers where it matters—in epic swordfights set against striking backdrops, in the outsized emotions (okay, bombast) suggested by the Queen soundtrack, and in the man-of-destiny sweep that’s been the lifeblood of modern fantasies from The Matrix to Harry Potter.

Empire: Despite its many failings though, somewhere in here there's an idea that's undeniably fun. Of all the 'not quite on the mark' projects out there, this is possibly the premise most deserving of a remake.

It's clumsyily put together and it makes bugger all sense, but dammit, there's something alluring about this story. Don't go in expecting too much and you should be ok. And for God's sake - stay away from the sequels.


Filming Locations

Soundtrack by Queen

How we made Highlander: 'Connery opened his homemade whisky on the plane'

There can be only one: why Highlander will live forever
posted by MoonOrb (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"What does baffled mean?"
posted by Catblack at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

I heart this movie so much. The look, the sound, the outrageous accents, the endlessly quotable dialogue, the Queen music. There should have been only one.
posted by kreinsch at 9:33 PM on April 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

There is a publicity still from the movie of Macleod and Ramirez walking along a beach and laughing. I was the Entertainment Editor of my university newspaper in 1986 and I have no regrets about runnnng it with the caption “Sean Connery and Christophe Lambert laugh their heads off in Highlander.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:04 PM on April 3, 2018 [12 favorites]

This is the first movie franchise where I actively started denying that any sequels were ever made, basically because this was the first movie franchise that broke my young, naive, movie loving heart with the sequels (that don't exist).
posted by alchemist at 5:07 AM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

The TV show, however, is good stuff and holds up very well. Even though Duncan MacLeod does seem to have forgotten his origins on the planet Zeist.
posted by asperity at 6:18 AM on April 4, 2018 [10 favorites]

I love this movie. Powering through through all flaws just adds to the charm.

I don't like the idea of a remake because while the concept is good and could have been done better, Highlander is a movie with a clear and well defined end game. In the modern industry, any movie of this type already must have two more sequels ready to go, which, once again, kinda defeats the whole end game thing. Sure, they could drag The Gathering for all movies, but that's hardly ideal because the risk of Matrixing the whole deal is very high.
Also, they'd have to find another lead with extreme nearsightedness, just to make sure the other actors are scared for their pretty faces. And with a tenuous grasp of the English language (well, the whole "his accent is weird" thing surely comes from someone from a country with little emigration - I've heard the Portuguese spoken by people who have moved away permanently from the country, and it's in the same uncanny valley Lambert's English is).
posted by lmfsilva at 6:59 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes, I fully realize that my love for this movie has no direct, or even inverse, relationship to its quality as a film. It's a godawful mess, and I adore it. (There a lot of movies like that for me. Streets of Fire is another one.)

I don't even mind the later sequels, where they just ignore number two - about which I will say no more. And the TV series is actually pretty good.
posted by Naberius at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

This movie is pure cheesy goodness. Scottish actor playing an Spanish-Egyptian, French actor playing a Scotsman, Clancy Brown as the Kurgan (I was shocked to realize he's now the voice of Mr. Krabs), the soundtrack, the quotes! Even the nonsensical bits are a blast - the backflips during the opening swordfight; the fact that the swordfight happens at a wrestling match; the utterly baffling scene on the beach with the stag.
posted by nubs at 9:12 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I loved this movie and it still has a place deep in my heart; Connery was ridiculous but Clancy Brown really stole the movie.

The rotoscope/ hand-drawn animation after the finale really dates the movie, but I have a fondness for pre-CG labours of love.

Adored the TV show - especially the flashbacks - but it started losing its way (like so many TV shows). iirc, it was one of the first TV shows where I noticed all the filming locations as being familiar (Vancouver, BC).
posted by porpoise at 10:24 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yup, love this movie. I love it for being a new and creative idea that mixes genres and times. I always appreciate a flawed attempt at something exciting over a perfectly done retread of the same thing.

In hindsight they made a huge mistake in the ending by leaving no room for a sequel, but they had no way of knowing there'd ever be demand for one. Plus, in the 80s, sequels were not quite yet the thing they are now, one-off movies were still standard.
posted by dnash at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

For years I hated this movie without having seen it, because I loved live-action Vampire: the Masquerade and was so frustrated at the number of characters I saw that were very plainly Highlander With The Serial Numbers Filed Off, all katana-wielding and genre-not-really-fitting. Later it hit Netflix, and hey, it's bad, cheesy SF/fantasy/whatever, but it's really fun! And it's got Clancy Brown!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:40 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I still think they should have called the sequel Highlander II: There Can Only Be Another One.

The early- and mid-eighties was an amazing time to go and see dumb movies.
posted by Grangousier at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I like saying “I’m Connor MacLeod of the Clan McLeod.” Go ahead and try it, it’s fun!
posted by valkane at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

And I said, I'm Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.
She said, of course, I remember the film.
And I said, as I recall, we both bought katanas.
And she said, that's why we were kicked out of that LARP.

(This one is really better.)
posted by asperity at 12:57 PM on April 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

Am I wrong to think that the TV series, and thereby indirectly the movie, was a big influence on the Arrow series?
posted by Query at 1:06 PM on April 4, 2018

I like saying “I’m Connor MacLeod of the Clan McLeod.” Go ahead and try it, it’s fun!

You have to add "and I can never die" for the full effect.
posted by nubs at 3:20 PM on April 4, 2018

Saying "I cennot swim, you Spenish peacoq!" in a Franco-Scots accent is also a good time.
posted by Iridic at 7:00 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

A neuronal connection that never seems to die: whenever my total comes to $17.83 or 1783 comes up otherwise, I end up murmuring "the Montgolfier brothers went up in their first balloon"
posted by bartleby at 9:40 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

"the Montgolfier brothers went up in their first balloon"

"hehn hehn hehn"

This is one of those that...if you weren't precisely between the ages of 12 and 16 in 1986, I don't know if this is the film for you. But if you were, man oh man.
posted by MrBadExample at 10:04 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

The TV show had unusually good production quality for the kind of show it was. I don't know if it was shot on film, but if not it kinda looked like it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:21 PM on April 4, 2018

The TV show's setting was dubbed Seacouver (filmed in Vancouver but supposed to be some American city) by fans, and the show eventually got in on it, I think, but now anytime I run across a CW show I call its location Seacouver because it still sounds cooler than whatever Generic Comic Book City Name they end up using.
posted by TwoStride at 9:03 AM on April 5, 2018

The TV show was terrible, but in a great way (kind of like all the reviews quoted above). The early cast was very much not great (I'm looking at you, Richie), but once they got Joe and Amanda and some decent runs of Methos, and regular guest spots by Roger Daltrey, it was really a lot of fun. The concept let them do time travel without the time travel, so to speak.

It kind of petered out toward the end, too, and I think there was a film that was only ever screened in Russia? But because of the whole "there can be only one" gig, it could never be allowed to resolve or go anywhere. But it had a couple of actually good middle seasons, and a lot of fun bad ones around the edges. It came on in NYC at like 2 in the morning on Friday nights, I think? After the Channel 13 Classic movie of the week. I half-slept through a lot of them in the late 90s.
posted by rikschell at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Mario Van Peebles should have been in Starship Troopers.
posted by charred husk at 1:17 PM on April 5, 2018

The TV show was terrible, but in a great way

I agree, the show really peaked about the time around the Four Horsemen (especially Methos) then took an immediate plunge downhill. The Richie character was pure early-90's annoying.

But! Richard Moll (I loved him from Night Court) was in the pilot, was gloriously set in obviously Vancouver (the Expo '86 building, the big ol' sulfur piles in N. Van), and Alexandra Vandernoot was super pretty - so I was sold from the get go.

'The Raven' spinoff wasn't terrible (the setup is great, good callback to Connor's relationship with his secretary/ Nazi rescuee in Patricia Gage/Lucy Becker), but apparently the lead actress (Elizabeth Gracen) was super hard to work with or something?

Yes, there was a final Highlander film (and an anime-style movie set in the future) - *spoiler* there ended up actually being a "Real" "The One" (that turned out to be a baby from immortal parents - or something).

iirc, it was originally only screened in Russia, but was recut and broadcast on TV in North America.
posted by porpoise at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

'The Raven' spinoff wasn't terrible (the setup is great, good callback to Connor's relationship with his secretary/ Nazi rescuee in Patricia Gage/Lucy Becker), but apparently the lead actress (Elizabeth Gracen) was super hard to work with or something?

The bonus features interviews on the 'The Raven' dvds were fascinating -- Elizabeth Gracen was in a terrible relationship at the time. I don't remember the details, but he was some kind of narcissist/sociopath who had cult-leader kind of sway over her, and had her convinced that others were out to get her, so her working relationships were all messed up. (I mean, I think he had her convinced that the government wanted to assassinate her.) She was able to leave him eventually. There were a bunch of other behind-the-scenes problems too I think, with the financing, and with the time pressure they were under to get the spin-off going after Highlander the Series ended, so, it sounded like it was a nightmare for everyone involved. It's kind of amazing how watchable the spin-off was despite it all.
posted by oh yeah! at 10:09 AM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dudes, just get a room start a rewatch thread already.

"What does baffled mean?" yt
posted by Catblack

I'm glad to see I am not the only person who loves that part so much. It's not uncommon for me to say "what does 'baffled' mean?" and I don't think in 20 years anyone has ever caught the reference.
posted by phearlez at 10:59 AM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

This would be the time to tell the story about the only time a video-rental clerk refused to rent me a movie.

Oh, I was of age to rent an R rated movie (I forget if the movie was rated R or not, it doesn't matter). But when I tried to rent The Highlander II, he explained that the movie does not exist, I should not see it, and he would not rent it to me.

Bless him (I assume, I've never revisited that decision).
posted by el io at 7:40 PM on April 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is one of those that...if you weren't precisely between the ages of 12 and 16 in 1986, I don't know if this is the film for you. But if you were, man oh man.

I first saw it probably in 1990 or 91, when I would have been twenty, and it sure worked for me. It was gonzo nuts, but amazingly gonzo nuts.
posted by nubs at 8:16 PM on April 6, 2018

I watched the original so many times back in the day...it's one of the quintessential films of it's period. (Even if, whisper it quiet, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense... what do they win again?)

The sequel... yeah, that's def one of the worse films I've ever seen. I remember hearing Micheal Ironside talking about it in a podcast or something and the filming sounded totally crazy.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:12 AM on April 7, 2018

what do they win again?

The Prize, of course.

Now, don't loose your heads, but it looks like a reboot is on the way.
posted by nubs at 6:05 AM on April 7, 2018

Highlander the TV show was the first show me and my mom bonded over and watched together religiously, and the first fandom I read fanfiction for in the mid 90's - starting with all the Tess/Duncan curtain fic where they adopted Richie and had adventures and finding slash with ROG flag wavers. Rabid fans in those early days, rivaling the Kirk/Spock and Scully/Mulder shippers in content volume.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 11:30 AM on April 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I recall watching the show on afternoons (and at other time, very late in the night). It was very, very 90s, but I liked it. Coming to think of it, it was probably my introduction to Highlander.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2018

My common refrain in posting is that I was a little kid in the 80s who watched too much cable. I was five when Highlander came out, but I was already watching HBO and Cinemax movies, so I definitely caught this movie at a young age. It had the opening narration by Sean Connery, it had guys with swords, it had old James Bond, it had the wrestling match! Sexy Brenda!

*mind blown*

Highlander may be a mess, but it's /my/ mess, a formative experience from my childhood and if I see it on and I have time, I will watch at least a little of it.

As for the show, I was actually old enough to appreciate that. It had flaws (Ritchie, yeah), but the production values weren't bad and Duncan held his own compared to Connor. Interestingly, there were not a few shows during the 90s that I was the first to discover in my family, but became favorites of others. My mom found Highlander after me and became something of a fanatic, taping every episode. As far as i know, her collection is complete on VHS.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:05 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

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