EDITOR’S NOTE: Highlander wasn’t produced by Cannon, but was distributed by Columbia-Cannon-Warner.
Gregory Widen wrote Highlander for one of his classes as an undergraduate in the screenwriting program at UCLA. Widen’s teacher told him to get an agent; he sold the script for $200,000. The initial story was darker and more violent, but as Widen saw his lead character Conor MacLeod as Connor as a very serious, grim character following centuries of violence and loss. The film portrayed MacLeod as a haunted man, the film ended up being about an immortal who has suffered great loss but who still believes in being alive and falling in love.
Born in the Scottish Highlands, Connor (Christopher Lambert) is nearly killed in battle with the man who will become his eternal enemy, the Kurgan (Clancy Brown). Connor survives and somehow doesn’t die, which leads his own family to accuse him of witchcraft. Leaving in exile, he finally meets and marries Heather (Beatie Edney), who lives with her eternally young husband until dying of old age.
Connor is an immortal and is soon guided by Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez (Sean Connery), an immortal Egyptian who has fought across the world for untold centuries. Thanks to his heavy schedule, Connery’s scenes had to be filmed in a week. He bet director Russell Mulcahy that they would not finish, but they finished in time. Regardless of the bet, Connery earned $1 million for just seven days of filming.
He teaches Connor that the immortals are all part of a gigantic cosmic game, destined to battle each other until only one is left. That person will gain The Prize, the power of all immortals throughout time, and that evil immortals like the Kurgan must be stopped from winning said prize. The only way to do that? Chopping off his head.
Highlander was literally a movie I watched with my father every single day after school. We’d watch it, discuss it and then watch it some more, not wanting to see it all in one day. Russell Mulcahy, who had followed making videos for Duran Duran and Razorback, transformed what could have been a simple story into something magical; the soundtrack from Queen goes even further into pushing this into a legendary tale.
Queen only was supposed to contribute one song for this movie, but after seeing some of the movie, the band members each ended up having a favorite scene and wrote a song for it. For example, Roger Taylor took the line “It’s a kind of magic” and Brian May wrote “Who Wants to Live Forever” before he even got home from watching the film.
It was nearly Marillion, who turned down the offer because they were heading out on a world tour, on the soundtrack. There was also talk of David Bowie, Duran Duran and Sting, who recommended Brown for the role of the Kurgan after working with him in The Bride.
The opening scene was originally a hockey match, but the NHL refused to allow the crew to film there because they were emphasizing the violence. They switched to wrestling in Madison Square Garden, but any wrestling fan knows that the Fabulous Freebirds (Michael P.S. Hayes, Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy and Buddy Jack Roberts) were only in the WWF for a limited time. This was part of the Pro Wrestling USA shows and was taped at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey. Their opponents are The Tonga Kid and the High Flyers, Greg Gagne and “Jumping” Jim Brunzell.