Highlander is a film and television franchise that began with a 1986 fantasy movie starring Christopher Lambert, who plays Connor MacLeod, the Highlander. Born in Glenfinnan, in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century, MacLeod is one of a number of Immortals. Over the years, there have been five Highlander movies, two television series, an animated series, an animated movie, an animated flash-movie, fourteen original novels, various comic books, and licensed merchandise.
From the dawn of time we came, moving silently down through the centuries. Living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you.....until now.
The first of what became a series of films, Highlander, directed by Russell Mulcahy, was released on March 7, 1986 with the tagline, "There Can Be Only One." The film features a number of flashback scenes establishing Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod's early history, and builds up to his final destiny amongst the last of the mysterious Immortals. Through a mentor and fellow Immortal — Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez played by Sean Connery — he learns of the existence of other Immortals, who occur spontaneously throughout history. An Immortal can die only after being beheaded, and Immortals battle another in ritual single combat to the death, until the "Gathering," when the few remaining Immortals will fight until only one remains to take "The Prize." The Gathering occurs in modern-day (1985) New York City, and sees the Highlander, who has fallen in love again despite trying to cut himself off from humanity, narrowly defeat his powerful and evil enemy, The Kurgan, whom he has encountered repeatedly over the previous centuries, and who has slain Ramírez and many others.
Highlander II: The Quickening, directed by Russell Mulcahy, was released on November 1, 1991. The film mainly takes place in 2024, with flashbacks to events in 1999, and also a very distant past on the planet Zeist. MacLeod designs an energy shield to protect the Earth after its ozone layer began to disintegrate, but the Shield's heavy red clouds and blocking of natural sunlight have plunged mankind into despair. The Shield has also fallen under the control of the Shield Corporation, which taxes heavily for its services in the pursuit of profit. Meanwhile, MacLeod has physically aged into a frail old man — his mortality part of winning the Prize -- and expects that he will eventually die of natural causes. After he kills one of the Immortals from Zeist sent to kill him, he becomes young and Immortal again, much to his dismay. He then joins with Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), who had led a group of terrorists who try to dismantle the Shield.
This film offers an alternative origin for the Immortals, who are depicted as aliens exiled to Earth from Zeist. In direct contradiction to the original film, Ramírez and MacLeod were friends before their exile from Zeist. In the original, they first met in Scotland in 1541, with no mention of Zeist whatsoever. This was a primary reason the movie immediately met with harsh criticism from critics and audiences alike.
Russell Mulcahy was disappointed with the movie as originally released, and later made his own "Renegade Version" director's cut with a proper sequencing of various scenes, and the filmmakers' explanation for why the movie turned out as it originally did. Filming had ended late and over-budget, and much of it was done in Argentina, which at the time was experiencing hyperinflation. The insurance company decided to take "creative control" from Mulcahy so that the resulting movie would see maximized revenue. One of Mulcahy's most dynamic alterations was the relabeling of the Zeist footage as a flashback to an ancient, technologically-advanced civilization on Earth, much more in line with the later continuity of the first film and the later TV series. In 2004, a Special Edition was released, featuring several distinct alterations, including new computer-generated visual effects throughout the film.
Highlander III: The Final Dimension (alternatively titled Highlander III: The Sorcerer) was first released on November 25, 1994. The third movie contradicts both the second film and the television series, acting as a stand-alone sequel to the original movie. MacLeod battles a warrior who missed the original Gathering, because he was buried deep in a Japanese cave that is holy ground, isolating him from the supposedly final contest of the first film. Kane (played by Mario Van Peebles) is a master of the "power of illusion," which allows him to create false imagery to deceive his enemies. Connor, who has lived with his adopted son John for years with the belief that he is the final Immortal, must return to New York and finish the job he started back in 1985. Along the way, he finds a new love, Dr. Alex Johnson (Deborah Unger).
Highlander: Endgame, first released on September 1 2000, was an attempt to merge characters from both the original film and from the Highlander TV series. The story follows Duncan MacLeod as he confronts Jacob Kell, a renegade Immortal who has assembled a group of fellow warriors, as well as an impressive body-count. Kell, who holds a centuries-old grudge against the elder Connor MacLeod, has taken the lives of Connor's dearest loved ones, and does not follow the traditions of single combat. Connor has spent a decade trying to escape the Game in a hidden Watcher fortress known as the Sanctuary, but he and Duncan are forced to confront this new threat that neither one of them alone can succeed against. As the two MacLeods will not break the single-combat tradition, Connor convinces Duncan to kill him, thus gaining the power that he needs to defeat Kell.
Highlander: The Source is the fifth installment of the Highlander film series, which premiered on the Sci Fi Channel on September 15, 2007. The film follows Duncan MacLeod and a group of fellow Immortals seeking the source of immortality. The film is notable for retconning the meaning of the Game and the phrase, "There can be only one."
On May 20, 2008, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Summit Entertainment is planning a re-make of the 1986 Highlander film. Writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, who both worked on the Iron Man film will be writing the script. Peter Davis will produce the new film.
The various spin-offs are typically divided into two categories: one that follows the timeline started by the 1992 television series, and those that function as stand-alone spin-offs of the overall franchise.
To newcomers, the most confusing aspects of the franchise are the inconsistencies and paradoxes between the television series and the films. To explain the paradoxes presented, the entire Highlander franchise may be seen as completely separate storylines, occurring in alternate continuities. The common thread between the realities is the succession from the first film:
In the final (and most prominent) continuity, Connor's battle with the Kurgan (as alluded to in the series pilot, and in one later episode) is simply viewed as the beginning of the Gathering, and not a final fight for "The Prize." The second film, as well as the stand-alone animated spin-offs, are not considered part of the TV series canon, and some debate exists as to the third film's inclusion — however, it was recently referenced in the ongoing Highlander comic book series, itself part of the TV universe. The comic series' canonicity status remains unclear, although writer/producer David Abramowitz is the series' chief creative consultant.