15 Immortal Facts About 'Highlander'

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YouTube

Despite being beheaded by Pretty in Pink during its opening weekend in March of 1986, Highlander has managed to spawn a near-immortal franchise consisting of four sequels, three television series, novels, comics, and a robust collectible sword market. (For display purposes only, kids.)

The story of Connor MacLeod, a 400-year-old adventurer forced into duels to the death with his own race of ageless warriors, Highlander remains a perfectly seasoned mix of Queen, Sean Connery, and the indecipherable accent of Christopher Lambert. Better to read these 15 bits about the film than to let it fade away.

1. The Script Began as a College Kid’s Senior Thesis.

Gregory Widen was attending UCLA as a film student in 1982 when he was asked to write a feature-length screenplay as his final project in order to pass a Theater Arts class. Recalling a trip he took to a London armory, Widen wrote a script about an immortal named MacLeod who could only die via beheading; another immortal, the sadistic Kurgan, wanted MacLeod’s head in order to claim the mysterious “Prize” promised to the last of their kind. With encouragement from his instructor, Widen sent the script to six agents, one of whom got it sold.

2. The Role Was Originally Offered to Kurt Russell.

At the time, Russell was a former Disney kid star who had gotten some notice for his genre work with John Carpenter in Escape From New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Highlander director Russell Mulcahy met with him for the film; though he appeared ready to take on the role, Mulcahy told Cinefantastique that Kurt's then-girlfriend, Goldie Hawn, talked him out of it.

3. Lambert Was Pretty Dangerous With a Sword.

After considering Russell and The Beastmaster star Marc Singer for the role of MacLeod, Mulcahy settled on Christopher Lambert, whose only major American film credit was playing Tarzan in 1984’s spectacularly-named Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Despite taking on highly physical roles that often require stunt work, Lambert is myopic and wears glasses whenever he’s not filming. This is sometimes bad news for thumbs—his and others—when shooting sword-fighting sequences. During filming of 1991’s Highlander II, Michael Ironside sliced open Lambert's hand.

4. Lambert Barely Spoke Any English.

Aside from grunts, Lambert didn’t have much dialogue as Tarzan, so Mulcahy was unaware that his English was limited at the time he was cast in Highlander. In the end, his unique accent—Lambert was raised in Switzerland—worked for the character, who was supposed to have immersed himself in various cultures over his 400-year existence.

5. Sean Connery Only Filmed for Seven Days.

As a major international movie star, Connery was able to maximize his salary while minimizing his work commitments on the film. To play Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, MacLeod's ancient Spanish mentor, Connery shot for only seven days; he recorded a voiceover in a Spanish villa, not a studio, which produced a strange echo effect the producers ended up leaving in the film.

6. But Connery Still Found Time to Criticize the Production.

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According to Mulcahy, Connery was fond of getting the producers and director together to discuss in detail what he thought the crew was doing incorrectly. "He can't stand inefficiency of any kind,” Mulcahy said. “He would group us together and air his views on why so and so wasn't doing his job correctly. This was free advice—very expensive, I might add—that none of us needed. When he saw the rushes though, things changed.”

7. Clancy Brown Wanted The Kurgan in a Suit and Bowler Hat.

In an interview with Starlog shortly after the release of the film, actor Clancy Brown—who portrayed the scenery-chewing Kurgan—expressed some disappointment that the movie opted for action beats over more philosophical exploration. Though The Kurgan was dressed like a pro wrestler, Brown thought it would’ve been more interesting to wear a suit and a bowler hat. “You expect a heavy metal punker with skulls on his jacket to be a bad [guy],” he said. “But the really tough, mean, and nasty people don’t necessarily wear clothes like that and look like that.” Sadly, Brown’s pleas for subtlety in Highlander went unheard.  

8. The Sword Sparks Came from a Car Battery.

Because it’s a lot of fun when swords make sparks and because augmenting fight scenes with CGI was not yet a thing, the film’s special effects crew rigged the blades to car batteries that sat out of the camera’s view. When the metal came together, sparks flew off.

9. Queen Never Actually Released a Soundtrack.

Mulcahy showed the band footage from production to gauge their interest in providing music for it. Though they wrote a number of songs specifically for the film—“Princes of the Universe,” “Who Wants to Live Forever”—Queen never actually released a soundtrack. One possible reason: while the film debuted in March of 1986 in the States, it wasn't seen in Europe until later that year. To avoid a tie-in to a film that didn’t yet exist in some markets, Queen released A Kind of Magic in June. They did, however, shoot a music video with Lambert (above).

10. The Finale Was Supposed to be on the Statue of Liberty.

The final duel between the Kurgan and MacLeod was intended to take place atop the Statue of Liberty, but other films (including the previous year's Remo Williams) had already used a similar idea; Mulcahy changed the locale to the Silvercup Studios rooftop in Queens, which he saw while driving into New York one day.

11. The Sequel Stunk Because of Argentina.

Contrary to some accounts, 1991's Highlander II: The Quickening didn’t opt for its imbecilic plot about a planet of alien Immortals because the first film ended so definitively. (Spoiler: MacLeod wins the Prize, becoming mortal and ending the Gathering of violent sword duels.) In fact, Mulcahy was thinking about a sequel even before the original was released. So why was the movie so poorly executed? Blame Argentina. The production was underway when the country began to experience significant inflation, leading to cost overruns. Skittish insurers began to interfere, and the film was edited into a nearly incomprehensible mess. Mulcahy later reassembled it for a DVD release. (It didn't really help much.)     

12. Fans Aren’t Blameless in the Senseless Tragedy of the Sequel, Either.

Lionsgate

According to producer Bill Panzer, the idea of exploring the origins of the Immortals was a result of fans constantly asking about it after the 1986 original. “The question we were most asked by fans after the first film was, 'Where did the immortals come from?'” he told Video Watchdog. “It made sense to answer that question in the second film. What we didn't realize at the time was that the fans didn't really want to know their ... origins because then the romanticism and mystery of the story was stripped away." Good job, fans.

13. Connery Had a No-Bond Rule on Set.

Virginia Madsen had the misfortune of being cast as MacLeod’s love interest in the sequel: When she was hired, she was told that a returning Sean Connery had instituted a written policy that demanded no one ever speak to him about James Bond. Anyone who did could be fired. Madsen thought it was ridiculous. As she told the Onion AV Club: “The first day that Sean came to work, I went up to the set and I said, ‘Oh, my God! James Bond!’ And he turned around, a big smile, and hugged me.”

14. The TV Series Was An Early Internet Sensation.

Highlander: The Series ran in syndication from 1992 to 1998, often slotted in late-night or weekday afternoon time slots. Following the adventures of Duncan MacLeod, the series grew into a cult hit: several active discussion groups and hundreds of Web pages were devoted to the show, a feat that at the time was only rivaled by Star Trek.

15. It Is One of Nick Offerman’s Favorite Movies, And He Was Very Upset That Chris Pratt Had Never Seen It.

In 2013, Offerman shared that his Parks and Recreation co-worker had never seen the original film. “I immediately booked a screening room and sat in there, just the two of us,” he said. “And it was, and still is, the greatest movie about becoming a man that I’ve ever seen.”

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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