15 Immortal Facts About 'Highlander'

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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.”

20 Facts About Eyes Wide Shut On Its 20th Anniversary

Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus
Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus

In the late 1990s, stories about what was happening on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s already-secretive film Eyes Wide Shut constantly made headlines. Everyone wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with real-life celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and the 15-month shoot only intrigued people more. Finally, the film was released on July 16, 1999—more than four months after Kubrick had passed away. While there is still a lot we don’t know about the movie, here are 20 things we do.

1. Eyes Wide Shut is based on a 1926 novella.

Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality,” Kubrick said. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

2. Production on Eyes Wide Shut began in 1996.

By then, Kubrick had been holding onto the rights to Traumnovelle—which screenwriter Jay Cocks purchased on his behalf, in order to keep the project under wraps—for nearly 30 years. Kubrick had planned to begin working on the film after making 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then got the opportunity to adapt A Clockwork Orange.

3. The studio pushed Stanley Kubrick to cast A-list names.

Terry Semel, then-head of Warner Bros., told Kubrick, “What I would really love you to consider is a movie star in the lead role; you haven't done that since Jack Nicholson [in The Shining].”

4. Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.

Kubrick liked the idea of casting a real-life married couple in the film, and originally considered Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. (He also liked the idea of Steve Martin.) Eventually, he went with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were married from 1990 to 2001.

5. London stood in for New York City.

Though the film is set in New York, it was filmed in London. In order to construct the most accurate sets possible, Vanity Fair reported that Kubrick “sent a designer to New York to measure the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.”

6. Some of the shots in Eyes Wide Shut required no set at all.

In order to give the movie a dream-like quality, the filmmakers used an old-school method of shooting—and a treadmill. “In some of the scenes, the backgrounds were rear-projection plates,” cinematographer Larry Smith explained. “Generally, when Tom’s facing the camera, the backgrounds are rear-projected; anything that shows him from a side view was done on the streets of London. We had the plates shot in New York by a second unit [that included cinematographers Patrick Turley, Malik Sayeed and Arthur Jafa]. Once the plates were sent to us, we had them force-developed and balanced to the necessary levels. We’d then go onto our street sets and shoot Tom walking on a treadmill. After setting the treadmill to a certain speed, we’d put some lighting effects on him to simulate the glow from the various storefronts that were passing by in the plates. We spent a few weeks on those shots.”

7. Eyes Wide Shut holds a Guinness World Record.

The film has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest constant movie shoot, with a total of 400 days, which was a surprise to the cast and crew. Cruise and Kidman had only committed to six months of filming. The extended shoot was a lot to ask of Cruise in particular, who was at the height of his career. He even had to delay work on Mission: Impossible II to finish Eyes Wide Shut. He didn’t seem to mind though. “We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed,” Cruise told TIME. “We were going to do what it took to do this picture.”

8. The script for Eyes Wide Shut kept changing.

Todd Field as Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut
Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

According to Todd Field, who portrayed piano player Nick Nightingale (and is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker in his own right), “We’d rehearse and rehearse a scene, and it would change from hour to hour. We’d keep giving the script supervisor notes all the time, so by the end of the day the scene might be completely different. It wasn’t really improvisation, it was more like writing.”

9. Tom Cruise developed ulcers while shooting Eyes Wide Shut.

“I didn't want to tell Stanley," Cruise told TIME. “He panicked. I wanted this to work, but you're playing with dynamite when you act. Emotions kick up. You try not to kick things up, but you go through things you can't help.”

10. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman slept in their characters' bedroom.

In order to reflect their real-life relationship, Cruise and Kidman were asked to choose the color for the curtains in their on-screen bedroom, where they also slept.

11. The apartment featured in the movie was a re-creation of Stanley Kubrick's.

According to Cruise, “The apartment in the movie was the New York apartment [Stanley] and his wife Christianne lived in. He recreated it. The furniture in the house was furniture from their own home. Of course the paintings were Christianne's paintings. It was as personal a story as he's ever done.”

12. Stanley Kubrick temporarily banned Tom Cruise from the set.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise star in Stanley Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut' (1999).
Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

Given his penchant for accuracy, it’s quite possible that Kubrick wanted to stir up some real-life jealousy between his stars in order to help them embody their characters. In a fantasy sequence, Kidman’s character has sex with another man, which motivates the rest of the film’s plot. Kubrick banned Cruise from the set on the days that Kidman shot the scene with a male model. They spent six days filming the one-minute scene. Kubrick also forbid Kidman from telling Cruise any details about it.

13. It took 95 takes for Tom Cruise to walk through a doorway.

Six days for a one-minute scene is nothing compared to the time Kubrick had Cruise do 95 takes of one simple action: walking through a doorway. After watching the playback, he apparently told Cruise, “Hey, Tom, stick with me, I’ll make you a star.”

14. Security on the set was tight.

Aside from Kubrick, Kidman, Cruise, and their tiny crew, no one was allowed on the set, which was heavily guarded. In May 1997, one photographer managed to capture a picture of Cruise standing next to a man that the photographer thought was just an “old guy, scruffy with an anorak and a beard.” That man was Kubrick, who hadn’t been photographed in 17 years. After the incident, security on the set was tripled.

15. Paul Thomas Anderson spent some time on the set.

One person Cruise did manage to sneak onto the set was his future Magnolia director, Paul Thomas Anderson. While there, Anderson asked Kubrick, “Do you always work with so few people?” Kubrick responded, “Why? How many people do you need?” Anderson then recalled feeling “like such a Hollywood a**hole.”

16. Stanley Kubrick makes a cameo in the movie.


Warner Bros.

He’s not credited, but the film’s director can be seen sitting in a booth at the Sonata Café.

17. Stanley Kubrick died less than a week after showing the studio his final cut of Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick died less than a week after showing what would be his final cut of the film to Warner Bros. No one can say how much he would have kept editing the film. One thing that was changed after his death: bodies in the orgy scene were digitally altered so that the movie could be released with an R (rather than an NC-17) rating. Although many claim that Kubrick intended to do this, too. "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years," Kidman said. "He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough.”

18. By the time Eyes Wide Shut was released, a dozen years had passed since Stanley Kubrick's last directorial effort.

Eyes Wide Shut came out a full 12 years after Kubrick’s previous film, 1987's Full Metal Jacket.

19. Eyes Wide Shut topped the box office during its opening week.

The film earned $30,196,742 during its first week in release, which was enough to take the box office’s number one spot—making it Kubrick’s only film to do so.

20. Tom Cruise didn't like Dr. Harford.

One year after the film’s release, Cruise admitted that he “didn’t like playing Dr. Bill. I didn’t like him. It was unpleasant. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

Top 50 Best-Selling Artists of All Time

Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Victor Blackman, Express/Getty Images

Who are America’s all-time favorite musicians and bands? When it comes to the best-selling artists of all time, The Beatles still rule—yes, even a half-century after their breakup. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these are the 50 best-selling artists of all time.

  1. The Beatles

Albums sold: 183 million

  1. Garth Brooks

Albums sold: 148 million

  1. Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley is seen playing the guitar in his 1966 film, 'Spinout'
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 146.5 million

  1. Eagles

Albums sold: 120 million

  1. Led Zeppelin

Albums sold: 111.5 million

  1. Billy Joel

Albums sold: 84.5 million

  1. Michael Jackson

Albums sold: 84 million

  1. Elton John

    Elton John plays a concert in 2008.
    LENNART PREISS/AFP/Getty Images

Albums sold: 78.5 million

  1. Pink Floyd

Albums sold: 75 million

  1. AC/DC

Albums sold: 72 million

  1. George Strait

Albums sold: 69 million

  1. Barbra Streisand

    Barbra Streisand
    Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

Albums sold: 68.5 million

  1. The Rolling Stones

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Aerosmith

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Bruce Springsteen

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Madonna

Albums sold: 64.5 million

  1. Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey performs during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
    Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Albums sold: 64 million

  1. Metallica

Albums sold: 63 million

  1. Whitney Houston

Albums sold: 58.5 million

  1. Van Halen

Albums sold: 56.5 million

  1. Fleetwood Mac

Albums sold: 54.5 million

  1. U2

    The Edge and Bono of the rock band U2 perform at Bridgestone Arena on May 26, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee
    Jason Kempin, Getty Images

Albums sold: 52 million

  1. Celine Dion

Albums sold: 50 million

  1. Neil Diamond

Albums sold: 49.5 million

  1. Journey

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny G

    Kenny G performs onstage during the "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives" Premiere Concert during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall
    Noam Galai, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Shania Twain

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny Rogers

Albums sold: 47.5 million

  1. Alabama

Albums sold: 46.5 million

  1. Eminem

    Eminem performs onstage during the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on TBS, TNT, and truTV at The Forum on March 11, 2018 in Inglewood, California
    Kevin Winter, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 46 million

  1. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Guns N’ Roses

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Alan Jackson

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Santana

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift performs onstage at 2019 iHeartRadio Wango Tango presented by The JUVÉDERM® Collection of Dermal Fillers at Dignity Health Sports Park on June 01, 2019
    Rich Fury, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 43 million

  1. Reba McEntire

Albums sold: 41 million

  1. Eric Clapton

Albums sold: 40 million

  1. Chicago

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Simon & Garfunkel

    Pop duo Simon and Garfunkel, comprising (L-R) singer, Art Garfunkel and singer-songwriter, Paul Simon, performing on ITV's 'Ready, Steady, Go!', July 8, 1966
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Foreigner

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Rod Stewart

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Tim McGraw

Albums sold: 37.5 million

  1. Backstreet Boys

Albums sold: 37 million

  1. 2 Pac

Albums sold: 36.5 million

  1. Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan
    Evening Standard/Getty Images

Albums sold: 36 million

  1. Def Leppard

Albums sold: 35.5 million

  1. Queen

Albums sold: 35 million

  1. Dave Matthews Band

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Britney Spears

    Britney Spears performs at the 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2016
    Christopher Polk, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Bon Jovi

Albums sold: 34.5 million

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