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.

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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.”

8 Facts About Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon
Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon

Longtime Harry Potter fans who feel like first-years at heart may find it hard to believe, but the books have been around for decades. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, which follows Harry as he faces Dementors, investigates the mysterious Sirius Black, and gets through his third year at Hogwarts.

From Rowling’s writing process to how it changed The New York Times Best Sellers list, here are some facts you should know about the wildly popular book.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was J.K. Rowling’s "best writing experience."

In a 2004 interview with USA Today, Rowling described the creation of Prisoner of Azkaban as “the best writing experience I ever had.” This had more to do with where Rowling was at in her professional life than the content of the actual story. By book three, she was successful enough where she didn’t have to worry about finances, but not yet so famous that the she felt the stress of being in the public eye.

2. The Dementors represent depression.

Readers who live with depression may see something familiar in Prisoner of Azkaban’s soul-sucking Dementors. According to the book, “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself ... soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Rowling has stated that she based the Dementor’s effects on her own experiences with depression. "[Depression] is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again," she told The Times in 2000. "The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."

3. Rowling regretted giving Harry the Marauder’s Map.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is introduced as a way for Harry to track Sirius Black and learn of the survival of Peter Pettigrew. But this plot device proved problematic for Rowling later on this series. In Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, she wrote, “The Marauder’s Map subsequently became something of a bane to its true originator (me), because it allowed Harry a little too much freedom of information.” She went on to say that she sometimes wished she had made Harry lose the map for good in the later books.

4. Rowling was excited to introduce Remus Lupin.

One of the aspects Rowling most enjoyed about writing Prisoner of Azkaban was introducing Remus Lupin. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and secret werewolf is one of the author's favorite characters in the series, and as she told Barnes & Noble in 1999, “I was looking forward to writing the third book from the start of the first because that's when Professor Lupin appears.”

5. Crookshanks is based on a real cat.

Harry had Hedwig the owl, Ron had his pet rat Scabbers, and in book three, Hermione got a pet of her own: an intelligent half-Kneazle cat named Crookshanks. J.K. Rowling is allergic to cats, and she admits on her website that she prefers dogs, but she does have fond memories of a cat that roamed the London neighborhood where she worked in the 1980s. When writing Crookshanks, she gave him that cat’s haughty attitude and smushed-face appearance.

6. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book Americans had to wait for.

Harry Potter fans based in America will no doubt remember waiting months after a book’s initial release in England to buy it from their local bookstore. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book with a staggered publication date: Beginning with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the rest of the books in the series were published in both markets on the same date.

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke sales records.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sold 68,000 copies in the UK within three days of its release, making it the fastest-selling British book of all time in 1999. The book has since gone on to sell more than 65 million copies worldwide and helped make Harry Potter the bestselling book series ever.

8. It changed The New York Times Best Sellers List.

For part of 1999, the first three Harry Potter books—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which is known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone pretty much everywhere besides America), Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban—occupied the top three slots on The New York Times Best Sellers list. It didn’t stay that way for long, though: Prisoner of Azkaban was the book that pushed the paper to create a separate list just for children’s literature, leaving more room on the original list for books aimed at adults. That’s why Harry Potter is missing from the famous bestsellers roundup during the 2000s, despite dominating book sales at this time.

Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke Turned Down the Lead in 50 Shades of Grey

Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

Though Emilia Clarke is undoubtedly best known for her starring role on Game of Thrones, she has landed some other plum parts over the past several years, including Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys, the role of Qi'ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the lead in Phillip Noyce's upcoming Above Suspicion opposite Jack Huston. But there's one major role Clarke passed on, and has no regrets about it: Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades of Grey franchise.

The movies, based on E. L. James's erotic book series, trace the sadomasochistic/romantic relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and millionaire businessman Christian Grey. Both the books and the movies have garnered a lot of criticism for their graphic nudity and sex scenes. While Clarke is no stranger to appearing nude on film for her role as Daenerys Targaryen, she said that 50 Shades of Grey would have taken her too far out of her comfort zone.

“There is a huge amount of nudity in the film,” the British actress told The Sun of her reasons for not wanting to get involved with the film series. “I thought I might get stuck in a pigeonhole that I would have struggled to get out of.”

Even without 50 Shades of Grey on her resume, Clarke says she has dealt with a lot of negative backlash because of the nudity in Game of Thrones. “I get a lot of crap for nude and sex scenes,” the 32-year-old star said. “Women hating on women. It’s so anti-feminist.”

When we last left Daenerys, she seemed to be getting serious about Jon Snow—who, unbeknownst to the two of them, is her nephew. We'll see how that unpleasant discovery plays out when Game of Thrones returns on April 14, 2019.

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