Film / Highlander
"There can be only one!"

"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 1986 film that started it all.

Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), who was born centuries ago in the Scottish Highlands, is an Immortal fighting his way through a battle to the last man called The Gathering in 1980's New York City. As he tries to outsmart the dangerous rival immortal known as the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), the film occasionally flashes back to his past when he was married to the mortal woman named Heather (Beatie Edney) and was mentored by Juan Ramirez (Sean Connery) in the ways of combat.

This film contains examples of:

  • The '80s: The film was made in the middle of that decade, and the scenes set in that era surely look like an Unintentional Period Piece decades later.
  • Abandoned Warehouse: The final battle between Connor MacLeod and the Kurgan takes place in an abandoned warehouse - which is soon seriously short of window glass.
  • All in the Eyes: The camera zooms across Madison Square Garden, over the heads of the crowd, until finally settling onto Connor's eyes, which are lit in this fashion.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!:
    Kurgan: Who is the woman?
    Ramirez: Sh-she's mine.
    Kurgan: Ah, not for much longer.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Averted. A police detective investigates Connor MacLeod, uncovers the fact that he is apparently immortal and has been faking his own death every 30 years or so for centuries, and his response can be summed up as huh, well ain't that a hell of a thing.
  • Arc Words: "There Can Be Only One," for which this film is the Trope Namer. A minor example also exists between Connor and Rachel, "It's a kind of magic!" often spoken with a wry smile.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: The Kurgan. He openly admits that he only seeks to kill all of the other immortals, and only deals with mortals for convenience/amusement, but is described as "The perfect warrior" by Ramirez.
  • Artistic License – History: Unusual in getting the fact that Masamune was a swordmaker rather than a sword correct, but then claims that Masamune made Ramirez's katana thousands and thousands of years before he was born or katanas even existed.
    • Although partially lampshaded by Brenda as she explains that she wants to find this katana because it's dated to over a thousand years before katanas even existed, like finding a modern vehicle made in ancient times.
  • Babies Ever After: Connor becomes mortal and capable of reproduction.
  • Badass Boast: " I have something to say! It's better to burn out... than to fade away!" and also "Now you die!"
  • Badass Bystander: Kirk Matunas, the Crazy Survivalist.
  • Badass Longcoat: MacLeod wears a trenchcoat in modern times to conceal his katana.
  • Bald of Evil: The Kurgan shaves his head (badly) before the final confrontation in New York. It's a "disguise" for a man who stands almost 6 and 1/2 feet tall and is clad in chains and black leather.
    • Not shaved badly: in the HD version, one can see that the Kurgan has a tattoo of his bearskull helmet on the side of his head, and the string of hair forms the "crest" that the real helmet sported.
    MacLeod: Nice to see you, Kurgan. Who cuts your hair?
  • Beardness Protection Program: The Kurgan does a very messy job of shaving his head to evade police capture after several witnesses see him lop off a guy's head.
  • Big Applesauce: Connor's mentor Ramirez tells him that eventually the Immortals will meet in "a faraway land" to fight for the Prize. Turns out that it's New York.
  • Big Bad: The Kurgan. Ramirez suspects that if he wins The Prize, "mortal man would suffer an eternity of darkness".
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Brenda screams this at the Kurgan twice when he begins singing "New York, New York." To further taunt her, he even screams "SHUT UP!" when she does.
  • Bragging Theme Tune: We're the Princes of the Uuuuuniveerrrrse!
  • Burn Baby Burn: Connor burns the home he shared with his mortal wife Heather after burying her, leaving his clan sword beside the grave.
  • Burn the Witch!: When Connor first discovers he is an immortal back in 16th century Scotland, he's proclaimed a witch, and burning is mentioned as an option (by his own girlfriend, no less). In the end, he's saved from burning at the stake when he's banished by Angus, one of his kinsman.
  • Captain Obvious:
    The Kurgan: I am in disguise. This way, no one will recognize me.
  • Clean Cut: Connor's final fight with the Kurgan ends with the Kurgan giving an ambiguous smile, just before his head slowly flops off, releasing the final quickening.
  • *Click* Hello: Juan Ramirez does this to Connor Macleod with a katana to the back of Macleod's neck.
    Ramirez: Crude and slow clansman, your attack was no better than that of a clumsy child.
  • The Coats Are Off: MacLeod leaves his signature trenchcoat behind when he heads off for his Duel to the Death with the Kurgan.
  • Cool Sword: Connor uses an ancient katana that was made far before its time. The Kurgan uses a two-handed sword that can be disassembled and hidden in a briefcase.
    • Connor's sword is also an aversion of Katanas Are Just Better. Since it was made by Masamune, one of the greatest swordsmiths in history, it's more a case of This Katana Is Just Better.
  • Creator Cameo: The director Russell Mulcahy is one of The Kurgan's hit and run victims.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The soundtrack, with songs by Queen (and orchestral music by Michael Kamen), is a cult favorite among glam rock fans, fantasy geeks, and Dungeons & Dragons players. "Princes Of The Universe" is regarded as the defining song of the franchise with "Who Wants To Live Forever" as a close second. Most is available in Queen's album A Kind of Magic (the title track, inspired by a particular line, even plays during the credits). Despite an announcement in the end credits, a complete film soundtrack with both the Queen songs and Michael Kamen score was sadly never released due to the film's box office failure in the United States. This is particularly unfortunate for Queen fans who wanted more than the little taste the film gives of Freddie Mercury hamming it up on the theme from ''New York, New York''.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Connor concealed his immortality for years by assuming the identities of long-dead children.
  • Deranged Animation: The demonic beings in the last Quickening
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Heather
  • Died Standing Up: The Kurgan; his beheaded body salutes Connor before falling over.
  • Diegetic Switch: Kurgan sings a very bad rendition of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York", which then segues into a Queen version of the song. (For the record, there is no full Queen version of the song. The Highlander snippet is all that's known to exist.)
  • Distracted from Death: Connor tells a dying Heather a story that'll let her die happy. She dies halfway through it, and he doesn't notice until he's finished.
  • Disturbed Doves: Ramirez is chatting with Heather when he feels the Kurgan approaching. He looks up and sees the birds flying away. Apparently, animals can tell if an evil immortal is on the way.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Ramirez teaches Connor to be able to "feel" things around him, making it easier to spot immortals.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A thunderstorm rages when The Kurgan fights Ramirez.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The Kurgan has a scene like this, where he terrorizes the Damsel in Distress by driving on the wrong side of the road. His immortality makes this much safer for him.
  • Dying Race: The irony of being immortal is that they must kill each other and the last one standing becomes mortal.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: There are a number of differences in this film regarding how immortality works and what their abilities are than in later installments.
    • There is no concept of an immortal's "first death" or a Pre-immortal as The Kurgan is after Connor BEFORE his supposed first "death". In fact, immortal's don't seem to die at all. Connor is referred to being "all but a corpse" prior to fully recovering.
    • He's also shown to be able to "breathe" underwater and create a psychic link with animals which can somehow enhance his physical abilities. Even in this movie neither is ever mentioned again.
    • "The Quickening" refers to the boosted state immortals can go into, not the explosive result of killing another immortal. There's also no indication that there is any direct benefit to claiming heads beyond removing a rival.
  • "End of the World" Special: At the end of the film, Connor wins this after defeating the last remaining Immortal; a vaguely-described ability to influence world leaders using the collective knowledge and wisdom of the other Immortals, or humanity, or something.
  • Evil Laugh: The Kurgan is the undisputed EMPEROR of this trope.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Kurgan, played by Clancy Brown.
  • Exposition of Immortality: Connor MacLeod has a collection of things he's picked over his life, masquerades as an antique dealer and gets found out thanks to his handwriting on old title deeds and some inconvenient photos. MacLeod's also got many memories of times gone by; saving Rachel from Nazis, dueling drunk in 18th Century New England, and of course, his original life in 16th Century Scotland.
  • Fair Cop: Brenda J. Wyatt, Forensics specialist for the NYPD.
  • Faux Fluency: Christopher Lambert is a native French speaker and needed to learn his lines phonetically. He did speak a few words of English at the time, but nowhere near the level of fluency Connor MacLeod displays.
  • Feuding Families: The MacLeods and Frasers, whose border skirmishes appear to have resulted in the first deaths of both Connor, and Duncan from the series.
  • Flash Step: Used by Ramirez to teach McLeod how much of a crude and slow clansman he is.
  • Flynning: Although the swordplay looks great, it has nothing to do with actual swordfighting techniques.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Connor's older brother/cousin performs one to save Connor from the Kurgan's attack during the battle of the clans at the start.
  • Freudian Trio: The three main immortals.
  • Hero of Another Story: Shell-Shocked Veteran Kirk Matunas would have been the Protagonist in a vigilante thriller like Death Wish or Taxi Driver rather than a Highlander film.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Thankfully for Brenda, after she distracted Kurgan with a lead pipe (which bothered him not at all).
    Connor: (to Brenda after he stops Kurgan from bisecting her) Hehehe, what kept you?
  • Hollywood Science: Brenda dates Connor's sword by its absorbency. Yes, the absorbency of a katana. In real life the metallic composition of a sword (which can sometimes give clues as to its date and place of manufacture) can be ascertained by subjecting a small sample of its metal to something called atomic absorption spectroscopy. We won't go into details (though if you insist) but the absorption in question is of light. Evidently the writers had vaguely heard of it but misunderstood what it involved, unless the katana really was made by the legendary swordsmith Andrex.
  • Holy Ground/Truce Zone: Ramirez teaches Connor that there is one law among immortals that none will ever violate, which is that they must never fight on Holy Ground. Even the Kurgan wouldn't dare break it.
  • I Have Many Names: Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez Ramirez. He even lampshades it when giving a full list of 8-10 names at a "checking point". Arguably, most immortals have many names, since they pretended to die so many times and had to change identity.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Averted. Lieutenant Moran, the lead detective investigating the beheading of Iman Fasil, tries to get Connor MacLeod to implicate himself using this sort of technique twice in the same conversation, but it doesn't work either time.
    Moran: Okay. What's that? (indicates the plastic-wrapped Toledo Salamanca on his desk)
    Connor MacLeod: (who knows exactly what it is) A sword?
    Moran: It's a Toledo-Salamanca broadsword worth about a million bucks.
    MacLeod: So?
    Moran: So you want to hear a theory? You went down that garage to buy this sword from that guy — what's his name?
    MacLeod: (who also knows who Iman Fasil was) I don't know. You tell me.
  • Idiot Ball: Ramirez cuts the Kurgan's throat in their duel, but instead of finishing the Kurgan off while he's staggered, he stands there and taunts him. The Kurgan gets his second wind and kills Ramirez, and goes on to commit atrocities for centuries, including raping Connor's wife Heather.
  • IKEA Weaponry: The Kurgan's modern-day BFS. The idea of doing this to a sword notably drove Skallagrim up the wall, as it'd probably make the sword snap in half if it hit something. The Kurgan doesn't seem to mind, though. Rule of Cool applies fully here.
  • Immortality Hurts: There's a scene set sometime during the 17th century in which Connor McLeod shows up to fight a duel while stinking drunk. His opponent swiftly runs him through to no effect, since Connor is both immortal and too drunk to pretend otherwise, (this was before the idea of temporary death, which only was shown in the TV series) and simply gets right back up. A montage of Connor getting run through repeatedly ensues, until finally, still drunk, Connor apologizes for his behavior towards his opponent's wife and wanders off none the worse for wear. The other guy's face is priceless.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Kirk Matunas, the vigilante wannabe, gets impaled through the stomach by the Kurgan's sword. He somehow survives the ordeal, though.
    • Truth in Television, as gut wounds can take days to kill, since there are far fewer vital bits, meaning death will be a slow, agonizing affair from ruptured bowels.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: The Kurgan, who can use his blade to cut down a stone tower.
  • In Medias Res: The film begins with a swordfight in New York. The first half of the movie then alternates between flashbacks to Scotland and continuing the New York story.
  • Insult of Endearment: Connor calling Ramirez "Haggis".
  • Is It Something You Eat?: Inverted. Connor describes haggis to Ramirez, who asks what you do with it. When Connor says that you eat it, Ramirez finds the idea repulsive. What makes it even funnier is that Sean Connery, the actor playing Ramirez is Scottish, and Christopher Lambert, the actor playing Connor, isn't.
  • Jerkass: Being the villain is a given, but The Kurgan takes it further with his more comedic Kick the Dog moments like frightening an old lady.
  • Lap Pillow: Connor does this with Brenda at the end of the movie.
  • Last-Name Basis: Ramirez is always referred to by his surname. Given how long it is, it is for a sake of convenience.
  • Last of His Kind: By definition, "in the end, There Can Be Only One "; so at the end Connor MacLeod fulfills this trope.
  • Leave Him to Me: The Kurgan, the immortal leading the enemy in Connor's first battle, orders him to be left alone, so that he can claim Connor's head and Quickening himself. Rather sensible, considering that there was something in it for himself besides mere satisfaction.
  • Lecherous Licking: When the Kurgan talks to Connor in a church, he suddenly wags his tongue at a group of passing nuns who are quickly creeped out. Coming from a confirmed rapist, the implications are obvious.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Connor watches his wife grow old and frail while he remains young due to his immortality. At the end she begs him to let her die in peace, so he begins telling her a comforting story. She dies somewhere in the middle and he doesn't notice until he finishes and looks at her.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: During the scene where the Kurgan is recklessly driving through New York, a version of "Theme from New York, New York" by Pop-Star Composer Queen plays in the background. That isn't available anywhere else, and the film doesn't even play the full song. According to the movie commentary track, Freddie Mercury absolutely hated the song, and the director had to pretty much force him to sing that bit, so it's quite likely that there never was a full version recorded to begin with.
  • Made of Iron: The Immortals. In the first duel, we see both MacLeod and Fasil take punishment that would down an ordinary man, but neither takes any lasting hurt until Fasil's beheading. This applies to the Kurgan in spades.
  • Man in a Kilt: Connor, along with many others in the Clan McLeod.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Ramirez falls victim to this, as he is found out by The Kurgan in his search of Connor and loses the ensuing duel.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Ramirez's backstory reveals that he once married a Japanese princess. He was originally Ancient Egyptian, but he IS played by Sean Connery.
  • Monumental Battle: Although not a national landmark, the movie had the final battle take place at the Silvercup Studios roof, with the "Silvercup" sign a local landmark.
  • Mortality Ensues: Part of The Prize is the option to live as a normal human, which Connor states is his intention at the end of the film.
  • My Grandson Myself: Connor faked his own death, left his estate to fake sons and took their identities repeatedly so he could cover up being immortal.
  • Neutral Female: Heather exemplifies this during the Kurgan's fight with Ramirez; then again, with the tower falling apart around her she might have been more concerned with avoiding a concussion. Fortunately for Connor, when he loses his sword during his own Duel to the Death Brenda averts this and clobbers the Kurgan from behind with a metal pipe, distracting him long enough for Connor to recover his sword.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Connor is suspected by his kin to be a witch after his resurrection as an immortal, and is banished after Angus convinces them not to kill Connor.
  • Nice Hat: The first time the Kurgan appears, he wears a helmet made from a bear skull, complete with freaking fangs.
  • No Sense of Humor: Kurgan accuses nuns of having this when they are appalled by him waggling his tongue at them.
  • Non-Violent Initial Confrontation: The Kurgan meets Connor at a church. Since there cannot be any fighting on holy ground, they have a talk.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
    • Ramirez. An ancient Egyptian pretending to be a Spaniard having a Scottish accent is an egregious example even for Sean Connery. Especially in a film with a protagonist who is Scottish. Then again, Ramirez had been around for so long that he probably learned how to pick up other accents and dialects quickly so that he could blend in easily with the locals (barring his attire).
    • Connor fits this as well. He's supposed to be Scottish yet speaks with an obvious French accent. This isn't as much of a problem in the modern day scenes or flashbacks to places other than Scotland (1783 Boston, World War II Germany, and France in The Sorcerer) where one can assume that by then Connor's accent may have faded due to learning other languages during his travels. Lampshaded by officer Garfield and MacLeod aka "Russell Nash" in the interrogation scene;
    Garfield: You talk funny, Nash. Where you from?
    MacLeod: Lots of different places.
  • Oh, Crap!: It's brief, but the Kurgan is visibly terrified when Ramirez slashes his throat. Up to that point, no one's apparently ever come that close to cutting off his head.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Christopher Lambert had trouble being convincing with Connor Macleod's Scottish accent, due to trying to use it on top of his natural French accent.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Connor killing Fasil attracts the attention of the police and the Kurgan.
  • Police Are Useless: The press doesn't think highly of New York's finest, as evidenced by the hotdog vendor reading newspaper next to Moran and Bedsoe.
    "What does "in-com-pee-tant" mean?"
  • Pop-Star Composer: Queen provided the music to the film, to an extent that their album A Kind of Magic is seen as an unofficial soundtrack to the film.
  • Post-Rape Taunt: Centuries after he rapes her, the Kurgan taunts Macleod that this is the reason his wife never told him about it.
  • Prepare to Die:
    The Kurgan: Now you die!
  • Rape as Backstory: When Connor observes that Ramirez didn't quite behead the Kurgan, the Kurgan responds by saying that he killed Ramirez and "raped his woman before his blood was even cold." At the resultant Kubrick Stare from Connor, the Kurgan figures out that Heather was Connor's wife; he proceeds to take way too much pleasure from realizing that Heather had never told Connor about her rape, and taunts him about it. Connor almost seizes back that moment by thanking Kurgan for finally confirming his crime, which he always suspected anyway but which the shattered Heather refused to speak of.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Kurgan's rape of Heather.
    "Hello, pretty."
  • Really Dead Montage: Accompanies Heather's death.
  • Scenery Porn: All the scenes in Scotland.
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: When Connor MacLeod decides to reveal his secret to the love interest, he clears up any lingering doubts about his immortality by stabbing himself in the chest with a dagger.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The police investigation initially serves as a means to get Brenda to meet MacLeod and provide his backstory. However it keeps going, juddering to a halt with no resolution somewhere before the climax.
  • Shout-Out: "I've got something to say! It's better to burn out than to fade away!" is a lyric from "Rock of Ages" by Def Leppard.
  • Signature Line: "There Can Be Only One!"
  • Single-Stroke Battle: While it was preceded by a long choreographed battle, that was just a long lead-up to one of these between Connor and the Kurgan to end it all.
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: The Kurgan wears a skull as a helmet as part of his Scary Impractical Armor in medieval Scotland.
  • Slashed Throat:
    • The Kurgan has his throat cut by Ramirez during their duel in Connor's home. Unfortunately the cut wasn't deep enough, and though Kurgan bore a scar and had his voice ruined for the rest of his Immortal life, he survived to take Ramirez's head.
    • Earlier in the film, during the battle between the two clans, a priest kills a man slashing his throat from behind, then does the sign of the cross.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Kurgan was poised to behead Connor when they first met, but before he could deliver the final blow, he was forced back by Connor's assorted clansmen.
  • Squick: In-universe; Ramirez's reaction to Connor's explanation of Haggis.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Worn by Iman Fasil, Connor's first opponent.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: At the end of the Training Montage, Connor finally bests Ramirez and disarms him.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: The majority of the soundtrack by Queen is quite heavy on this. In one scene, the Kurgan puts in a tape of "Gimme the Prize," a song that could not possibly be mistaken for anything other than the theme music of an aggressive Immortal - even worse, the full version contains sound bites from the film and is in fact subtitled "Kurgan's Theme". Also, "One Year of Love" plays when Connor and Brenda meet, and "Don't Lose Your Head" plays on the radio as the Kurgan goes on a rampage in his car.
  • Sword Sparks: Accompanies the various sword fights. To acheive this, swords were attached by cables to car batteries. The cables can be spotted in some scenes.
  • Take It to the Bridge: Connor and Kastagir have a meeting on a bridge in Central Park. Words are exchanged and booze is passed around.
  • Take Up My Sword: Ramirez finds and trains Connor MacLeod so that somebody would have a chance of defeating the Kurgan. When the Kurgan takes the aged immortal's head, Connor takes Ramirez's sword and uses it as his own from that point on, later using it to behead the Kurgan and fulfill his mentor's wish.
  • That Poor Car: Connor's quickening after defeating Fasil destroys several cars in the Parking Garage they fought.
  • There Can Be Only One: The Trope Namer.
  • Thwarted Coup de Grâce:
    • Connor MacLeod's first death is nearly his final as the Kurgan prepares to deliver the beheading shot, only to be tackled away by Connor's kinsmen.
    • Later, The Kurgan gets distracted in their final Sword Fight when he's about to take MacLeod's head because of the intervention of Connor's Love Interest Brenda.
  • Training Montage: Ramirez's training of Connor, which takes place over the course of a few years.
  • Tuck and Cover: In the World War II flashback, Connor leaps on top of Rachel, using his immortality to protect her from Nazi gunfire. He explains, "it's a kind of magic."
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Fasil did love to somersault.
  • Vigilante Man: A paranoid survivalist vigilante-wannabe Kirk Matunas runs into a duel between The Kurgan and Kastagir, and is impaled with a sword.
  • Villain Song: The Kurgan has a theme song entitled "Gimme the Prize", but only part of it is heard during the movie.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Played With. MacLeod hangs onto the past as an antique dealer, and uses his old mentor's sword. In contrast, the Kurgan embraces the newest music and fashions, and wields a high-tech collapsible sword. On the other hand, Connor is independently wealthy and has passed on his assets in secret to himself for centuries, the Kurgan has been reduced to living as a wandering, criminal vagrant and is so insane he barely makes an effort to uphold the masquerade.
  • Walk, Don't Swim: Connor is thrown into a lake by Ramirez. He can't swim, but can't die, either, so this happens — though the series proceeded to change the rules and make this impossible later on.
  • Wall of Weapons: Connor has one in his antique store, which serves as his Trophy Room too.
  • Watertower Down: The Kurgan slashes out the supports of a water tower on the top of a building in order to give him extra cover from which to ambush Connor Macleod (they are fighting on the roof at the time).
  • Weapon Tombstone: Connor marked Heather's grave with his claymore. Slightly unusual (though no less effective) for the trope, as she wasn't a warrior herself.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?:
    Detective Garfield: You talk funny, Nash. Where you from?
    "Russel Nash": Lots of different places.
  • Where It All Began: The film ends with Connor returning with Brenda to Scotland, where he was born.
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: The Kurgan gloats over killing Connor's mentor. "Ramirez was an effete snob who died on his knees..." he says, and then reveals a terrible secret that was kept from Connor for almost 450 years - it's that part that hits home.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Unlike any other wounds on his body, The Kurgan's throat wound doesn't heal since the neck is an immortal's weak point.
  • Wretched Hive: The Kurgan stays in a motel/brothel that seems to be a hangout for prostitutes, drug addicts, and sexual degenerates.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: "Crude and slow clansman! Your attack was no better than that of a clumsy child!"