A long-running Historical Fantasy franchise
about a rare collection of beings known as The Immortals. They can live forever, but with a catch — When one Immortal takes the head
of another, the winner gets the loser's power, while the beheaded Immortal is dead for good.
This power exchange manifests as an explosion of energy called The Quickening, in which everything within 50 yards blows up
. Drifting invisibly through the history of the world, they battle each other in swordfights
until only one Immortal remains; the last one standing gets "The Prize", the exact nature of which is unknown.
The above paragraph contains the agreed-upon facts. Beyond that, things get a bit fuzzy
. Calling it "a canon" is being charitable. More accurate would be "an assortment of films, sequels, spin-offs, and remakes, all with only one connecting concept and made with very little regard for continuity." But hey, who's counting
The various film and television incarnations of Highlander
- It all started with a single film: Highlander (1986) introduces Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), an Immortal born in the Scottish Highlands. In a series of flashbacks, Connor is mentored by Juan Ramírez (Sean Connery), a wise Immortal who teaches him the basics before being beheaded by Connor's sworn enemy, the Kurgan (Clancy Brown). The film's other half takes place in Eighties-era New York City, where all the world's Immortals, whose numbers are now growing thin, are drawn together to battle to the last man in a final showdown dubbed "The Gathering". By the end of the film, Connor and the Kurgan are the only Immortals left. Connor kills him in a Final Battle, saves the girl (Roxanne Hart), and gains The Prize.
- Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) borrows liberally from both Blade Runner and Tim Burton's Batman by flashing-forward to the year 2024. Connor is a wealthy man, having parlayed The Prize (the ability to read the minds of all the world's mortals at once) into building a vast planetary force field to repair the ozone layer; the downside is that the entire planet is now permanently dark, but nothing's perfect. In other news, the Immortals are revealed to be space aliens from planet Zeist, while the evil General Katana (Michael Ironside) has come to Earth to kill Connor off. While it enjoyed a much bigger budget, it was panned by critics, scorned by the fans and rode high on "Worst Movies Ever" lists for a long time. It should be noted however, that these bizarre changes were due to Executive Meddling and the film running out of budget halfway through shooting. Several years after the theatrical screening, the director re-edited the film into The Renegade Cut for release on home video — twice. The edits had all references to Zeist removed. The troubled history of the film's production is explained in this mini-documentary.
- Highlander: The Series (1992-1998) follows the life of Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), an Immortal who happens to be a kinsman of the movies' Connor MacLeod. The series was originally intended to be a prequel to the first movie (resolving the continuity issues the screen was plagued with), being about the larger body of Immortals in the time of the Gathering coming together and doing combat in the large scale ladder match that would ultimately lead up to Connor MacLeod versus the Kurgan. After the first season it became clear that the Series was doing quite well in its own right. This made the canonicity of the original film, and the inevitable necessity of Duncan's death, problematic. The first film as straight canon began to fade from the Series continuity; Currently in the Series' fandom, the original film is considered to be canon apart from Connor winning The Prize. Naturally, The Game is still ongoing. (Events suggest it may never end, due to millions of people harboring the 'potential' to become immortal.) The series introduces the Watchers, a mysterious group which has observed and chronicled Immortal activities throughout history. It also coined the term "The Game", which refers to the Immortals' ongoing battle. For the most part it was well-received and internally consistent.
- Highlander III: The Sorcerer (1994) — alternatively titled Highlander: The Final Dimension — ignores the second film and the TV series, making it a direct sequel to the original film. It turns out that The Kurgan was not the only savage Immortal out to claim Connor's head, as Kane (Mario Van Peebles) and two Mooks were trapped in a cave for 400 years and so didn't quite make it to The Gathering. The Gathering did happen anyways, though, as Kane and company were considered by whatever governs Immortals to be "dead" as they were trapped in a cave under a rock slide with no air, allowing them to be resurrected as if the universe were saving them for a sequel. Despite following a similar formula to the first film, Highlander 3 was better received than The Quickening.
- Highlander: The Raven (1998-1999) was a short-lived spin-off of the TV series and centered on Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen), Duncan MacLeod's sometime love interest. By all accounts a disastrous shoot from start to finish, making it the Lost in La Mancha of spinoffs.
- Highlander: Endgame (2000), the fourth film to be made, followed on from the TV series continuity but attempted to incorporate the events of the original film into its backstory as well (although ultimately it ended up contradicting both). Duncan and Connor MacLeod team up to face Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne), a scenery-chewing Immortal with a massive grudge against Connor. Endgame's poor editing left fans confounded and casual viewers completely adrift. Like The Quickening, Endgame saw an extended cut which gives it at least some semblance of order. Notable mainly for being the one where Connor is Killed Off for Real..
- Highlander: The Source (2007), released as a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie, marks (probably) the final appearance of Duncan MacLeod and the rest of the TV series' gang. Following an apocalyptic event, the dissolution of the Watcher's Council, and a lot of other, more interesting stuff not explored in this movie, Duncan, Methos (Peter Wingfield), and the last few immortals on Earth go on a quest to find "The Source" of immortality. Standing in their way is The Guardian (Cristian Solimeno, the only actor who looks like he's enjoying himself). All of it culminates in yet another final battle in which Duncan wins what may be the lamest interpretation of The Prize yet — he gets to be a daddy, which means the whole point of the game was one gigantic, cosmic case of penis envy. Amazingly enough, it does not directly contradict Endgame — though II and III are still out of luck. Word of God is that it was All Just a Dream.
- Reunion — As it turned out, Wingfield wasn't burned out on playing Methos just yet. In 2008, he released a Short Film starring himself with fellow Series co-stars Jim Byrnes and Elizabeth Gracen, depicting the characters 10 years after the series finale. Wingfield shot the entire episode in his house (and it shows), but as far as send-offs go, it still beats The Source.
- A Continuity Reboot was announced in 2008, but has been in Development Hell for years. Ryan Reynolds was attached to play Connor, but has since dropped from the project.
in other media:
- Highlander: The Animated Series (1994-1996) mostly ignores the established canon, though Connor MacLeod and Ramirez (from the original film) both make an appearance. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the Immortals have agreed to a truce. Once everyone else has taken the oath, however, a jerkass Immortal named Kortan takes advantage of the binding truce to become ruler of Earth. Several centuries later, new Immortal Quentin MacLeod is born. He is not bound by the oath, making him the sole warrior able to face Kortan. His mentor Vincente Ramirez leads him on a quest to find the other Immortals and receive their knowledge, before Kortan does. Tagging along is Clyde of the Dundee, Quentin's adoptive sister. The series eventually spawned a game Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar CD. Seriously.
- In 2001, a Flash animated fan series entitled The Methos Chronicles was made available online. The eponymous character is voiced by Peter Wingfield, reprising his old role from the TV series.
- Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007) is an Anime unrelated to any of the films or other adaptations. It starts in AD 125, somewhere in Roman Britain. A small village is wiped out by Roman troops led by Immortal Marcus Octavius. He is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who thinks an Empire is necessary to build a utopian society. This battle leads to the rise of another Immortal, Colin MacLeod. He is mentored by Amergan, the ghost of a druid. Colin devotes his life to seeking vengeance by killing Octavius. The film follows them in brief scenes taking place during a period of two millennia. The film was a critical hit and is thought to have a far more complex plot than most of the live-action sequels.
- They also announced a videogame for the current generation a while ago, and after numerous release pushbacks, it was set to be released but was cancelled in late 2010.
Here are the character sheets for the film series
and TV series
This series provides examples of:
- After the End: A strangely popular setting for Highlander spinoffs, for no explicable reason. Highlander II, Highlander: The Source, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, and the animated series all occur in post-apocalyptic settings. It's justifiable in The Search for Vengeance and the animated series, as they take place in the far future and immortals are one of the few likely to survive the end of the world, but less so in the case of The Quickening and The Source; both take place Twenty Minutes into the Future and have most normal people living through the apocalypse as well.
- Alternate Continuity: There are at least three — the (first three) films, the TV series (plus spinoffs and sequel movies), and the animated series. These are the broadest possible divisions as each one contains multiple Retcons within themselves.
- All There in the Manual: While the flashbacks do supplement some of the information, the DVDs (at least, for the Series) have the Watcher Chronicles, which include date of birth/first death, first teacher, background on the immortals, notes from the watchers, and information on the different swords used.
- Arc Words: "There can be only one!" - also a Pre Ass Kicking One Liner.
- The fifth movie's only remotely redeeming moment is the Guardian subverting this with a gleeful "There can be only me!"
- "It's a kind of magic" is also used as a call-back between Connor and Rachel (and a reference to the theme music).
- Artistic License – Astronomy: In The Source, concerning planetary alignment: "Well that could just be... orbital wobble."
- Surprisingly subverted. The very next line is (paraphrased) "that's not how orbital wobble works; this is clearly magic."
- Badass Longcoat: A warehouse of them. The coat at least waves a hand at how the Immortals carry swords around unnoticed, and where they come from when they pull them out.
- Big "NO!": The series has a Big DAARRRRIIIUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSSS!
- Black and White Morality: Despite Duncan insisting that "There are no all good or all bad Immortals, we run the spectrum just like you," The series has a clearly defined sense of right and wrong, heroes and villains, and only blurs it on occasion.
- Blessed with Suck: Immortality is presented as this more than a few times, especially when it comes to having mortal lovers and friends who will eventually either die of old age or get killed from hanging around with Connor or Duncan. Starting with Connor's wife Heather, to the tune of Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever?"
- Burn the Witch!:
- In the series, happened to John Garrick.
- A general reason why Immortals never stay for too long in one place. (Shading into They Would Cut You Up in modern times.)
- Canon Discontinuity:
- Highlander II: The Quickening. Parts of the plot of this film are so poorly received that numerous edits of the film have been released on DVD, and most of them completely ignore the "Zeist/Immortals are really aliens" sub-plot. To the point that some editions of the third film have it titled as Highlander 2.
- The filmmakers themselves agree that The Source isn't canon and supposed to be a nightmare Duncan is having.
- Cape Busters: In the series, rogue Watchers called Hunters track and kill immortals, even on holy ground.
- Captain Ersatz: The X-ternals, a group of mutants in Marvel's X-Men comics, were obviously based on the Highlander concept: they had powers that could only be accessed after they "died" and came back to life. Cannonball of the New Mutants turned out to be one. All of them were wiped out by Selene (herself an ancient immortal.) Rumor is that Marvel decided to get rid of them before they got sued.
- Classy Cat-Burglar: Amanda.
- Clothes Make the Legend: Connor wears a beige overcoat during the majority of the first film. In the Pilot Episode of Highlander: The Series, you can probably guess what he's wearing in his cameo. (He's even shown wearing it in grassy Scotland.)
- At least the long coat makes it somewhat plausible that he can carry a katana concealed in his clothing (see Hammerspace below).
- Combat Pragmatist:
- If the fight's going against him, Methos is not above feigning helplessness (such as pretending to slip) and then, when his opponent moves in for the kill, drawing a hidden dagger and stabbing him.
- In one of Highlander: The Source's only intelligent moments, the Big Bad is shown wearing heavy armor around his neck designed to make decapitation almost impossible. Because this idea makes far too much sense for such a terrible movie, the resulting Quickening of his first battle makes it vanish for no reason, and he spends the rest of the film unarmored.
- Confessional: A long, long confession.
- Cycle of Revenge:
- Immortals can hold blood feuds and grudges that last centuries - and usually the same guys fighting throughout history.
- Think about that for a second...if you were immortal and made an enemy of a fellow immortal, spent centuries tracking them down to avenge yourself on them, only to find they got their head chopped off sometime last year, how would you feel?
- Evil Albino: The Guardian.
- The novel The Element Of Fire has an Immortal albino woman named Nerissa who is the Big Bad's companion.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Among the rules, fights on holy ground like a church are forbidden, though some villains like the Kurgan attempt to do it anyway.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Kalas, due to a throat injury, though his voice has more of a raspy quality to it.
- Exposition of Immortality: Let us count the ways that this happens. No, let's not; there's too many of them. The first film is a principal source, between MacLeod's many memories of times gone by; saving Rachel from Nazis, dueling drunk in 17th Century England, or the sizable collection of antiquities he's picked up over the years from their original time period. Ramirez' sword is a particular example, especially since it's older than it should be.
- Facial Composite Failure: The news media, unaware of The Gathering or what is happening, attributes each of the original film's beheadings to a single killer. The newspapers release a composite sketch of The Kurgan, dubbing him the "Headhunter".
- Flashback: Ahh, the Highlander flashback. Usually designated by being shown in Deliberately Monochrome.
- Generally the case when a mortal has a flashback; flashbacks of immortals are undoctored. Possibly meant to reflect mortals having imperfect memories, while immortals remember everything?
- Early on in the series Mac's flashbacks to his first days of immortality were in a sort of sepia tone, suggesting that those moments are the hardest to recall. Later on they abandoned this.
- Usually with interesting framing, like a window the scene enters becoming a flashback for example.
- Flynning: Almost all of the sword fights.
- Although this may be justified as the Immortal style of swordplay is very different from the mortal's idea of "find a vital place and stab it." To an Immortal, there's only one vital place, and merely poking it isn't enough; you need a good, firm, unimpeded swing. Furthmore, the really old Immortals have an incredibly high tolerance for pain and stabbing or slashing barely slow them down. In fact Duncan himself seems very fond of disarming his enemy first before deciding to take their head or not. Conversely, Connor was only able to beat the Kurgan by wearing him out and inflicting enough minor wounds on him quickly enough that it slowed him down at the final moment.
- Friendly Rivalry: What any friendship between immortals can be.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: The Kurgan and General Katana. For the latter, the filmmakers applied makeup to the already-existing scar on Michael Ironside's head, exaggerating its grotesqueness.
- Hammerspace: In the series at least, this is where the Immortals appear to store their swords when not in use. It's referred to as "Katanaspace" by the fans.
- Colin Macleod in the finale of Vengeance., who after 2000 years of atheism and mortally wounded, is about to witness his rival kill a city of innocents with a super-virus, hears the dying voice of his resurrected love calling to him from Heaven...
- Hot Scientist: Brenda Wyatt the forensic scientist, Louise Marcus the environmental scientist, Dr. Alexandra Johnson the archaeologist. Connor seems to have a thing for sexy nerds.
- I Am X, Son of Y: "I am Connor/Duncan/Quentin/Colin MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
- Iconic Item: Connor's sword (given to him by Ramirez in the distant past) and Duncan's katana both count.
- 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.
- General Katana carries one to complement his Villain Ball in Highlander 2. For no apparent reason, he sends a couple of assassins to Earth after MacLeod, then goes himself. Never mind that MacLeod won The Game years ago and had no intention of going back to Zeist - within less than a decade, he'd be dead by old age. Instead, the new arrivals make him immortal again, makes him young, and also alerts him ahead of time that he has to deal with Katana. One of the assassins even points out how pointless this is, and gets smacked for it. MacLeod practically spells it out for Katana what a huge, stupid, meaningless mistake stirring up this trouble really was.
- Immortality Begins at Twenty: Averted, the Immortals seem to stop aging at the age where they first experience a violent death. Can lead to Not Growing Up Sucks if one meets their end at a significantly young age.
- Katanas Are Just Better: They're the weapon of choice for every MacLeod, as well as Connor's mentor Ramirez. At various points in the series, Duncan did occasionally use a different type of blade, but the katana was his 'default' weapon. Subverted in Highlander: The Source where Duncan's katana is broken in half by the Guardian, and he goes into the final confrontation with a pair of knives. Could be partly justified by the katana's effectiveness as a cutting weapon; when the only way to kill someone is to decapitate them, a sword specifically designed for slashing comes in handy. Additionally the katana is a lot easier to carry around and hide in a trench-coat the way Connor did.
- Discussed in the original, when Brenda carbon-dates the ivory in the handle of Connor's katana back to 500 BC, loooong before folded-steel katanas had been developed (steel was new to the scene in India then). According to Ramierez, the sword was forged by Masamune (presumably an ancestor), and was probably the first steel katana ever made.
- While Connor and Duncan both prefer katanas, it is mostly for sentimental reasons. Other Immortals are shown to carry a large number of different types of sword. The ones that show up more than once aren't always using the same sword from episode to episode either.
- Killed Off for Real: Tessa, Darius, Charlie, Fitzcairn, Richie, Connor, Joe Not Joe.
- Master Swordsman: Fridge Logic would imply that any Immortal who lives long enough would eventually have to become one, but the MacLeods, Ramirez, and Graham Hash (Ramirez's teacher) are explicitly referred to as such.
- Mayfly-December Romance: Any love interest for an Immortal. Duncan and Amanda are both immortal, but they come and go over time, not willing to be attached to each other for centuries.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Many of the villains from Highlander: The Series count. In fact, when Kronos and Horton were Killed Off for Real the cast and crew were reportedly very bummed out.
- Mortality Ensues: In the original continuity, part of the Prize is the option to live as a normal human; Connor states that this is his intention at the end of Highlander. The Series stated that the last Immortal will be powerful enough "to rule this planet forever".
- Mr. Fanservice: Highlander: The Series
- My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Immortals can sense the nearby presence of their kind.
- New Old Flame: Duncan gets one in Endgame, and a completely different one in The Source.
- Real Men Love Jesus: Both Connor and Duncan are, astoundingly, still devout Catholics in spite of the fact that the superstitious xenophobia of their Catholic kin is precisely what caused them them to be hated and feared exiles driven from their homes.
- To be fair, they were pretty freaked out themselves with what was happening to them. They just don't seem to hold a grudge (maybe because they are devout Catholics) and, well, the "driven from their homes" part probably had less to do with the people being Catholic than the fact that both Connor and Duncan had somehow come Back from the Dead- it was the people who had the problem, not the faith.
- Really 700 Years Old: Obviously, but invoked most strongly with Methos. Despite being at least five thousand years old, he appears to be in his late twenties to early thirties.
- Resurrective Immortality: Immortals can die just like anyone else, but their bodies then heal and they revive. And it can turn into a cycle if conditions are bad, which can lead to an insane immortal or at least an immortal with a huge desire for revenge.
- Retired Badass: Duncan is almost always trying to retire from "The Game" to various degrees of success. On the one hand he probably has more immortal friends than any other, but he also has countless enemies who come looking for him too. He refuses to "hunt" other immortals unless they personally threaten those he cares about and keeps a cabin on Native American holy ground he's been known to live on for very long periods of time.
- Connor tried as well.
- Darius and Brother Paul where Badasses who retired from the Game and into holy ground.
- Satan: Ahriman, the supernatural Big Big of Season 6, is described as being the source of all evil in the universe.
- Scars Are Forever: Subverted. None of the immortals' severe wounds appear to leave scars, except neck wounds (the Kurgan's slashed throat in the movie, and Kalas' slashed vocal cords in the series), probably due to the connection between decapitation and death for them.
- Also Xavier St. Cloud's entire hand.
- Colin in the anime retains a scar across his face from when he very nearly got his head cleaved in two.
- Scary Impractical Armor: The Kurgan (and later Kane) are seen wearing this dring their glory days.
- Scotireland: Averted. They generally go out of their way to note the difference, and in Endgame Connor and Duncan are reminiscing about Scotland while travelling through Ireland.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The Source. It's not canon now, but its interpretation of The Prize renders all the fighting in the series practically pointless.
- Skyward Scream: When Duncan finds Darius's body in the season 1 finale.
- Connor manages to resurrect Ramirez in Highlander 2 by screaming his name to the heavens.
- Squick: In-universe; Ramirez's reaction to Connor's explanation of Haggis.
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: The Source. Nearly every character from the television series, nay, the franchise is presumed dead in the film's dystopian world. Yes, even Connor, who bit the dust in Endgame.
- Rather heartlessly, Methos, a highly popular character, is last seen running off in to the woods, presumably to be killed offscreen.
- Word of God states that The Source isn't canon and just some kind of trippy nightmare Duncan is having. Don't know if that helps, but there it is.
- Super Strength: While they don't display it as consistently as they should, the Immortals in Highlander are more then just Humans with the ability to regenerate and recover from fatal injuries and potentially live forever. Immortals are stronger, faster and tougher then Humans, and this grows as they age, train and acquire more Quickenings. Being able to cut off the heads of other Immortals, much less any Human being requires a great deal of physical strength, seeing as how hard it is to do consistently. The Kurgan himself displays this when He's able to chop down a huge chunk of the tower that Connor lives in, and when He manages to stab a man and lift him up into the air with his sword. It's much more obvious how much more stronger and more powerful Immortals are, in The Search for Vengeance; when you're not constrained by a special effects budget like they would in live-action films.
- Technicolor Death: The Quickening that occurs when an immortal dies.
- Theme Naming: Highlander's Big Bads tend to names beginning with a "K" (The Kurgan, General Katana, Kronos, Kell, etc). This earned them the Fan Nickname of "K'immies".
- The Reveal Prompts Romance: The 1986 film set one of these up between the secretly-immortal Connor MacLeod and his love interest. Made more remarkable by the fact that Connor made his reveal by stabbing himself in the chest.
- Training Montage:
- In the original film, it takes place over the course of a few years.
- Richie gets two of them in "Eye For An Eye."
- The third film includes a sequence in which Connor returns to Scotland, and several beats from the first film's montage (running on the beach, rowing on the lake) are re-created with solo Connor.
- Translation Convention: During flashbacks to previous eras, the MacLeods and other immortals are often seen in various countries, speaking English (sometimes accented, sometimes not) with people who may not have actually been speaking English at the time (again with the on-again, off-again accents.) During segments of the series which take place in Paris, the majority of the bystanders and bit characters will speak plain English, with one or two characters speaking in a French accent.
- Truce Zone: Any "holy ground" is a safe zone for an immortal. (But only from other immortals. Poor Darius. Jacob Kell also breaks it.)
- Undead Tax Exemption: Averted: Connor has to change his identity every so often to blend in with society. Though he doesn't move on, just transfers his home and assets to the next identity. This is what eventually gets him found out once there are enough government records signed with the same handwriting over two centuries to backtrack over. Duncan takes a different tack; whenever he 'dies', he moves to another country and sets up shop there for 50-60 years, which he also advises Richie to do after the latter dies in a motorcycle racing accident.
- Victor Gains Loser's Powers: One of the side effects of the quickening after one Immortal beheads another one. Not that pronounced in either the films or the series, but it's implied that the major villains (particularly The Kurgan) have so much skill and knowledge due to their high number of kills.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: If you pay attention to the histories of some of the Immortals and where they've been their particular Weapon of Choice makes so much more sense.
- Waxing Lyrical: The Kurgan - "I have somethin' to say! It's better to burn out, than to fade away!!"
- We Are as Mayflies: "All love must die" (from the soundtrack.) The Immortals see everyone they know grow old and die while they live on.
- When the Planets Align: The impetus of Highlander: The Source.
- Artistic License – Astronomy: A character who is observing the phenomenon warns that the entire Earth will be bombarded with "cosmic radation". Methos, for his part, contends that the planets are merely exhibiting "orbital wobble". In the film's climax, not only do the planets quickly move into alignment, but they're close enough to be clearly visible and huge in the night sky.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Although the phrase is older than the movie, it was first used in the context of that trope here, when before it was about not being a coward in the face of danger.
- World of Ham: The only Immortal in the first movie who is even the tiniest bit understated is Connor himself, and once he gets the Prize..."I KNOW EVERYTHING! I AM EVERYTHING!"
- Wound That Will Not Heal: Kalas received a cut to his throat (like The Kurgan) in the series, as well as Xavier St. Cloud's severed hand.
Hey, it's a kind of magic.