Gregory Widen's original screenplay was a much darker and grittier portrayal of the Highlander universe. The main characters are also different in several ways; Connor was born in 1408 instead of 1518. He lived with his mother and father. In the draft, Heather (Connor's beloved wife in the film) does not exist; Connor was promised to a young girl named Mara whom he loved with all his heart, but who later rejects him after he becomes immortal. Connor leaves his village instead of being banished. His alias in the draft was Richard Tupin, and he used an assortment of swords rather than the katana he took after Ramirez's death in the film. Ramirez was a Spaniard, rather than an ancient Egyptian born more than two thousand years earlier. The Kurgan was known as the Knight using the alias Carl Smith. He was not a savage, but a cold blooded killer. Brenda was known as Brenna Cartwright. Other major aspects were later changed during rewrites. Initially, Immortals could have children; in the draft, Connor is said to have had 37. The film was originally set in Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania in the present day, rather than New York City. The final showdown took place in a museum.
The opening voice-over by Sean Connery has an echo effect, because it was recorded in the bathroom of his Spanish villa (where he had been working with a voice coach, in order to perfect the Spanish accent he used in the film). It was played for the producers over the phone, and they approved of it because they could not discern the quality of the recording that way.
Queen originally intended to record only one song for the film, but after viewing footage from the movie, they were inspired to write more. The band members each had a favorite scene and composed songs specifically for them. Brian May wrote "Who Wants to Live Forever" during the cab ride home after seeing the film, and Roger Taylor used the line "It's a kind of magic" as the basis for the end title song.
The swords sparking while clashing was accomplished by attaching a wire to each sword that led down the arms of the actors to a car battery. One was connected to the positive terminal and the other to the negative terminal, so when the swords touched, there was an arc.
The brandy scene with Macleod and Brenda, was inspired by Russell Mulcahy's dinner with Jim Steinman, who, as a wine bottle from 1949 was being opened, sniffed the air between the cork and the bottle and told Mulcahy that he just sniffed air from 1949.
Gregory Widen was inspired to write the story while visiting Scotland, on vacation. He was visiting a museum in Edinburgh, and came across a suit of armor, and wondered what it would have been like, if the man who wore the armor was alive today.
The brief snippet of "New York, New York" performed by Queen during the movie has never been released officially on any album or single by the group. It was only made available on illegal bootlegs of the film score, until this track, and the other Queen tracks composed for the film, were made available via the Queen HUB online.
During the film scene at Eilean Donan castle, the car park by the castle had to be covered up with tons of peat to disguise it. The house located by the bridge out to the Castle was boxed in with hardboard, and painted over, so that it looked just like real stone even when you stood right beside it. Extras were paid 25 pounds a day, with a ten pound bonus, if they took their own horse. A lot of the locals took several days off work to do it.
According to Russell Mulcahy, when they first shot the scene of The Kurgan bursting through a door to cut the table in half, Clancy Brown instead ran in and cut through the candelabra, nearly decapitating Sean Connery. As a result, Connery stormed off the set. Later, Connery returned and Brown apologized, saying he was very nervous. Connery joked that he should use his stunt double more.
The opening scene was intended to take place during an NHL hockey match, but the NHL refused to allow the crew to film there because, by the crew's own admission, they were intending to emphasize the violence of the hockey match.
Eight minutes of footage was removed from the original American theatrical release. The original version of the film was not released in America until 1996, with the "10th Anniversary Director's Cut" DVD. All subsequent DVD releases have included the director's cut. Among the footage removed: The opening flashbacks to Scotland as Connor sits in the stadium, Fasil doing back flips in the parking garage, Connor's first wife saying goodbye to him as he rides off into battle, Connor lying on the ground in agony after being stabbed by the Kurgan, and a flashback to World War II, with Connor rescuing a young Rachel. In addition, the scene in which Connor is driven away from his village was trimmed, removing the head butts and the more violent punches and kicks.
The opening credits, with red text on a black background, were only intended to be temporary, place-holding credits, but the producers liked the look of them so much, that they were kept for the final cut of the film.
Although Queen's songs have become closely associated with the franchise, they were not actually the original choice. Before Queen decided to do the soundtrack for the film, David Bowie, Sting (who was also considered to play Connor MacLeod) and Duran Duran were considered to do the soundtrack instead. The once popular but now largely forgotten British progressive rock band Marillion, who had enjoyed a big success in the UK in 1985 with their "Misplaced Childhood" album, turned down an offer to record the soundtrack because they were busy on a world tour. Guitarist Steve Rothery later said in an interview this was "a really stupid thing for us to turn down". As well as his band being offered the soundtrack, Scottish singer Fish (then lead singer of Marillion) was also offered a part in the film and even grew a beard especially for the character, but touring dates with the band conflicted with the filming schedule. Fish revealed this in an interview by rock journalist Mick Wall, which is published in his book "Appetite for Destruction - Legendary Encounters with Mick Wall".
The opening shot sweeping through the stadium was accomplished using a computerized system that held the camera on four wires. The system was invented by the inventor of the Steadicam stabilizing camera system, Garrett Brown.
In the Scottish festival scene, Ramirez shows MacLeod his sword, claiming it was made by his last father-in-law, Masamune. There was a real Masamune, Goro Masamune, who is renowned as the greatest swordsmith of the Tokugawa Shogunate era. Believed to have lived in the late 13th/early 14th century, his swords were the most cited in the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho, a Kyoho-era sword catalogue compiled by the Honami family of sword polishers and appraisers in 1714 on the orders of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune.
The novelization delves into The Kurgan's backstory: His first death occurred in 970 B.C., when his drunken father crushed his head with a rock. Upon returning to life, the Kurgan proceeded to force his father to swallow a searing hot stone, killing him. He then went off to join a group of bandits that raided caravans. He eventually encountered another Immortal, "The Bedouin," who revealed to him his true nature, and who became the only person who could be labeled as his friend. During the intervening centuries, the Kurgan took an incalculable number of Immortal heads. Circa 410 A.D., the Kurgan joined the Vandals, Goths, and Visigoths in attacking Rome and other Roman settlements, also fighting with the Goths against the Huns. He would then later ally himself with the Huns directly, fighting alongside Attila, around the year 453. From the fifth to thirteenth centuries, the Kurgan would spread terror with the Tatars of the Gobi and ancient Turkey, as well as with Viking raiders and the Mongol horde of Genghis Khan.
The sword fight between MacLeod and Fasil was filmed in a London fruit market made to look like a parking garage. The producers had scheduled to film in England, but couldn't film in a parking garage there, because they had lower ceilings than American parking garages, and could not convincingly be made to look like Madison Square Garden's garage.
The Queen song "One Year of Love" (which can be heard in the background in the scene where Brenda meets Connor in the bar) was never released as a single in Europe or the United States, but was a hit in Japan. The 7" single was released as part of the Highlander marketing wave, and its label said it was from the forthcoming soundtrack album (which never surfaced). However, it was featured on Queen's 1986 studio album "A Kind of Magic".
Sean Connery would later reprise his role as Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez in Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). Other than James Bond, this is the only character that he has played in more than one film.
Kurgan's pseudonym, Victor Krueger, is actually an inside joke. Victor, of course, means winner. Krueger might falsely been seen as a variation on the German word, Krieger, which means warrior. So, Victor Krueger would mean, Winning Warrior. The actual meaning of Krueger is "someone who produces jugs/jars/pitchers/mugs"
While filming in the Scottish Highlands, the production's medical team were kept busy in the afternoons. After a liquid lunch, many of the local Scottish extras got a bit too enthusiastic during the clan battles, with many minor injuries resulting.
Russell Mulcahy said that filming the stag "was a nightmare." Because at the time of filming all stags had lost their horns, it was decided to glue on antlers. A veterinarian put the animal to sleep, the horns were glued on and then, they had to wait for it to awaken; once it did, all the deer wanted to do was shake off the antlers. During filming, the stag ran away and never came back. It was found later, 25 miles away and without the horns. Some of the stag scene (standing in water) is National Geographic stock footage.
Russell Mulcahy said that the biggest dilemma of the film was "the visualization of the prize." He said, "Not knowing what to do, we did what we did." A combination of lighting effects and animation was used; the "electricity" seen was to cover the wires holding up Christopher Lambert, and the animation represented "Demonic souls of the past and all the immortals who have gone before him."
Some scenes were deleted from the movie and ended up being lost forever when they were destroyed in warehouse fire. One of these was a duel sequence that introduced an Asian immortal named Yung Dol Kim. In this deleted scene Kim was working as a night security guard in a New York City office building at the time of the Gathering, where he was challenged by the Kurgan. Kim fights Japanese two-sword style. During the fight Kim surrenders wearying of Immortal life and is willing to suicide himself. The Kurgan takes his head and the body explodes out of the 40th floor of the building. In the continuity of the film, the Kurgan's duel with Kim takes place before his duel with Kastagir. A few stills from the sequence, some in color and others in black & white, did survive and were later used in the collectible card game based on Highlander for cards featuring the Kim character. Other deleted and lost scenes are flashback where Connor meets with Thomas Jefferson, bar scene when Connor and Kastagir go out for a drink and are partying in bar where they meet Det. Walter Bedsoe who ends up drinking and partying with them, this scene also expanded more on Kastagir and Connor's relationship and revealed that they met during the American Revolutionary War. There was also a scene in which Connor shows Brenda his katana, the sword she was so intrigued about after finding metal shards from it in the parking garage, after their sex scene.
The ending of the novelization is also expanded, by revealing that Connor went back to his antique shop to say his final goodbye to Rachel before leaving for Scotland. Once he and Brenda arrive in Scotland, they tour for two months, and then open an antique shop in Camden Alley. On one occasion, he returns to the Scottish Uplands alone and stares at the remnants of his home with Heather. There is no croft there, but he finds a few stones from the fallen tor, and locates the burial place of Ramirez and Heather. He finds two timbers and fashions a crude cross, telling Heather that she would like Brenda, because "She is much like you."
The producers tested dozens of actors for the role of Garfield, the cop who berates MacLeod in the police station. The actors were Americans living in England, and the producers decided not to cast any of them because they had developed English accents after living in England for several years.
Director of photography Arthur Smith actually filmed the scene in which fish fall out of MacLeod's kilt, but Christopher Lambert's kilt proved to be too short. Smith said, "I stuck part of a drain pipe above Chris's kilt out of camera range, and fed live trout down the tube." Smith also had difficulties shooting MacLeod meeting the Kurgan. It was raining that day and the crew had to use umbrellas and hair dryers to prevent water from hitting the camera lenses and appearing on the film. Smith also remembered that Lambert, who was near-sighted, "kept forgetting to take off his glasses as he came over the hill on his horse."
The wrestling match in the beginning scene was between the legendary AWA (American Wrestling Association) tag teams of "The Fabulous Freebirds", consisting of Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, and Buddy Roberts, and the team of Greg Gagne (son of AWA owner Verne Gagne), Jumping Jim Brunzell (the same Brunzell of the WWF tag team The Killer Bees), and the Tonga Kid (also known as Tama of the WWF tag team The Islanders).
According to Russell Mulcahy, Sean 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."
Clancy Brown almost turned down the role of The Kurgan (which required prosthetics) because he had experienced an allergic reaction to prosthetic glue. Brown had just finished portraying Frankenstein's monster in The Bride (1985) and production had to be shut down for three weeks, his allergy was so severe.
Gregory Widen wrote the script as his senior thesis entitled "Dark Knight" while he was an undergraduate in the screenwriting program at the University of California. Widen sold the script for 200,000 dollars.
According to Russell Mulcahy, the battle scenes were filmed in all kinds of crazy weather including snow and horizontal rain. He spoke highly of the extras, all of whom were locals and wanted "nothing but a good bottle of scotch at the end of the day." Russell marvelled that they would even sleep outside, drink half the night, and show up for work in the morning.
The low flying aircraft in the final scene was a Sepecat Jaguar T2 belonging to 226 Operational Conversion Unit based at R.A.F. Lossiemouth. This unit is incorrectly listed in the final credits as the "Jaguar Fighter Wing, R.A.F. Lossiemouth." The Jaguar is actually a ground attack aircraft and not a fighter. 226 O.C.U. was a training unit used to train pilots to fly the Jaguar.
According to the scene where a computer compares the signatures on the deeds to MacLeod's house, his previous aliases before Russell Nash were Adrien Montague, Jacques Lefebert, Alfred Nicholson, and Rupert Wallingford.
According to Christopher Lambert and Russell Mulcahy, Sean Connery was often drunk while filming in Scotland. Mulcahy recalled: "We shot fast - in Scotland, London and New York. The budget was just thirteen million dollars, so it was guerrilla-style filmmaking. When we were in Glen Coe, the producer had to run down the mountain with a pocket of change to call the studio from a phone box. On the plane up, Sean brought out a bottle of homemade scotch a friend had given him. "C'mon, laddie," he said, "have a nip of this." It blew my brains out."
According to Hulk Hogan, he was offered the part of Connor MacLeod, but he turned it down in order to focus on his wrestling career. Ironically, in the beginning scene, Connor Macleod is at Madison Square Garden watching a wrestling match involving the Fabulous Freebirds.
This was originally a stand-alone movie, and did not perform well at the box-office. However, the sequel Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) came about, because this film had developed such a cult following among fantasy and science-fiction fans.
Russell Mulcahy states in the DVD commentary that "Gimme the Prize (Kurgan's Theme)" was his least favorite of the Queen songs used in the film, because he does not like heavy metal. Brian May also commented (to a Japanese magazine in 1986) that both Freddie Mercury and John Deacon hated the song.
Mel Gibson, who turned down the part of Connor MacLeod, acted in and directed Braveheart (1995), also set in Scotland. James Cosmo appeared in both films. Coincidentally, Christopher Lambert was considered to play Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon (1987), but he turned it down, which went to Gibson. Kurt Russell, who also turned down Connor MacLeod, was also considered to play Martin Riggs. Michael Kamen also scored all four Lethal Weapon films.
During the opening wrestling scene, a new expensive film technology was used. This was computer controlled and gave the appearance of filming from a helicopter. Russell Mulcahy did, in fact, use the sound of a helicopter's blades in the background to enhance this illusion.
When Connor is confronted in the village tavern by his cousin he states they have 'been kinsmen for 20 years' ...If Connor was born in 1518 and this conversation was in 1536 then Connor is only 18 years old.
The dragon sword that Connor uses, originally had no dragon head on it, but was addded on in pre-production. It was put on with a big screw that you can see clearly in the scene where he's reaching for it under the car in the first fight. Also, Ramirez says the sword was made by Masumune. "Masamune" was Japan's greatest swordsmith, who lived more than 800 years ago.
Detective Bedsoe who appeared in a deleted bar scene is actually mentioned by an investigating officer in Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994). He remembers Russell Nash and says "but I ain't Lieutenant Bedsoe.."
In Spain, Christopher Lambert's character is known as "Conner MacLeod" after that, in the Spanish dubbed voice Connor was turned in "Conner", and all later sequels were adapted in the dubbed voice according with it.
In the scenes following Connor taking the Kurgan's head, Russell Mulcahy had originally envisioned an animated dragon, with the Kurgan's skull battle helmet emerging from the Kurgan's decapitated body and challenging Connor again. Only after Connor had defeated this Ghost-Dragon would he have received the final quickening and subsequent Prize. This idea was eventually cut due to budget restraints.
According to the director's commentary, the animated lightning on Connor's shoulders when he receives The Prize was actually supposed to disguise the wires - ironically, this may have just drawn more attention to them.
According to the DVD commentary, the film's climax was originally intended to take place on top of the Statue of Liberty. This was then changed to an amusement park, and finally changed to the rooftop of the Silvercup Studios building.
The scene in the alley where the Kurgan beheads Kastagir and then stabs the vigilante, followed by the explosion, was filmed in an alley in England even though it was set in New York City. Russell Mulcahy was reluctant to set off the explosion in the alley, because the windows were full of Victorian glass, but he was given permission to do so, because that particular site was going to be destroyed in a few months anyway.
Ramirez was born in 896 B.C. in Egypt, during the XXII Dynasty. When Ramirez meets MacLeod in 1541 A.D., he is 2437 years old, and he was 357 years old when Masumune, Ramirez's father-in-law, made the katana sword for him, in tribute to Sakiko, Ramirez's wife and Masumune's daughter.
During the final fight sequence between MacLeod and Kurgan on the roof of the Silvercup Studios building, cables can be seen in the foreground pulling the studio's neon sign down - in post-production they have bolts of electricity coursing down them to hide them. After filming had been completed, the production discovered that they had done so much damage to both the set and the actual roof of the Silvercup Studios building, as to make re-takes impossible.
The movies contains many themes from the Gothic romantic period of literature and art (around the 17th and 18th centuries), which focused on experiencing god in nature, called sublimity. This is seen when Ramirez is training Conner in many breathtaking locations, when the immortals experience the quickening (a great representation of sublimity). The best example is the Prize: the last immortal is conscious of all thoughts and things at once, being completely at one with nature. This was, of course, the Gothic romantics highest goal.
After MacLeod becomes an immortal, Ramirez addresses him, that from this moment ahead, all immortals will fight to the death until the time of The Gathering, where the two remaining, will fight for the last time to get The Prize. Ironically, Ramirez is the first to die, killed by Kurgan, and Kurgan is the last to die, defeated by MacLeod (not counting the sequels).