Chad Stahelski, the director renowned for his work on the John Wick trilogy, has confirmed that a reboot of the 1986 classic Highlander is entering ‘heavy development mode’. That is the phrase that Stahelski used in an interview with DiscussingFilm, where he also explained that scripts are currently being tweaked and action sequences are being conceptualized. This news will be gratefully received by Highlander fans who have waited a long time for a new movie.
While it wasn’t a smash hit in theaters, Highlander has since become a cult classic. When you hear an overview of the plot, it certainly screams ‘cult classic’. The first Highlander movie saw Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) born in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century, where he learned from a mysterious sword-master called Ramirez (Sean Connery) that he has a gift where he can only be killed by beheading.
MacLeod becomes a mighty warrior who lives for hundreds of years, before fighting the villainous Kurgan (Clancy Brown) in New York City 1985. This is all for the ‘Prize’: the gift of knowledge to enslave humanity. The plot simultaneously sounds like it is a product of the 1980s and something that deserves to be explored by modern filmmakers, given how directing techniques and movie technology have developed in the past 30 years.
A new trilogy
Stahelski is a safe pair of hands for this job, even though the first three John Wick movies are his only outings as a director. His past life as a stuntman has given Stahelski a keen eye for action, something that is consistently displayed in the Wick trilogy. In January 2017, Stahelski told Collider of his plans for a Highlander trilogy, one that would significantly flesh out the world introduced in the 1986 movie and subsequent media.
Stahelski spoke of his intentions to recreate what was good about the first Highlander flick, from prominently featuring the music of Queen to paying tribute to the movie’s famous tagline: ‘there can only be one’. Stahelski also confirmed his desire to avoid the mistakes that were made by the Highlander franchise in past years.
There are clear plans to produce a fully-formed Highlander trilogy from the very beginning, whereas the development of the existing Highlander movie franchise was much more ad hoc. Stahelski described the franchise as ‘one great movie and four questionable followups’. Those follow-ups are The Quickening (1991), The Sorcerer (1994), Endgame (2000), and The Source (2007), with that latest outing a TV movie that received a painfully low score of 3.1/10 on IMDb.
A legacy reliant on the 1986 success
While those movies still appeal to many Highlander fans, with HBO Max adding Endgame to the streaming platform in August 2020, it is telling that Highlander‘s legacy is mostly based on that iconic first film. The 1992 television series Highlander acted as an alternate sequel to the 1986 movie, therefore usurping the events of the 1991 film The Quickening. The series has an international success that ran for six seasons, with Queen’s ‘Princes of the Universe’ used as the show’s theme tune to provide a clear link to the Highlander movie world.
That link is similarly there in the Highlander online slot machine, with the 25-payline slot hosted by Betway Casino incorporating footage from the 1986 movie. The symbols on the reels are also characters from that first film, including McLeod and the Kurgan. Dynamite Entertainment also looked to that movie for inspiration when producing two comic book mini-series. The first of those series explores the aftermath of Highlander in 13 issues, while the second acts as a prequel that sets the scene for the movie.
There was even a video game tie-in to the 1986 movie released by Ocean Software, which was playable on the ZX Spectrum. That game wasn’t a huge hit and could probably do with a modern update, whereas it’s fair to say that Highlander the movie has stood the test of time significantly better. Fans of the franchise must be keen to see what a Highlander movie produced in the 2020s would look like, particularly given the disappointment of the other 21st-century sequels.
Plenty of other 1980s successes have been given modern updates. When he’s hasn’t been pushing for a movie shot in space, Tom Cruise has worked on the sequel to the 1986 crowd-pleaser Top Gun. Blade Runner 2049 brought Harrison Ford back in 2017 to update fans on the fortunes of his character from the 1982 classic. Tales of characters from the original Star Wars trilogy (released between 1977 and 1983) are still being told, with new movies made to expand the back story of beloved characters like Han Solo.
Stahelski has pointed towards Star Wars as something to emulate with this new Highlander trilogy. While we don’t yet know who will take on the all-important role of Highlander, Stahelski has so far said all the right words that should reassure long-term Highlander fans that there are good things coming in the not-too-distant future.