The first of the series of films, Highlander, directed by Russell Mulcahy, was released on March 7, 1986, with the tagline "There Can Be Only One." The film features a number of flashback scenes establishing Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod's early history, and builds up to his final destiny among the last of the mysterious Immortals. Through a mentor and fellow Immortal — Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez — he learns of the existence of other Immortals, who appear spontaneously throughout history. An Immortal can die only after being beheaded, and Immortals battle one another in ritual single combat to the death, until the "Gathering," when the few remaining Immortals will fight until only one remains to take "The Prize." The Gathering occurs in modern-day (1985) New York City, when the Highlander, who has fallen in love again despite trying to distance himself from humanity, defeats The Kurgan, whom he has encountered repeatedly over the previous centuries, and who had slain Ramírez and many others. The movie was titled Shadow Clan in the earliest drafts. Upon its release, the film was not a financial success and was panned by critics. However, it gained a strong cult following, was a hit internationally, and is regarded by many as the best movie in the series.
The original orchestral score was composed by Michael Kamen, but the soundtrack included several songs by Queen, like "Princes of the Universe," which were also used in the Highlander television series title sequence.
Box office-wise, in the United States, the movie only took in $2,453,021 in its opening weekend and ended up grossing $5,735,847. However, the movie had more success internationally, taking in $12,885,193.
Highlander II: The Quickening, also directed by Russell Mulcahy, was released on November 1, 1991. The film mainly takes place in 2024, with flashbacks to events in 1999, and also a very distant past on the planet Zeist. MacLeod designs an energy shield to protect the Earth after its ozone layer began to disintegrate, but the Shield's heavy red clouds and blocking of natural sunlight have plunged mankind into despair. The Shield has also fallen under the control of the Shield Corporation, which taxes heavily for its services in the pursuit of profit. Meanwhile, MacLeod has physically aged into a frail old man — his mortality part of winning the Prize – and expects that he will eventually die of natural causes. After he kills one of the Immortals from Zeist sent to kill him, he becomes young and Immortal again, much to his dismay. He then joins with Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), who had led a group of terrorists who try to dismantle the Shield.
This film offers an alternative origin for the Immortals, who are depicted as aliens exiled to Earth from Zeist. In direct contradiction to the original film, Ramírez and MacLeod were friends before their exile from Zeist. In the original, they first met in Scotland in 1541, with no mention of Zeist. This film was made almost entirely in Argentina; after the country's economy crashed, the film's investors took direct control of the film, removing Mulcahy and his creative influence almost entirely from the film. When it was released in 1991, it was panned by critics worldwide, and is now considered to be one of the worst movies ever made.
Russell Mulcahy was disappointed with the movie as originally released, and later made his own "Renegade Version" director's cut with a proper sequencing of various scenes, and the filmmakers' explanation for why the movie turned out as it originally did. One of Mulcahy's most dynamic alterations was the relabeling of the Zeist footage as a flashback to an ancient, technologically advanced civilization on Earth, much more in line with the later continuity of the first film and the later TV series. In 2004, a Special Edition was released, featuring several distinct alterations, including new computer-generated visual effects throughout the film. The reconstructed film's reception was far better than the original; although the general reception was somewhat mixed.
Highlander III: The Sorcerer (alternatively titled Highlander: The Final Dimension) was first released on November 25, 1994. MacLeod battles a warrior who missed the original Gathering, because he was buried deep in a Japanese cave that is holy ground, isolating him from the supposedly final contest of the first film. Kane (played by Mario Van Peebles) is a master of the "power of illusion," which allows him to create false imagery to deceive his enemies. Connor, who has lived with his adopted son John for years with the belief that he is the final Immortal, must return to New York and finish the job he started back in 1985. Along the way, he finds a new love, Dr. Alex Johnson (Deborah Unger). The movie was a box office bomb. Critics and fans claim that it was little more than a carbon copy of the first film.
Highlander: Endgame, first released on September 1, 2000, was an attempt to merge characters from both the original film and from the Highlander TV series. The story follows Duncan MacLeod as he confronts Jacob Kell, an evil Immortal who has assembled a group of fellow warriors, as well as an impressive body-count. Kell, who holds a centuries-old grudge against the elder Connor MacLeod, has slain Connor's dearest loved ones, and he does not follow the traditions of single combat. Connor has spent a decade trying to escape the Game in a hidden Watcher fortress known as the Sanctuary, but he and Duncan are forced to confront this new threat that neither one of them alone can succeed against. As the two MacLeods will not break the single-combat tradition, Connor convinces Duncan to decapitate him, thus gaining the power that he needs to defeat Kell.
Critical reaction to Highlander: Endgame was negative. It holds a 12% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 52 reviews, higher than Highlander II and Highlander III, both of which hold ratings of 5% or lower, and a score of 21 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 16 reviews.
The film was also a box office bomb, managing to garner only $15m of its $25m budget. The film opened at No. 3, grossing $5,067,331 in the opening weekend. It went on to gross $12,811,858 domestically and gather $3,031,750 from foreign markets for a worldwide total of $15,843,608. However, it was a commercial hit when it was released on DVD. This prompted the producers to release the director's cut version of the film, whose reception was far better than the theatrical in that new and edited footage was added, along with better special effects and audio tracks.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance was an anime tie-in to the Highlander franchise. Released on June 5, 2007, the film featured a new MacLeod character, Colin, who became immortal after his death in Roman Britain, and follows his quest for revenge through the centuries against his killer, an immortal Roman soldier, who repeatedly tries to conquer the world in order to instill a supposedly utopian society. Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the film was written by David Abramowitz, who also wrote for Highlander: The Series, Highlander: The Raven and the Sci-Fi Channel film Highlander: The Source.
Highlander: The Source is the fifth and final installment of the Highlander film series, which premiered on the Sci Fi Channel on September 15, 2007. The film follows Duncan MacLeod and a group of fellow Immortals seeking the source of immortality. The film retcons the meaning of the Game and the phrase, "There can be only one."
The Sci-Fi Movie Page gave it one and a half stars out of a possible five.
On May 20, 2008, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Summit Entertainment was planning a remake of the original 1986 film. The script for the new film would be penned by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, who worked on Iron Man. Peter Davis would produce the new film. Later it was announced that Justin Lin, director of Fast Five and several other entries in the Fast and Furious franchise, had signed on to direct the remake, and Live for Film announced that the film would be titled Highlander: The Reckoning.
In March 2010, producer Neal H. Moritz stated in an interview that "We’re staying true to the mythologies as a whole of the Highlander series. Now there are certain things between all the different Highlanders that conflict with each other, but we’re trying to stay true to the core of what we believe Highlander is, and it’s a movie that’s going to be made for the fans of Highlander, but also for people who are new to the franchise."
On February 9, 2011, it was announced that Twilight series writer Melissa Rosenberg was "in negotiations to come on board the Highlander reboot to work on that script."
In an interview with MTV in May 2011, Justin Lin commented on the film, saying "I feel like right now, ‘Highlander’ is in pretty good shape, but I still have to see all the other things come together for us to go make it.” In August, Lin dropped out of the film due to commitments to other projects.
28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo later signed on to direct the remake, replacing Lin. Vinnie Jones and Ray Stevenson were rumored to be considered for the role of The Kurgan. In June 2012, Ryan Reynolds was confirmed to play Connor MacLeod. However, in December 2012, Fresnadillo left the project due to creative differences and on June 17, 2013, Reynolds also dropped out of the film.
On June 28, 2013, it was announced that Highlander: The Series writer and executive producer David Abramowitz would polish the film's script. On October 28, 2013, Summit hired Snow White and the Huntsman visual effects supervisor and second unit director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to direct. In November 2014, the studio wanted actor Tom Cruise in the role of Ramírez, but Cruise was busy shooting Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and was reportedly not considering future projects at that time. James Jaysen Bryhan has since been rumored to play Ramirez.
On February 11, 2015, wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista was officially cast as The Kurgan. Nicolas-Troyan has stated that he's still involved with the reboot. In November 2016, Chad Stahelski was confirmed to direct the film.
Javier Bardem is in negotiations to play Ramirez.
In 1992, a television spin-off was developed, entitled Highlander: The Series. It was shown in syndication from October 3, 1992 to May 16, 1998. The series was an offshoot of the 1986 feature film but with one major difference: Immortals still exist post-1985.
Adrian Paul starred as Duncan MacLeod, another immortal from the same clan. The series also starred Alexandra Vandernoot, Stan Kirsch, Amanda Wyss, Jim Byrnes, Philip Akin, Michel Modo, Lisa Howard, Elizabeth Gracen and Peter Wingfield. Over its six-year run, the series had guest stars including Joan Jett, Vanity, Roger Daltrey, Richard Moll, Traci Lords, Sheena Easton, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Nia Peeples, Rae Dawn Chong, Eric McCormack, Sandra Bernhard, Claudia Christian and Ron Perlman.
The show was co-produced in syndication by international partners including Gaumont, RTL Plus (Germany), Rysher Distribution (United States), Reteitalia Productions (Italy), Amuse Video (Japan) and TF1 (France). The series had high ratings internationally. However, the ratings fell during the show's sixth season, which ended its six-year run in 1998.
The television series had its own spin-off after using its sixth year as a casting call. Highlander: The Raven starred Elizabeth Gracen, reprising her role as the popular character Amanda Darieux. It lasted one season due to low ratings and the change in the marketing of syndicated shows.
In 2008, Reunion, a reunion special was filmed starring Peter Wingfield, Elizabeth Gracen, and Jim Byrnes reprising their roles. The 17-minute special was a low-budget project 10 years after the series (or between the fourth and fifth movies). Filming took place at producer Peter Davis's beach home with the actors volunteering in their roles. The plot involved the characters discussing Methos' plans to get married and settle down with a mortal woman and her son.
A 1994 animated series, Highlander: The Animated Series, was set in the far future, and featured the character of Quentin MacLeod, voiced by Miklos Perlus.
A 1994 animated movie, Highlander: The Adventure Begins was a straight to video release that sets up the backstory for the animated series. Some episodes of the series were edited into the feature-length film.
In 2007, an anime film, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance was released, featuring the immortal Colin MacLeod in the year 2187.
A number of Highlander Novels were released, including a novelization of the first film by Garry Kilworth and a line of books based on the Series by various authors. Non-fiction Highlander books include The Best of Highlander: The Book by Maureen Russell and Fearful Symmetry – The Essential Guide to All Things Highlander — a guide to the Highlander franchise, with explorations of the movies and series, interviews with many of the key players in front and behind the camera.
The Highlander comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment, featuring the creative team of Brandon Jerwa, Michael Avon Oeming (Red Sonja) and artist Lee Moder, are also set around the universe of the television series.
Big Finish Productions had the licence to produce Highlander audio dramas. The format (like many of their other ranges) is one actor reading the script with another playing one other important part. The first four audios star Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod and were released monthly from June 2009. The stories are set after Highlander: Endgame. The second four audios are each based around one of the Four Horsemen. Kronos (Highlander), played and read by Valentine Pelka, Silas, played and read by Richard Ridings, Caspian, played and read by Marcus Testory, and Methos, played and read by Peter Wingfield.
Highlander: The Original Scores, an album featuring music from the first three films, was released in 1995. 1995 also saw the release of Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods, a video game based on Highlander: The Animated Series, for the Atari Jaguar CD. A Highlander MMORPG video game was announced, but after years of work was cancelled in pre-production. Highlander: The Game and a PC version of Highlander: The Last of the McLeods were likewise cancelled.
Highlander: The Card Game is a collectible card game produced by La Montagnard Inc., intended to replicate the sword fight between two Immortals.