Highlander II: The Quickening

Highlander II: The Quickening is a 1991 French-American-Argentine[5] science fiction action film directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen and Michael Ironside. It is the second installment to the Highlander film series, and it was released on 12 April 1991 in the United Kingdom and 1 November 1991, in the United States.

Highlander II: The Quickening
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRussell Mulcahy
Produced by
Screenplay byPeter Bellwood
Story by
Based onCharacters
by Gregory Widen
Music byStewart Copeland
CinematographyPhil Meheux
Edited by
  • Hubert de La Bouillerie
  • Anthony Redman
Davis/Panzer Productions[1]
Lamb Bear Entertainment
Jean-Luc Defait[2]
Distributed byInterstar[1]
Release date
  • 12 April 1991 (1991-04-12) (UK)
  • 1 November 1991 (1991-11-01) (US)
Running time
100 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States[4]
Box office$15.6 million (US)

Highlander II was shot almost entirely in Argentina in the late 80s; after the country's economy crashed, and right in the middle of an hyperinflation, the film's investors took direct control of the film, removing Mulcahy and his creative influence almost entirely from the film.[6][7] The film has received strongly negative reviews from critics and fans of the Highlander franchise for its retcons of the prior film, which drastically alter the series storyline and introduce a number of inconsistencies. Several alternative versions have been released by the filmmakers in an attempt to address these common complaints. The original theatrical edition is considered one of the worst movies ever made.[8]


In August 1994, news broadcasts announce that the ozone layer is fading, and will be completely gone in a matter of months. In Africa, millions have perished from the effects of unfiltered sunlight. Among the dead is Connor MacLeod's wife, Brenda Wyatt MacLeod. Before dying, Brenda extracts a promise from Connor that he will solve the problem of the ozone layer.

By 1999, Connor MacLeod becomes the supervisor of a scientific team headed by Dr. Allan Neyman, which attempts to create an electromagnetic shield to cover the planet, and protect it from the Sun's radiation. The team succeeds, in effect giving Earth an artificial ozone layer. MacLeod and Neyman are proud to have saved humanity, and believe they will be remembered for a thousand years.

The shield has the side effect of condemning the planet to a state of constant night, a high average global temperature, and high humidity. By 2024, the years of darkness have caused humanity to lose hope and fall into a decline. The shield has fallen under the control of the Shield Corporation. The corporation's current chief executive, David Blake, is focused on profit, and is imposing fees for the corporation's services. A number of terrorist groups have begun trying to take down the Shield, among them Louise Marcus, a former employee of the Shield Corporation.

Meanwhile, MacLeod, now a frail old man, expects to eventually die of natural causes. As he watches a performance of Wagner's Götterdämmerung, an image of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez appears, and induces MacLeod to recall a forgotten event of his past. On the planet Zeist, a last meeting is held between the members of a rebellion against the rule of General Katana. The rebellion's leader, Ramirez, chooses "a man of great destiny" from among them—MacLeod—to carry out a mission against Katana. At this moment, Katana and his troops attack, crushing the rebellion. Katana orders his men to capture Ramirez and MacLeod alive and kill the rest of the rebels. The two captives are put on trial by Zeist's priests, who sentence them to be exiled and reborn on Earth in pursuit of "The Prize." Winning the Prize gives the victor the choice to either grow old and die on Earth, or to return to Zeist. Katana is unsatisfied with their decision, but the sentence is executed, leading to the events of the original 1986 film.

Back in 2024, Louise Marcus discovers that the ozone layer has in fact restored itself naturally, which means that the shield is no longer needed. The Shield Corporation is aware of this development, but has chosen to hide it from the general public in order to maintain its main source of profit. Meanwhile, on Zeist, Katana decides that MacLeod cannot be allowed to return, and sends his immortal henchmen, Corda and Reno, to kill him.

Marcus manages to reach MacLeod first, and asks for his help in taking down the Shield. To her disappointment, she finds the passionate person she once admired has grown into a tired old man. MacLeod explains to her that he is dying and expresses his disapproval of terrorism. Before they can finish their conversation, Corda and Reno attack. MacLeod manages to decapitate them both, absorbs their energy during the Quickening, and regains his youthful appearance. In the process, and keeping with a former pledge by Ramirez, MacLeod summons Ramirez back to life.

In Glencoe, Scotland - the location of his death in the first Highlander film - Ramirez is revived. He finds himself on a theatrical stage during a performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Meanwhile, MacLeod has found a new lover in Marcus. He attempts unsuccessfully to explain to her the concepts of his immortality. Elsewhere, General Katana arrives in New York, the scene of The Gathering and begins wreaking havoc.

Both Ramirez and Katana soon adapt to their new environment. Ramirez's earring is valuable enough to pay both for a new suit he acquires from the finest and oldest tailor's shop in Scotland, and for an airplane ticket to New York City. Katana finds New York much to his liking. After entertaining himself for a while, Katana encounters MacLeod at a church. Since immortals are forbidden from fighting on holy ground, they do not fight each other, but MacLeod expresses rage at being immortal once again. Katana mocks his feelings before disappearing from MacLeod's presence.

Soon thereafter, MacLeod is contacted by Ramirez, who joins them in their plan to take down the Shield. Katana, expecting this, forges an uneasy alliance with David Blake, who mentions that shutting down the planetary shield would require so much energy that the planet would be destroyed. The conflict between the two sets of allies eventually leads to the deaths of Dr. Allan Neyman, Ramirez, Blake and General Katana himself. MacLeod succeeds in taking down the Shield by using the combined energies of his final Quickening from General Katana. Marcus sees the stars for the first time in her life. MacLeod then claims The Prize by returning to Zeist with Marcus.



The sets of Highlander II have been compared to those of Ridley Scott,[9] particularly those of Blade Runner.[10] Lambert and Ironside both suffered injuries during the filming, according to the St. Petersburg Times: "Lambert chipped one of Ironside's teeth during a fight scene, while Ironside inadvertently chopped off part of Lambert's finger during a swordfight scene. Both men recovered from their injuries, but Ironside said precision thrusts and parries were impossible when wielding a 22-pound broadsword."[11]

John C. McGinley made his character's voice as deep as possible in an effort to sound like Orson Welles. He has since admitted that this was a bad idea.[12][13]

According to the documentary Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina, the film's apparent poor performance is partially a result of the bonding company's interference with the work of director Russell Mulcahy.[6] Mulcahy reportedly hated the final product so much he walked out of the film's world premiere,[7] reportedly doing so after viewing its first 15 minutes. For similar reasons, Christopher Lambert threatened to walk out of the project when it was nearing fruition. However, due to contractual obligations, he did not.[7]

A once lost alternate ending, commonly known as "The Fairytale Ending", was shown only in some European theaters and has never been shown in any of the American cuts. The ending shows Connor magically returning to planet Zeist, taking Louise along with him, while Ramirez’ voice is heard in the background. An early version of this ending is shown on the Special Edition. However, it also includes footage of Virginia Madsen as Louise Marcus speaking to Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod. Madsen is on location while Lambert is suspended by wires in front of a blue screen. After a brief exchange where Connor asks Louise to come with him, the theatrical ending is shown where the two embrace in front of a field of stars, then transform into light streaks and fly off into space.

This ending is sometimes seen in televised broadcasts of Highlander II: The Quickening. The VHS version simply cuts off after Connor looks up at the starry sky and smiles, after the smoke from the explosion of the December Installation clears.


Highlander II: The Quickening was released in the US on 1 November 1991, and opened at #3, grossing $5.3 million in 960 theaters in the opening weekend. It grossed a total of $15.6 million in the US.[14]

A $1 million television advertising campaign was run for the release of the film.[15]

Home media

The theatrical cut was released on VHS during 13 May 1992, in the United States[16] by Columbia TriStar.[17]

Alternative versions

Two versions of Highlander II were released theatrically in 1991. Nigel Green of Entertainment Film Distributors, which distributed the film in the UK, allowed the creative team the chance to make their own version of the film after the completion bond company took over the editing.[18] The UK theatrical version ran 8 minutes longer than the US/bonding company's cut, and featured, among other sequences, an extended prologue better explaining Connor's motives for creating the Shield, Connor and Louise above the Shield, and the aforementioned "Fairytale Ending".[19]

In 1995, Mulcahy made a director's cut version known as the Renegade Version. The film was reconstructed largely from existing material; certain scenes were removed and others added back in, and the entire sequence of events was changed. All references to the Immortals being aliens from another planet were eliminated; instead, this cut reveals that the Immortals are from an unspecified, distant past on Earth, banished by priests into random locations in the future to keep the Prize from being won in their lifetime.

Other new sequences include a battle between MacLeod and Katana atop a moving vehicle after they escape the security facility, and MacLeod and Louise climb through a mountain tunnel to emerge above the Shield to confirm that the radiation levels are back to normal. The new version removes a major continuity gaffe from the theatrical version, which had merged two separate sword fights between MacLeod and Katana into one longer climactic battle. The director's cut version restores them to two separate battles, although it never shows how or when Connor reacquired his katana.

Producers Panzer and Davis revisited Highlander II once again in 2004. Dubbed the "Special Edition", this cut was nearly identical to the Renegade Version, but with a few alterations. The most obvious change is the introduction of new CGI special effects throughout the film, including a now-blue shield as originally intended, and a small piece of voice-over work by Lambert.

Reviewing the 2004 "Special Edition" DVD, David Ryan of DVD Verdict gave it a score of 69 out of 100 and said that "[this] is the best version of this film that [the producers] can make with the material they have on hand. It's still not a particularly good film—but it's infinitely superior to the original version. ... What was once a horrible, horrible film has become downright tolerable, and actually somewhat entertaining at times."[20]


The film was a critical disaster, with many critics citing it as one of the worst films ever made. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 0% based on 23 reviews, with an average rating of 2.7/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "There should have been only one."[21] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 31 out of 100 based on 14 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[22] Common criticisms included the lack of motivation for the characters, the new and seemingly incongruent origin for the Immortals, the resurrection of Ramirez, and apparent contradictions in the film's internal logic.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a score of 0.5 stars (out of four), saying: "Highlander II: The Quickening is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I've seen in many a long day—a movie almost awesome in its badness. Wherever science fiction fans gather, in decades and generations to come, this film will be remembered in hushed tones as one of the immortal low points of the genre."[23] Ebert also mocked the film's title.

Giving the film a score of 2 out of 10, IGN's review of the film said: "How bad is this movie? Well, imagine if Ed Wood were alive today, and someone gave him a multi-million dollar budget. See his imagination running rampant, bringing in aliens from outer space with immensely powerful firearms, immortals who bring each other back to life by calling out their names, epic duels on flying skateboards, and a blatant disregard for anything logical or previously established—now you are starting to get closer to the vision of Highlander II."[24]

Awarding the film one star out of five, Christopher Null of FilmCritic.com said, "Highlander has become a bit of a joke, and here's where the joke started. ... Incomprehensible doesn't even begin to explain it. This movie is the equivalent of the 'Hey, look over there!' gag. You look, and the guy you wanted to beat up has run away and hid."[25]

David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews gave the film two stars out of four, saying: "It's hard to imagine Highlander II appealing to non-fans of the first film, as the film barely captures the sense of fun that was so prevalent in the original. With its complicated storyline and dreary visuals, it occasionally feels more perfunctory than anything else—though, to be fair, it's nowhere near as bad as it's been made out to be over the years."[26]


  1. "Highlander 2: The Quickening". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  2. "Highlander 2: The Quickening". Cinematografo. 2016.
  3. "HIGHLANDER II - THE QUICKENING (15)". Entertainment Film Distributors. British Board of Film Classification. 8 April 1991. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  4. "Highlander 2 The Quickening (1990)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  5. U.S.-Argentine Co-productions, 1982-1990: Roger Corman, Aries Productions, "Schlockbuster" Movies, and the International Market - Film & History. An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies January 2004, ResearchGate
  6. Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina. Dir. Jonathan Gaines. 2004. DVD. Lions Gate Entertainment
  7. Cinema Slap Fight: Sex And The City 2 Vs. Highlander II, by Pete Vonder Haar 21-09-2011, Houston Press
  8. Hicks, Chris. "Highlander II: The Quickening." Archived 2008-12-30 at the Wayback Machine Deseret News.
  9. Buxton, Brendan (19 May 1991). "A case for letting sleeping dogs lie". Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Limited.
  10. Andrews, Nigel (11 April 1991). "Arts: Bonfire infusion - Cinema". Financial Times. The Financial Times Limited. p. London Page 21. ISSN 0307-1766.
  11. Elias, Thomas D. (25 October 1991). "The pain of realism". St. Petersburg Times. Independent Press. Scripps Howard News Service. p. 4D. ISSN 1563-6291.
  12. "John C. McGinley". Thousands of true funny stories about famous people: Anecdotes from Gates to Yeats. Anecdotage.com. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  13. Slezak, Michael (18 September 2005). "Live from EW's Emmy party". Popwatch.ew.com. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  14. "Highlander 2: The Quickening". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  15. "Entertainment Films Launches #1M Advertising Campaign Through Laing Henry Hill Holliday". Marketing Week. Centaur Communications Limited. 12 April 1991. p. 13. ISSN 0141-9285.
  16. Westbrook, Bruce (17 April 1992). "Relive the Winter Olympics on tape". Houston Chronicle. p. 2 STAR 3. ISSN 1074-7109.
  17. "Monsters and more: Mayhem for month". The Washington Times. 30 April 1992. p. 2. ISSN 0732-8494.
  18. Gaines, Jonathan (producer). Highlander II: Seduced by Argentina (2004). DVD: Lionsgate.
  19. Murphy, Sean. "Highlander II : Three Versions Of A Film In Search Of Its Identity By Sean Murphy". Figmentfly.com. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  20. Ryan, Judge (27 August 2004). "Highlander 2: Special Edition". Dvdverdict.com. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  21. "Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  22. "Highlander II: The Quickening Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  23. Ebert, Roger (1 November 1991). "Highlander 2: The Quickening". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  24. "Highlander 2: Renegade Version". IGN. Ziff Davis. 16 June 2000. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  25. Null, Christopher (20 July 2004). "Highlander II: The Quickening". Filmcritic.com. Archived from the original on 8 May 2008. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  26. Nusair, David (31 July 2004). "Highlander 2". Reelfilm.com. Archived from the original on 14 January 2007. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
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