The Highlander franchise has been around for a while. Starting in 1986, it spawned five sequels, two live-action TV series, and three animated spin-offs. There’s a lot of mythology to tackle, but the basic premise is that there are race of people known as Immortals, and there can be only one of them. The Immortals are destined to fight, kill each other (the only way to kill an immortal is to decapitate them), until only one remains.
John Wick director Chad Stahelski has been attached to a Highlander reboot since November 2016, and it sounds like the project is in a bit of stasis right not because it’s unclear whether or not it can be a movie or a TV series based on how much mythology they want to tackle. Speaking to Steve Weintraub during an edit bay visit for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Stahelski said:
“Still fighting the good fight. Highlander is an interesting property. It’s through Lionsgate as well and Neal Moritz. We’re trying to get it done. Anyone who knows anything about the property knows it has a lot of meat to it. It’s a good property. It’s got a lot of potential. We’re just trying to figure out the best way not to fuck it up. Not to try and fit it into a 1 hour, 45 minute movie, which, when your pitch is, ‘There can be only one,’ and in your first movie you kill everybody but the one, sequels have a problem of happening. So we’re trying to design in a way that gives us a little more lead in, a little more time with the mythology and see some of the best characters. They did seven seasons of TV, and even though the TV show may not hold up today, the idea of it and the characters they brought in were super cool. So we’re trying to devise a methodology that leads up to The Quickening. You just don’t end with a one-on-one battle in New York, cut off a guy’s head, and that’s it. We want to do this in such a way that it becomes more of a series whether it’s short form or long form that would let us explore that in the best way. I have a huge, heartfelt love and respect for the project, so we’re trying to find the best way to do it to give fans what they want.”
He continued that if Highlander ends up being a TV series or a movie on a streaming service, that won’t prohibit what they do with the action, and it may end up giving them more freedom:
“We’re well past the script phase in terms of what we want to accomplish with a feature-length version of what we want and based on there being more after that. We want to tell the complete story of The Quickening, the Immortals, and all that. But the overall environment is changing so much. Look what Netflix is doing with TV now. As an action designer myself, there are two or three episodes of Game of Thrones that blow away 90% of features. Netflix has a whole new delivery system with features on that coming off differently and letting filmmakers and directors expand out without being crushed by opening weekend box office. So there’s a couple different mediums we want to explore and what is the best way to bring this out in.”
On the one hand, I understand where Stahelski and the producers are coming from. They see Highlander not just as a story, but as a valuable IP that needs to be debuted in the right way so that it can run for a long time and hook lots of people. Maybe that’s a film franchise, maybe it’s a TV show, but no one seems to be sure right now. My issue with this is that none of it seems to be focused on just telling a good story. It’s looking down the road rather than just saying, “How do we tell one good Highlander story and grow from there?” I understand there’s a lot of mythology, but the fact of the matter is that Highlander has always been a cult property. Appealing to a niche fanbase isn’t going to grow it out, so you have to treat it like something new even if that may alienate some of the original fans. There were fans of the original Battlestar Galactica that hated the Syfy series, but at least the Syfy series did its own thing and told a damn good story. Rather than worrying about how you’ll cram in all the mythology established by niche sequels and TV series, focus more on reinventing Highlander and making it your own.