The "Worst" Sci-Fi Movie Of All Time Deserves to Be Seen as More
It’s time to give Highlander 2 a break.
In the race to the bottom to determine which sci-fi movie is the “worst” of all time, in the end, there can be only one. And, for 32 years, some have tried to claim that this dubious crown belongs to a film called Highlander 2. But is this true? Is Highlander 2 — sometimes subtitled “The Quickening” and other times “Renegade Edition” — really, honestly the worst sci-fi movie ever? The answer is 100 percent no, and that’s because I, along with perhaps one other human being have seen the 2013 Christian Slater-led film called Stranded. Yes, it’s true, like Stranded, Highlander 2 holds a score of exactly 0 on Rotten Tomatoes, but this is a case of critics and the shared cultural memory taking things too far. Highlander 2 deserves a solid 20 on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not a good film at all.
But let's defend its honor here for a second because the truth is this: Unlike so many actually awful films, there’s a legitimately good-ish movie buried in the immortal corpse of Highlander 2. Right now, this 1991 flop is streaming free on Tubi, alongside some of its cringeworthy peers. Here’s why it’s worth another look.
If you’re unaware of the drama around Highlander 2, here’s the quick download: Although this sequel to the 1986 cult classic was, once again, directed by Russell Mulcahy, the actual story of the film was manipulated by executives at a bonding company to the point where Mulcahy and others basically disowned the movie. Several different cuts of the movie hit theaters, including some versions with scenes in totally different orders than other versions. However, all in cases, the basic premise of the movie remained: The once-immortal Connor Macleod is now living in a dystopian 2024, in which humanity toils underneath an energy shield designed to protect everyone after the ozone layer collapses. In flashbacks, we learn that Connor helped create this shield, even though he was not a scientist by any stretch in the original film.
However, Highlander 2’s original cut didn’t stop there. Not only is the primary setting of the movie a vague Blade Runner-ed version of a generic cityscape, but we also learn that the secret of the immortals dates back even earlier than was depicted in the first film. In a very early flashback, we learn that Connor and Ramirez (Sean Connery) were, a long time ago, freedom fighters against a warlord named General Katana (Michael Ironside.) Now, naming a character “Katana,” in a movie in which somebody also has a katana sword, should be the most confusing thing about all of this, but, sadly, it gets funnier — or dumber — depending on how you look at it.
In the original version, Connor, Ramirez, and Katana — and thus all the other immortals — are revealed to be originally from an alien planet called Zeist. This directly contradicts the events of the first movie and barely explains why Connor and Ramirez were strangers to each other in that film. This plotline was so hated by fans, and by Mulcahy that in 1995 (just four years later!) a home video release called Highlander 2: The Renegade Version hit, in which Zeist isn’t mentioned, and the flashbacks are, instead, simply rendered as being in the distant past.
If you watch Highlander 2 on Tubi right now, you’ll only see the Renegade Version. That said, even though everyone pretends like this is the distant past, it still looks like a bargain basement version of Dune. Highlander is known for being anachronistic on purpose — after all, the whole appeal of the first movie is seeing an immortal Scottish warrior swing a medieval Japanese sword in 1986 Manhattan. But Highlander 2 takes the anachronisms to a level that becomes incomprehensible even for those who are adept at headcanon explanations for sci-fi nonsense. To make sense of The Renegade Version, the viewer has to casually agree to a shared repressed past that existed on Earth, in which people fought ancient wars with swords and automatic weapons at the same time.
This suspension of disbelief hardly matters though, because everything in Highlander 2 is within driving distance. After trying to sabotage the shield generator, well-known freedom fighter Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) happens to find Connor in a bar about five minutes after she leaves a secure facility located near a massive dam. This is the logic of Highlander 2. Characters can appear from thin air whenever needed, specifically Sean Connery’s Ramirez, who literally comes back to life because Connor says his name.
If you’re reading all of this and you’re annoyed or rolling your eyes, then let me say, rewatching Highlander 2 is not for you. Instead, if you’re reading this and seeing a bunch of charming absurdity featuring a ton of legitimately wonderful actors (Connery! Madsen! Ironside!) then you’ve got the right idea. Highlander 2 doesn’t play out like an actual movie that is attempting to say something about climate change or the way history might repeat itself. Instead, it feels like an accidental art film designed to mock self-serious sci-fi movies that try to make serious statements about serious issues. Nothing about Highlander 2 feels real, to the point where if this movie had been made by Paul Verhoeven, you might think all the weird sloppiness was on purpose.
But, because Christopher Lambert is kinetic, and because the movie is so audacious, Highlander 2 is the rare car wreck of a movie that demands your attention. And as the years have passed, it’s only gotten funnier, and strangely, more charming than ever.