It Should Have Won the Oscar – Highlander

1986 was a good year for movies. The 59th Academy Awards, celebrating the best in film from 1986, featured a host of strong deliveries from actors, directors, screenwriters, and other filmmakers.

The Best Picture award that year went to Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which happens to be one of the best war films of all time. Platoon was also nominated for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. This is understandable because it was a great script.

Ultimately Hannah and Her Sisters, a Woody Allen script, won the Best Screenplay award that year. This was a travesty. Not only was Hannah and Her Sisters not on par with Stone’s screenplay for Platoon and Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie, and John Cornell’s combined efforts scripting the action adventure comedy Crocodile Dundee, in truth the best screenplay of 1986 wasn’t even included in the Academy Award nominations.

Highlander is action adventure fantasy written by Gregory Widen. Widen’s query letter to agents is still cited in screenwriting textbooks. It should have easily won the Oscar for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

Highlander takes place in modern New York City and the Scottish Highlands of the 1500s. It tells a thrilling sci-fi tale of a subculture of immortals battling to the death in a classic story of good versus evil. The winner of this lethal contest will gain the knowledge and powers of all of the immortals.

Widen wrote the script of Highlander while a screenwriting student at UCLA.  He credits the 1977 film The Duellists and his own recent trip to Scotland as the influences for the movie.

Widen’s Highlander went on to inspire four film spin offs and a popular television series that ran for six seasons. Highlander also inspired a novelization and two anime series. The sheer reach of Highlander as an entertainment property is indicative of how creative and appealing the premise is.

Taking the characters from the page to the screen, Highlander starred Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, a Scottish clansman born in the 16th century, and Sean Connery as Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, an Egyptian swordsman who trains MacLeod in the ways of the immortals. Clancy Brown turns in an award-worthy performance as Kurgan, the evil immortal who has been chasing MacLeod for centuries.

Under the guiding eye of director Russell Mulcahy, Highlander cinematographers Gerry Fisher and Tony Mitchell create a stunning world for Widen’s characters to come to life. The transitions from modern times to the 16th century are visual candy that will satisfy any appetite for cinematic beauty.

Highlander is one of my favorite films of all time. While it wasn’t necessarily a better film than Platoon or Children of Lesser God, it was equally as strong as them within its own unique genre.

As a script, Highlander was head and shoulders above the competition in 1986. HIghlander is the kind of script aspiring writers wish they could write. Gregory Widen deserved the Oscar.

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