'There Can Be Only One:' Highlander's Famous Line Explained

By | March 5, 2021

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Source: IMDB

The line from Highlander -- "There can be only one" -- is an immortal movie quote, a sentiment so simple and ominous that it resonates with people whether they've seen the Sean Connery-Christopher Lambert film or not. In this way, the line is arguably more famous than the movie it comes from.

See, in 1986, a B-movie about Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, a Scottish warrior cursed to live forever was released in America -- and it kind of bombed. Well, bomb is a harsh word -- it didn't perform well. American distributors didn't think that audiences understood the film, they felt like it was too European. They weren't wrong. The film's star, Christopher Lambert, was a Frenchman playing a Scottish Highlander. Sean Connery pops up playing a Spanish-Egyptian who speaks with a clear Scottish accent, and the plot has something to do with guys cutting off one another's heads in pursuit of a vague prize made up of soul lightning.

What American distributors didn't understand was that Highlander absolutely rocks. Every moment of this movie is genetically engineered in a lab by a mad scientist weaned on music videos and medieval history to make the audience pump their fists. There's swordfighting, a kind of magic, decapitations, and the whole thing is soundtracked by Queen. At the heart of the film is its tag line which tells audiences everything they need to know: there can be only one.

It's A Kind Of Magic

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source: Columbia-Cannon-Warner

Everything in Highlander is dedicated to explaining the central conceit of the film without really explaining anything. The plot, the dialogue, the action, even the music is dedicated to reminding the audience that they're watching a movie about kind of-sort of magical beings who are driven to fight each other to the death in "the gathering" to win "the prize."

Confused? That's why Freddie Mercury sings, "It's a kind of magic/There can be only one," on the aptly named "Some Kind Of Magic." As much as every part of Highlander is focused on explaining what's happening in the movie the brilliance of the film is that it's not hung up on the technicalities of lore. All of the back story and myth building came later in the film's sequels and spin-offs (of which there were many), but 1986's Highlander is just concerned with telling the story of a man and his sword, and other men and their swords all fighting to be the last immortal standing.