The Best Movie Ever | Terence Stamp

Most audiences know Terence Stamp as the mighty supervillain General Zod from Superman II, or his supporting performances in the blockbusters Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, the television series Smallville and the upcoming Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And yet Terence Stamp has been one of cinema’s most respectable actors for over half a century now, emerging on-screen for the first time in Billy Budd (1962), and earning an Oscar nomination for his big screen debut. And he’s been working steadily ever since.

Which of course raises the question: what, dear readers, is the best Terence Stamp movie ever? We asked our panel of critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani, Legion of Leia’s Witney Seibold and Collider’s Brian Formo – to each pick just one film to highlight as the actor’s best, and this time they’ve narrowed it down to an acclaimed crime drama and one of the most celebrated superhero movies ever made.

Find out what they picked and why, and come back next Wednesday for another all-new, highly debatable installment of The Best Movie Ever!


William Bibbiani’s Pick: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980/2006)

Warner Bros.

Terence Stamp is one of cinema’s great badasses, but he is not one of the most commonly discussed. Perhaps it’s because his particular blend of masculinity has a smooth, slinky sensuality at its core. Or perhaps it’s because he typically stayed away from conventional leading man roles, even going so far as to scare off the producers of James Bond with his particular ideas for the role, when the part was offered to him.

But while he’s probably given better performances in independent dramas like The LimeyPriscilla Queen of the Desert and Billy Budd, it is the role that perhaps could have been beneath him that has become Terence Stamp’s signature performance. As the megalomaniacal General Zod in Richard Donner’s Superman II (especially the superior director’s cut), Stamp lends a Shakespearean hugeness to a part that could have been as campy as Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, or as cartoony as the Batman villains of the 1960s.

Zod is a villain who demands to be taken seriously, and whatever failings the movie might have – like Superman ignoring the plight of the whole world just to get laid, or his petty revenge on a helpless diner schmuck at the end – it’s impossible to watch Superman II without falling under Stamp’s spell. He commands the screen the way he commands his enemies to kneel before him, with power and grace. And when we cry “Oh god!” in fear, he rightly corrects us: “Zod.”


Witney Seibold’s Pick: The Limey (1999)


To start with an aside: Terence Stamp’s interview in Fellini: I’m a Born Liar is perhaps one of his more memorable performances. In it, he describes working with Federico Fellini on Teorema, sharing the best piece of direction he has ever received. In Teorema, Stamp’s character had to behave as if he were a little distant and perhaps a bit drunk. Impersonating the Maestro, Stamp relates how his character was, in Fellini’s mind, coming fresh from an all-night bisexual orgy complete with drinking and drugs. Then, right before the character stepped on camera, someone put a tab of LSD on his tongue. It’s hilarious.

But to The Limey, which easily contains Stamp’s best performance. In it, he plays a man who has become hellbent on revenge, and who treks into the seedy underbelly of L.A. to find it. Stamp is resolute, and he seems to know that that might not be seemly anymore. No one doubts that Stamp cannot do a good deal of damage – his authority fills the screen – but we’re sharply aware of the ages of the characters. The man he wishes to unleash his vengeance on is played by a mellowed Peter Fonda, and both seem a little put off by the fact that these old vengeance tropes are still required in their lives. There is a grace and a dignity to the material, all hinging on Stamp’s amazing performance.

What’s more, the film taps into Stamp’s own legacy by including footage from a 1967 film of his, serving as a flashback. We not only see how far the character has come, but we acknowledge that Stamp has come a long way as well.


Brian Formo’s Pick: The Limey (1999)


I’ve seen thousands of movies and Terence Stamp is not an actor that I’ve had a long relationship with. Sure, he seduced a whole wealthy estate in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s God-is-inside-you metaphor, Teorema, and he charmed the pants off of me in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But for an actor who’s worked steadily for five decades, he’s a bit of a blind spot; he pops up on occasion with sharp features and an even sharper tongue in cameo-sized roles. Perhaps that admission disqualifies me from choosing a film to represent his best but the film that I am choosing, The Limey, serves as a video essay that actually intertwines the actor’s career directly into its narrative.

Steven Soderbergh’s film casts Stamp as a take-no-prisoners Englishman who’s in Los Angeles to avenge his daughter’s death. And Stamp is a firecracker. Though he’s older, he certainly feels like a spindly and honorable hood in the mold of Lee Marvin’s avenging tuff in Point BlankBlank was a film released in 1967 and was kind of a last stand of old school film masculinity set against the swingin’ sixties. Like Stamp’s Wilson, Marvin’s hood only goes by a last name, Walker. But essentially, they’re ghosts.

Soderbergh’s film is a quilt of filmmaking with Stamp as the muse. The Limey uses numerous scenes from Stamp’s 1967 film, Poor Cow, as flashbacks for Wilson. In these black-and-white scenes Stamp is a tender lover and caretaker. He is attentive and he attempts to do good; nonetheless, prison awaits his poor soul. The editing and tone that Soderbergh and Sarah Flack create with these scenes does shows that, unlike Walker, Wilson had a soul at some point. He hasn’t been a head-cracker since 1967. These touches give an immense sense of loss in a potboiler that sets it astride the men-will-be-men stance of Point Blank. The Limey is a sad poem about how much a man can lose when he becomes hard.

Top Photos: Warner Bros. / Artisan