Terence Stamp Believes The First Two Superman Films Set A High Benchmark

When people talk about the gold standard of superhero movies, they are often referring to "Superman." Even after all these years, the 1978 film remains the bar by which all other movies of the genre are judged. From John Williams' iconic score to the pitch perfect casting of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder — not to mention its groundbreaking special effects — "Superman" truly made audiences believe a man could fly.

"Superman" and its sequel were largely shot back to back and while I do believe the first film is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, "Superman II" was always my favorite growing up. The 1980 film had a notoriously troubled production, with Richard Donner being replaced by Richard Lester more than midway through — though Donner's cut was released decades later. "Superman II" really upped the stakes of the first film and part of how it did that was by pitting Supes against some truly spectacular villains. While Gene Hackman was great in the role of Lex Luthor, he never really felt like much of a threat to the Last Son of Krypton.

The true threat to Kal-El came in "Superman II" when General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his cohorts, Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) — briefly introduced in the first movie — escaped their imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Stamp has had an incredible career, but Zod is probably one of his most well known roles. He was well aware of the importance of those first two Superman films. But what did he think about them?

'They're the benchmark'

In a 2016 interview with BFI, Stamp was asked about his experience working on "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." The actor doesn't have particularly fond memories of the experience, describing it as "bland" and saying, "It's about kids and toys and special effects." Speaking of toys and special effects, the interviewer pointed out the various comic adaptations Stamp had done, such as "Modesty Blaise," "Elektra," and of course, "Superman" and "Superman II." Stamp explained:

"There's a line there. They weren't for children. There's a whole generation of people for whom Superman movies were the first movies they ever saw. But Dick Donner wasn't making them for the lowest common denominator. It wasn't like Star Wars or Harry Potter, just for all the kids in the world to go and see. They were comic films for adults, the humor was for adults; it was just that kids loved them as well. Also they're the benchmark. I've made Elektra and stuff like that, but what set the trend was those first two Superman movies and there's never been another two movies like that in my opinion."

Putting aside my love for both Star Wars and Harry Potter, Stamp is right about the first two Superman movies being the benchmark. Superman is often a difficult character to relate to, but those first two films really tapped into his humanity and Reeve, who remains unmatched in the role, was absolutely brilliant. He played Clark Kent and Superman as so distinct from each other that one could suspend their disbelief that it was only a pair of glasses standing between the Man of Steel and his secret identity. And Reeve is funny too!

This is how you adapt Superman

I wasn't alive to see "Superman" in theaters, but I did grow up watching it with my dad. When I rewatch the film even now, it still elicits a sort of childlike wonder from me. I can't even think about the line, "You've got me? Who's got you?" without smiling. There was also the palpable chemistry between Kidder and Reeve, putting most modern superhero movie romances to shame.

"Superman II" built on what made "Superman" so wonderful in the first place, but also added some exciting new elements to the mix. The film further explored the dynamic between Lois and Clark, even throwing in the new wrinkle of stripping the Man of Steel of his powers. This gave Reeve yet another angle of Supes to play, granting more insight into who this character is beyond his unparalleled abilities. It's difficult to put someone as powerful as Superman in true peril, but the sequel certainly succeeds in doing so, with three Kryptonians being more than Kal-El can handle. Stamp played the villainous Zod to perfection and it's thrilling to see Superman so hopelessly outmatched.

Despite Reeve's stellar performance, the third and fourth installments in the franchise saw a steep decline in quality. However, those first two films will always be held up as examples of what other superhero movies should aspire to be. Nothing against Henry Cavill's performance, but the Man of Steel's last few outings have fundamentally misunderstood this character. Future Superman films should take notes!