If you’ve discovered great films or skipped some real stinkers, then you’ve probably got Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to thank for it!
When they gave a film “two thumbs up” – the cast and filmmakers were relieved. When they didn’t they sometimes hurt the egos of our biggest stars! They were lovers of cinema and helped us appreciate the art form a lot more.
But as one could expect from two opinionated film experts, they often clashed with their reviews. This carried over with their on screen persona when they fought – with them making jokes about each other whenever they appeared on talk shows!
Some of us wondered if the feud was just an act – or if there were serious animosity between the two.
Join FactsVerse to learn about the tragic deaths of Siskel and Ebert…
Gene Siskel was born on January 26, 1946, in Chicago – the city where he grew up and lived his entire life. One wonders if he knew that he’d grow up to become one of the city’s most famous residents.
He went onto study philosophy and writing at Yale University and studied writing under the famous writer John Hersey. Impressed with young Gene’s writing abilities John Hersey put in a recommendation to get Gene a job at the Chicago Tribune. Owing to Gene’s love of cinema, the young amateur was given a chance to write film reviews for the newspaper.
And whoever gave Gene Siskel his big break must have known that he was helping launch a star. Because truly, Siskel and Ebert are as important to film history as any great filmmaker, writer, producer, or actor and actress. When he passed away, he wasn’t mentioned in the In Memoriam section of the Oscars. But actress Whoopi Goldberg mentioned him and expressed her appreciation for him.
Gene Siskel was known for being rather critical of many films – including several that are considered classics today. Among his negative reviews were films such as Poltergeist, Scarface, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Independence Day.
But there were also great mainstream films that he loved – with Saturday Night Fever being one of his favorites. He once owned the original white suit worn by John Travolta in the film and sold it later at an auction.
He loved Dumbo when he was a child and stated that this helped him fall in love with cinema. Some other great films he liked were Z, Nashville, All The Presidents Men, Annie Hall, Once Upon a Time in America, Crumb, Fargo, and Babe: Pig In The City!
He often poked fun of Roger Ebert especially making jokes about the latter’s weight. When Gene Siskel was ill he stated that he wanted to get back to work ASAP so that Roger wouldn’t get so much airtime! While he often picked on his colleague, he had the utmost respect for him as well. Gene Siskel died on February 20th, 1999 at the age of 53 and continued to work until his death.
He had received a brain tumor in 1998 and though he recovered following his surgery, he wasn’t the same. He died due to complications from his brain surgery – yet you almost didn’t notice it as till the day he died he did what he loved the most – watching and writing about films.
Roger Ebert was born on June 18, 1942, in Urbana, Illinois. He grew up in the small town of Champaign and then eventually settled in Chicago when he received a job at the Chicago Sun-Times. Like Gene Siskel, he became one of Chicago’s most famous residents and he lived in the city until his death.
He took an interest in journalism as a teenager and eventually became the co-editor of his school’s newspaper. He also worked as a sportswriter for the The News-Gazette in Champaign.
He developed a love for cinema early on and was heavily influenced by the work of film critic Pauline Kael. They eventually became friends and he would write an obituary for her when she passed in 2001.
Roger began writing film reviews in university, with a critique of La Dolce Vita being among one of his first reviews. He took his studies at university seriously and he eventually moved to Chicago to pursue a PhD. While there, he found a job at the Chicago Sun-Times where he began his career as a film critic.
He and Gene Siskel had bumped into each other a few times as they both progressed in their careers. Eventually, they were hired to appear in a TV show where they’d discuss cinema and critique films. Though they didn’t know each other too well, they’d eventually become a well-known double-act and a great pair of friends.
Roger Ebert truly had an appreciation for cinema and had an eye for recognizing talent. One of his earliest film reviews was of Martin Scorsese’s film Who’s That Knocking At My Door? – which was one of his earliest films. He predicted that Scorsese would become a huge success and the two would eventually become friends – they even hosted an episode of “Siskel and Ebert” after Gene Siskel’s passing.
Roger Ebert continued to write and give presentations about film and film criticism after Gene Siskel’s passing. He sadly succumbed to thyroid cancer and was hospitalized – even losing his voice. Even then, he was watching movies and expressing his opinion on them. He passed away on April 4, 2013, at the age of 70.
His favorite films included Bonnie and Clyde, Z, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, House of Games, JFK, Malcolm X, The Social Network, and Argo. Citizen Kane was always stated to be his favorite film.
SISKEL AND EBERT’S RELATIONSHIP
Owing to the nature of their work, they were both opinionated and would sometimes argue about films. Sometimes, these arguments would get really heated and they would attack each other – verbally of course. Some of these arguments didn’t make it to the final cut!
When they appeared on talk shows together, they would often argue, insult each other, and poke fun at each other – most notably on their several appearances with David Letterman – which began in the 80s and continued to the 90s just before Gene Siskel died.
At times, fans weren’t sure if this arguing and insulting was part of their act or if there was actual animosity between the two. There were even frequent criticisms by Roger Ebert as to why his surname didn’t come first – due to ‘E’ coming before ‘S’ in the alphabet and he being the one with the Pulitzer Prize. From a distance, these battles seemed ugly and it sometimes seemed as if their relationship would end.
But the record is clear: Siskel and Ebert were truly great friends who, due to their strong personalities, would sometimes argue and fight each other like adversaries. But they both had the utmost respect for each other and respected their work.
When Gene Siskel passed away Roger Ebert was truly sad and though the show went on, he didn’t enjoy it as much. After a slew of temporary co-hosts from Martin Scorsese to Elvis Mitchell, Richard Roeper was cast as the replacement. Ebert and Roeper became a successful show but fans agree that Siskel and Ebert was truly the best combination.
Both of them were appreciated as great film critics in their own right and Roger Ebert continued to be part of the public conversation about cinema. But the two of them together were a force to be reckoned with. They made us appreciate movies and think more deeply about why cinema and film culture was important for society.
SISKEL AND EBERT – THE MOVIES THEY HATED
There are so many great films that both Siskel and Ebert appreciated. But, perhaps it’s a lot more fun to talk about some of the films that they disliked.
In an early interview on The Late Late Show With David Letterman, Gene Siskel took a shot at Neil Simon for producing weak comedies of late – this caused an uproar from audiences. In another episode, Gene Siskel expressed his appreciation for Tim Burton’s film Batman while Roger Ebert panned it and was booed as a result. When there were a few who agreed with him, he referred to this segment of the audience as a “pocket of intelligence.”
Sometimes, they criticized movies so much that it hurt the egos of those involved in the filmmaking. Gene Siskel once stated that actor Robbie Benson ignored him in a hotel when he had given a negative review of the actor’s latest film.
Roger Ebert had a horrific feud with Vincent Gallo when he gave a scathing review of his film The Brown Bunny. The director lashed out and used vulgar language to describe Roger Ebert – upset about the review.
They had tremendous influence on what audiences wanted to see or not. As a result, a bad review of a film from Siskel and Ebert or even just one of them could be enough to prevent a film from being seen!
But despite the often scathing review, they also loved cinema and loved all kinds of films. Many audiences discovered great cinema solely because of Siskel and Ebert.
Whether you agreed with them or not, we can’t deny they had a great influence on how we view films to this day. For that, we give Siskel and Ebert “Two Thumbs Up!” – a phrase they trademarked by the way!
Are you a fan of Siskel and Ebert? They truly were the best film critics we’ve ever produced and they made us fall in love with the movies and appreciate the cinema. It’s just not the same without them.
Now, here’s what we’d like to hear from you:
Do you think that today’s film critics truly understand and appreciate a film for what it is?
Or do today’s film critics let their personal bias and ideology get in the way of a balanced critique?