Cinematic Facts About Roger Ebert

October 7, 2023 | Kyle Climans

Cinematic Facts About Roger Ebert

Whether you agree or disagree with Roger Ebert’s views on films, there is no denying his massive impact on the world of film critique. Millions would read his reviews, listening to his opinion on whether a film was good or bad. He would use his clout to recommend movies that would otherwise fly under the radar. With other film critics, Ebert ran several programs reviewing films, including At the Movies and Sneak Previews. Whether you watched the shows or read his reviews, Ebert’s legacy cannot be denied. Read below to find out more about this figurehead of film criticism.

1. Cool Aunt

Ebert was first inspired in his love for movies by his aunt, Martha. She would take her nephew to the cinema as their main bonding experience. Based on how Ebert turned out, we can only imagine how proud Martha was.


2. Starting Young

Ebert’s first work for the newspaper began when he was just a teenager. While he was a student in Urbana High School, he covered the sporting events for a newspaper called The News-Gazette.

Roger Ebert facts Wikimedia Commons

3. Double First Timer

Not only was Ebert the first film critic to get his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he was also the first film critic to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

Roger Ebert factsFlickr, Steve Rhodes

4. Welcome, Roger

Ebert was born Roger Joseph Ebert on the 18th of June, 1942 in Urbana, Illinois. He was the only child of Walter (an electrician) and Annabel (a bookkeeper).

Roger Ebert factsWikipedia

5. Many Happy Returns!

Ebert happened to have shared a birthday with none other than Paul McCartney of the Beatles.

Paul McCartney factsWikimedia Commons

6. Live And Let Live

Although he was given a Catholic upbringing, Ebert described himself as “agnostic” in 2005. Ultimately, he expressed his dislike for labels, expressing his disinterest in his beliefs being “pigeon-holed".

Roger Ebert factsFlickr, jmm

7. Right Place, Right Time

Ebert first joined the Chicago Sun-Times as a part-time features writer in 1966. Just a few months after he joined the newspaper, their film critic, Eleanor Keen, retired from her position. Ebert was promptly chosen to replace her, proving once again that timing is everything when it comes to success or failure in life.

Roger Ebert factsFlickr, Patrick Houdek

8. Soulmates

Ebert remained a bachelor until he was 50 years old. It was then that he married trial attorney Charlie Hammelsmith, whom he fondly called “the great fact of my life". She remained married to Ebert for over 20 years until his passing.

Roger Ebert factsShutterstock

9. The Day Their Lives Were Changed Forever

In 1969, Ebert met a fellow film critic named Gene Siskel. The two of them were not only friends for the next 30 years, but they also famously co-hosted At the Movies together.

Roger Ebert factsGetty Images

10. I Choose You! No, Wait, No I Don’t!

Ebert made it clear that he disliked doing top 10 lists when it came to movies, but from 1967 to 2012, he would choose one film and call it “best of the year". Of course, even that wasn’t satisfactory for Ebert, and he would later go back and decide that he was wrong the first time around with several of his choices.

Roger Ebert factsWikimedia Commons

11. Familiar Faces

When it comes to Ebert’s original list of films that he deemed “best of the year,” several of them were directed by the same people. Directors who got two films on the list include Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, and Francis Ford Coppola. Trumping them all is Steven Spielberg, who managed to get three films on the list.

Steven Spielberg films factsFlickr, Gage Skidmore

13. Passing The Torch

With the demise of Gene Siskel in 1999, Ebert tried to continue At the Movies with film critic Richard Roeper. The two of them continued the show until Ebert stepped down for health-related issues.

Roger Ebert factsAt the Movies (1986–2010), Buena Vista Television

13. Believe It Or Not!

In the late 1960s, Ebert had a mind to not only review movies, but to write them as well. In true unpredictable fashion, Ebert threw in his lot with Russ Meyer, a filmmaker who was famous for the many exceptionally busty women who populated his films. Ebert co-wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which he later described as “a movie that got made by accident when the lunatics took over the asylum". Despite that, Ebert wrote several more of Meyer’s sexploitation films, including Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Safe to say none of them were critical darlings.

Roger Ebert factsFlickr, James Vaughan

14. The Film That Never Was

Because they worked so well together, Russ Meyer and Ebert were slated to work on Who Killed Bambi?, a film that was the original brainchild of the British punk band known as the Sex Pistols. Ultimately, the project never worked out, but Ebert would later post his screenplay for said film on his blog years later.

Green Day factsGetty Images

15. Give Me A Hand

Ebert actually trademarked his right thumb (which he used to either give a thumbs up or thumbs down for a film he was reviewing).

Oprah Winfrey factsGetty Images

16. I Expected That Answer…

It’s virtually impossible to pick just one film above all the others, but it was inevitable that a film critic like Ebert would be asked to choose one. When talk show host David Letterman pushed Ebert to pick one movie to watch while trapped on a desert island, Ebert made his choice. The result? The 1941 Orson Welles classic Citizen Kane (which is routinely called one of the best films ever made).

Dolores Del Rio factsFlickr, Octubre CCC

17. Nice Job

Overall, Ebert was statistically a much easier man to please than most of his peers in the world of professional film criticism. Of all the reviews he wrote, three fourths of them were ultimately positive ones. On the site Metacritic, the average rating among Ebert’s many reviews is 71%, while the average of all the reviews is 59%.

Roger Ebert factsShutterstock

18. No More Mr. Nice Guy

Despite his more lenient approach to filmmaking, Ebert was unafraid to take the gloves off when he came across a really bad film. One film in particular that got under his skin was the 1994 comedy film North, starring Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, and Alan Arkin. Ebert famously declared, "I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it". Ouch…

Roger Ebert factsNorth (1994), New Line Cinema

19. Rejected!

During the 1960s, Ebert was part of the draft that was seeking soldiers to fight in the highly polarizing Vietnam War. Ebert’s name was actually drawn, but upon medical examination, he was deemed unfit for duty.

Vietnam War factsFlickr, manhhai

20. My Swan Song

The last film review Ebert ever published before his passing in 2013 was for the Terrence Malick film To the Wonder, starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams. In case you’re wondering, he gave it three and a half stars out of four.

Rachel McAdams factsTo the Wonder (2012), Redbud Pictures

21. At the Movies With Roger

On the 24th of April 2014, the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois unveiled a statue of Ebert in his honor. The statue depicts the legendary film critic sitting inside the theatre giving a thumbs up. A more fitting position for that statue to be in, we do not know.

Roger Ebert factsWikimedia Commons

22. I’m A Critic, Not A Casting Director!

As you might imagine with Hollywood, there was talk of a biopic being made about director Russ Meyer. Given Ebert’s collaborations with Meyer, there was a distinct chance that someone would have to portray Ebert onscreen. For his part, Ebert stated that he’d hope that if such a case did happen, it would either be Jack Black or Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Ebert in the film.

Owen Wilson factsWikimedia Commons

23. Culture Snob

Ebert came under fire in 2005 when he infamously commented that while video games could be “sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful,” he felt that they were ultimately unable to go “beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art". Naturally, video game fans everywhere expressed their outrage at this belittling by Ebert. In 2010, Ebert repeated his stance on video games, but admitted that he rarely played them due to impatience with the format.

Roger Ebert factsWikimedia Commons

24. Where It (And The Wind) Began

Before Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted At the Movies, they began with a local Chicago series titled Sneak Previews in 1975. They eventually moved to PBS, and the rest is history.

Roger Ebert factsSneak Previews (1975–1996), PBS

25. Go for It, Oprah

Believe it or not, Ebert is one of the people you need to thank for Oprah Winfrey’s show! Winfrey and Ebert actually went out on a couple of dates when Winfrey was hosting a local television series. At the time, she was considering the move to a syndicated program, and Ebert offered her advice based on his own experience with At the Movies. Oprah later revealed this story in 2005 while celebrating the 20th anniversary of her show.

Mariah Carey factsGetty Images

26. It’s A Fight

For his part, Ebert also acknowledged his role in persuading Oprah to go into syndication, and he humorously added, “I was also the person who suggested that Jerry Springer not go into syndication, for which I have received too little credit". We’re surprised Springer and Ebert didn’t get into a fight over that zinger.

Jerry Springer FactsGetty Images

27. Hail The Half-Dozen

It’s safe to say that Ebert had a shrewd eye for reviewing films, but it’s easier to point out his track record with the Academy Awards. Six of the films he chose to be “best of the year” also went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Roger Ebert factsWikipedia

28. It Haunts Me

Despite his popularity, there was an inevitable crowd of people who denounced Ebert as a bad film critic based on his opinions, which often polarized people. According to Ebert himself, the one film review that he was forced to defend more than any other was his positive review of the abysmal film Speed 2: Cruise Control.

Roger Ebert factsSpeed 2: Cruise Control (1997), Twentieth Century Fox

29. Oh, Snap

Comedian Rob Schneider hasn’t always risen above making poorly received movies, but in one incident, he showed himself to be especially thin-skinned towards criticism. When film critic Patrick Goldstein expressed his disappointment in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (imagine that), Schneider publicly called him out for his inability to criticize the film when Goldstein hadn’t even won a Pulitzer Prize. Even though a retort probably wasn’t necessary, Ebert decided to step in with the simple statement, “Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks". We can only assume Schneider needed to take a vacation to get over that one.

Adam Sandler FactsGetty Images

30. No, I Am Not Entertained

We’ve all got our own personal gripes about the Academy Awards, and the films that somehow get awarded, and Ebert was no exception. Of all the poor decisions that the Oscars have made, the one that irked Ebert the most was giving the 2001 Best Picture Oscar to Gladiator. Feel free to start a debate on how correct or incorrect Ebert was about that movie.

Emperor Commodus factsGladiator (2000), DreamWorks

31. Health Woes

Starting in 2003, Ebert began a long, grueling battle with cancer that was first identified in his papillary thyroid. This led to his salivary glands being partly removed, and eventually more of his jaw along with them. As a result, Ebert spent the last few years of his life being unable to speak.

Roger Ebert factsShutterstock

32. Echoes Of The Past

Ebert refused to be silenced completely, however; he revealed that he’d hired a company in Scotland to create an artificial voice that would be activated through texts. The voice was modelled after Ebert’s own voice, which they acquired from the footage of At the Movies and his DVD commentary.

Roger Ebert factsAt the Movies (1986–2010), Buena Vista Television

33. Something Seems Meta…

Ebert’s top 10 films of all time were as follows: The General; Citizen Kane; Tokyo Story; Vertigo; La Dolce Vita; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Apocalypse Now; Raging Bull; and The Tree of Life.

Han Solo factsApocalypse Now (1979), Zoetrope

34. This System Needs To Change

More than any individual filmmaker, Ebert was deeply antagonistic towards the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system. In several of his reviews, he would express his disappointment in the American rating system for being so strict on depictions of bare skin as opposed to violence. He was especially opposed to the NC-17 rating, which was used to banish many films from mainstream cinemas and any chance at making a serious impact.

Roger Ebert factsGetty Images

35. Feel The Burn

In one of the more famous feuds of Ebert’s life, he wrote a scathing review of Vincent Gallo’s independent film The Brown Bunny after it premiered at Cannes. Ebert called it the worst film he’d ever seen at Cannes, whereupon Gallo furiously called Ebert a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader". Ebert then retorted “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny".

Roger Ebert factsWikipedia

36. Just Throw In The Towel

Not content with being put down so effortlessly by Ebert in the first round, Gallo continued the war of words by claiming to have hexed the critic’s colon (admittedly not the best comeback we’ve ever heard). Ebert once again rose to the challenge, commenting that he’d recently watched a video of his colonoscopy, and it had been more fun to watch than The Brown Bunny had been.

Roger Ebert factsFlickr, Kanaka Rastamon

37. The Feud Laid To Rest

To be fair to Gallo, he did point out that his comments about Ebert’s colon had been made in jest (and that they had actually been about his prostate), and the media had assumed he was being serious. The most interesting twist to the story, however, is the fact that Gallo ultimately went back to the editing room and cut The Brown Bunny down by over 20 minutes for its general release. For his part, Ebert watched the new version and gave it three stars out of four.

Roger Ebert factsThe Brown Bunny(2003), Wild Bunch

38. Hey, That's Me

Blockbuster filmmaker Roland Emmerich has rarely been a critical darling, and one day, he decided to use his films to take some revenge against those dastardly film critics. His film version of Godzilla features a barely-veiled parody of Ebert as the mayor of New York (also named Ebert, because Emmerich doesn’t know the meaning of the word “subtle”).

Roger Ebert factsWikimedia Commons

39. Missed Opportunity

For his part, Ebert was a decent sport about Emmerich’s scathing character who shared his name and likeness. In fact, Ebert’s only real complaint about the characterization was the fact that Godzilla didn’t squish him in the film.

Roger Ebert factsGodzilla (1998 film), Centropolis Entertainment

40. My Name Is Roger…

Ebert spent the early part of his professional career struggling with alcoholism. He frankly wrote that he would frequently write and work while drinking (you can decide for yourselves if that elevates or diminishes his writing talents). In 1979, however, Ebert quit drinking completely and stayed sober for the rest of his life. He credited Alcoholics Anonymous, and the lifelong friends that he made within the group, with helping him recover from alcoholism, claiming that joining AA was “the best thing that ever happened to me".

Roger Ebert factsWikimedia Commons

41. Many Thanks, Mr. Cohen

While Ebert eventually lost his life to cancer in 2013, his life very nearly ended several years before that in 2006. Already struggling with cancer, Ebert underwent an operation to have part of his jaw removed that year. After he was declared fit to leave the hospital, he was about to do just that when he heard a song by Canadian legend Leonard Cohen playing. Ebert paused to enjoy the song, and he was still standing in the hospital when an artery in his neck suddenly burst! Only immediate medical intervention allowed Ebert’s life to be saved, and it wouldn’t have been available had Ebert gone straight into his car and left the hospital rather than linger a bit longer to listen to Cohen’s music. For anyone wondering, the song was "I'm Your Man".

William Shatner FactsGetty Images

42. Eye For Business

A longtime fan of technology, Ebert was one of the very first people to invest in Google. According to Ebert himself, he was a fan of the company and became a shareholder of Google when it first went public. The return on Ebert’s early investment was said to have been “several million dollars". No doubt that deserves two thumbs up.

Google factsFlickr, Yang Yu

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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