Did Siskel and Ebert Agree More the Longer They Worked Together?
One of the kicks I got out of the documentary “Life Itself,” about the life and times of film critic Roger Ebert, was watching Ebert and his TV partner/nemesis Gene Siskel battle over movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (which Roger loved and Gene dismissed for its last, rambling 30 minutes) and Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” (which Roger dismissed and Gene loved). These guys fought about Vietnam war movies the way the rest of the country fought about the Vietnam War.
All of which revived a thought I had as their various shows (“Sneak Previews,” etc.) wound their way through the years: Did Roger and Gene tend to agree more the longer they worked together? It seemed so to me, anecdotally; but unless someone counted the thumbs ups/downs, we’d never really know.
Let me say right off: I’m not about to count the thumbs up/downs for 24 seasons of “Sneak Previews,” etc. No way. But I did compare and contrast Siskel and Ebert’s annual top 10 lists to see how they stacked up there. Here are their number of top-10 agreements over the years:
For a while there, as I was tabulating, it seemed like I was onto something. They start out with only three agreements in 1975 but within a few years they’re together on 7 of the 10. But then it slips. And rises? And slips. And then back to three? But back up again. And we wind up with something fairly inconclusive.
Siskel and Ebert did seem to agree on the No. 1 movie of the year the longer they were together:
|Year||The Same No. 1 Movie|
|1983 *||The Right Stuff|
|1989||Do the Right Thing|
* 1983 may have been their most agreeable year, since they were exact not only one No. 1, but No. 2 (“Terms of Endearment”), No. 4 (“Fanny and Alexander”), No. 7 (“Silkwood”) and No. 9 (“Risky Business”).
Their agreements are even starker with the best-of-the-decade lists. They agreed on only one movie as the best of the 1970s:
|The Decade (1970s) **|
|GENE SISKEL||ROGER EBERT|
|Last Tango in Paris||An Unmarried Woman|
|The Sorrow and the Pity||Apocalypse Now|
|The Emigrants & The New Land||Breaking Away ***|
|The Godfather I & II||Nashville|
|The Conversation||Days of Heaven|
|Mean Streets||The Deer Hunter|
|The Last Detail||Heart of Glass|
|Saturday Night Fever||Cries and Whispers|
|Le Boucher||The Godfather I & II|
** Not in order of preference; simply in order presented.
*** Yes, I was tickled that this made Roger's cut.
But they agreed on four films in the 1980s:
|The Decade (1980s)|
|GENE SISKEL||ROGER EBERT|
|1. Raging Bull||1. Raging Bull|
|2. Shoah||2. The Right Stuff|
|3. The Right Stuff||3. E.T.|
|4. My Dinner with Andre||4. Do The Right Thing|
|5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit||5. My Dinner with Andre|
|6. Do The Right Thing||6. Raiders of the Lost Ark|
|7. Once Upon A Time In America (long version)||7. Ran|
|8. Moonlighting||8. Mississippi Burning|
|9. Sid and Nancy||9. Platoon|
|10. Kagemusha||10. House of Games|
One could argue, of course, that since there were so many great movies in the 1970s, it was easier to disagree. I’ll take “The Conversation” and you take “Apocalypse Now”; you get “Days of Heaven” and I get “Mean Streets.” There were fewer such options in the 1980s. If not “Raging Bull,” what? “One from the Heart”? “The Return of the Jedi”? “Three Men and a Baby”?
(Sidenote: While “Raging Bull” is Roger’s best of the 1980s, it wasn’t even his best of 1980. He gave that one to “Black Stallion,” which, of course, didn’t make his decades-end list. Some movies just work on us better.)
But all in all, I wasn't noticing statistically what I'd noticed anecdotally.
Then I realized that I was only documenting their time together. What about the years when they were both reviewing movies in Chicago but weren't doing the show yet? What story would that tell?
This is the story it tells:
In terms of top 10s anyway, they actually agreed more before they got together. From 1969 to 1974, they averaged 5.66 top-10 agreements. From 1975 to 1998? Only 4.95.
So I actually kind of proved the opposite of what I wanted to prove. I guess that’s why we crunch the numbers.
But we won’t know for certain if Siskel and Ebert agreed more, less, or about the same as the show progressed, until someone does a show-by-show, year-by-year analysis. Someone, I should add, with a lot more time on their hands than me.
Siskel and Ebert: One liked “Apocalypse Now,” the other “Full Metal Jacket.”