erik lundegaard

Did Siskel and Ebert Agree More the Longer They Worked Together?

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

Siskel and Ebert: One liked “Apocalypse Now,” the other “Full Metal Jacket.”

One of the kicks I got out of the documentary Life Itself, on 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 Coppolas Apocalypse Now (which Roger loved and Gene dismissed for its last, rambling 30 minutes) and Stanley Kubricks 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 morethe longer they worked together? It seemed so to me at the time; but unless someone counted the thumbs ups/downs, wed never really know.

Let me say right off: Im 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 Eberts annual top 10 lists to see how they stacked up. Here are their number of top-10 agreements over the years:

Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1975 x x x
1976 x x x x
1977 x x x x
1978 x x x x
1979 x x x x x x x
1980 x x x x x x x
1981 x x x x
1982 x x x x x x
1983 x x x x x x
1984 x x x x x
1985 x x x x x
1986 x x x x x
1987 x x x x x x
1988 x x x
1989 x x x x x x
1990 x x x
1991 x x x x
1992 x x x x x x x
1993 x x x x x x
1994 x x x x
1995 x x x x x x
1996 x x x x x x
1997 x x x x
1998 x x x x

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 theyre together on 7 of the 10. But then it slips. And rises? And slips. And then back down to three a few times. And we wind up with something fairly inconclusive.

Siskel and Ebert didseem to agree on the No. 1 movie of the year the longer they were together:

Year The Same No. 1 Movie
1975 Nashville
1983 * The Right Stuff
1989 Do the Right Thing
1990 Goodfellas
1993 Schindler's List
1994 Hoop Dreams
1996 Fargo

* 1983 may have been their most agreeable year, since they were exact not only on 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
Annie Hall Amarcord
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

Fewer options, maybe? There were so many great movies in the 1970s, it was easier to disagree. Ill take The Conversation and you take Apocalypse Now; you get Days of Heaven and I get Mean Streets. But in the ‘80s, if not Raging Bull, what? The Return of the Jedi? Three Men and a Baby?

(Sidenote: While Raging Bull is Rogers best of the 1980s, it wasnt even his best of 1980. He gave that one to Black Stallion, which, of course, didnt make his decades-end list. Some movies just work on us better as time goes on.)

That said, overall, 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:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1969 x x x
1970 x x x x x x x
1971 x x x x x x
1972 x x x x x
1973 x x x x x x
1974 x x x x x x x

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: 4.95.

So I actually kind of proved the opposite of what I wanted to prove. I guess thats why we crunch the numbers.

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Posted at 05:33 AM on Thu. Aug 21, 2014 in category Movie Reviews  
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