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"That's next week, and until then, the balcony is closed."
Siskel and Ebert was a syndicated series that ran from 1986 to 1999, spun off from a couple of earlier shows on PBS: "Sneak Previews" and "At the Movies", both of which utilized a similar format of two critics, Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, discussing and debating the week's new films. Roughly four or five films were critiqued per episode. It usually ended with a special segment like "Video/Laserdisc Pick of the Week/Month", an interview with a celebrity or director, or a short-lived segment where viewers wrote in to provide a second opinion or correct S&E about something.
Occasionally, they would devote an entire episode to one issue in film: Their stance against colorization, against fullscreen cropping of widescreen films (and vice versa when it came to older Disney animated films), trends they noticed in film (such as directors influenced by Quentin Tarantino) and spotlights on whom they considered rising stars or directors. They even spent an entire episode analyzing who had the better filmography: Woody Allen or Mel Brooks? Most notable, however, were the annual "Memo to the Academy" (where Siskel and Ebert recommend what they think should be nominated for Oscars) and the "Best of" and "Worst of" the year lists, the latter of which were quite entertaining as they got to trash the bad films one last time.
Siskel and Ebert's claim to fame was their method of reviewing movies, ultimately boiling down to a simple thumbs up or down. There was no middle ground, so it was interesting seeing them rationalize choosing either one or the other. And of course, when you have two major film critics together, disagreements could occur. And the debates were some of the most fun moments in the show. Heck, sometimes the two would bicker on some small detail even if they both agreed on the film's merit!
Unfortunately, in early 1998, Gene Siskel was absent for a few weeks due to getting surgery for a brain tumor. Despite this, he was still able to phone in his reviews (literally!) and debate with Roger via a split screen and a still image of his face on one side. When Siskel returned, he was noticeably less animated and expressive, talking slower, and seemed to debate with Roger less. Nevertheless, he stuck with the show until early 1999 when he went back into surgery and, sadly, never came out. Gene Siskel died on February 20, 1999, and while the show continued under a few different banners and with different critics ("Roger Ebert and the Movies", "Ebert and Roeper", "At the Movies"), the Siskel and Ebert show was finished. Roger Ebert devoted an entire episode to Gene Siskel following his death, and it's clear that even though the two frequently disagreed, they didn't hate each other.
Ebert continued the show, first as Roger Ebert and the Movies with guest co-hosts, and then as At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper with the addition of his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper. Ebert stopped appearing on the show in 2006 because he lost the ability to speak due to his cancer and Roeper continued with guests until the two were removed from the show by their distributor in 2008. They were replaced by Ben Lyons (son of film critic Jeffery Lyons) and film critic and Turner Classic Movies presenter Ben Mankiewicz in a move to skew to younger audience. While most of the old fanbase of the show had no problem with Ben Mankiewicz, almost all of them (and Ebert himself) took issue with Ben Lyons' skill, ethics and taste. The two Bens were fired from the show a little over a year later. The critics were replaced one final time with A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, choices Ebert expressed satisfaction with despite no longer having anything to do with the show. However, these two hosts only lasted from August 2009 to March 2010, when the distributor simply pulled the plug on the show, ending Siskel and Ebert's TV legacy for good.
...Or so we thought. Later in 2010, Ebert announced he had purchased the rights to the show and had taken it back to PBS. His new Ebert Presents: At the Movies began airing in January 2011, with Ignaty Vishnevetsky of Mubi and Christy Lemire of the Associated Press as the new critics. Ebert himself made appearances on the show, with Bill Curtis narrating special versions of some of his recent written reviews. The show was a ratings success, but due to funding problems it went on hiatus at the end of 2011.
- Accentuate the Negative: Averted. Siskel and Ebert love to give positive reviews, it's just that the films aren't always up to snuff. In fact, there have been a few episodes where they've given two thumbs up to every film.
- Ad Hominem: Some of their arguments came dangerously close to this.
- The Announcer: The series had a Cold Open announcer for many years, but around 1996, Siskel and Ebert began introducing the shows themselves.
- Berserk Button: Ebert has provided a few examples. In their review of the 1995 French comedy French Twist, he was appalled that the French chose this film as their submission to the Academy Awards, when they could've nominated Les Misérables instead. He wanted to get the voting crew to look him in the eye to say that French Twist was a better film and was convinced they wouldn't be able to do it, since he thought the voting was fixed and corrupt.
- In his review of Leonard Part 6, Ebert went on a rant about Product Placement:
Ebert: In one scene, his twenty-year old daughter brings home a sixty-six-year old man that she wants to marry. Cosby is appalled; this guy is robbing the cradle! What does he do? He calls for a sandwich and a Coke. And then he holds the Coke bottle prominently next to his face for the rest of the scene. First it says "Coca-cola", and then the next shot, it says "Coke", in case you missed the point. Who released this movie? Columbia. Who owns Columbia? Coca-cola! What is Coca-cola doing with this movie? They have a lot of products in this movie, Gene, that you can get a tie-in where you can get the product in connection with buying a ticket for the movie. I think that that is an all-time low: Bill Cosby, the richest man in show business, 67.5 million dollars income last year, reduced to holding a Coca-cola bottle next to his face in order to get a picture made at Columbia. He ought to be ashamed of himself.
Siskel: Hey, what am I supposed to do? Give a review of what you think of the movie?! I give a review of what I think!
- As mentioned in the intro paragraphs, Siskel and Ebert were against colorization and cropping movies, and rallied against it whenever it was appropriate.
- Bias Steamroller: Siskel loved Sean Connery as James Bond and judged all later Bond movies against Connery's portrayal. He even flat out admitted his bias in his Goldeneye review:
Siskel: I liked Connery, and everyone else has been nothing compared to him.
- Blind Without'Em: In their review of the live action Mr. Magoo, Ebert readily admits that he's as nearsighted as they come, but was never offended by Mr. Magoo, and certainly didn't think the disclaimer at the end of the film (which defended nearsighted and blind people) was necessary.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In their "Worst of 1995" show, during their mention of Judge Dredd, Siskel talked to the camera as if addressing Sylvester Stallone.
Siskel: You know, Roger, I have never looked at the camera and talked to an actor; I'm gonna break this tradition right now. I know, Stallone, you probably hate my guts, you think I hate you. I don't hate you; I like your talent, I want you to use it. This isn't what you were put on Earth for. You can do this in your sleep, and sometimes it looks like exactly what you're doing.
- When reviewing French Twist, Siskel also broke the fourth wall when he addressed the country of France by talking into the camera:
Siskel: You know, the French film industry is saying how "we need protection for our own kind, America is dwarfing us", (looks at camera) so look what you send out to America, here's what you endorse into America. I mean, it's absurd.
- Call Back: In their review of Broken Arrow, Siskel tried to get Ebert to vote thumbs down to Cop and a Half, which they had reviewed three years prior and which Ebert liked. Ebert refused to change his vote.
- Catch Phrase: Aside from the quote at the top, there's "Two thumbs up, way up" or "Two thumbs down, way down", in both extreme cases.
- Each episode also opened with either Siskel or Ebert saying some variant of, "(movie title) is one of (four/five) new movies we'll be reviewing this week on Siskel and Ebert. I'm (Gene Siskel/Roger Ebert) of the (Chicago Tribune/Chicago Sun-Times)...", followed by the other saying their name and paper. The latter would then introduce the first film.
- Caustic Critic: Usually their reviews are fairly level-headed, but occasionally a really bad film comes along that will cause one or both to rip it to shreds, such as North.
- Christmas Episode: For a while, Siskel and Ebert did an annual "Holiday Gift Guide" episode.
- Circular Reasoning: Demonstrated in their review of Back to The Future Part 3. Siskel liked the film, while Ebert gave it a marginal thumbs down, since he felt the western tropes were old hat. Ebert argued that Siskel would feel differently if the film was only a western and not a Back to the Future movie, while Siskel argued that it wasn't just a western (which is true, as the film played with a lot of those tropes). Repeat this back-and-forth a couple times.
- Cloudcuckoolander: During their review of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Siskel criticized the opening scene, asking why the dinosaur couldn't have been more friendly to the little girl. Ebert retorted that dinosaurs aren't supposed to be friendly, that they're wild beasts. Siskel replied with: "I have three children, Roger, and I have decided I will not buy them a dinosaur as a pet." One can only imagine what Siskel meant by that remark.
- Cold Open: Every episode began with an announcer telling a few of the movies Siskel and Ebert would be reviewing.
- Critical Dissonance: Invoked. Some examples of films which grossed high numbers despite the duo's score of "two thumbs down": The Flintstones (1994), Home Alone 1 and 2, Jumanji, Independence Day, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Ghostbusters 2.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Siskel and Ebert could fall into this at times. An example:
Siskel: And I think you're off on Batman; I think you had a better time, you know it's a smarter movie. You felt like you were being directed, didn't you?
- Another example, from their review of Teen Wolf Too, when Ebert said it was a worse film than Date With an Angel because it didn't have someone like Emmanuelle Béart in it:
Siskel: As I once said to you on another film, many years ago: "Date her, don't give the film a positive review."
- Department of Redundancy Department: Frequently, after finishing a review and moving onto the next one, Siskel or Ebert would say: "Next movie, and our next movie is ______."
- Double Standard: In their debate about Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Ebert asked Siskel if he'd feel the same way about this film if it starred Jewish people and had Jewish stereotypes. Siskel said that if it were funny, he'd like it just as much. Then Ebert said he doubt a film like that would get made.
- Downer Ending: Gene Siskel's death, obviously.
- Dude, Not Funny: Invoked. Ebert accused Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood of making fun of serious subjects which he felt shouldn't be mocked. Siskel tried to call him out on it, suggesting that any topic can be parodied if done right.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Nothing major, as the show stayed roughly the same since it began in 1986, but in 1992, the show's backdrop switched from a yellow-ish hue to a blue one.
- Also, in the early shows, Ebert had thicker glasses and bushier hair.
- 8.8: Invoked. Certain films received thumbs down from one or both, despite getting rave reviews from many others. Examples:
- Ebert gave Die Hard a thumbs down. It holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. He thought there were too many plot holes and hated the belligerent authority figures.
- Siskel gave Goldeneye a thumbs down. It holds an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and is regarded by many to be the best of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films and a return to form for the series. Siskel thought it was a routine story, thought the only good action scene was in the first five minutes, and thought Brosnan was a mediocre Bond ("Frankly, Roger Moore has a more commanding screen presence than this guy.")
- While he didn't exactly hate it, Ebert gave a marginal thumbs down to Full Metal Jacket, claiming it wasn't on par with Stanley Kubrick's earlier work and finding the second half of the film a letdown. The film has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Ebert also didn't care for Blue Velvet, which holds a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. He admired the filmmaking, but hated being jerked around by having deadly serious scenes immediately cut to something cheerfully ironic.
- While it doesn't have a high Rotten Tomatoes score, they gave the original Home Alone, which was a box office smash, two thumbs down.
- Siskel didn't care for The Silence of the Lambs, which has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Ebert gave A Few Good Men thumbs down, claiming it had no surprises and had a sloppy ending. It has an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Independence Day was given two thumbs down; while it wasn't a resounding critical success, it was a big hit at the box office. They even re-reviewed the film after it became a success, and still disliked it, citing unmemorable characters, cliched dialog, and generic-looking aliens.
- Siskel disliked Mulan, which has an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. He thought the artwork was dull, there didn't seem to be a sense of jeopardy regarding the main character, and couldn't remember any of the songs.
- Ebert disliked the 1989 Batman, which was and is held in high regard. He liked the set design but didn't care about any of the characters and thought the film had a meanness to it.
- Siskel didn't like Ferris Buellers Day Off, which has an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. He thought all the scenes were done better in other movies.
- Siskel gave a marginal thumbs down to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and is generally regarded as an improvement over Temple of Doom. Siskel didn't feel Harrison Ford and Sean Connery had any chemistry, and had a sense of deja vu from the action sequences.
- Both Siskel and Ebert revealed on a "You Blew It!" special episode that they felt Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was overrated. Ebert went so far as to claim that the film was a bomb.
- While he gave it a marginal thumbs up, Siskel wasn't all that impressed by Boogie Nights, which has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. He felt that the film didn't give much new insight about the porn industry and felt the film had no point.
- The reverse of this trope occurs at times as well; Siskel enjoyed Carnosaur for its villain and goofy plot. It holds an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Home Alone 3 was also the only one of the Home Alone films that Ebert enjoyed; it has a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Probably the most standout reverse example would be their two thumbs up to Speed 2: Cruise Control, a movie considered by virtually everyone else to be one of the worst sequels of all time.
- Enforced Plug: When the internet began to take off, Siskel and Ebert naturally got their own website, which led to one of the two plugging it at the end of every episode. Unfortunately, this meant they had no time to get a little more debating in, which was the highlight of the 1986-1995 shows.
- Finger Wag: Films that were Not Screened for Critics got the Wagging Finger of Shame. This rating was short-lived, however; it only lasted a year before Ebert abandoned it, claiming that it wasn't really stopping studios from withholding their movies from critics.
- Finish Dialogue in Unison: In their review of Over the Top (1987), Siskel and Ebert both said "the strap" at the same time. Twice.
- Flashback Effects: In Ebert and Roeper's review of Scooby Doo 2, Ebert recalled his review of the first film, and the picture dissolves to his and Roeper's earlier review. The same occurred when they reviewed Garfield 2: A Tail of Two Kitties.
- Guest Host: Tom Shales filled in for Gene Siskel when he went in for brain surgery in 1999. After Siskel died, Ebert tried numerous other guest hosts in 1999 until finally deciding on Richard Roeper in 2000 as permanent replacement co-host.
- Guilty Pleasures: Ebert has been known to give certain movies thumbs up, even if he admits they're ridiculous and/or not as good of quality as other films. Examples: Congo, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.
- Gushing About Shows You Like: The purpose of their annual "Best of" episodes. Also arguably the point of their "Memo to the Academy" episodes.
- Hilarious Outtakes: The famous outtakes of Siskel and Ebert on YouTube have garnered millions of hits.
- Ho Yay: Invoked. And played with. During their review of "Female Perversions":
Siskel: ...And as men, we know it goes on; you know the old line, "Men think about sex every, y'know, thirty seconds" or something like that; this is not an exaggeration.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: While the duo resisted using bad puns in their reviews, they occasionally let one slide.
- In Memoriam: Ebert's tribute to Gene Siskel after his death.
- They've also made tributes to deceased film stars and directors, usually at the end of the show. One deceased director, however, was given a full episode tribute (Stanley Kubrick).
- Instrumental Theme Tune
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Siskel incorrectly pronounced Super Mario Bros and Super "Meh-ree-yoh" Brothers in their review of the 1993 film.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Due to their timely nature, reruns of Siskel and Ebert usually aren't aired on TV except occasionally their special topic episodes, and while most every review was previously available on Buena Vista's website, they were removed in 2010 when "At the Movies" was canceled. Due to both of these factors, Siskel and Ebert will never come to DVD.
- Le Film Artistique: One completely incorrect statement about the duo is that they supposedly give thumbs up only to pretentious artsy foreign films and give thumbs down to all mainstream action films. Yeah, they really hated Die Hard 2, Executive Decision, The Fugitive, Terminator 2, Speed, Mission Impossible, Under Siege 2, and Men in Black, among many others.
- Like an Old Married Couple: Their arguments could fall into this quite often; the two had been paired together so long that they knew what made the other tick and jumped on that. And while they did argue, they also kidded each other just as much.
- Limited Wardrobe: Throughout the entire run, the typical outfit for both Siskel and Ebert was a blazer with a turtleneck underneath. However, there have been exceptions: Both have worn tuxedos for some of their "Best of" shows, and Ebert wore a suit and tie for his Gene Siskel tribute episode. Perhaps the biggest aversion occurred in a special 1994 episode "Sunny Side of the Screen", where they both wore blazers with hawaiian shirts underneath.
- Logical Fallacies: Ebert made one during their review of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. He gave the film thumbs up despite listing some flaws. Siskel said that all of Ebert's flaws were accurate and suggested renting one of the early giant monster movies instead (which he felt were superior). At this point, Ebert took Siskel's point too far by sarcastically suggesting that the audience shouldn't bother with any of the films on the program and to just rent Citizen Kane. Ebert's fallacy backfired when Siskel said: "Well, you could do that, and I think you and I both look at Citizen Kane regularly. But I'm just saying is, that I think you want to like this picture more than you know in your heart of hearts that it really contains entertainment value."
- Siskel made one in the episode where Ebert gave Full Metal Jacket a marginal thumbs down. Siskel said it was absurd that Ebert was giving a Kubrick film that rating, while in the same show he gave a recommendation to Benji the Hunted (which he disliked). As Ebert rightfully pointed out, Jacket and Benji are two totally different genres and as such, deserve to have different criteria for judging them.
- Long List: In their review of The Kids in The Hall: Brain Candy, Ebert rattled off a list of adjectives as to why he hates the film:
Ebert: Boy, are we apart on this one. I found this movie to be awful, terrible, dreadful, stupid, idiotic, unfunny, labored, forced, painful, bad!
- Milestone Celebration: In 1989, the duo hosted a one-hour "500th Anniversary Special".
- Mood Whiplash: Due to the wide variety of films that debuted each week, they could review a slasher flick... followed immediately by a light-hearted family film.
- Most Annoying Sound: Invoked. A few actors have been described by Siskel and/or Ebert as "fingernails on the blackboard", such as Pauly Shore.
- No Sense of Humor: Siskel accused Ebert of this when Ebert gave a scathing review to The Kids in The Hall: Brain Candy.
Ebert: I got my sense of humor. My sense of humor was starving for a laugh!
- "On the Next...": Before the closing catchphrase, each episode featured Siskel or Ebert saying what they'd review on the next show.
- Promotional Consideration: The sponsors varied, but two companies that often appeared in the "Promotional Consideration" slide were Nestle and Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: In their "Worst of 1994" show, Ebert recalled what he wrote in his Chicago Sun-Times review of North:
Ebert: I hated this movie! Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie! Hated it! Hated every stupid simpering vacant audience-insulting moment of it!
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In their "Worst of 1995" show, Siskel and Ebert criticized the parents who took their kids to see Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, when they could've taken them to better family movies instead.
- Sarcasm Mode: In their review of The Great Outdoors:
Siskel: The big commodities guy from Chicago just doesn't like nature, and then the average guy, the happy-go-lucky chubby guy, he loves animals. Thanks. We appreciated that.
- In their review of Leonard Part 6:
Ebert: (after a clip) And no matter what he fires at it, the door doesn't go down. How funny. The door is still there. How hilarious. How highly, highly humorous.
- In their review of Overboard, after Goldie Hawn's character pushes Kurt Russell's character (who said he wasn't going anywhere) into the water:
Siskel: Isn't that a surprise? He actually fell overboard, Roger! I bet you didn't know that was gonna happen, noooo!
- Serious Business: While the duo sometimes exchanged funny banter, for the most part the duo took film criticism very seriously, even occasionally accusing each other of lowering their standards (see the Predator review). This is perhaps why they gained such a reputation as an authority on what are the best films to see (to the point where "Two thumbs up!" was practically a given to mention in ads or on video covers).
- Shown Their Work: Siskel and Ebert rarely made mistakes during their reviews, and often mentioned screenwriters, cinematographers, and directors by name.
- Sick Episode: For a few weeks in early 1998, Siskel was in the hospital recovering from surgery; instead of sitting out entirely, he still reviewed the films from his hospital bed, using a split screen format with a still shot of Siskel on the left.
- In early 1999, Siskel was absent entirely during one episode, due to returning to the hospital. Ebert did the episode by himself.
- Something Completely Different: As stated in the intro paragraphs, some episodes take a break from reviewing new movies and focus on a specific issue (colorization, "What's Wrong With Home Video", favorite villains, guilty pleasures, etc.).
- Sometimes a standard-format episode would have a segment briefly discussing a hot film-related topic along with the usual reviews; in late 1991 they discussed the controversy over Michael Jackson's "Black or White" video — specifically its violent, crotch-grabbing finale. They weren't so much bothered by that as the fact that they had no idea what was going on in the video.
- Spoiler: Unfortunately, some of Siskel and Ebert's reviews contained spoilers.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Frequently cited as a negative in the films they review, as it often emphasizes meaningless special effects over story. For example, in their review of On Deadly Ground:
Ebert: Now, if you like to see lots of stuff blowed up real good, this'd be a movie for you, but it doesn't pay to devote close attention to the plot of On Deadly Ground.
- Title Please: No episode titles are present on the screen. Episodes are unofficially referred to as "Week of ____" and/or the movies they reviewed on that episode.
- Visual Pun: Their "At the Movies" days featured two stuffed animals, Aroma the Educated Skunk and Spot the Wonder Dog, which represented the stinkers and dogs of the week, respectively. These were excised when they moved to the Buena Vista series.