Roger Ebert will forever be known as a film critic with a sharp but populist tongue and a TV personality with two thumbs up. He wrote several reviews a week, every week, for more than 40 years, amassing a body of work peerless in quality given the volume.
Though the Chicago native’s commitment to film never wavered, his approaches to the subject varied and his interests were diverse. He wrote about sports, contributed to science-fiction fanzines and joined a fraternity – all before he was 20 years old.
Though a cheap list of numbers alone can't possibly represent his legacy, it can illustrate the magnitude of his accomplishments.
Number of Reviews: 7,202
Over a 46-year career as the the Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Ebert wrote 7,202 reviews — 987 of which were 4-star praises, while 41 were unworthy of any stars. Rob Reiner's 1994 family film "North" was amongst the latter group and famously incurred Ebert's wry wrath.
"I hated this movie," the critic bluntly stated. "I hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it."
And some movies, like Dutch horror film "The Human Centipede," just weren't capable of being logically rated by the star system in Ebert's opinion.
"The star rating system is unsuited to this film," he reasoned in his 2010 review. "Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine."
Stars or no stars, his reviews were so good that they were regularly amassed by publishers for best-selling books like "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie" and "Your Movie Sucks." The critic's more positive reflections on the art of cinema were captured in "The Great Movies" one, two and three, as well as "Roger Ebert's 4-Star Reviews 1967-2007." Ebert published 38 books in all, and wrote introductions for a number of others.
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Number of TV Shows: 5
Though a writer first, Ebert is known to most for his work on TV, in particular his shows with fellow critic and friend Gene Siskel. The two began their broadcast career in 1975 with a local TV show called “Opening Soon at a Theater Near You." The two debated the merits of the movies in theaters, always arguing — even if they both liked it.
Renamed “Sneak Previews," PBS picked up the show for national distribution in 1978. Though the show lasted until 1996, Siskel and Ebert departed for a nationally syndicated show titled “At the Movies with Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, which they hosted for five years before creating their own show, “Siskel & Ebert” (also known as "At the Movies").
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That show brought film criticism to the masses and popularized the concept of “two thumbs up” and “two thumbs down.” It aired for more than a decade, lasting until Siskel’s death in 1999.
Ebert worked with a rotating set of co-hosts before teaming with Richard Roeper, who took over the show when Ebert first suffered from health problems. Ebert briefly resurfaced on television in 2011 with a nationally syndicated public TV show, but financing dried up within a few months.
Number of "10 Best" Lists: 46
Ebert annually published a 10 best movies of the year essay, beginning in 1967, which was the only year he decided to include 15. Looking back at his 46 top picks — starting with "Bonnie and Clyde" and ending with "Argo" — a total of 30 won Oscars, with eight being awarded for Best Picture and two being named Best Foreign Language Film. Ebert published 38 books in all, including his 2011 memoir, "Life Itself."
Number of Produced Screenplays: 3
Although largely known for his passion for critiquing cinema, Ebert was passionate about creating it, too. He wrote three produced screenplays, beginning with 1970's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." Russ Meyer, who co-wrote the script with Ebert, directed the poorly received NC-17 feature, which eventually became something of a cult classic.
The duo teamed up for two more films, 1976's "Up!" and 1979's "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens," but their fourth, titled "Who Killed Bambi?," was shut down during production. The Sex Pistols were set to star in the punk rock version of "A Hard Day's Night," however, 20th Century Fox pulled all funding after executives were shocked by what they read in the script.
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Number of Tweets: 31,260
Ebert embraced social media with gusto, tweeting multiple times a day and amassing of following of more than 800,000. He offered links to film reviews and wry political commentary with a sprinkle of personal insight. For a snapshot of Ebert’s best, take a look here.
Number of New Yorker Cartoons: Unknown
Ebert once boasted that he entered the magazine’s Cartoon Caption Contest “almost weekly virtually since it began.” Yet when he finally won the contest in April 2011, Bob Mankoff noted that Ebert had embraced hyperbole. He’d only entered 107 out of 280 contests before he won, placing him behind 568 other devoted caption writers.
Sadly we have no such record of Ebert’s entries since his triumph in 2011, when he mused about a certain four-letter word.
Number of Pulitzer Prizes: 1
No film critic had ever won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism when Ebert took that honor in 1975. He won for his prose in 1974, a year replete with classics such as “Chinatown” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” It was also the year of “The Godfather Part II,” a review Ebert would have to defend for years. He awarded that movie, widely considered one of the greatest films in American history, three stars out of four. When Francis Ford Coppola revisited the Corleone family with an oft-maligned third installment, Ebert awarded that movie three and a half stars.
Ebert later wrote that his initial "Part II" review was evidence of his “worthlessness,” but insisted he wouldn’t change a word. Neither would we.