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10 Great Movies that Roger Ebert Hated

08 May 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Adam Gray

best original screenplay

On April 4, 2013, the world lost one of its most prolific and talented writers: Roger Ebert. From 1967 until his death, Roger Ebert was the film critic for the Chicago-Sun Times. Ebert’s first important review was a few months into his stint at the Sun-Times, for the groundbreaking film Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Arthur Penn. Roger’s four-star review heralded the film as the beginning of a new age in American cinema, and he was right.

All through his career, Roger Ebert was a champion of films and filmmakers. On their television program, Ebert and his co-host Gene Siskel brought small films to the attention of their audience, including Steve James’ Hoop Dreams (which Ebert said was not only the greatest film of 1994, but also the greatest movie of that decade) and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Roger Ebert was also a mentor to a generation of young filmmakers, writers and critics.

In his reviews, Ebert’s prose could be witty, sarcastic, mournful, triumphant, giddy, intellectual, silly or downright angry. Each review got to the heart of the film, to its nuts and bolts. Ebert could reveal the real emotional truths of a movie, or expose a film for the piece of garbage it was. Even if you didn’t agree with his opinions, you could still understand where he was coming from.

Just like anybody, occasionally Roger Ebert got it wrong. Compiled below are ten films, ranked in absolutely no order, which Roger Ebert hated. Many audiences deemed them to be great or worthwhile, in one way or another. All of the films in the following list are movies that Roger Ebert awarded less than two stars (except for the last entry, which he awarded two stars but clearly detested).

 

1. The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects

Roger Ebert disliked this classic nineties crime film enough to give it one and a half stars; although, to his credit, he did watch it a second time to see if perhaps he had been wrong. His main issue with the film was the plot itself, which he felt to be a whole lot of complexities that add up to less than nothing. This is the review where Ebert famously wrote: “To the degree that I do understand, I do not care.”

The point that is missed in his review is that the film itself is a game of cat-and-mouse between Kevin Spacey’s small-time thief Verbal Kint and Chazz Palminteri’s police officer Dave Kujan. The film’s plot twists and turns sometimes feel like smoke and mirrors because that’s crucial to the final plot reveal. If the story had been straight-forward, the last con would not have worked.

Ebert was also less than amused with this last twist, which he feels changes the nature everything we have just witnessed; again, that was the point. In his review, Ebert wishes the filmmakers would have focused more on the characters and less on the surprises. Regarding the ending, he writes “I prefer to be amazed by motivation, not explanation.”

Probably due in large part to that final plot twist, The Usual Suspects won two Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay for Christopher McQuarrie and Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Spacey. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast, The Usual Suspects is a nearly-flawless, diabolical crime caper, and remains director Bryan Singer’s best film.

 

2. Blue Velvet (1986)

blue-velvet

David Lynch’s Blue Velvet was a landmark 1980s American film. It was his first post-Dune motion picture, and Blue Velvet was the movie that established Lynch as a major filmmaker, not just another talented writer/director. It was this film, along with his Oscar-nominated work in Hoosiers, which helped resurrect Dennis Hopper’s stalling career.

The film received rave reviews and several awards, including the best film of the year award from the National Society of Film Critics. In addition, Lynch was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (the film’s only Oscar nomination).

In one of his most controversial reviews in an illustrious career, Roger Ebert gave the film a rating of one and a half stars. Ebert found the passages involving star Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini powerful and disturbing, but he felt that the power and darkness of those scenes was contrasted by sequences of day-to-day life in the fictional town of Lumberton.

He found the shift in the film’s tone distracting and inappropriate to the darker sequences featuring Rossellini. The film’s central theme about how evil things can happen in a seemingly quiet and peaceful town is an idea to which David Lynch returns again and again in his projects (for instance, in the television program Twin Peaks).

Ebert’s main problem with the film, then, is the main point that Lynch is trying to make. In the film’s opening sequence, for instance, he shows us moments of small-town life in a town reminiscent of Leave It to Beaver, and later shows us the horrific things creeping and waiting just below the surface.

In his interview with David Lynch entitled “My Problem with Blue Velvet,” Ebert writes: “I believe Lynch is a talented director, and that in Blue Velvet, he has used his talent in an unworthy way. The movie is powerful, challenging and made with great skill, and yet it made me feel pity for the actors who worked in it and anger at the director for taking liberties with them.”

 

3. Raising Arizona (1987)

Raising Arizona (1987)

Ethan and Joel Coen followed their brilliant 1984 directorial debut, Blood Simple, with the comedy classic Raising Arizona. Even then, the Brothers Coen refused to be pigeon-holed in one genre. Instead of another thriller, Raising Arizona was a bizarre, live-action Looney Tunes cartoon about love, family and crime set in the American Southwest.

The film has an almost boundless comic energy; it’s in every way the exact opposite of Blood Simple. In his one and a half star review of Raising Arizona, it’s clear that Roger Ebert has several problems with the film’s demented comic style.

Ebert states that “the movie cannot decide if it exists in the real world of trailer parks and 7-Elevens and Pampers, or in a fantasy world of characters from another dimension.” The film cannot, Ebert goes on to say, “decide if it is about real people, or comic exaggerations.” For many audiences and critics, it was this very go-for-broke, anything-goes approach that makes Raising Arizona so memorable.

Another issue that Roger had with the film is that every character, as he says, “talks funny.” Ebert: “They all elevate their dialogue to an arch and artificial level that’s distracting and unconvincing and slows down the progress of the film.” Granted, the dialects in Raising Arizona can be over-the-top, but again, that’s a comic choice the Coens decided on, and it works beautifully. Raising Arizona probably wouldn’t work without it.

 

4. Taste of Cherry (1997)

Taste of Cherry (1997)

Richard Corliss of Time Magazine named it the best film of 1997. At the Cannes Film Festival, it tied with Shohei Imamura’s The Eel to win the coveted Palme d’Or. It won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry had many admirers.

Roger Ebert, who awarded the film one star, was not one of them. Ebert found the film “excruciatingly boring.” In his review, he describes an argument he got into with fellow critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dave Kehr over the film. “Both believed they had seen a masterpiece. I thought I had seen an emperor without any clothes.” In response to the film’s many accolades and awards, Ebert says “just as a bad novel can be made into a good movie, so can a boring movie be made into a fascinating movie review.”

Ebert criticized Kiarostami’s directing style as too slow-paced and monotonous to be effective. He said the style was unnecessary for the material. Kiarostami’s subtle, minimal approach to this story, which could have been told in a more straight-forward, more dramatic style, was a mistake in Ebert’s opinion.

It’s interesting that many of the same things that Ebert is critical of in his review are some of the same things that Ebert defends in the films of directors such as Béla Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky.

 

5. The Devils (1971)

The_Devils

The films of the late Ken Russell always were an acquired taste. In the sixties and seventies, few major filmmakers dared to push the boundaries of what was deemed appropriate or acceptable quite as hard as Russell did. The Devils, which stands as one of his greatest achievements, is his most controversial and provocative work.

The lowest rating Roger Ebert could award a film was “zero stars.” He saved a zero stars rating for films he found morally reprehensible, beyond merely good or bad (for example, he gave zero stars to the original I Spit on Your Grave and Rob Reiner’s North).

In his review of The Devils, Ebert gives the film zero stars (on his website, the zero stars rating is replaced with a thumb down icon). It’s a little difficult to decipher Ebert’s feelings regarding the film at first, since his review is extremely sarcastic. Roger Ebert would often use humor in his more negative reviews, but his use of sarcasm in this review get in the way of informing the reader of why he hated The Devils so much.

One reason may be that Roger Ebert didn’t feel that subject matter warranted a film. He writes: “I didn’t want to be the only member of my generation unaware of the terrible events of 1634, a year that will live in infamy.” The Devils is, due to its content and subject matter, a disturbing movie. Ebert seemed to have thought that Ken Russell went too far. In one of the only lines that hints at Roger’s true feelings for the film, he writes “it took courage for me to go see The Devils, just like it took courage for Ken Russell to make it.”

Despite Ebert’s zero star review, and his failure to see The Devils’ cultural relevance, it remains one of the great films of the 1970s and contains Oliver Reed’s finest performance.

 

 

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  • Yeah, he was wrong about those films. That’s OK. He’s usually spot-on about everything else. Besides, he hated North and created one of the greatest reviews ever.

    • Richard

      Yes, his opinion is wrong and yours is right.

      Because obviously nobody other than you can have an opinion.

  • Mark Chiddicks

    He was right about a Clockwork Orange and UHF. Kubrick had a gift for stating the obviously in a very pretentious way and i consider him the most over-rated filmmaker ever – a genius at choosing projects that never needed to exist at all

    • Mark Chiddicks

      As for UHF – Weird Al is as funny as bowel cancer

      • crazyforart

        Roger passing left a hole in my heart which will never be filled. I watched movies so I could later read his reviews on them 🙁

  • 70srichard

    Kick Ass is one of the most inventive and entertaining films of the last decade. Mr. Ebert loathed it. Well, different strokes.

    • Adam S.

      He died an old washed up old coot who panned certain movies for the industry $$$

      • Fernando Arenas

        You´re a little disrespectful asshole who could spend a lifetime and never get to know half of what Ebert knew about film.

        • Adam S.

          so you get mad at me not people on here saying kubrick sucks? really you agree with that?

      • marcel

        I share your opinion too…haha for those who don’t.

      • Hunter Daniels

        Troll.
        Be a little less obvious.

      • Lafollette

        Forget the silly insult, what we have here is a pipsqueak troll who accuses our greatest film critic of accepting bribes. I love the internet.

      • Nancy Hall

        No, he didn’t. He died one of the most influential film critics of his time, who was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary film directed by the Steve James and produced by Martin Scorcese. It won a slew of awards among others. If he panned movies, it was because he didn’t like them.

  • Brandon Thompson

    The usual suspects sucks big time, it’s all about the twist unlike fight club or the prestige where the twist reveals true intentions

    • Xanian

      I guess that was what Ebert did not like about the movie. The whole film is just about the twist and really nothing else at all.

    • Kevin Wilson

      I’ve seen The Usual Suspect several times – great action, subtle humor, believable characters who interact well with each other, and a really nice build up of suspense (even what you know what the twist is). Ebert and Thompson got it wrong on this one.

  • marcel

    A critic tells you if a movie sucks or not. If a movie sucks in his opinion and his 1 million followers (for example) really listens then his million followers won’t watch that movie. The exact same result as internet’s piracy.
    But instead critics are treated with respect in the states. They are not throwed away in jail for making big holes in hollywood’s budget.
    Do you see the hypocrisy here?

    • Richard

      You are chatting complete shit. Not watching a movie, and pirating a movie is not the “exact same”. They are completely different.

    • Fernando Arenas

      What I see is someone who has no idea what a critic really does.

      • FlyteBro

        Pot, kettle, black.

        I work as a professional film critic for several magazines and sometimes judge at film festivals, and I’m also a pirate who helps spread rare and unreleased movies that would otherwise be unavailable.

        It’s all about the love for movies.

      • Mike Magnum

        sure we do. They get too watch movies for free and write long pretentious articles about how horrible the movie he just got to see for free was.

        • Nancy Hall

          That really doesn’t describe Roger Ebert. He loved movies and he may have been more responsible, than any other single figure, for exposing the American movie going public to foreign language and indie films. He was also a very generous critic, often finding something to appreciate even in the worst stinkers, which makes his aversion to this handful of films all the more puzzling.

        • jeffreydaigle

          Way to get Roger Ebert completely wrong.

  • Bat-Dave

    I wholeheartedly agree on The Usual Suspects and Fear and Loathing.
    Always thought there were overrated and pretentious. I don’t always
    agree with Ebert (Clockwork is on my top 10), but I think it is so important that a critic never hides his true feelings about a movie. Personally I was left cold by some of the canonized classics, like “The Godfather” and “The Good The Bad and The Ugly”. We all have those movies that we feel alone about not liking.

  • x x

    hes right about “taste of cherry”. it is boring and monotonous.

    and he was too old fashioned to understand movies like “blue velvet” and “clockwork orange”

    • Mad Max

      Did you seriously insult Ebert’s intelligence?

    • Andrew Bosma

      The man who WROTE Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is too “old fashioned”? K.

      • x x

        if he thinks in clockwork there are heroes and villains, then yes, he is.

  • Walter Paisley

    I always thought he unfairly dismissed Fast Times at Ridgemont High. According to him, not only was it just another teen-sex comedy, a Porky’s retread, he found it immoral that one on the characters gets an abortion so casually, even though the script was based on true stories. It’s actually a very funny and moving film.

  • Hunter Daniels

    The author obviously found a way to wedge one of his favorite movies into this article. Why else would a film like UHF be on this list?! I laughed because I just assumed it was included as a joke.
    Adam I can assure you that the group of people that think UHF is a great film is you and…. Well maybe just you.
    It’s without a doubt the one film on this list that Ebert got right.

  • Still D.R.E.

    Usual Suspects is a very overrated movie really boring and the ending has not aged well so predictable nowadays Raising Arizona is my favorite comedy ever

  • Robáird Mac An TSaoir

    Edward Scissorhands. He gave it 2.5/5.

  • Shishuraj

    How is Fight club not mentioned?

  • Vincenzo Politi

    He kind of hated Blade Runner too!

    • kinch’s edge

      He also revised his opinion on it, eventually placing the Final Cut amongst his Great Movies.

    • janie

      blad runner was way ahead of its time, but if the same film came out today it would be a flop

      • Vincenzo Politi

        You’re kdding, right? Blade Runner is still ahead of blockbuster moves like Prometheus, Interstellar and The Martian.

    • Lucols

      To be fair, the first cut of Blade Runner isn’t the best.

  • V.C. Privitera

    Well, guess this Article is a Testament to why I truly detest Film-Critics or Critics all together.
    Fear & Loathing is my Personal Favorite Film
    The Devils is my 2nd Personal Favorite Film
    A Clockwork Orange is a Masterpiece, and like The Devils (which came out the same year) sparked just as much of a debate & outrage by Critics, Audiences, & especially the spawned a whole new era in Censorship.
    David Lynch has always been hated by Roger Ebert, ALWAYS! While I’m more of “Wild at Heart” fan myself, I think Lynch is an acquired taste, which obviously Ebert is just not a fan of…..I believe the only Film that Roger Ebert gave decent reviews for, in terms of David Lynch is Mulholland Dr & Straight Story. I don’t know what Ebert thought of Elephant Man, but I’m sure he made positive reviews, cause it’s friggin’ Elephant Man. Ebert was NEVER shy about his dislike of David Lynch films.
    Most of these films mentioned are very different than the majority of Films that get shuffled through the Industry….and like I mentioned with David Lynch, they are all an acquired taste, that isn’t for EVERYBODY.
    Fear & Loathing is NOT a film that everybody or even the Majority of Cinefiles would enjoy; If you’re NOT a Fan of Hunter S. Thompson or his Literary-Classic, then obviously this film will fly right over your head & ultimately annoy you, cause it is quite the “trip” to experience, but if you’re not into that kind of thing, how would you even comprehend the film as a whole. I’m sorry, but I love the Doctor of Journalism, and while I cherish Where the Buffalo Roam, Fear & Loathing is as good of as you’re gonna get when it comes to adapting any Literature to Screen. Depp/Del Toro/Gilliam/The Entire Cast & Crew/GONZO: It’s just perfect – In my personal opinion.

    1st: Roger Ebert is proof that Film Critics are nothing more than Failed Screenwriters/Filmmakers, whom take their dissatisfaction & bitterness out by damning Everybody else’s Films as either Trash or Great.
    2nd: This article is sole proof that Ebert, along with every other Critic out there, are just to Biased to speak for the rest of us.
    – The “Arts” (Cinema, Literature, Music, Painting, etc.) are in the same realm as Politics & Religion; what I mean is that like Politics & Religion, The Arts are in category of:
    “Individualistic” Taste
    Every movie-goer has their own particular taste & seemingly are their own personal Film Critic.
    So for any Critic to make broad assumptions & think they are “the” Voice of the People, really, all boils down to your own personal take on whether or not “YOU” either like that particular Film or you don’t, and NOT some fat-honkey that does nothing but watches movies all day. Just because you know Cinema, doesn’t mean you can speak for the rest of us…..how many times has Ebert or another Critic shoot down an upcoming or already released Film, that enables a large portion of the “would-be” audience to NEVER experience the film for themselves, because they listened to the Critics.
    Sometimes I like that Critics will deem a Film as horrible, cause that lowers your expectations, whereas when majority of Critics on a mass-scale, praise a film, usually that will heighten the bar in terms of expectations and that is NOT good, cause most of the time; you will be more disappointed with Highly-Praised Films than those that are panned. I hate it when Critics say:
    “Best Film of the Year……”
    Yeah, according to who? The Fat-Head, whose only screen credits are writing “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls”
    F**k Roger Ebert

    • Klaus Dannick

      Ebert did not like The Elephant Man, and I generally agree with his review: it’s stuffy, relatively boring, inaccurate (it’s almost criminal that Lynch changed the facts of John Merrick’s life to obtain maximum sympathy for the character), and several missed character opportunities.

      Having said that, Lynch is my favorite living director. I don’t agree with Ebert’s assessments of Blue Velvet, but his opinion is valid, and he’s more than entitled to it. The Devils is another huge favorite of mine, but I can’t see holding Ebert’s (valid) opinions against him.

      • Jeremy Stewart

        You can blame Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu for the inaccuracies because it’s their books that the film is based on, and as far as I remember, David doesn’t really deviate from them.

    • Terry Powell

      It was Eberts job. Jeez, you take it personally. He was not a failed screenwriter. In fact, he was a successful screenwriter, he just preferred to be a newspaper writer/critic. He might have facetiously acted like his opinions were the only ones that mattered, but in truth he knew it was only his opinion like any critic. Besides, I Spit On Your Grave is a piece of Shit.

    • Klaus Dannick

      It should be noted also that Ebert gave glowing reviews to both The Straight Story and Mulholland Dr., even going so far as to analyze the latter for a seminar and, I believe, including it among his list of great movies.

  • wishbelkin

    A Clockwork Orange was brilliant. The Usual Suspects was a good movie too.

  • HHKB

    It’s almost like taste is subjective….

  • Dogville

  • John Davidsson

    He gave Gladiator two stars I think and thumbs down for Unforgiven (he later changed his mind and gave it four)

  • Hernan Paz

    He hated Die Hard too. Die hard! F*ing John McClane!

    • Terry Powell

      To be fair, one reason he didn’t like it was because of the stupid police lieutenant. His character is so unbelievable it takes you out of the movie. They could have done without him and the buffoon reporter and it would have been a better movie.

      • kinch’s edge

        It’s funny how he never, ever reviewed High Noon, which has the same issue.

  • Roger Ebert was one of the best film critics, but no one is perfect. The Usual Suspects is one of the all-time best movies IMO. Interesting characters, good acting, nice twist. Clockwork Orange is another masterpiece. Raising Arizona is one of the funniest movies ever. Blue Velvet ain’t too shabby either.

  • Ted Wolf

    I always respected Ebert’s opinion even if I didn’t always agree. I’m not sure how UHF is now considered a great movie. And, in the man’s defense, there are a lot of films and filmmakers who would have been consigned to obscurity if it weren’t for Ebert & Siskel bringing the arthouse to the multiplex.

  • Porst

    I always agreed with Gene Siskel more than I agreed with Roger Ebert.

  • RockyJohan

    I kinda agree with Ebert on The usual suspects. Sure the end twist is pretty cool but i did find the journey to get there pretty boring.
    I you look at Fight Club that has a twist of similar proportions. That movie has interesting characters and a great story that is entertaining even whitout the twist. Suspects really lacks in comparision.

  • Barry

    Ebert loved Islamic propaganda crap like “The Battle of Algiers”.

    • blush

      It’s a movie that criticizes colonialism, only a rightwing douchebag could see “Islamic propaganda” in it. Too much Faux News hurt your brains?

      • Barry

        Everything I needed to know about Islam I learned on 9/11.

        • kinch’s edge

          That’s like saying everything one needed to know about Republicans one learned from Strom Thurmond.

          • Barry

            Did Strom Thurmond rape a child? Did he fly airplanes into buildings? Did he shoot unnarmed people in the streets of Paris? Please dont tell me about Islamic victimization.

          • kinch’s edge

            To paint the actions of a radical subset as the tendency of the whole is dishonest at best.

          • Barry

            When the majority of Islam supports the actions of the subset, they are just as complicit.

          • kinch’s edge

            Still only the tendency of most. It’s horrible, I’m not denying that, but there is a distinction between majority and totality.

          • Hariri

            Moslems, Christians, Jews, Americans, even Atheists, are the same, they are killing people for their own reason. American bombing the mid-east, so why is wrong to bomb America? Europe colonized mid-east for decades, so why is wrong to shoot some people in Paris? If Europeans/Americans really hate stupid radicalist in mid-east/asia, so why in the past they don’t educated them rather than colonized them? So, don’t be surprised if one day they avenge. We are all nuts and hypocrite! We blame other nations/religions for everything that screwed.

  • Clarence ‘Sticky’ Merkle

    But “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps” and “Speed 2: Cruise Control”? Thumbs Up! (seriously…. he liked both of them)

  • Dagarar

    Roger Ebert? The guy who said that The Phantom Menace was a good movie?

  • Tony Montanas Pappas

    how can anyone hate usual suspects.He must be mentally retarded.

  • wagnerfilm

    I agree on The Usual Suspects. Quite pretentious. Thinks it’s much cleverer than it actually is, when I saw the big reveal coming a mile off.

    In any event, no one’s going to like everything, even work that goes on to win awards and gain a fervent fan following.

    • The Usual Suspects has dwindled into not much of anything in the years since it was released.

  • John Wintergreen

    I agree with my favorite film critic about the films on this list I’ve seen, except of course in regard to “A Clockwork Orange”. The “Usual Suspects” is the perfect example of a “mystery inside an enigma” that amounts to nothing at the end. Totally pointless movie, that people love mostly because it’s muddled plot looks to them like something out of Goddard or Resnais’s cannon.

  • Carlos Filho

    What is point in agreeing and disagreeing? I mean, ok, you liked the movie, Ebert didn’t, that’s it. He is a human being, he has tastes and feelings, and sometimes, watching a movie, you just don’t get it. People like Usual Suspects, people don’t like. I know people that hate Pulp Fiction. Fucking Pulp Fiction, the coolest movie ever. But I understand what they say, not what they feel, and that’s the point. Ebert, as a critic, had all the right to have a point of view different from all the others, and he was neither right nor wrong. He was just a man with a point of view, like anyone else. The article should be called “10 Movies that Roger Ebert hated and others found great”.

  • thelivingmanpart2

    Robert Ebert should have been crucified….

  • Zach

    List is wholly incomplete without the mention of negative reviews of HAROLD AND MAUDE and DELIVERANCE. The Usual Suspects can go fuck itself.

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    I kinda agree with him on Blue Velvet, Raising Arizona and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, but that’s just my opinion…

  • Several of these films are not ‘great’ but merely notorious or showy or infamous.

    His charge of ‘coldness’ is more difficult to parse than charges of being shallow, perverse, ugly, hypocritical or inane. It was a physical reaction Ebert had to films that he thought lacked vitality. A lot of Kubrick’s technically impeccable work falls into this category and it is the one place where true subjectivity reigns. Ebert simply could not like these films.

  • chefzomagic

    I COMPLETELY agreed with him on A Clockwork Orange. Fans of that film seem to always want you to “read the book”. But you wouldn’t show three hours of quiddich practice and expect people to call it an amazing Harry Potter movie, would you? No! Similarly, I feel that fans of Clockwork Orange need to acknowledge the fact that the film, by itself, comes across as nothing but softcore rape and torture pornography. It should be held responsible for failing to include everything that was quintessential to the book; the things that made it make sense. It has very, very little of that, and it is a bad film. The only reason it’s held as a classic is because of its ties with Kubrik, Burgess, and a huge mass media parade that it didn’t deserve; one which has influenced millions of people to say they liked it, because they’re afraid to challenge what they perceive to be popular opinion.