25 Delightful Roger Ebert Quotes About Movies


The documentary Life Itself, a poignant tribute that celebrates Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, was released in theaters this weekend. Generations grew up reading the Chicago Sun-Times journalist and watching him on television with sparring partner Gene Siskel, where the duo coined their “two thumbs up” phrase for positive reviews in the series At the Movies. Ebert’s barbed wit, grace, and passion touched the most discerning cineastes, but he was also known as a critic for the common man. He battled cancer for more than a decade, which necessitated the removal of his lower jaw, but it never stole his ability to write — which he did until his death last year. Two days before his passing, Ebert announced he was taking a “leave of presence” on RogerEbert.com. “What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away,” he wrote. And he hasn’t, leaving us with his beautiful words and wisdom about cinema and beyond. In celebration of the release of Life Itself, we’re revisiting some of Ebert’s most delightful quotes about one of his greatest loves — film.

“No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

“Every great film should seem new every time you see it.”

“Art is the closest we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels.”

“We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it.”

“There will always be those who love old movies. I meet teenagers who are astonishingly well-informed about the classics. But you are right that many moviegoers and video viewers say they do not “like” black and white films. In my opinion, they are cutting themselves off from much of the mystery and beauty of the movies. Black and white is an artistic choice, a medium that has strengths and traditions, especially in its use of light and shadow. Moviegoers of course have the right to dislike b&w, but it is not something they should be proud of. It reveals them, frankly, as cinematically illiterate. I have been described as a snob on this issue. But snobs exclude; they do not include. To exclude b&w from your choices is an admission that you have a closed mind, a limited imagination, or are lacking in taste.”

“Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. When the ESP people use a phrase like that, they’re referring to the sensation of the mind actually leaving the body and spiriting itself off to China or Peoria or a galaxy far, far away. When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it’s up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.”

“Most good movies are about the style, tone and vision of their makers. A director will strike a chord in your imagination, and you will be compelled to seek out the other works. Directors become like friends.”

“Most of us do not consciously look at movies.”

Old theatres are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs – but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience. I think a town’s old theatres are the sanctuary of its dreams.”

“When a movie character is really working, we become that character. That’s what the movies offer: Escapism into lives other than our own.”

“We Americans like to see evil in terms of guns and crime and terrorists and drug smuggling — big, broad immoral activities. We rarely make movies about how one person can be personally cruel to another, through their deep understanding of what might hurt the other person the most.”

“There was a time when the feature was invariably preceded by a cartoon, and audiences smiled when they heard the theme music for ‘Looney Tunes’ and ‘Merrie Melodies’ from Warner Bros. Cartoons have long since been replaced by 20 minutes of paid commercials in many theaters, an emblem of the greed of exhibitors and their contempt for their audiences. In those golden days, the cartoon (and even a newsreel and a short subject) was a gift from the management.”

“A film director, like an orchestra conductor, is the lord of his domain, and no director has more power than a director of animated films. He is set free from the rules of the physical universe and the limitations of human actors, and can tell any story his mind can conceive.”

“The point is not to avoid all Stupid Movies, but to avoid being a Stupid Moviegoer. It’s a difficult task, separating the good Stupid Movies from the bad ones. . . . ”

“A slow movie that closely observes human beings and their relationships can be endlessly fascinating, while a thriller with nonstop wall-to-wall action can be boring, because it is all relentlessly pitched at the same tone.”

“The film should be seen as it was originally made. This includes many b&w films of the silent era where some of the scenes were tinted.”

“The only responsibility of the script is to produce the best possible film. Those who think it must be ‘faithful’ seem to treat adaptation like marriage. Fans of some sources, like a comic book or a TV series, will be outraged by any changes, but adaptation can also mean improvement.”

“I’ve gone out to the lobby many times to complain about bad focus, bad sound, a dim bulb or improper framing. The most common reply: “That’s how they made it.” . . . Perfection is possible, if the projectionist loves his job.”

“It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to any kind of comedy, and in a burst of oversimplification I’ll call them the Funny Hat and the Funny Logic approaches. The difference is elementary: In the first, we’re supposed to laugh because the comic is wearing the funny hat, and in the second it’s funny because of his reasons for wearing the funny hat. You may have guessed by now that I prefer the Funny Logic approach. . . . ”

“The distribution system seems to be set up to turn every multiplex in this country into an idiot’s convention.”

“I am against censorship and believe that no films or books should be burned or banned, but film school study is one thing and a general release is another. Any new Disney film immediately becomes part of the consciousness of almost every child in America, and I would not want to be a black child going to school in the weeks after Song of the South (1946) was first seen by my classmates.”

“American films are usually about one or two stars and a handful of well-known character actors, while Europeans are still capable of pitching in together for an ensemble piece. There is nothing new in the message of this film, but a great deal of artistry in its telling.”

“I’m not opposed to 3-D as an option. I’m opposed to it as a way of life for Hollywood, where it seems to be skewing major studio output away from the kinds of films we think of as Oscar-worthy. Scorsese and Herzog make films for grown-ups. Hollywood is racing headlong toward the kiddie market. Disney recently announced it will make no more traditional films at all, focusing entirely on animation, franchises, and superheroes. I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed. It’s all about the marketing. Hollywood needs a projection system that is suitable for all kinds of films—every film—and is hands-down better than anything audiences have ever seen. The marketing executives are right that audiences will come to see a premium viewing experience they can’t get at home. But they’re betting on the wrong experience.”

“Cinema, for me, has always been something like music composed with photographic images. Others see it more like ‘action painting,’ and we’ve seen a lot of discussion in recent years about what J. Hoberman and others have called ‘post-photographic cinema’, in which computers have replaced cameras, and animation has replaced photography, as the primary means of creating images on the screen.”

“In the previous century the movie theater was often, in smaller towns and cities, the only grand architectural statement, save perhaps for a church or courthouse. They unashamedly provided a proscenium for our dreams.”