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October 4, 2015

Ebert holds his thumbs hostage

by Varun Lella, posted Aug 28th 2007 11:01AM
Roger EbertI love thumbs as much as the next guy. They allow me to grab things, I can use them for sucking in place of my pacifier and, most importantly, they allow me to pass pure, unadulterated judgment on everything from my mom's home-cooked meals (thumbs up) to my new neighbor Steve (sorry Stevie).

However, with the news that film critic Roger Ebert plans on withholding his famous thumb movie rating scale, I have grown tired of the thumb. I really wouldn't mind if you just lop it off (his, not mine).

It seems that Ebert is not making enough money with At the Movies (his weekly film review show, currently hosted by Richard Roeper and a cycling special guest as Ebert recovers from health problems). During his latest round of contract negotiations, the former Oprah boyfriend -- I just had to share that with you -- has demanded that the Walt Disney company pay up or it is bye bye to the thumbs up.

Ebert's trademark thumbs (also owned by the family of the late Gene Siskel) have become an irreplaceable piece of American pop culture history and for him to use them as personal leverage is wrong on a number of levels. Mainly because the thumbs are much bigger than just one man. They are something that everyone can identify with and should not be used for greed.

According to Ebert, however, it was Disney that in fact removed the thumbs from the air and not the other way around. The multimillionaire film critic said that Disney pulled the famous phalanges after he refused an "offensively" low offer to continue the show.

Either way, we can only hope that the two sides can remember that the bickering needs to stop for the sake of thumbs everywhere. How else will we be able to reduce two hours of meticulously scripted dialog and painfully planned camera work to a simple, dismissive hand gesture?

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That thumbs is arguably the most important marketing product in ticket and DVD sales in the US.

From what Ive heard the money they have offered Ebert for licensing was insultingly low considering its indisputable value.

August 31 2007 at 9:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have never understood why when a CEO or a lawyer or some other professional holds out for more money, he or she is enjoying the benefits of the free market. But when an celebrity or athlete does the same thing, he or she is being greedy. Sure, some professionals might have more education than some celebrities but that doesn't mean they necessarily worked harder to get where they are in life.

Ebert shouldn't take an offer he finds unacceptable because he has fans or because some people don't enjoy his show, or even because he has health issues. If he can get more money, good for him. If he can't, he can move on to something else or take a well-deserved break.

August 29 2007 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joshua Works

Absolutely 100% agree with above commenter "Jim". Ebert's reviews approach and surpass genius in many cases. He gives insight into films the way those films weren't able. And if you want to read some of the funniest writing ever, just go read some of his negative reviews (some of which he's compiled into books, e.g. "Your Movie Sucks").

August 28 2007 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The only reason the thumbs mean anything is because Ebert (and, of a time, Siskel) imbued them with meaning -- by offering years of commentary that people valued enough to make them famous. If that weren't the case, we would never have heard of either guy or any of their appendages.

So in terms that may seem crass, the thumbs are a brand. Ebert built that brand and is the creator of their value. You don't spend years creating value and then give it away. So he has a right (again, with Siskel's family) to control their use and be paid appropriately for it. And, as we've seen, he's not even taking that approach: he was happy to let Disney keep using the thumbs while talks continued, and the petulant act was the mouse's, not his.

Anyone who thinks all Ebert's ever done is "sit on his butt, watch movies and raise or lower his thumb" hasn't read 40 years of some of the most entertaining, thoughtful and well-written film criticism I've seen. Such a person hasn't even listened to the TV conversations that preceded each thumb-hoisting.

As for his reviews of "horrible movies" (commenter, not OP), Ebert has always been open about the standards he applies, and I feel he applies them consistently. More than any critic I know, he opens himself up to reader dissent and takes critical looks back on his own decisions.

So basically we've got a whiny rant from someone who thinks Ebert is all about thumbs, which is a little pathetic coming from a movie blogger. I'm sorry no one wants to pay you for your opinions the way people have wanted to pay Ebert for his since before I was born. Go back in the basement and videotape another edition of your own private movie review show -- you know, the one that's SOOOOO much better, if only the stupid world would take notice. And have your mom send down some more Hot Pockets.

August 28 2007 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To Eric, above:

Ebert contributes only a single thumb to the reviews. Someone else, recently Roeper, provides the other thumb.

But what you suggest has promise: one reviewer, two thumbs. That could completely replace the star system. You'd have no thumbs, 1 left thumb, 1 right thumb, or 2 thumbs. Can you see the posters? "Roger Ebert gives 'Pirates of the Caribbean 10' a left thumb!"

August 28 2007 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ebert pretty much sucks. I mean, how many horrible movies has he given two thumbs up too? A lot. I know that because 95% of the movies that come out in the past decade are utter crap. The Law of Averages is not on Eberts side.

I can't believe that Ebert is even relevant anymore. What a joke this is. Multimillion dollar man, sits on his fat butt and watchs movies all day, and all he has to do is lift his thumbs. Yet he wants more money? Hey Disney, I'll do that job for $50k/year. Hell, I'll bring it up to two thumbs and 2 big toes for you.

August 28 2007 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mr. O

Agreed...hate Ebert much?

August 28 2007 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cincinnati Mike

Haterade: Rich in nutrients--and spite!

August 28 2007 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with the earlier commentors, someone had a nice full glass of Haterade this morning...

August 28 2007 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cincinnati Mike

I do sense an anti-Roger, anti-thumb tilt. But hey, it's Varun's opinion.

To paraphrase my similar posting on Cinematical, I am conflicted on the whole Thumb issue, and the whole Roger/Disney conflict.

Loyalty and past performance aside, I think Disney has a right to question the future of a talent who hasn't been in the chair for quite some time. Can we honestly say that the show--the brand-- hasn't suffered in his absence? "Two thumbs up, say Richard Roeper and Some Guy!" I think it's a rebuilding year, not the time for salary brinksmanship.

On the other hand, I feel Roger has every right to take his "thumb" and go home if they can't agree.

Finally, the TV show...I would be interested in seeing the ratings. Is the show even relevant anymore? You get the "thumb" status from the ads, and the actual review is easier to find on the web. I travel, and in most places I visit, the show is on at 5.30pm Saturday or 1am, or some similar wasteland.

August 28 2007 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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