Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever (Hardcover)

Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever By Matt Singer Cover Image
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Once upon a time, if you wanted to know if a movie was worth seeing, you didn’t check out Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB.

You asked whether Siskel & Ebert had given it “two thumbs up.”

On a cold Saturday afternoon in 1975, two men (who had known each other for eight years before they’d ever exchanged a word) met for lunch in a Chicago pub. Gene Siskel was the film critic for the Chicago Tribune. Roger Ebert had recently won the Pulitzer Prize—the first ever awarded to a film critic—for his work at the Chicago Sun-Times. To say they despised each other was an understatement.

When they reluctantly agreed to collaborate on a new movie review show with PBS, there was at least as much sparring off-camera as on. No decision—from which films to cover to who would read the lead review to how to pronounce foreign titles—was made without conflict, but their often-antagonistic partnership (which later transformed into genuine friendship) made for great television. In the years that followed, their signature “Two thumbs up!” would become the most trusted critical brand in Hollywood.

In Opposable Thumbs, award-winning editor and film critic Matt Singer eavesdrops on their iconic balcony set, detailing their rise from making a few hundred dollars a week on local Chicago PBS to securing multimillion-dollar contracts for a syndicated series (a move that convinced a young local host named Oprah Winfrey to do the same). Their partnership was cut short when Gene Siskel passed away in February of 1999 after a battle with brain cancer that he’d kept secret from everyone outside his immediate family—including Roger Ebert, who never got to say goodbye to his longtime partner. But their influence on in the way we talk about (and think about) movies continues to this day.

About the Author

Matt Singer is the editor and film critic of ScreenCrush.com and a member of the New York Film Critics Circle. He won a Webby Award for his work on the Independent Film Channel’s website, IFC.com, and is the author of Marvel’s Spider-Man: From Amazing to Spectacular. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two daughters.

Praise For…

One of People’s Must-Read Books for Fall 2023

"The role of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in changing film criticism may often have been simplified to their signature phrase 'Two Thumbs Up,' but the glory and value of this knowledgeable, deeply entertaining history of their partnership is that it's always expansive, never reductive. We get so much here—a dual portrait of two big personalities at war with one another both as critics and as men, a history of the invention and reinvention of a seminal TV series, and a deep sense of the abiding love for movies that coursed through their work and that courses through Matt Singer's." —Mark Harris, author of Mike Nichols: A Life

"Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert changed how we talked about the movies. A fascinating look inside their enduring partnership." —People

“[Opposable Thumbs] deserves two thumbs up.” —Publishers Weekly

“Readers who recall Siskel and Ebert will be delighted by this opportunity to reminisce.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Recommended for wide purchase with, what else, an enthusiastic thumbs up.” —Booklist, starred review
“Opposable Thumbs is a thoroughly entertaining, deeply researched biography of rival movie critics Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert and how they came to define modern film criticism.” —Shelf Awareness

“For generations of moviegoers, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were more than a pair of dueling film critics on TV: They were celebrities in their own right, powerful arbiters of popular taste whose weekly clashes were more entertaining than a big-screen monster-movie battle. In this wildly entertaining book, Matt Singer, a critic who grew up sneaking viewings of Siskel and Ebert at the Movies past his bedtime, chronicles the history of these two very different men's three-decade working relationship—one than was often even more heated than their weekly on-air fights, but which evolved late into their lives into a real and deeply moving friendship.” —Dana Stevens, author of Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century

“Like a squabbling couple in a screwball comedy, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had something undeniable: chemistry. Matt Singer’s sharp, affectionate book captures the love-hate professional marriage that changed television, changed film criticism, and changed the lives of two movie-mad rivals turned icons. My thumbs are pointing skyward.” —Michael Schulman, author of Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears

“Matt Singer is a nimble, funny writer whose enthusiasms are as quirky as they are infectious. These qualities make his history of the tele-visualization of film criticism a near-irresistible read. Beyond the hilarious and sometimes hair-raising tales of Roger-and-Gene sniping there’s a serious and thorough analysis of how they profoundly changed how all of us talk about the movies.” —Glenn Kenny, author of Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas

“The joy of watching Siskel and Ebert go at it represented more than just sharp minds and good entertainment. It was a particularly American approach to film criticism, an open door and an invitation. Like Siskel and Ebert themselves, Matt Singer's writing is deft and bright, but above all brings a big-hearted approach to his subject. Anyone who loves movies will enjoy reading this book.” —Robert Towne, legendary screenwriter

“Roger Ebert famously called movies 'empathy machines' -- Matt Singer has taken that concept to its logical conclusion. Singer has crafted an empathy portal into the dreams, desires, and disagreements of the 20th century's foremost movie critics, helping us understand what made them such indelible forces in the lives of film fans.” —Sean Fennessey, Head of Content for TheRinger.com

“They were two thumb-toting titans of film criticism who could boost or sink a movie with a twist of their hand. They were also complex, diametrically opposed men whose partnership was often more fractious than collegial. Matt Singer’s outstanding, hugely entertaining book digs into all of that, and more, to excavate a fascinating portrait of two guys from Chicago who somehow took Hollywood by storm. With sharp observations, contagious passion, and an acute eye for detail, it’ll leave you itching to watch a movie, then talk about it with someone. A perfect tribute, then, to the duo it’s about.” —Nick De Semlyen, author of The Last Action Hero: The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood’s Kings of Carnage

“As entertaining, complicated, and surprising as the gentlemen themselves. Even as the most diehard fan I found myself genuinely surprised multiple times. To (kind of) quote the great Roger Ebert: I loved, loved, loved this book.” —Brian Michael Bendis, writer/co-creator Marvel’s Miles Morales and the Spider-Verse and Jessica Jones
"A funny, moving, illuminating look at the days when two ink-stained newspapermen from Chicago helped change the way cinema was talked about, made, and distributed, just by going on TV and telling viewers what they liked, and why." —Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-at-large of RogerEbert.com

“Thankfully, future generations hoping to understand Gene and Roger’s impact on American thought will have Matt Singer’s Opposable Thumbs, an instantly indispensable book about the most important television show in the history of movies—and the unlikely pop icons who taught critics to talk like normal people and normal people to think like critics.” —Alex Pappademas, author of Keanu Reeves: Most Triumphant
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593540152
ISBN-10: 0593540158
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Date: October 24th, 2023
Pages: 352
Language: English