Tribute: Roger Ebert’s Top 10 Films

Sadly, after a long battle with cancer, Roger Ebert died yesterday, aged 70. Top 10 Films pays tribute to one its favourite film critics – the man who didn’t like lists…

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I shouldn’t have the affection for Roger Ebert that I do. After all, here was a man – a much celebrated film critic – who said lists were meaningless (in fact, he wrote a Wall Street Journal piece entitled “Why I Loathe Top 10 Films Lists“). But like his opinion on films – we didn’t always see eye to eye. That, however, mattered little in my appreciation of the Illinois-born writer’s ability to write a film review.

Working as a movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, passion and intelligence shone brightly from every single one of his pieces. He adored the medium, articulately and entertainingly discussing his appreciation of the work of directors, actors, editors, composers and anyone attached to a film worthy of praise. His written work has inspired generations of film critics and theorists, many, like me, being particularly interested in the attention he played to the mechanics of story and character construction. Yet, my biggest compliment to him is simply: I wanted to write just like you.

Although Roger Ebert said he did not “believe in rankings and lists on the grounds that such lists are meaningless and might well change between Tuesday and Thursday”, he did make a couple of notable exceptions. He compiled a top 10 list every year during his time with the Chicago Sun-Times, the legacy of which allows us to see his favourite movies every year from 1967 to 2012. Popular choices include his first “number one” Bonnie and Clyde, alongside The Godfather (1972), Apocalypse Now (1979), Goodfellas (1990), and Almost Famous (2000). More leftfield choices include Costa-Gavras French-language political thriller Z (1969), Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (1974), and Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981).

Most importantly from Top 10 Films’ perspective, Ebert also took part in Sight and Sound’s compilation of “best of” lists from leading film critics and those associated with the industry such as film directors Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen.

Below is Roger Ebert’s final top 10 list presented in chronological order. It is notable for the inclusion of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, the only film released in the last 30 years to make the top 10.

The General (Keaton, 1927)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)

Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 1960)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011)

Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films

Source: Sight and Sound (British Film Institute)

Written by Daniel Stephens.

More on Top 10 Films you might like: Quentin Tarantino’s Top 10 Films | Sam Mendes’ Top 10 Films | Mark Kermode’s Top 10 Films | Edgar Wright’s Top 10 Films | Cameron Crowe’s Top 10 Films

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Siskel and Ebert is the show that started it all. Ebert was fat, Siskel was skinny. They often disagreed and at times they were annoying. But I tuned in every Saturday to listen to what they had to say.

    Ebert was a great writer. Even the reviews you disagreed with were so well written that you have to admire him. I’ll post a few of my favourites from him. I’ll have to do this later as right now you I can’t get on his website…must be crashing.

    This is a very sad day. Not because I knew him, but because cancer sucks.

  2. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    A sad day indeed. Mr Ebert was not only a well respected film critic who told it like it was (and got paid for it!), but by all accounts, a really great guy to boot. He will be missed among the film blogging community, I am sure.

    Looking down his list, it’s a shame he didn’t find more modern films to include, but the ones he HAS included, are certainly worthy entrants.

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    Chris Reply

    Sad news. I didn’t always agree with Ebert, but he will be missed. What I admire most is he kept writing reviews, even with all his health issues. RIP Roger Ebert.

    Ebert’s top 10 has quite a few overlaps with the Sight & Sound top 50, it would appear.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    I didn’t always agree with him on films but there’s no denying the fact that Roger Ebert knew more about film then most. A brilliant writer, he could break down the mechanics of a film and tell you why you like it, not just what it’s about. He was always engaging and passionate about films. Roger will be sadly missed by all. The rockstar of film journalism with a heart, two thumbs up in heaven with you.

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    Pete Reply

    I didn’t know he’d added Tree of Life into his most recent list. Interesting! RIP Mr Ebert!

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    Evan Crean Reply

    A fascinating combination of films. Interesting that Tree of Life made it onto his final Top 10. Film criticism has suffered a great loss. Mr. Ebert will be missed.

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    Eric Reply

    That is one hell of a list. Thanks for sharing, Daniel.

  8. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    The best film critic to ever live, imo, Roger Ebert, passed away much too soon. He was 70. I didn’t agree with him on a lot of the films he reviewed. But he was never jaded nor did he write for shock value. He reviewed based on his true feelings. He gave films like 1972’s Last House On The Left a positive review. Same with Booty Call and he was also one of the first to give a 4 star review to Halloween. He lost his fight with cancer, like so many do and that sucks. We’re all touched by someone who has it or know someone who has it. My mom was taken from me 7 years ago next month, from cancer. I have friends whose family is going through the same thing. Cancer is horrible and it hits us all. But on this day, just paying my respects to the best film reviewer I’ve ever read. RIP Ebert. Now you can go on arguing with Siskel while at the movies in the sky.

    …”and now the balcony is closed forever” – Steven Spielberg

    Here are his words and why he did no fear death:…15/roger_ebert/

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    Lights Camera Reaction Reply

    Mr Ebert had zero influence on me as a Film critic, but the news of his death is still very sad.
    May he rest in peace.

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    Mark Reply

    While I had been aware of the existence of Roger Ebert for some years, in the pre-internet age (and living on the edge of the empire) I didn’t see his TV stuff until 1992 while on holiday in the UK.

    Him and Siskel were reviewing The Hours and the Times. The quite funny exchange went something like this:

    First guy (I suspect Siskel … my memory is a bit hazy on this point): Totally sensitive and moving movie about unrequited homosexual desire. Thumbs up.
    Second guy (I suspect Ebert): That’s absolute rubbish. If this wasn’t about Lennon and Epstein it would be unmemorable crap. Thumbs down.

    Admittedly I’m not totally familiar with his work, but my immediate reaction to Cloud Atlas when I saw it a few weeks back was more or less identical to his (he called it “the most ambitious movie ever made”.)

    Plus a thumbs up to the man for putting the much maligned Sorcerer on his 1977 best 10 list. He was also a fan of Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia when it was fashionable to pan it.

    I’m going to track down his Last House on the Left Review … aside from the fact I didn’t like the film for reasons that had nothing to do with the murderous stuff (although it was pretty unpleasant), when Howard Thompson reviewed it for the NYT he admitted to walking out during the screening (as Janet Maslin did for the original Dawn of the Dead a few years later).

    That could well be a comment on the difference between NY and Chicago film criticism.

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    niels Reply

    It’s interesting to see this list for what it represents.
    I feel that Ebert appreciate these films for their historic value, holding them as pieces of art that were, in one way or another, ahead of their time, advancing the medium and influencing a plethora of film makers and enthusiasts since their release. Having said that, I don’t think he chose them for this reason alone because knowing how honest he was with his writing, all of these probably were among his favorites for reasons prose may never fully convey.

    I was actually not aware that he had included The Tree of Life in the latest iteration of the list and I can’t say I’m mad about it. Sure, it’s a controversial choice, like Citizen Kane probably would have been if he had made the list a couple of years after its release. Ebert, however, recognized something incredibly unique and valuable in The Tree of Life that I seem to have gotten as well. It’s as if, the film disintegrates in front of us and all that we are left with is pure emotion. This is something so rare, so unique and so difficult to accomplish that Ebert recognized its great artistry with this most honorable of mentions.

    My personal tribute to Ebert will begin by watching the two big omissions I’ve made that are on this list of his: Tokyo Story and Aguirre, Wrath of God.

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    ruth Reply

    Thumbs up for this list!! I definitely need to see Citizen Kane soon.

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