The balcony is closed. Last night marked the final episode of At the Movies which for 35 years provided a forum for some of the most insightful and impassioned movie criticism on television. Beginning as Sneak Previews in 1975 with a pair of Chicago-based film critics (Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert), At the Movies had a number of co-hosts and cosmetic changes over the years, but it endured because of its ingeniously simple concept: two people talking about the movies with insight, wit, and passion.
The influence of At the Movies on contemporary film criticism is difficult to overstate — it’s certainly inspired a generation of film geeks currently critiquing movies in print and on the web. (If you’ve ever wondered where Rotten Tomatoes got the idea for rating movies on a fresh/rotten scale, look no further.) And if some have criticized the show for reducing film punditry to a pair of thumbs, such an appraisal overlooks the intelligence and exuberance of Siskel and Ebert, who weren’t afraid to go to bat for films they believed in, and whose ardent and occasionally acrimonious debates on the merits of a film made for unquestionably compelling television.
After Siskel died in 1999, Richard Roeper took a seat beside Ebert; when Ebert’s health declined in recent years, a revolving door of guest hosts filled in. In 2008, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz took over, but were replaced by a pair of occasional Roeper co-hosts, the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips and the New York Times’ A. O. Scott. As our way of saying goodbye to one of our all-time favorite shows, we at Rotten Tomatoes went into the archives for interviews with some of At the Movies’ hosts. We’ve got interviews with Ebert and Roeper, as well as lists of Phillips‘ and Scott‘s Five Favorite Films. And finally, here’s the intro to Siskel and Ebert and the Movies — that catchy theme tune is sure to strike a chord with nostalgic film buffs: