Q&A: Richard Roeper on His Love of Writing About Films & Sports

Richard Roeper is the entertainment columnist and film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He was co-host of “At the Movies” alongside Roger Ebert from 2000-2008.

A Chicago native, Roeper grew up in the south suburb of Dolton where he developed a love of writing and sports — in particular the White Sox. He is the author of seven books, including “Sox and the City: A Fan’s Love Affair with the White Sox from the Heartbreak of 67’ to the Wizards of Oz.”

His reviews can be found at https://chicago.suntimes.com/ and https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/richard-roeper/movies

With the baseball season in full swing and the Academy Awards set for April 25, Sports Section sat down with one of the world’s most renowned film critics to discuss his sports fandom, movies, actors and much more. 

SPORTS SECTION: You were born in 1959 in the South suburbs of Chicago. Were you predisposed to be a White Sox fan? 

ROEPER: It was not something that was up for debate in my family, nor is it up for debate in my family today. You’re born into it: “You’re a Sox fan.” We’ve never had a defector, but if we did, they would be out of the family.

Who were your heroes growing up?

When I was growing up, the Sox actually had some pretty good teams in the mid-to-late-’60s. The ’67 team came real close to winning the AL pennant, so my first baseball hero was Luis Aparicio, the shortstop way back in the day. I loved the way he played.  

When we got into the ‘70s it was Dick Allen. The Sox never had anybody who could go deep like that. The first 10 or 11 years I was a Sox fan, Pete Ward would lead the team with, like, 17 home runs. Then all of a sudden, we got this guy who hit any place, any time. 

I’ll never forget being at the old Comiskey Park when Dick Allen would strike out, and the fans would give him a standing ovation because his swings were so mighty. He had that giant bat that he’d wheel like a club. So even his strikeouts were exciting.

You’ve written seven books, and one of them was “Sox and the City.” What compelled you to write about your favorite team?

Let’s face it, there are a lot more books about the Cubs. I know White Sox fans have chips on their shoulders, and we talk about how the media always seems to favor the Cubs. But I wanted to write as much about being a Sox fan.

What’s it like to be the fan of the second team in the Second City, the team that most of the time doesn’t get as much coverage? As luck would have it, I wrote it the season the Sox won the World Series. So I was able to chronicle the 2005 season and then alternate with chapters about my own experiences as a fan — and even the great, real, unique personality of the White Sox at old Comiskey Park. 

They used to have these Monsters of Rock concerts back in the day. Thin Lizzy and Journey and Santana would tear up the place on a Saturday afternoon, and then [head groundskeeper] Roger Bossard would have to fix the field because they’d be coming back from a road trip in two days. 

Stuff that would never happen now, but they had that incredible sound system in center field and it looked like Led Zeppelin had come to town. The exploding scoreboard, the fireworks, all that great stuff that makes being a White Sox fan a unique experience.

I remember running into you on the ice after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2015. What other teams do you follow?

I was lucky enough to grow up when Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Keith Magnuson, Pat Stapleton, and these great players were on the ice. So I’ve always been a Blackhawks fan.

It was an incredible run they had in the 2010s, after a long drought. I still think they have the best sweater in all of hockey. I’m a huge Blackhawks fan. 

Same thing with the Bulls, and then, of course, the Bears. The thing about being a Bears and NFL fan is that there is so much attached to every Sunday. There are 17 games, so every football game is the equivalent of 10 baseball games in terms of what it means for the standings and the team. And there’s always more soap opera drama around the Bears than any other team because there’s a week between games to complain about the GM and grouse about the quarterback situation.  

There’s never a dull moment in Chicago sports.

You’re writing and you’re on TV and radio, but I think you’re best known for your movie reviews. How many movies do you see a year?

It’s actually more than ever because in the last couple of years I’ve added streaming series — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and everything have become so huge. So there’s movies, and then there’s streaming series.

Last year, I saw probably 400, and then I did probably 300 reviews, because sometimes you watch stuff and you just don’t review it — you know, “Well, this doesn’t have a great appeal to the audience.” Especially with some of the smaller films or series, I’m not going to dump on it if not that many people are going to be aware of it anyway. I’ll just not review it. 

So it’s about 10 reviews a week. But it’s more than the 250 reviews you see. There’s a never-ending outpouring of releases. It’s kind of a blessing, but it’s also like I’m in “Groundhog Day” because there’s always something to watch and there’s always something new around the corner.

Did you like both sports and movies when you were a kid?

I loved the movies. I used to watch the old late-night movies on Channel 9 in Chicago. That was always fun. And I played everything. I went to St. Jude the Apostle, a school in South Holland, and played football, basketball, and baseball. Then I went to Thornridge High School, which has a great legacy of sports. 

I played football there, and there are no records under my name, but it was still a lot of fun because we used to play Friday nights, which was really cool. I always loved playing. I realized by about the age of 14 that I was not going to succeed Luis Aparico, so I started turning my focus more to writing. I wasn’t necessarily thinking I was going to become a movie reviewer, but I did want to become a newspaper writer. 

Growing up in Chicago with the great traditions of the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and even the old Chicago Daily News, I always thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to have a newspaper column.

How has reviewing movies changed due to the pandemic? You’re probably not sitting in the balcony with some popcorn these days. 

I went to a screening of “Godzilla vs. Kong” a couple of weeks ago in a movie theater. It was not a public screening — it was an advanced screening. I thought that’d be a good one to see in a theater because it’s a big, dumb monster movie. It’s entertaining as heck. It’s made for the big screen. But that was the first time I was in a theater in 14 months. 

Even before the pandemic, I’d get links to movies, so I can watch them in a home screening environment, but I really liked to see movies with a crowd. You can watch a great drama like “Nomadland” at home and you’re getting the full experience. It’s an intimate character study. But if it’s a big monster movie or a horror film or comedy, those movies are meant to be seen with an audience. 

I would have loved to have seen the “Coming to America” sequel with a crowd. That movie was just made to be seen with an audience, and that was a real shame that it had to go straight to home video.

What do you consider your biggest miss on a review? Something that you panned and went back and said, “Damn, I missed on that one?”

I didn’t like the first “Lord of the Rings” movie, and I still hear from those fans. I didn’t read the Tolkien books. I was vaguely aware of the mythology and everything, but the first one I just thought went on forever. 

Now, as the trilogy continued with the sequels, I came to really appreciate those films. But, yeah, giving that first one a thumbs-down, I still hear from people, “Why would I ever trust you? You didn’t even like ‘Lord of the Rings’!”

What are your top sports movies of all time?

People ask me if I ever watch movies just for fun, and I do. I rewatched a couple recently that are near the top of my list. One is “He Got Game,” the Spike Lee film with Denzel Washington and a very young Ray Allen, who was really good on screen. Another one I rewatched recently was “Eight Men Out.” The film as a whole is really good.

But then there are the obvious ones. “Rocky” is still one of my favorite films of any genre. “Raging Bull” is a great boxing movie. For hockey, I still love “Slap Shot” and “Miracle.” In football, there’s a film I try to champion that a lot of younger people don’t know about, and it’s called “North Dallas Forty,” from back in the day. It’s very, very funny, but also ahead of its time. If people haven’t seen it and get a chance, check out “North Dallas Forty.”

G.D. Spradlin, who plays the Tom Landry-esque coach, is so great in that. He’s one of those character actors from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that people might not know the name, but they know him. He was the senator from Nevada in “Godfather II,” which was another great performance. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the upcoming Academy Awards. Any predictions?

A lot of years you know exactly who’s going to win. This year, almost every category there’s a toss-up. The only surefire winner is that the late Chadwick Boseman will win best actor for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — and deservedly so. 

Chris Kuc is a sportswriter who covered a myriad of sports during his career with the Chicago Tribune, The Athletic and the Chicago Blackhawks before joining Sports Section. You can reach out to Chris at Chris.Kuc@thesportssection.com or on Twitter: @ChrisKuc.