Roger Ebert, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo
Interesting to check out:
When The Big Lebowski came out in 1998, Roger Ebert gave it three stars. He noted that it was the Coens first movie since Fargo -- and both Ebert and his TV buddy Gene Siskel had gone worshipful and nuts over "Fargo" (one or both of them found it to be the best movie of 1996, which led to some Oscar nominations and a coupla wins.)
So Ebert came to The Big Lebowski convinced that it "wasn't as good as Fargo, but what could be?" And he wrote a respectful review of The Big Lebowski that caught some of the movie's whack charms, but didn't much understand what was going on here. (Honestly, who DID?)
This is a fair assessment of how a LOT of critics saw The Big Lebowski, as well as(evidently) a lot of the public. It wasn't a huge hit on release.
Well some years later -- 12 in fact -- Ebert in 2010 re-assigned four stars to The Big Lebowski and wrote a much more "in depth" appreciation of its greatness. I expect Ebert was moved by the film's gathering force as a "cult classic" and that he probably read the reviews and raves of fans over the years. That's fair enough -- few people know a movie is going to be a cult classic when it comes out and doesn't do much business -- it has to BECOME a cult classic. With The Big Lebowski, that seems to be a culmination of people quoting the lines("That rug really tied the room together"; "Well, that's just like, your opinion, man") and soaking in the character traits (White Russians) and the "universe" of the film.
About that universe: Ebert was likely thrown by how the Coens had eschewed the deadpan and realistic Great White Minnesota North of Fargo for the garish and brightly lit Los Angeles scene, complete with abstract dream sequences -- you gotta credit the Coens for delivering in Lebowski a film that looked and felt entirely different than Fargo. And less coherent(though both films shared a kidnapping plot - as Raising Arizona also proved, the Coens LIKE kidnapping plots.)
Anyway, for an interesting time, read Ebert's three-star 1998 review of The Big Lebowski and his 2010 four-star "Great Movies" review. See how a cult classic is born and accepted.