Spoiler Alert: What role do spoilers play?


Spoilers have taken on a strange new weight to them in our world with access to so much information. It has become easier than ever for people to share information and for some of us to accidentally be exposed to spoilers. No one wants something they looked forward to spoiled for them. Most people avoid such things as they want to experience the surprises and thrills for themselves. Some people make it their mission to spoil things for others and frankly, that sucks. The amount of information at our fingertips with the internet can make avoiding spoilers feel like the equivalent of shoving your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes, and yelling la-la-la-la-la.

On the flip side, some filmmakers have begun the practice of suppressing or outright lying to the audience about details regarding the movie. It protects the audience from the more spoilery aspects of a movie, but is lying to the consumer the right call? Let’s take a look at the world and how spoilers relate to it today.

Spoilers and I have a long and sordid history. They are probably the reason I only like The Sixth Sense instead of love it since someone told me the twist as I was putting the movie in the VCR. Yes. I’m old. Let’s move on. It’s the reason Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a deflating experience in the theaters since so many people seemed to make it their mission to spoil the movie for people who hadn’t seen it yet. I was a casualty of that spoiler war. It makes me wonder if spoilers to some of the classics weren’t so ingrained in our culture, what the experience would be like? What The Empire Strikes Back would be if the big twist wasn’t known to every person with a pulse born after the fact. What if the ending of The Usual Suspects wasn’t mentioned every time someone mentions a good twist?

Spoilers are just that, they spoil the experience of viewing something for the first time fresh. It can be frustrating when someone dictates that they feel it has been long enough that you should have seen the movie and as such are at fault for something being spoiled for you. I’ll say this, there is no time limit on spoilers. If someone hasn’t seen something, don’t spoil it for them. “It’s been months, you should’ve seen it” is not a valid argument. Not everyone has the time or even the desire to see some movies at the time they are released. This does not mean they are forfeiting their chance to experience a movie as it is meant to be seen.

Avengers: Endgame comes to mind for a recent movie that dealt with the dilemma of spoilers. The Russos purposefully removed certain aspects from trailers so certain aspects of the movie wouldn’t be spoiled by people dissecting every frame from the trailers. Avengers: Infinity War, along with Endgame, were both sporting declarations put out by the directors and Marvel asking the audience not to spoil the movie for others. “THANOS DEMANDS YOUR SILENCE” was sent out across the world and put around movie theaters to remind audiences to not spoil the ending for others. It can be argued that this was an absurd step to protect some spoilers, but I loved it. The directors understood how much people were looking forward to it and took steps to make sure that they helped pay off all the build-up.

Weren’t they overreacting? It’s just a movie.

Alfred Hitchcock took similar steps when Psycho came into theaters. He required that theaters not let anyone in the theaters after the movie had started. You weren’t allowed back in if you left. He used advertising that told the audience members not to spoil the ending as “it’s the only one we have.” He even went a step further and started buying up every copy of the source novel that he could get his hands on. The man really didn’t want you to know that insert movie spoiler here. Damn near everyone knows the twist in Psycho, but notice I didn’t spoil it here because if by some miracle, you don’t know that twist then you can watch the movie as the director intended and witness its surprises for yourself.

Spoilers are not always the fault of people just spouting out the ending to a movie either. Marketing has reached a critical mass on not being able to hold anything back. Endgame had the directors keeping things from being spoiled, much in the way that Christopher Nolan takes care not to have certain elements ruined in promotional materials, but not every movie is so lucky. Marvel is good when they want to be about keeping the surprises of their movies a secret…unless you didn’t see it opening weekend.

Marvel has a tendency to show the biggest, most epic parts of their movies in TV spots after the initial opening and it feels almost as if they are saying that you should’ve seen this opening weekend so this is your fault. The most glaring one I had seen do it was Captain America: Civil War. It was just a moment during the airport scene, but the excitement at seeing it the first time could not be replaced. I couldn’t believe that this commercial was showing this part was airing on Monday after it released on Friday. I mean really?

Endgame is not off the hook either since, after the self-imposed 2 week ban on spoilers, Marvel went full throttle on showing a decent amount of the final battle and several key moments that got cheers in theaters from people witnessing them for the first time. It boggled my mind. I thought there was no way they would show payoffs to years of buildup in a commercial mere weeks after the fact.

Marketing has been responsible for spoiling many key things in movies these days. It feels like they are so eager to put butts in the seats that they dismiss any qualms about ruining the movie experience for someone. Terminator: Genisys is one of the most blatant movies to suffer from this. The movie did not receive a warm welcome overall, but the twist that was spoiled in the trailers even pissed the director off. Another film that springs to mind that did the same thing is Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Matthew Vaughn, the film’s director, went as far to say about the spoiler that “The thinking about that was stupidity, to be blunt. I begged the studio not to reveal it. Because it’s the whole driving force of the first act and if you didn’t know that scene it would’ve made the whole audience gasp. So you have to ask the lovely marketing guys because I think their job is to open the movie and don’t really care about the experience of the movie.” He absolutely nails the issue at hand and shows the frustration that directors have to contend with to get their movies to the audience without interference.

It is true that the job of a marketing department is to pique interest in a brand or movie with the intention of bringing people in. It does not have to be at the expense of the product though. Marketing needs to find that balance between intriguing an audience and flat out spoiling it to draw you in. Don’t you hate when the best jokes are in the trailer? Wouldn’t it be nice if the action set pieces that stuck in your mind way after the fact weren’t presented front and center so you know exactly what is coming? Fast &Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the most recent example I can think of that was giddy to show you all the crazy action that it showed off parts from almost every action scene and spoiled the entire last 20 minutes of the movie. It was still a fun ride however there was always a sense of “I wonder when we will get to that part from the trailer” and it sucked me out of the movie more than it should have.

I’ve been on the side of anti-spoilers for this whole time, but I’ll try to make a case for movies that are actually better if you go in knowing the twist. Shutter Island is another example of a movie that was spoiled for me before I went in. In this case, I believed I knew what the twist was beforehand. A friend of mine had seen it and believed that it may be better on a second viewing with that knowledge. I obliged and guessed what it was. He told me I was correct and I viewed the movie knowing full well what was coming. Shutter Island is a movie, along with Fight Club (also spoiled for me *shakes fist*), that arguably benefits more from a second viewing. You get to pick up on all the carefully constructed hints that were placed there by the director and see an entirely different side of the story play out. That’s as close as I think I’ll come to find myself on the side of possible spoiling things for people.

Do people who try and avoid spoilers sometimes get too defensive about it? Yes. Do people who don’t consider such things and spoil things at will cross a line? Also sometimes yes. Films are meant to be enjoyed without the foreboding knowledge if a favorite character will die, if it was all a dream, or if our main character was the killer the whole time. That last one was really popular in the mid-2000s. The integrity of the movie is compromised when the journey is spoiled for those who have yet to take it. It should be the goal of everyone involved in the movie to give their audience the best possible experience. I feel like a broken record but it is a message worth repeating.

Can we all agree to allow people to enjoy the things they want to and not ruin it for them? Or at least agree not to spoil them for me? I might have an issue with it.