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Why Do We Need Spoilers?

We live in a media world where ignorance is, apparently, anything but bliss: Spoilers abound, and speculation is king. The idea of just letting a story unfold on its own terms seems old-fashioned and, at times, naive, if not downright impossible. Why can’t we just sit back and let ourselves be entertained?

I’ve been thinking about this since the people behind Super 8 went back on earlier promises and released more information about the movie’s creature pre-release, apparently in response to concerns from those marketing the film that not enough had been shown to tempt viewers into paying attention to the movie before its release. There’s something about that line of thinking that is just depressing: Can’t it be enough that it’s a new film from JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg that has some kind of mystery at the core? Do audiences really have to know that much more about it to be interested?

The sad truth is, “Probably.” Somewhere along the way, audiences lost the ability to trust moviemakers and televisionmakers without some kind of proof that the stories they were telling were somehow worthwhile. I’m not sure why it is, exactly: Were audiences just generally shutting themselves off and becoming more cynical by themselves, or was it the result of movies and shows that raised hopes only to dash them on the rocks in the execution? Likely a combination of the two, but what’s been interesting – and more than a little sad – to see is the way that neither side has really tried to patch things up since. Oh, sure; movie and television producers will leak plot details and secret cameoes and footage in order to try and entice viewers, but it’s not the same thing – That’s playing by the audience’s revised “Make it worth my while” rules. There’s been no serious attempt by the same producers to try and win back trust by just concentrating on quality entertainment that convinces viewers that maybe, just maybe, they don’t need to know everything in advance before deciding whether or not something is worth their time and money.

I don’t know; perhaps I’m longing for something that’s curiously old-fashioned (Seriously, didn’t Hitchcock manage to endear this level of “Don’t ask, just buy it?” mentality?) and impossible in today’s immediate-gratification culture. But what has replaced it seems to devalue the very thing that both sides of the discussion should, in theory, be honoring more than anything else: The value of a good story, told the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe sometimes, we should just learn to sit down, shut up and take what’s being given to us, hoping for the best the whole time.


  • Guest

    Spoilers are useful for people who want to automatically dismiss something without having seen it while still speaking from a position of authority.

  • mcdropkick

    Because there are so many more pieces of entertainment now than there was 10-20 years ago. More TV channels and ways to watch them, more video games and methods to play them, more movies, music, everything. On top of that is the internet which has naturally grown as time goes on. There is much more fighting for both your attention and your wallet than ever before, which means companies have to do whatever it takes to entice you into spending your money on them.

    There are lots of other reasons I’m sure, but I feel like the over-saturation of media and entertainment is one of the top.

  • gargl

    That’s the sole way for the producers to be sure we’ll watch them..There was a time when tv serials generated strong demands and played a lot with the spectator’s wait and needs, rather to piss them off most of the this is to the producer to get really convincing quick unless his show will be dropped..Less surprises (I’m not sure even something like TWIN PEAKS could ever last today) but at last the masters of our evenings get what they deserve..

  • Boogimus

    The last two movies I saw from JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg were Cloverfield & Transformers 2. So, yeah, they HAVE to do a lot to win back trust. Secrets are bad.

  • Fury1978

    i hate spoilers. i especially hate the aholes who post them without warning and often in unrelated discussions. a bit of a tease is one thing, but having some punk say, ‘oh yeah and in book X, character N dies’ in a discussion of something else is REALLY annoying.

  • Zach

    Why do we need secrets either, though?  If a movie like this makes such a big deal about not revealing the monster beforehand, then the entire movie can become about that reveal.  Releasing monster information ahead of time for those who are looking for it allows the cultural perception of the movie to be about the story, not the reveal.  Just ask M. Knight. Shamalyan (Did I spell that right?) what the results of reveal based movie making are.

  •!/ David R. Schmitt

    I think this the first topic Graeme and I agree on. I’d rather be teased then spoiled. but it’s the world we live in now, media is in out face no matter where we turn.

  •!/ David R. Schmitt

    You didn’t see Star Trek?

  • Anonymous

    We’re Americans. we don’t do “Wait and see” well.

    From a news media point of view, they’re hitching their wagon to a star.  They want people to watch their news show, so the do stories about the famous person, or hint that they’ve got exclusive tidbits on the hot new movie. And thanks to the internet, which moves at the speed of outrage, the item in question will be revealed bewteen the time of the tease and the broadcast.

    Individuals want to know enough about a film/book/whatever to know they’ll be interested in seeing it or not.  And in some cases, they want to just know the WHOLE story, sometimes just to save the cost of a movie ticket.

    Good or bad?  Neither.  Rude? Yes.  But not at all new.  The Very Old among us will rmember a scene from Happy Days where Ralph Malph spills the ending to Psycho to the Cunninghams as they’re on their way to the film. 

  • Scud

     “Were audiences just generally shutting themselves off and becoming more cynical by themselves”

    That’s hilarious coming from you.

  • Scarletspeed7

    JJ Abrams didn’t make Transformers 2

  • flying squirrel

    This was my mentality toward Super 8.  All the previews told me it was just like Cloverfield.  It was trying to sell viewers on the reveal rather than the strength of the film.  I’m hearing differently now, but that was my main reason for avoiding the film.

  • Pugwallop

    I blame M. Night Shaymalaymadingdong and Signs.

  • ThereIsNoSpoon

    No. It’s not enough. Nobody’s perfect, even geniuses screw up, “Spielberg/Abrahams” does not guarantee quality. Another alien invasion movie seems to come out each week – nothing in the advertising even remotely interested me in this movie. I’ll probably see it due to the positive critical reaction and WOM from friends and people whose taste I trust, but I have to say that was one of the least inspiring marketing campaigns I’ve seen for a summer blockbuster.

  • Alan

    I would explain in more depth why I read the spoilers for Super 8 before deciding to skip it, but that would itself requires spoilers so I won’t. In general, unless I am supremely confident that I will enjoy a movie experience, I will read the spoilers first to see if there is anything in the movie that will so ruin the experience for me that I will feel like I wasted $8 for nothing. Case in point: I may yet go see X-Men First Class based on the recommendations of friends. But if I’d seen it cold and been unspoiled for the revelation of Sebastian Shaw’s “secret identity” I suspect I would have reflexively yelled an obscenity at the screen.

  • Sijo

    People like spoilers for several reasons:
    * Because they’re ‘forbidden’. “Gotta be the first to know!”
    * Because they are tired of being disappointed by all the hype.
    * Because they are just not interested enough in certain kinds of genres to watch them but still want to know what the whole deal is about.
    * Because there is too much stuff to see and not enough money or time to see them all.

    Personally, the only filmmaking company that has earned my ‘always watch never mind how dumb it sounds’ trust is Pixar.

  • Coryjameson

    No Graeme we don’t trust “moviemakers and televisonmakers” anymore. We don’t have time to be disappointed and we don’t have the money to waste on something we don’t like. Spoilers bring tremendous efficiency to the decision-making process.

    I saw X-Men First Class and I’m sorry I did. It was the first movie I’ve seen without knowing absolutely everything that happens. What a mistake. If I had known that Vaughn had hired January Jones for the sole purpose of having sex with her and knocking her up and NOT for her ability to play a great Emma Frost, then I wouldn’t have bothered going to see it. Also, Vaughn clearly didn’t have the budget for great special effects because there practically weren’t any good FX set pieces.

    Bottom-line, Spoilers are a godsend.

  • Tomfitz1

    I’m not against spoilers, but the problem is, how much is enough?

    Take DKR for example, nearly all the cast have had their roles widely publicized to the death and all of the productions have been scrutinized wherever the film’s being shot.
    Just about everybody’s nitpicking at the DKR even before it has yet to be shown.

    The Watchmen movie went through the same thing, and was considered a commercial failure.

    A little bit of a spoiler here and there, but only just to whet ones appetite. No more.
    That’s all that should be required.

  • Janus31

    And more times than not they end up watching it anyway.

  • Tiberius

    In all fairness, if I knew I could have sex with January Jones by hiring her to do a job I would’ve done that too.

    That, and First Class was actually pretty good. Not perfect, no, but entertaining and a nice way to jump-start a franchise I considered dead. By completely ignoring the two X-Men movies Bryan Singer had nothing to do with (the terrible X3 and the somehow-even-worse Wolverine), which it appears First Class is doing, means there’s actually new life, and some hope, for the X-Men film franchise yet.

    But importantly, sex with January Jones… Is she available for a little work this summer? I’ve got a job or two that she’d be perfect for.

  • Coryjameson

    Tiberius, I hate to break it to you but Vaughn had befouled Ms Jones FOR-EVER. She’s pregnant with his demon spawn.

  • SageShinigami

    I’m sorry you didn’t think First Class was a good movie.  You are, however, in the minority on this.   And spoilers still aren’t necessary. 

  • Pete

    The problem with that logic is someone’s now experiencing things out of context and taking away the emotional impact they’re supposed to have in the film.  If I tell you ahead of time “Darth is Luke’s father” that that entire scene is now drawn out and melodramatic instead of tense and shocking.  The last ten minutes of The Sixth Sense are pointless if you already know what they’re about.

    It may seem like spoilers are helping to guarantee an experience, but all they’re doing is whittling it away.

  • Educatexan

    Here’s an idea.  The instantaneous gratification effect – which started with microwave ovens and is currently into simultaneous Internet/streaming/chat/text/gotta-have-it-NOW – has bred a generation which is afraid to commit unless there’s an undo command available.

    I grew up with three television networks, one land-line phone, and handwritten mail communication.  Yes, modern conveniences are convenient, but I remember life without ‘em.  I remember when NOW was not an available option.

    In reading the comments in this thread, I came to a realization.  I don’t want to know all the details about a movie before I choose to see it, because I’m not afraid of committing two hours to something that might not live up to my expectations.

  • Cover555555

    Actually, the reason I need more from Super 8, now is also the same reason as someone else here. I saw Cloverfield and Transformers 2. I was so disappointed and annoyed to have wasted time and money.

  • Julian Galette

    “Can’t it be enough that it’s a new film from JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg that has some kind of mystery at the core?”
    Why the hell should it be? Why should I trust J.J. Abrams with my 10 dollars? Cloverfield sucked. LOST is a big stupid pseudo-phiosophical wank. And Star Trek, despite being overall an entertaining film, suffered visually because of all those heavy handed lens-flares. 

    Make your trailers vague and mysterious all you want, you’re not getting my money, plain and simple. You want my business, earn it by making a film that looks like it’s going to tell a compelling story, not one that seems to rest on the crux of a mystery crafted to keep the internet buzzing. 

  • Julian Galette

    Up until your comments about first class (Seriously, dude? It’s the best X-men movie to date. I mean, yeah that’s like beating a bunch of cripples in a gymnastic meet, but still, it’s a good movie) I absolutely agree with you.

  • Dobber

    Spoilers are for Virgins with premature ejaculation.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. This is actually the first subject I agree with Graeme on. Thank you Graeme, I feel like we can finally set our differences aside and become friends…I know you were worried.

  • Jayz

    I really hate those movie trailers where you realize they’ve just summarized the entire plot up to the final reel.

  • Jhambi

    I agree 100%. There is simply so much content out there today that didn’t exist 20, much less 50 years ago. There is no way for any one person to consume everything, or even everything that appeals to them (even if that is a fairly small niche), so people have to inform themselves as best they can to not waste time. Spoilers often let someone know if the piece of entertainment will untimately be worth their time, and if not, they can move on to something else without the hours lost.

  • Pedro Tapajós

    i think that (for movies) the reason is that tickets are expensive, so people need to be seduced a bit more in order to part from their cash.  despite its being a s.spielberg movie, tha’s no guarantee people will enjoy it.

  • Julian Galette

    I agree with this too, but on the other end, I hate the trailers that are super vague and don’t tell you a damn thing about the movie. A good trailer should be somewhere in the middle. 

  • Fistofkhonshu

    I’ve been thinking about this same thing for years. I think a big part of it is a major failure in marketing. There are other factors like the aforementioned instant gratification society and having the studios screw us over one time too many. But in the case of Super 8 I can honestly say it’s because of the awful commercials. Lots of explosions and people running doesn’t entice me to want to see a movie no matter who is doing it or how cool it looks. When I first heard of Super 8 I thought it was another studio created superhero concept. Then I heard it was in reference to the old Super 8 movies like I have of my old family vacations. Then I saw explosions in a small town and it still didn’t do anything for me. It wasn’t until I caught an interview with JJ Abrams on NPR that I got interested.

    In the interview he explained that it was a throwback to those old kids focused movies of the 80s, the Goonies, Stand By Me, stuff like that. Then he actually explained the concept of the film. I know that is super insano crazy to do today but maybe if they actually tried to do that in the commercials instead of showing a bunch of flashy scenes out of context, it may catch on and turn into bigger bucks at the box office.

    All he had to say was it was about some kids in the 70s who make super8 movies. When a military train transporting something from area 51 derailed in their town, something got loose. That doesn’t spoil the movie but it explains it; something that over half the trailers and tv commercials today simply fail to do.

    The most recent example of this I can think of is a movie from a few years ago with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, “The Tourist” I think. Commercials made it look like an espionage fueled spy thriller, but it was actually a comedy. Years ago “The Order” looked like a a deep mysterious religious sect was trying to kill Heath Ledger, but it was actually about him trying to solve a murder that led to a big secret of the church. Nightbreed looked like a slasher film and was anything but.

    Honestly, until I heard from JJ what the film was about I thought Super 8 was about some weird phenomenon that the kid had filmed during a train crash. And that the government was trying to get him and his footage. Now this may indeed be part of the film but it is pretty poor explanation of what the film is. And no one is more at fault for that than the marketing people. Mystery is fine, but showing a horse the hole in the ground doesn’t make him want the carrot.

  • Sean Richardson

     Casting January Jones was the smartest thing that movie did.  She’s even more egregiously terrible than the script itself, and she’s so awful that she elevates everything around her to be more passable.  She’s like the complete opposite of, say, Jack Nicholson in ‘Easy Rider’, or Christopher Walken in anything, where whenever they’re not on screen, you’re distracted by thoughts of “I wonder what that far more interesting character is doing.”

  • Michaelhmaguire

    Your point is wonderfully taken.  Part of the problem is we have e(de)volved into an “instant” society, where we want to know everything now.  I date myself, but as a child, a great part of the magic of Christmas was the anticipation of Christmas, the countdown of the days remaining, and the imagining of what might come.  The cynic in me says the amount of money involved in such endeavors leads the makers themselves to leak spoilers to take a pulse, to protect or perfect their baby.  Either way, it shows a lack of faith in people.  If you make a good movie, people will see it.

  • Jemurr

    This is a very good post Graeme. One of my pet peeves of fanboys is spoilers, people who talk about how they read the script of a movie before it came out etc. The thing is, as annoying as spoilers may be, we don’t have to pay attention to them. I remember seeing X-men three and jumping out of my seat when Collossus appeared. I was like “Oh My God It’s Collossus!” Later my friends said they were surprised I didn’t know he’d be in it since it was in some trailers. Personally if I already know I want to see a movie I try to learn as little as possible about it. I’ll be seeing Super 8 only knowing it’s premise.

  • Jemurr

    I meant to say X-men 2

  • Murph

    The reason for audience distrust is that the godfathers of cinema that we have grown up with have let us down and are untrustworthy after handing us steaming piles of crap: Coppola, Lucas and even Spielberg.  Star Wars became absolute dreck, the last Indiana Jones movie was a sad joke and Coppola is now a wine maker and really hasn’t made anything worthwhile in ages.  We now approach films with much skepticism after these pillars of cinema have long since crumbled and left our youthful memories of the movies tainted and warped.  So, why shouldn’t we be suspicious of new films when we can’t even trust the former kings of the big screen?

  • Neil Hill

    The state of spoilers today is truly a very sad trend indeed.  However, we have no one but ourselves to blame.  Somewhere in my heart/hearts I feel we have the Harry Knowles of the world to blame and the trend has only become more rampant in recent years, with spoiler hounds even stealing Directors computers and other equipment that may/may not contain valuable story and character info.  Of course this is the most egregious arm of the spoiler army, but still happens more often than most of us care to acknowledge.  But the more important question is, now that audiences have had a taste of everything being spoiled ahead of time, can the lid to Pandora’s Box be closed now that it’s been thrown wide?

  • Neil Hill

    What in ‘THE HELL’ does a director deciding to have a relationship with one of his actresses have to do with spoilers?!  You’re talking apples to spaceships here.  And not knowing anything about a movie isn’t any better than thinking you know everything about a movie if that movie is bad.  You’re simply making an argument that doesn’t support its base.

  • Neil Hill

    I completely agree Tiberius; well, at least about the part where X-Men: First Class was good but not great.  I’d really like to see where the sequel goes and based on box office, it looks like quite a few at least on some level agree with me.

  • Neil Hill

    I think there’s a saying somewhere that goes; a little information is a good thing, but a lot of information is about the same as no information.  Essentially what this means is that you can know everything about something even if the knowledge is bad and still go ahead and waste your dollars on it- hoping somewhere inside of you that what you know will be proven wrong and that the effort will be great in spight of all the negativity.  Now is this a failure on the part of marketing, deceptive movie studios, etc.?  Probably not.  It’s probably simply a lack of a good movie to back up their marketing efforts.  Some movies you can see coming (i.e., Smurfs, Yogi Bear, etc.) and know they will be horrible, but others can seem deceptive at face value.  But if you believe only the marketing than you are a fool and deserve to be decieved anyway.  However, if you take a little bit of knowledge and read a few reviews beforehand from credible sources, then you haven’t spoiled a thing and you can still see the movie/TV show/etc. and form your own informed opinion.  After all, regardless of spoilers you’re going to make up your own mind anyway.

  • Neil Hill

    Godfather’s of cinema?  All due respect, but I think there are great filmmakers alive and working today just as much as there ever were.  The problem is studios aren’t always willing to take the chances they once were, so these new young turk filmmakers are forced to make ‘safe’ sure-fire money makers- which often aren’t.  The real problem is fear.  To qualify this, all of us are afraid on some level of outcome.  Studios are afraid of not making money and audiences are afraid of not enjoying the film.  In some cases these are films we geeks desperately hope won’t suck, so we invest ourselves into every minutia of the production to ensure the effort will be worthwhile.  Studios paying so much damned attention to what we geeks say these days doesn’t help any, but that’s another story.  In the end though I see this as a failure on the part of all of us to have faith in each other.  Studios to have faith that their efforts (=money/time) won’t be wasted in putting together a geek pleasing movie, and audiences to have faith that these same studios won’t ‘f’ it all up.