What Actually Counts As a Spoiler, Anyway?

When is a spoiler not a spoiler? When a spoiler for something that doesn’t actually happen in a movie or television show falls in a forest, does anyone hear it? The revelation this week that GI Joe: Retaliation was delayed in part to reshoot scenes that would change a crucial plot point in the movie – which revealed said plot point – has gotten me thinking about the nature of spoilers that aren’t quite spoilers.

I’m not going to entirely reveal the GI Joe rumor here, in part because it’s still not entirely clear whether or not the plot point will definitely be changed, or just have more footage added to make it less out-of-nowhere (Short version: Someone dies. Or maybe they don’t, now). But the discussion around it made me wonder: Is being told that something isn’t going to happen a spoiler? In one sense, after all, it is: Not knowing that something is going to be an outcome is getting closer to knowing what is the outcome, especially if it’s something that’s a binary choice. “Is he going to die?” only really has two answers, after all. Following that train of thought, though, gets into ridiculous waters mighty quickly: What if there’s no question about whether or not the character was going to die? Is it a spoiler to say that Toy Story 3 doesn’t feature the death of Buzz Lightyear, or The Avengers doesn’t feature the death of Iron Man?

And if so, does the very knowledge that there’s going to be an Iron Man 3 constitute a spoiler for The Avengers? What about casting news for upcoming movies? The last couple of weeks have seen all manner of rumors flying around about who’s playing whom in Iron Man 3, for example; does seeing leaked pics of someone in the Iron Patriot armor constitute a spoiler, or just a piece of information that – without context – is interesting but essentially meaningless? What about next week’s Prometheus: Does being told what Michael Fassbender’s role is count as a spoiler, and if your answer is “yes,” then what does it mean that the information was intentionally released ahead of time by the moviemakers in the form of a video teaser?

Do trailers act as spoilers? It’s a common complaint, that the best scenes have been released in the trailer, months before the movie has come out… So is that spoiling the movie or not? The defense given by those who revealed the GI Joe: Retailiation moment was that, if you paid enough attention to the trailer, you would’ve been able to draw the conclusion from there, but… Aren’t trailers there to tease audiences, and to suggest possible outcomes instead of lay everything out there beforehand? That act of teasing, though, leads to people deconstructing images and scenes in trailers looking to unravel the mysteries of the upcoming movie, risking – you guessed it – spoiling themselves.

Spoilers are everywhere, it seems, if you choose to look at them that way. Every piece of information released about a movie could be looked upon as a spoiler of sorts, taking away one more piece of uncertainty in favor of telling you what to expect in one direction or another. The only way to get around that for film- and television-makers, it’d appear, would be to release a movie with as little information about it available ahead of time as possible… But that kind of secrecy only makes people even more curious about what it’s about (See also Prometheus). Maybe the answer is to stop worrying, and embrace the entire experience: Flood the internet with fake spoilers for your project so that no-one will have any idea of what to expect, because they’ve been told to expect everything. That, or make your stories so good that it doesn’t matter if you know what’s coming, it’ll still be enjoyable no matter what.

Why are you looking at me like that? It worked for The Avengers

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Comments

  • stealthwise

    I like to know only a few things:

    1. The basic topic/genre of the movie without getting into too much plot and details.

    2. The style of the film, and/or the director/producer.

    3. The other talent involved, actors, etc.

    Beyond that, I don’t want to know too much.

  • Demoncat4

    like it or not in this day or age spoilers are going to happen no matter what even if it later turns out to for something that does not happen. as for if trailers are spoilers   in a way they are showing a glimpse of what is going to happen but only to get people to maybe want to find out more like avengers.

  • jrau18

    A spoiler is anything that reveals any information about a plot at all. It spoils that point. It’s in the term. I avoid everything involving the Ice and Fire books ebcause it reveals which characters don’t die. That’s a spoiler and removes nearly all tension about their prospects of survival.

  • Mon-El

    The GI Joe one was a big spoiler because he is now a bigger star and his exit from the movie early on is probably a big plot point.  Or at least a major issue since one of the ways I would get my girlfriend to see the movie is to say this guy is in it, but knowing he may only be in a few minutes isn’t going to work out so good. 

    Similarly for Prometheus, a big spoiler is that as we expect some people are going to die in the movie a la Alien, one of the main actors has already said they are up for the sequels.  Alien was great because we had no prior history with the characters and the tension was from wondering who would survive. 

    The difference with the Avengers is that no one believes that any of the big Marvel superhero characters will die for financial reasons, so that is never in doubt.   And I don’t believe Colson is really dead either.