Does Hollywood really hate spoilers?

Feature Simon Brew 16 May 2013 - 07:02
The inside of a cinema

Does the Hollywood system want spoilers to be protected, or have they become part of the marketing fabric?

Please note: there are no spoilers in this article. Please do not leave any in the comments below!

Early in the production of Star Trek Into Darkness, a series of stills were leaked of a fight involving Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison. Believe the stories, and those behind the scenes - not least JJ Abrams - were extremely unhappy about the leak. Abrams is, after all, someone who works hard to protect surprises. Just look at the sudden trailer reveal for Super 8 a few years back, or the whole Cloverfield build up. He's one of the few directors who usually has the power to reveal what he wants only when he's ready to reveal it.

Most of Star Trek Into Darkness was shot on sound stages, and away from the gaze of the professional and fan photographers who increasingly follow film productions. But after spending so much time desperately trying to protect us from spoilers, we then had a flurry of marketing materials that exposed one or two things that arguably would have been more interesting had they been kept secret, and then an IMDB page that also revealed something you wouldn't want to know going into the film.

In fact, IMDB has also seen fit to pull the same trick with Fast & Furious 6, with a key surprise for that film ruined for anyone who goes and checks out the listing beforehand. But then it's just the latest obstacle in a spoiler minefield, that's making it increasingly tricky for those who want to know little about a movie before they see it to do so.

The general line with big movies now is supposedly that spoilers are a bad thing. That surprises should be preserved for seeing the film on the big screen for the first time. That's what many filmmakers say, and that's what a substantial part of the audience is saying.

But if that's the case, why is Hollywood willing to sacrifice so many key plot points in the battle to market a movie?

Spider Streets

Right now, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is shooting on the streets of New York City. Location shoots are nothing new of course, but Sony will surely be savvy to the fact that if it's shooting Spider-Man in the open air, people will take pictures and report it. It watched the six month global tour of The Dark Knight Rises production with as much interest as any of us.

Sony is well aware that the numerous photos being taken of the Spider-Man shoot will be shouldering some of the marketing burden of the film. That's part of the plan, even if the collateral damage is that some surprises are spoiled in advance. Take the first appearance of Paul Giamatti's character, where snap shots appeared online quickly. We don't even wait for the trailer to see him in character now - his picture's all over Instagram. And then, just in case you hadn't seen them, director Marc Webb added a Giamatti shot of his own to his Twitter account. If you were in any doubt as to whether this sort of image was supposed to be seen in advance, Webb removed that doubt. The director, these days, is in on it.

Bryan Singer is doing a similar thing as he shoots X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Tweeting us pictures and titbits from the film as he goes. And we can't deny it: as a fan, it's fun to watch. But when we all sit down and see the final cut for the first time, will we appreciate knowing so much beforehand? After all, it used to be the trailer we complained about. Now? If only it was just the trailer we had to avoid.

Ticket Sales Vs Surprises

This is where the two sides of Hollywood are at slight opposites to one another. In truth, what storyteller doesn't want to keep the twists, turns, and surprises of their story under wraps?

Yet, when a story costs $200m to make, or you're looking for angles to get people interested in it, it seems you're having to give more and more away in advance. It's like a spoiler version of Kickstarter - we'll give you this much up front, if you come and watch the film.

Bluntly, when it comes to the bottom line of the movie, do the bean counters in the studio care if you knew about a certain character or a plot twist in advance? They do not. Nor would most of us in their job. They care about whether you've spent money on the film in question, and whether you plan to do so again.

The problem is that for all the complaining we and others do about spoilers, they've turned into - through their many flavours - a hugely effective marketing tool. Arguably the most effective marketing tool for a prolonged promotional campaign.  Let's go back to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The open air location shoot for the film is giving Sony publicity it couldn't buy by any other means. Every week, there are two or three fresh stories doing the rounds, reported by hundreds of sites such as this. Is that what the director and writers want? Probably not. But it's almost part of the deal now, and it raises anticipation and awareness to levels that studios like to see, a long way in advance of release.

Perhaps there's an acceptance from the studio side that if it can't beat the spoiler leaks, it should just take more control of them (although that's clearly not always the case). After all, it's virtually impossible to contain spoilers for a big film, especially one with a location shoot. If you choose not to release them yourself, then there are so many other ways they can be found.

Who else remembers the Return Of The Jedi comic book, back in the 80s, revealing the relationship between Luke and Leia? That was a rare example. Now, for Man Of Steel, even the release of the LEGO sets is having to be kept relatively under wraps, as they give certain things about the film away. In fact, soundtrack listings, tie-in book synopses, action figures... all of these contribute to the spoiler flood. So if word is going to leak out anyway, is it best to leak it in a way that's more advantageous to the bottom line of the film?

Historic

In truth, the trade in spoilers has always been part of the game. The movie trailer to Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath over a decade ago was content to ruin a significant part of the film for you, were you willing to fork out for a ticket. After all, the chances are you wouldn't appreciate what you'd been shown until you'd paid for the ticket (we'd dearly love movie trailers that didn't contain a shred of footage from the last half hour of a film). But our appetite for spoilers has clearly increased, and they're coming in more flavours than ever.

What's more, even when materials are being released that aren't necessarily giving a direct spoiler away, you can't help but feel that they're still taking something away. The flood of material released in the build-up to Prometheus bordered on ludicrous, and if anyone had sieved through it all, then good chunks of the film would have been revealed in advance.

On the flip side of things, some spoilers can be a good thing. Doctor Who series seven comes to an end in the UK this weekend, and we've heard from more than one person who's far more intrigued to watch it now, now that they know of a spoiler that's leaked ahead of that episode's transmission.

Balance Of The Force

The world of movies and television needs to find a balance. As Bryan Burk, the producer of Star Trek Into Darkness told us, "Even if 51 percent of our audience does not like spoilers, and I'd hope it was a lot more than that, it's our job to try and protect the rest. Because if you want spoilers, you will always be able to find them".

And he's right on both counts. There's an onus on websites such as this to clearly label spoilers when reported upon, there's an onus on those using the comments and forums to not drop major reveals in without warning, and most of all, there's an onus on the likes of Hollywood to try and keep something in reserve for us. When all this works in tandem, you get many people being surprised by, for instance, Iron Man 3, because something happened in that movie that they didn't see coming. And surely that remains a good thing.

But there's little getting away from it: once upon a time, it did seem to be a case that it was Hollywood against spoilers. Now, more and more, Hollywood and spoilers appear to be on the same side, a pact made with hundreds of millions of extra dollars in mind. And sadly, spoiling a film's surprises may increasingly be the required collateral damage on the way to a bigger box office take. Here's hoping not.

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Disqus - noscript

Well written article. And I agree, it seems to be the pro-active part to gain control over the spoiler business. I actually like Bryan Singer's tweets although in general I hate spoilers. Iron Man and Star Trek and Fast 6 have all been spoiled for me. But it was in Talkbacks and it was “fans“, not the Hollywood system. Just some attention seeking idiot. And that might never change.

I tend to avoid spoilers for the films and shows I really care about (Doctor Who finale is a good example), but a mild spoiler can draw me into watching something that I might not have bothered with otherwise.

Had no idea about the FaF6 thing on IMDB. Remind me not to go on there for a while...

Those moronic TV magazines have Hollywood thinking that stupid people don't care about the destination they only want to be along for the ride.

They may be right but I go to the cinema for the total package. if a film's been spoiled for me it's an automatic rental.

I think there has to be kind of a tacit agreement.

I'm OK with sharing some in-character pictures and some of the locations as Bryan Singer does. After all, the posters and the trailer will eventually leak that, so I think it is harmless enough.

On the other hand, I don't like people taking pictures unofficially. Sometimes, the thing gets out of hand. If the team is not OK with people sharing that kind of stuff, fans should respect that. Particularly as fans. We should respect the team's (whatever team it is) choices about how much info they want to share.

And of course, one has to ALWAYS tag and hide spoilers when possible in the internet, because the fans who want to be surprised have a right to do so.

I remember the fuss, when STII:TWOK came out, surrounding the fate of one of the characters. So much were the film makers perturbed by the rumours that they filmed a segment at the start of the film as a red herring to make people believe they had been misled by the spoilers.

I recently watched a documentary called 'Searching for Sugar Man', which is about two South Africans who go and look for their hero, a singer called Sixto Rodriguez. I completely loved it because I knew next to nothing about Rodriguez and the last half an hour had me in tears. However, I recently say the American trailer of the movie, which shows you what happens in the last thirty minutes of the film, giving away such a fantastic twist. If you have never seen this movie and like me know nothing about Sixto Rodriguez, then I would watch it before someone ruins it for you. It's such a fantastic documentary and it's incredible that it's all true.

*SPOILER for AVENGERS ASSEMBLE*

There is definitely a balance between teasing certain aspects to sell a film without ruining some of the best moments. For example, I loved Avengers Assemble. However, there was absolutely no suspense during the last three minutes of the final battle because I'd already seen the Hulk catch Iron Man in the UK trailer.

I still enjoyed the ride, but I do wish I hadn't seen that trailer beforehand.

If you are a spoiler-avoider, you have another good reason to steer clear of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has a proud policy of publishing full plots without defacing their encyclopedia with spoiler tags.

I vote with my cash. Spoiler heavy trailers.... I won't go see it. Worse are the kind like the new Riddick, which seems to lay out the major plot points, in order, though I am hoping, not the ending. Why even have plot twists if you put your whole movie in the trailer? Just forget the plot, and we can just have the 'oww my balls' show from idiocracy.

I hate spoilers, always have. I'm quite bright and don't need a second invitation to start second guessing the story. I'll let the film or tv show narrative pace that for me, let only any other source.

slightly annoyed beeb are now advertising who on the radio

Think it started when I used to rent video's, I stopped reading the back of the box.

The Riddick trailer basically told us the whole film, it's a rarity to see a film without knowing what will happen. God knows what will happen in the build up to Star Wars

It's a difficult one isn't it... like most, I'm usually eager for some information on films or TV shows I'm looking forward to... but ideally I'd rather it was all 'heavy spoiler' free. We watched Star Trek Into Darkness recently and I'm really glad I went into that not having a clue about certain directions it took us in. Part of the enjoyment was the "omg they're doing THIS?" factor. And I think we should all have that with every film we watch. At least for the first time. I avoid as much as I can now.

I think the emphasis on spoilers is too high these days. Yeah, it's annoying but studio's have to shock and awe people if they want to make an impression. Also, and this is especially valid for Hollywood movies, if a spoiler really diminishes your enjoyment of a film and the film rests for a great deal on a plot twist, that movie isn't very good in and of itself. For example, The Usual Suspects has one of the best twists ever but take that twist away and what do you have? Still an amazingly written film. The twist is the cherry on top, not the essence and it never should be. Spoilers are annoying but so is appealing to the lowest common denominator which is surprising your audience with a "plot twist" and thinking that makes it smart.

Personally I will try to go out of my way to avoid spoilers! I tend to not read reviews unless it's labelled as Spoilers, but I don't tend to read too many anyway just in case. But it is difficult these days to go into a film or watch a TV show cold without knowing something. Unfortunately it's the Hollywood media and sometimes fan sites and blogs that can spoil things. I don't mind set photos but not everyone wants to know everything about what happens before they watch something. The magic of watching something for the first time is lost before the opening credits start!

In general, trailers don't bother me. They have to show the money shots that get us excited. In the trailers (and these production stills), without context you're usually unable to tell where or when in the film an event is taking place. Normally, it's just a exploding something or other to get us to go 'Oooooh.'

But recently, it seems that instead of showing one or two big money shots, the trailers will show every single one. For instance:

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS SPOILERS

Because there'd been so many trailers showing every action sequence, I knew the big Dreadnought smashing into the city bit was coming. It took away from the excitment somewhat. Although, from the trailer, I did think it was the Enterprise, so a little kudos to the marketing team there.

END SPOILERS

I don't mind if trailers show a spoilerific action (or otherwise) scene from the first third of the movie, but from it's climax? Poor form.

After foolishly deciding to watch all of the trailers for The Dark Knight Rises, which progressively spoiled more and more about that film, I have now set a rule for myself to only watch the first trailer released for a film, which tends not to reveal too much. I enjoy being teased about a film, but not having its entire plot rammed down my throat in a two minute package.

I've got 5 or 6 DoG iron man 3 articles bookmarked that I won't read until I watch it which is lookin like next Thursday.

Their level of detail is excruciating as well. They go to great lengths not to miss a single spoiler.

Ditto all of that. The less you know, the better it is. It's a remarkable documentary.

They did not do that for Star Trek Into Darkness, which is the example of the moment. Until it came out in the US.

It's interesting that Iron Man 3 was more successful in critical spoiler avoidance than Star Trek Into Darkness, since JJ is supposedly so death on pre-reveals.

Supposedly.

Not how I see it. JJ's mystery-box thing about keeping spoilers secret is just a way for him to scream at the world "THERE WILL BE A SURPRISE IN THIS FILM!!", and once you do that, you make people fall over themselves to be the first to find the secret. Shane Black didn't even let people be aware that there might be a twist in his film, though, so no one looked for one and everyone was caught short.

Definitely not a fan of the spoiler, but often it's so damn tempting when it's dangled in front of your nose and it's a slow news day, particually if its a long way off release.

I remember reading the Iron Man 3 ideas for the particular storyline it follows, ditto with The Avengers 2, and both got me excited - but I hadn't read either of the comics in question. On the flipside, I saw a headline on AICN that alluded to something in the Evil Dead reboot - my favourite series of films - that made me want to know more, so I investigated further to find I should stay after the credits. This gave away what I knew would be coming, and spoiled my surprise as I would have stayed anyway (Golden rule number 1. Never leave before the lights come on). I still cheered (never done that in a cinema before). It could be argued though that becuase it has nothing at all with the rest of the film and therefore isn't really a spoiler. Another question that could be asked to if you should tell people to stay behind after the credits.

As for avoiding spoilers, I steered so far clear of spoilers for Lost that I deserve a medal (admittedly a cheap, mass produced one) and am so glad I did. I stay clear of plot points where I can, but to what extent are actors and their characters being announced (Peter Weller = Bad Guy, for instance) and synopses for future films deemed spoilers?

Kindly notice that I said JJ is "supposedly" death on pre-reveals. That's why I gave the word not only its own sentence all to itself, but its own paragraph.

And that IM3 was much more successful than Star Trek Whatever in avoiding the big reveal.

The Usual Suspects is a true classic. I always felt that people only liked the movie Swordfish because of the twist, but unlike The Usual Suspects, which built up its twist so wonderfully, Swordfish felt like the twist was thrown in there just because they thought it would be cool.

The best example I can think of for a trailer that didn't spoil the movie while still generating interest for me was Midnight in Paris. I'd seen the trailer numerous times, and I was blown away by what happened in the movie. Kudos to whoever edited that. Hollywood should be trying to make more trailers like that.

While it might not be a movie with many twists or anything, I've been trying to actively avoid seeing anything about Pacific Rim (partially to see the movie with as fresh of eyes as possible in theaters, partially as an experiment). I've literally only seen two images from the movie, and I think one might have been a production photo. I'm really looking forward to seeing literally everything in it for the first time on the big screen. These days, if you know where not to look and don't really watch TV, it's surprisingly not hard to do.

Any movie or TV show that I'm interested in. I tend to avoid articles on them until I have seen it.

Huh! Heard of it around it's release but then forgot about it. Will check it out. Cheers.

Or perhaps not. Although it may have elegantly side-stepped revealing any spoilers, it in no way made me want to watch the movie, which is surely the point of a trailer - to advertise the movie as something you want to pay to see.

In some ways I miss the days when the only way you knew what was coming up on the horizon was by actually going to a movie theatre early enough to catch the trailers. If something caught your eye and you wanted to know more you then had to go out and buy a dedicated movie magazine.

I honestly cannot think of a single movie-going experience that has been improved by the existence of the internet. Well, that's not entirely true, there was the whole Blair Witch pre-movie misinformation package that really added to the experience. And I suppose the ability to watch trailers for films you want to see whenever and as often as you want is pretty cool.

But what the hell is going on in your life if you are excited by the unveiling of the latest poster fpr a movie? How does that improve the quality of your existence? Its just more noise, mental-pollution.

To be honest, if I'm looking for good spoilers I'll purposely check Wikipedia before anywhere else.

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