Monday, May 18, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: How do I feel about Spoilers?

Who is John Harrison? Come on, you know...

Regular reader and frequent Ask JKM-questioner Jason writes:

“Nowadays you can hardly visit an entertainment-themed website without a tidal wave of spoilers about upcoming TV shows and movies.  

How to do feel about spoilers being thrown out all over the place?”

Jason, another intriguing question, and one highly relevant to our times, and especially the summer movie season.

I’ll be honest: spoilers don’t generally bother me.

I realize that others feel differently on this topic, and I respect that fact.  Here on the blog, for example, I try to note, whenever I review new films, that spoilers may be revealed.

But as for me?  I can read all about a movie beforehand -- including spoilers -- and the knowledge I glean doesn’t often impact my enjoyment or appreciation of a film of TV show’s artistry. 


Well, a good movie is about much more than a story or a “plot.”  It’s about the way the moviemakers handle that story or plot.

In some way, the whole focus on spoilers takes away from the qualities that we should admire in a movie.

Case in point, perhaps, was the way J.J. Abrams danced around the Khan reveal for Into Darkness (2013).  Everyone knew that Khan was going to be in the movie, and so actors, writers and Abrams himself had to skirt the issue, and even lie to “preserve” the surprise.   

Was anyone fooled by the “John Harrison” feint? Would the film have been ruined by knowing that the villain was Khan?

I don’t think so.

By contrast, in 1981, we found out that Khan would be in the second Star Trek movie from the pages of genre magazines like Starlog -- and months ahead of time too -- and it was no big deal. The knowledge was not considered a spoiler, or coveted as top secret and classified.

Instead, what proved exciting was contemplating how Khan would return, what his agenda would be, and how the Enterprise crew would handle him.  None of those things were spoiled. 

But today, apparently, if we know that Khan is in a Star Trek movie, that’s a huge spoiler and it must be kept secret.

I just don’t buy it.

I have seen people get very upset about a movie being “spoiled” by a certain scene or trailer, or a certain article on the net, but today spoilers are largely inconsequential.  Now, more than ever before in film history, major genre films are entirely predictable. 

Why?  Well, movies such as The Avengers cost so damn much that they must become hits on their opening weekend, and that means that they must satisfy the widest possible demographic. And that means rarely if ever treading into new, deep, or thoughtful territory. Instead, we just get the same movie over and over again, with slightly different trappings.

So it’s not like you can actually spoil these movies because nothing really surprising or new happens in them.  All the story beats are the same, the vast majority of characters survive, and the universe itself rarely changes meaningfully.  All that's fine, but let's not pretend that something earth shattering is going to happen in a 250 million dollar sequel to one of the biggest hits of all time.
The delicate snowflakes who await these movies and must know absolutely nothing about them are kind of, well, silly, in my book. 

If they really and truly don’t want to know about a movie that is being made, but that they haven’t seen, then they should do the obvious and refrain from visiting entertainment web sites or watching trailers, right?

It’s a film and TV journalist’s job to report; as it is a movie critic’s job to review.  Sometimes, those jobs, by necessity entail describing aspects of the film in question.

Also, Hollywood has itself stoked spoiler sensitivity to an alarming degree by making genre movies only “part” of a wide-ranging franchise experience. 

Now we get the teaser trailer. 

Then the full trailer. 

Then the movie. 

Then the post-credits scene teasing another movie you want to see. 

Then the blu-ray or streaming release with deleted scenes or a director’s cut. 

The actual work of art in question– the movie itself – has become a not-all-that important piece of the constant “anticipation” hustling. That’s what Hollywood is selling with these ubiquitous spoilers: a constant state of anticipation.  And web-sites, hungry for hits, can only ask: “May I have some more?”

And it is a hustle because if all you’re waiting for is the next two-minute buzz of fan ecstasy, then quality becomes less significantly important in the overall equation.  You can watch the movie in the theater and if it doesn’t work for you, well you get the post-credits sequence promising (hopefully) something better next time around. 

And then the whole cycle just starts again, and you get excited about what’s coming next instead of really evaluating what you just paid your hard-earned dollars for.

In my experience, some of the folks who can’t stand spoilers are, paradoxically, the very ones who actively seek out the teaser, the trailer, and so forth.

If they don’t really want to know this stuff, they just have to bow out of the Hollywood hype machine, and count the days till the movie comes out. 

It’s still possible to do that.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. Agree John, spoilers actually excite me about a new film.


  2. One of my fave films, 'Se7en', never had any mention of Kevin Spacey in the above board credits with Freeman, Pitt, Paltrow. Nor where there any visuals of Spacey in the trailers released at the time. When a reveal is clearly going to be to the detriment of the production, sometimes filmmakers do know when to draw the line.