Spoilers spell profits for the movie industry

Karishma Upadhyay

May 17, 2019 13:56:18 IST

If you were a movie buff burying a time capsule defining this decade, a treatise on spoiler culture would not be amiss. Between the release of Avengers: Endgame and the beginning of the last season of Game Of Thrones, forget avoiding spoilers, it has become impossible even to avoid the hordes of ranting spoiler-phobes online as well as in real life.

Last week, when an overenthusiastic fan stood outside a Hong Kong theatre screaming plot developments of Avengers: Endgame to people walking in, he was beaten up and left bleeding on the side of the road. What makes this even worse is the fact that thousands of people online thought he deserved it. Yes, he was being an insufferable idiot, but is this really how low our tolerance levels have sunk?

The Russo brothers, directors of the Avengers movies, wrote an open letter to fans imploring them to “#DontSpoiltheEndgame”, out of respect for those yet to watch the film. Cynics might say that it all sounded like a suspiciously orchestrated publicity stunt, which brings up the commercial aspect: With spoilers, one cannot deny that filmmakers are riding a publicity wave that has been served to them on a platter.

Spoilers spell profits for the movie industry

Avengers: Endgame

These filmmakers go to great lengths to safeguard their stories but also seamlessly weave bits of the film into the publicity narrative. Almost all of the Avengers cast’s pre-release interviews revolved around how nobody knew anything beyond the scenes they shot.

Over the years, it has been established that Mark ‘The Hulk’ Ruffalo and Tom ‘Spider-Man’ Holland were the most likely Avengers actors to spill secrets from among the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Disney publicists now use this to promote their films. So, Holland, who was ‘sent’ the poster for Avengers: Infinity War by Mark Ruffalo ‘accidentally’ leaked it on Instagram Live. Remember, Ruffalo had ‘accidentally’ streamed portions of Thor: Ragnarok, which only fuelled anticipation for the film.

Over at Westeros, the zeal to closely guard the secrets of Game Of Thrones (GoT) is only too well known. Actors have spoken of scripts being fed into a specially-built app that was loaded onto iPads, and opened only at the shooting locations. Director David Nutter has confirmed that fake scenes were shot to throw wannabe sleuths off the scent.

The fear of spoilers has only added to GoT’s cult status. There are fans in Europe who have admitted to waking up at unearthly hours on Monday mornings to watch the show before anyone spoils it for them. For a show whose entire appeal hinges on the element of surprise, it is easy to create a sense of urgency among viewers to watch it as soon as it airs with just good marketing.

So, how did spoiler-phobia come to be? Put it down to marketers having discovered a potent mix — the appeal of the unknown, the power of outrage and the general intolerance of an entire generation, fuelled by the immediacy of the Internet.

There is nothing new about spoilers. Storytelling often hinges upon an element of mystery, and the success of certain genres revolves around it. Whether it’s an Agatha Christie novel from the 1930s, an Alfred Hitchcock thriller from the 1960s or a Wes Craven slasher film from the 1980s, knowing the end would possibly always have been a spoiler. Yet, these books and films continue to be re-read and re-watched because great storytelling will always have more currency than the mere element of surprise. Knowing that there are violent deaths at the end of the Marathi blockbuster Sairaat didn’t stop it from being remade in five different Indian languages.

The current obsession with spoilers has even changed what the word originally referred to — any unwanted knowledge of key twists, for instance, who is the murderer in Gupt? Today, however, fans see awareness of any aspect of a film or television show, which hasn’t been revealed during promotions, as a spoiler. Even comedies such as Veep and Barry have the potential of being ‘spoiled’ now.

Knowing a spoiler about a film or show should not ruin the experience of watching it. If it does, it wasn’t very good to begin with. The Harry Potter books have sold half a billion copies, and if knowing the story in advance were that much of an issue, you would have nobody watching the films. But we still did, didn’t we, to the tune of $8 billion. And did anyone have any doubt that the Titanic would sink in the end?

If you are paranoid about spoilers, though, the responsibility of avoiding them rests with you. Watch the movie or show before everyone else. Stay off the Internet. Else, just shut up.

Updated Date: May 17, 2019 17:22:03 IST

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