During this new tentpole era of filmmaking, one or two words have come to dominate the newly created moviegoing culture: “spoiler alert.” With Avengers: Endgame, such fears came to a head. Disney and Marvel spent an inordinate amount of time teasing, message controlling, and torturing fans. All methods represent normal marketing practices. However, Endgame—more so than any tentpole before—has relied on stoking the “spoiler” flames as a marketing tool. Their reliance on “spoiler culture” is a dangerous paradigm switch in the cinematic experience for fans, critics, and theaters—creating warped expectations of consumption and enjoyment.
The clearest example of the mass hysteria behind “spoiler culture” employed as a marketing strategy sits in plain view with the Russo Brothers’ “spoiler deadline.” Said deadline intentionally inflated the week-one market for Endgame on the backs of fans fearing spoilers.
The refreshing byproduct of such pressure results in a return of the shared-event. In a fragmented period of streaming services, social media, and the internet, the ability to create micro-niches of fandoms makes such large communal moments a rarity. Star Wars, the only franchise safeguarding the status of the global box-office event, represents the last vestiges of said appeal. And while the feel-good aspect of these instances appear innocuous enough, there lurks a number of consequences when they’re combined with spoiler hysteria/deadlines.
For one, such imposed deadlines leave other fans in the lurch. Creating a spoiler embargo inherently says that past a certain date all narrative secrets are fair game. “If certain fans wanted to avoid spoilers then they should have viewed Endgame during the film’s opening week,” becomes a dominant train of thought. I had several friends who forced themselves to the theater to avoid the possibility of a disappointing experience.
Sure, coveting the sheer joy associated with a surprise is an understandable impulse, but it’s not apparent if most people know the definition of spoiler.
Several narrative components fall within the spoiler realm: a film’s ending or climax, an unlikely appearance of a character or an unlikely character decision, or a seismic event. A light plot summary isn’t a spoiler. If I say, “the film is split into two sections: an exposition of the prior film and a battle sequence” those details aren’t spoilers.
If an event occurs in the first 5-minutes, unless said event exhibits seismic proportions, the event can’t be categorized as a spoiler either. Ex. Thanos executed due to Thor lobbing off his head during Endgame. The death represents an unlikely event. On the other hand, explaining that Thanos figures less prominently in Endgame than Infinity War” falls under the purview of basic observation. Therefore, not a spoiler.
Still, critics are left tearing our collective hairs out—self-questioning if any insignificant detail might be *gasp* a spoiler. Nuance suffers in such pursuits, and positive reviews become unintentional hype pieces rather than actual criticism. On the flip side, negative reviews easily devolve into “hit pieces.”
One solution exists for many critics: Wait. The internet, the same phantasma partly fueling the “spoiler-alert culture,” pressures critics and publications to be first. The race to publish first, in combination with a fear of spoilers, creates weak criticism. Granted, “waiting” is easier said than done for most. In the end, the pressure to post before everyone else arises from several very real places. But the danger of “lowering” criticism and the movie viewing experience to make intentionally commercially based spoiler deadlines, lives in a dangerous area as well.
The fear of spoilers also affects theaters. Endgame’s box office will most likely be significantly front-loaded by its week-one numbers (the film’s receipts total experienced a 59% drop during the second week of release).
Theaters contend with distribution fees. The fees, during a good first-week run can total between 50-60%. However, the longer the film remains in theaters, the lower the fee drops. When films like Endgame are front-loaded, they leave theaters quicker. This allows studios to pull maximum profits, while cinemas are left to wait for the next boom.
The rise of spoiler-culture posits a cinematic experience completely destroyed by one indiscriminate detail. But in actuality, if your movie-viewing experience is significantly damaged by a couple of plot notes then you’re probably watching a terrible film. Everyone knows the HAL 9000 tries to kill its human counterparts. Most are aware Darth Vader is Luke’s father. And many know Bruce Willis falls under the category of the dead people Haley Joel Osmond sees.
No one is advocating for endings to be spoiled. The above examples are extremes, but they do represent films that have stood the test of time regardless of a shared cultural awareness of their plots. We know the endings, but the movies are good enough that said awareness doesn’t destroy them. If you knowing the Avengers will use time travel to solve their problems destroys the film for you, then once again, you’re probably watching a bad film.
Maybe Endgame falls under a separate category, since so much of the film devotes its existence to servicing fans with Easter eggs. But I doubt such presumptions. Instead, if you’re a “true” fan then you don’t need every plot detail held from you, you don’t have to see the film opening week for some commercially-imposed spoiler deadline, and you need not worry about any observations a critic makes. Because in the end, good entertainment doesn’t have an expiration date and never arrives spoiled.