Once upon a time there used to be some level of restraint among movie news site writers and editors about putting spoilers to movies that hadn’t yet opened or had just hit theaters in their stories. It used to be that most sites waited at least a few weeks, if not a month or so before doing so in order to make sure everyone reading who was most likely to be outraged by their inclusion would have already seen it. Over time that slipped to a couple weeks and then, most recently, just a few days. If you didn’t see the movie opening weekend, it seemed, all bets were off.
Based on my experience last week, the “spoiler free” zone has shrunk to the morning the movie opens. Not the day after, but that day. And the abuses are becoming more blatant and hard to avoid.
Last Friday I was surfing through my RSS feeds as I usually do in the morning and at least three different websites all had significant character or plot point revelations not included in the movie’s marketing or publicity right there in the headline, spelled out as clear as day. There were no vague terms used or “spoiler warning” labels followed by three paragraphs of ellipses so you could skip it if you wanted to.
In. The. Headline.
Now I’m not one that gets too upset by spoilers. I don’t go seeking them out and will avoid them if and when I can, but if I happen to read something it’s not a big deal. My philosophy is that if a movie can’t entertain me and hold my attention even when I know what’s coming then it’s probably not very well constructed or entertaining in the first place. Other people view things differently and I respect that and so don’t reveal plot points to anyone who doesn’t want to know them or who already does. So this is very little skin off my nose.
There are plenty of people, though, who feel differently. They want to go into movies like Avengers: Infinity War, Solo and other event films sullied by as little foreknowledge as possible. It’s an understandable point of view and, quite frankly, an extreme position that should ideally serve as the guidepost for sites and critics considering including plot points in their stories.
The tactic of spoiling movies in headlines (and its close cousin, where a site will use a headline like “You’ll Never Guess Who Shows Up In X Movie” and then puts a photo of that character right below that headline) is a symptom of the state of media in 2018. Sites are desperate for whatever ad dollar crumbs Facebook will throw them while at the same time relying on Facebook to send traffic.
It’s a situation wherein everyone loses, including the reader who’s now had a major plot twist ruined for them. It might even take so much joy out of their situation that they decide to skip the movie in theaters entirely and wait for it to come to home video, in which case even more parties wind up with the fuzzy end of the lollipop.
The only real way out of this is for a radical revolution to come to the media world resulting in sites no longer having to so actively chase the lowest common denominator when it comes to traffic. If they were free of concerns about how big a chunk of revenue they were going to lose this year to the duopoly of Facebook and Google they could better serve their readers in a meaningful and respectful way.
Unfortunately that’s not where we are. For the time being there’s only one way to go and that’s down, which means I won’t be surprised when spoiler-ridden headlines start appearing after advance screenings or festival presentations, not just opening weekend for the general public.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.