Spoiler Alert! Spoilers and When to Discuss Them
Warning! This article, ironically about not discussing spoilers, will contain spoilers for the following: The Empire Strikes Back, The Titanic, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Halloween (1978) and Avengers Endgame.
Spoiler alert! Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. I’m pretty confident that at least 90% of the people reading this already knew that little fact. I mean, the quote “Luke, I am your father” is an iconic (but actually incorrectly quoted) piece of that movie. However, looking at the movie as a whole, that scene is a pretty big spoiler. I mean, the villain is the protagonist’s father?!? That was nearly unheard of back then. Many people were shocked by this reveal, but why is it OK to openly discuss today? The answer is quite obvious: the movie is over 40 years old, so we should be allowed to discuss a major plot point of the movie. But what if that movie was released 30 years ago? What about 20? 10? Last year? What if The Empire Strikes Back was released last week? Would it still be acceptable in our society to talk so openly about this spoiler?
Before we get into the discussion of spoiler etiquette, we should discuss what exactly would constitute a spoiler. Would a spoiler be defined as a major plot point of any show or movie? If so, then the sinking of the Titanic would fit as a spoiler, but I don’t think many would say that the major plot point of The Titanic, the titular boat sinking in the end, would be a spoiler. Would it be defined as any plot point that is unknown to an audience? Again, I would have to say no. Based on this definition, Mysterio’s villain reveal in Spider-Man: Far From Home, would count as a spoiler. However, anyone remotely familiar with the Spider-Man comics would see this twist coming a mile away, as Mysterio is one of Spider-Man’s most famous villains. I’ve given it some thought and this is the definition of a spoiler that I came up with. I believe that a spoiler would constitute anything from a movie, book, TV show, or other form of entertainment, that is purposely hidden from the public, with the intention of surprising them. One form of this type of spoiler would be the fact that Michael Myers gets away at the end of Halloween (1978).
Now that we’ve got our definition of what exactly a spoiler is, we can go even further. Spoilers, in my mind, can be divided into three distinct categories: plot spoilers, character spoilers, and mini spoilers. Plot spoilers are pretty simple, anything that has to do with a plot element would count as a plot spoiler. Character spoilers can be divided into two categories: character changes, which would simply be a change in motivation or scenes with that character, and character deaths, pretty self-explanatory. Finally, mini spoilers would constitute anything that cannot fit into the other two categories. Maybe a really funny joke; just things that people wouldn’t be upset to be “spoiled” about.
Ok, now that we’ve broken down the types of spoilers, let’s go over how long after a movie comes out that it is ok to spoil. For the mini spoilers, I’d say that waiting a day or two would be a good time frame. That lets the people who really want to see the movie see it, and people who aren’t too invested could get some idea of its content. Next up are the character motivations. I believe that waiting around two weeks after a movie comes out should be a good length. People obviously would want to discuss what happens in conversations, so I don’t think that they should have to wait more than two weeks to do so. Finally we have the big boys, plot spoilers and character deaths. These are the things that you think of when you hear “spoiler.” I feel that people should wait at least a month before openly discussing these aspects of a movie. Open discussion of these things could ruin it for people who don’t have enough time to see the movie in its opening week.
Here’s a little example of how spoilers could impact a moviegoing experience, and this one comes from my own experience. For context, before Avengers: Infinity War came out, I binge-watched all the previous MCU movies over a period of about two months. When the movie finally came out, I loved it. Obviously, it ended on a cliffhanger. Fast forward a year and Avengers Endgame is slated for release. I’m pumped, I order tickets for the weekend after it comes out and scroll through Twitter. Now, since the movie had only just been released, I expected the people on social media to be a bit more courteous to those who had not seen the movie, and for the most part, they were. Any discussions were labeled with spoiler warnings, and everyone was happy. However, that happiness was only temporary. After scrolling through the replies to a tweet that had absolutely nothing to do with the movie, there I see it, in big, bold letters: “Iron Man dies in Endgame.” That was it. No picture, no emoji implying a joke, just the sentence. As soon as I saw it, I immediately closed the app, and tried to push the thought out of my mind, but I couldn’t. As I was sitting in the theater, having a great time, that one sentence was eating away at me, and when the time came, I should have been surprised, shocked, but no. I sat there with a look of dissatisfaction on my face. Keep in mind, I still loved the movie, but it could have been more.
Hopefully this article will help people understand my frustration with spoilers because they can ruin a moviegoer’s experience. Now, I’m not telling you to follow these time frames to a tee, or to never talk about spoilers, but be more considerate of people who haven’t seen them. Understand that not everyone is able to take a few hours out of their day to sit in a chair and watch a movie. Spoilers ruin movies, full stop, let’s all try to be just a little more aware of who may be seeing the discussion. If all else fails in the end, nothing works better than to add a simple spoiler warning.