Is spoiler-free secrecy essential for the viewing experience?

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Spoiler alerts have become commonplace for film and TV, but is secrecy really a vital part of our enjoyment?

These days the Hollywood machine is probably better at keeping the details of upcoming films secret than it is at actually making films worth the secrecy. Sometimes this just comes down to marketing – the promise of an unknown plot may intrigue punters into attending a screening, and it’s a great way to spread word of mouth. Nothing gives you the itch to see a film quite like walking in on two friends discussing a plot twist, only to have them shut up and glare at you until you leave. Christopher Nolan has championed this approach with many of his feature films, while Disney is managing to be the most enigmatic producer of fairytales since your mum started inventing new, more violent endings to bedtime stories; both Star Wars Episode VII and Tomorrowland reveal less narrative leg than a script wrapped in a burkini.

Secrecy can be a powerful monetary asset to production companies. It’s fun to be shocked by a plot twist

Clearly then, secrecy can be a powerful monetary asset to production companies. And why not? It is fun to be completely shocked by a plot twist. Being in the cinema in 1980, when Darth Vader revealed himself as Luke’s father for the first time, must literally have made a little bit of sci-fi wee dribble down many fans’ legs. Of course, these kinds of mind-shattering plot details should be kept secret up until, and for a little while after, the release of a film. But Episode V premiered over 30 years ago now, and anyone who still insists on keeping that twist secret from people who haven’t seen the film is fighting an idiotic losing battle. The responsibility, at this point, lies with the uninformed viewer who has been too apathetic to watch the DVD, not their frustrated lightsaber-wielding friends.

In a similar vein, plenty of films these days are remakes or adaptations. Spilling some plot-flavoured beans for these movies is going to spoil very little for the audience. And yet, remakes and adaptations often perform well at the box office. Kimberly Peirce’s upcoming Carrie remake looks pretty exciting, for instance. Who cares if you’ve seen the original – you want to see how it’s been done this time. The novelty comes from the remaking itself.


And then there’s the likes of Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games. Hell, Half the Harry Potter movies didn’t even make any sense unless you’d read the book first. If the story is already publicly available, in any form, then the important thing isn’t surprising the audience – it’s the novelty of seeing the old story told in a new way. This may seem obvious, but when you have the likes of Christopher Nolan trying to make the plot of the fifteen-billionth Batman movie secret, you have to wonder exactly what is going on in the minds of these Hollywood folk. I mean really, what honestly is there to spoil?

Secrecy is a masterpiece of marketing strategy; come the opening weekend, cinemas are packed out

But perhaps that’s the trick. Keep things under wraps, and it looks as if there is a big twist coming. Get the audience intrigued with cryptic trailers and budget marketing. Everyone turns up on the opening weekend expecting to poo themselves, but alas, it’s the same predictable guff we’ve been seeing for years. What a masterpiece of marketing strategy, and what a shame for original scriptwriters everywhere, who would love nothing more than to sell something new.

In fairness, some people genuinely hate having the plot spoiled for them and this writer understands that. But when I couldn’t wait for the next season of Game of Thrones, I read the books. I’m looking forward to Star Wars VII, too. But can it really feature a twist so enormous that all of this secrecy is required? Perhaps, but in all likelihood not. The secrecy is all part of the hype that Disney wants to generate around the franchise. Keep people guessing, keep them talking, and come the opening weekend, the cinemas will be packed out.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take part in the hype. Being invested in a franchise can be a lot of fun. Just don’t get your hopes up too high based on a lack of information. Take that road, and you’re only going to be burned.


Featured image: Warner Bros.

Inset image: 20th Century Fox

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