Mid-Week Poll: Do Spoilers Ruin Movies for You?

A very surprising article in Wired recently suggested that, when it comes to literature and perhaps movies, most people are not bothered by having plot details spoiled in advance. In fact, knowing the ending or a big secret can make the story more enjoyable. Do our readers agree with this? [Spoiler Alert: We’ll have a poll to find out!]

I’m of two minds about this. My first inclination is to say that if a movie or book can be “ruined” by hearing a plot spoiler, then it probably wasn’t very good in the first place. A strong story should be able to engross the audience whether they know where it’s going or not, and should be able to hold up to repeated readings/viewings.

On the other hand, there’s a real joy to discovering a story’s surprises for the first time. I also find it incredibly disheartening to watch a movie and realize that I’ve already seen every important story point in advance. I recently had that experience with the comedy ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil‘, the trailer for which gave away every single joke and plot twist from start to finish. By the time I watched it, I felt like I could already recite the whole script as it went. The only parts I hadn’t seen felt like filler.

These days, I’ve all but given up watching movie trailers entirely. I’ve refused to watch any more ads for Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ after reading a wave of complaints that its latest trailers tell practically the whole story.

What are your feelings about this?

Do Spoilers Bother You?

View Results

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[Source: Wired]


  1. Alex

    Generally, I don’t mind little bits of the plot. I actually knew most of the plot of Dark Knight before I saw it and I thought it was wonderful. You could have told me the ending of Inception ahead of time, and it wouldn’t have changed the movie one iota for me.

    On the same note, I dodged The Sixth Sense for almost nine months after it came out, and somehow no one had ruined that for me, and for that I am immensely grateful.

    So it goes both ways.

  2. I’m glad someone else besides me felt that way about the trailer for ‘Tucker & Dale’. That’s exactly what I thought when watching. I thought it was good, but not “great” like a lot of people.

  3. William Henley

    Minor plot spoilers are practically needed. I mean, I don’t think its a plot spoiler in The Hunger Games to say that Katniss takes her sister’s place and is forced to fight in a deadly game. Especially if you read the book, there is this big build up toward that. But seriously, considering the story is told in first-person by Katniss, and is about the Hunger games, you have got to be pretty thick if you are surprised by the fact that Katniss is one of the tributes.

    Or Harry Potter. Voldermort has returned and waging war on the wizarding world. That is only a spoiler if you have not finished the fourth book / movie yet, and you have been living in a cave for the past 8 years.

    So, minor plot spoilers are almost a must if you want to know what the movie is about. Major plot spoilers are just obnoxious. I mean, would The Others be any good at all if you knew the ending going into it?

  4. In most cases I wouldn’t say a spoiler ruins a movie entirely, but it can definitely lessen impact. I’m very happy I managed to see The Cabin in the Woods early so as to avoid spoilers, even though it was just as fun the second time. Cinemablend spoiled the stinger at the end of Avengers before the movie even came out in an article about “what you need to know before seeing the Avengers.” Yeah, I really didn’t need to know that thank you very much. A good example is From Dusk Til Dawn, I wouldn’t be nearly as fond of that movie had I known about the genre switch ahead of time. The worst for me is TV spoilers, not a week goes by that someone doesn’t post a massive spoiler, like a character death on Facebook before I watch the damn episode.

  5. CK

    I hate them. I got one for last season of Breaking Bad a few months ago, during the TV deathmatch going on here, and I’m still annoyed. Sure the story is still there, and I can still enjoy it, but part of the fun is the journey, not knowing where things are heading and getting to experience it yourself, instead of just hearing about it. I’ve had people ask me for details on what happens in a movie and I always wonder why they even bother watching the movie in the first place. To me, if you know too much about the movie before you see it the first time, then you aren’t truly experiencing it, you’ve just skipped to a second viewing experience; it can still be fun, you’ve been told a story, but been robbed of the fun of experiencing the story.

    • That was my bad, unfortunately. I apologize. I thought enough time had passed since that season had aired that it wouldn’t be considered a spoiler anymore, but I didn’t take into account that many people were waiting for it to show up on Netflix. Again, I’m very sorry.

        • William Henley

          I am just now catching up on old shows. Like I finished a couple of months ago Voyager for the first time, and am just now in Deep Space 9 in the 4th season. Oh, and I have started Quantum Leap. I am about 2 months behind on American Idol due to a few life-changing events, although I probably won’t finish it as Fox News and ABC showed clips from the finals today.

          Truthfully, though, if you are waiting for a show to hit Netflix or to be time-shifted, you just got to learn to not watch the news, listen to the radio, or read blogs about the show, because people are going to be talking about it. It is the current cultural climate – people like to talk about shows.

          However, if you are going to do spoilers, its usually nice to use the spoiler tag. Over in the forums, using the tag will put in a button that says “Spoiler” that you can click on to read that portion. I noticed that the tag does not seem to be supported here by WordPress.

  6. Minor stuff is fine, you need to know some stuff about a movie, but spoiling the end or any major plot twists is definitely not cool. It also doesnt matter how much you liked or hated a movie either, the review of the Wicker Tree on this site was done in very poor taste, there is no excuse to spoil anything like that no matter the circumstances, other people deserve to see it and find out the ending and anything else themselves.

    The worst is stuff being spoiled in a completely unrelated article, I had the ending spoiled for me on Game of Thrones because I was reading an article about one of the actors that had nothing to do with that show, but they decided to throw in what happened anyways shortly after the finale aired. Why would you do something like that?

    I respect everyones viewing, and I never spoil anything for anyone no matter what

    • Agreed! Being spoiled in a completely unrelated article is awful and wretched. I was reading a column about pop culture in general and the author decided to spoil “who did it” in the movie “Loft” (soon to be on an American screen near you called “The Loft”), which I had not yet seen. I still enjoyed the movie, but all the time I was thinking “I wish I didn’t know the reveal”.

  7. CK

    No biggy, I can understand the logic… I’ll survive.

    Personally, I’d say a month or so after the movie has been released on DVD is a reasonable amount of time. I don’t watch TV enough to know the time gap between movie release and a broadcast, so I can’t give an opinion on what viewing habits people might have, but most everyone I know has DVD, so the DVD release seems reasonable. I watch a lot of shows through Netflix, but I could see considering something like it a niche market, so if I wait after the DVD release for something to show up on there I would be taking the risk myself and spoilers would be my own fault.

  8. Robert

    I’ll never forget when a friend of mine accidentally told me the ending of THE USUAL SUSPECTS–he thought I had seen it already… I tried watching it after that because everyone told me it an all-around great movie, but it ultimately felt like the whole movie was built around the final reveal. It took me three tries to get through it once, and I never watched it after that.

    That is case of a spoiler truly ruining a movie.

  9. EM

    Spoilers by definition ruin the work or at least the first experience of it. The real question is, What constitutes a spoiler? Alas, it’s in the eye of the beholder. For some people, just about anything is; for some others, nothing is. I suspect most people fall somewhere between the extremes.

    I figure I need some information to decide whether to see a movie, even to whet my appetite for it. But I want to be surprised (pleasantly!) if and when I finally do see it. I used to consider information revealed by a film’s publicity campaign (when the film was new) to be the acceptable spoilage limit. Lately that standard seems a poor one for many movies. I don’t know whether the publicity standards have changed in this regard or whether my judgement in this matter was lousy in the first place.

    I think most people have certain movies, TV episodes, novels, plays, etc. that they wish to experience over and over. Even if the first experience had not been preceded by spoiler-level information, subsequent experiences effectively will be (though sometimes memory lapses can be helpful 🙂 ). Of course, a very good movie, episode, etc. will bear repetition and may even continue to spark fresh observations. Still, something is often lost, even if other things are gained. But viewers, readers, etc. often enjoy reliving the memory of the revelations of the first time; and perhaps those memories are sweeter if the first time had not been preceded by spoilers.

    • William Henley

      I used to consider information revealed by a film’s publicity campaign (when the film was new) to be the acceptable spoilage limit. Lately that standard seems a poor one for many movies. I don’t know whether the publicity standards have changed in this regard or whether my judgement in this matter was lousy in the first place

      A lot of companies actually outsource their PR campaigns, even down to the trailers (not all, wouldn’t even say most, but a lot do). So, let’s say you are a marketing major for some small marketing company, and your company just won doing the marketing campaigns for a movie, and you are suddenly left with the job of cutting the trailer. I am assuming you know what you are doing, I have seen your, oh, lets say Budweiser commercials, so I know you know how to do editing. Still, you have never edited a trailer before. Worse yet, the footage you have been given is from an incomplete version of the film, and may just be scenes, not even in order, so you do not know the flow of the movie. Shoot, the trailer could even be produced in -house by people who have done tons of trailers, and they could still be given a bunch of unfinished scenes, out of order, and told to go make something out of it.

      You also have issues with how to present a trailer that is based on a popular book. In that case, you may want to present a few clips with some spoilers to intrest people who have read the book, and get them excited about the movie. Like if I was cutting Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I may want to put in a clip of Voldermort after he comes back, or him and Harry fighting. Yeah, this is a spoiler to those who haven’t read the book, but for those who have, they are going to see that, go “COOL!” and get really excited about the movie.

      Maybe I am cutting a clip for The Sound of Music and am trying to show off the stunning photography, I may use the clip from the end of the movie of “The family escaping into Switzerland” (sorry, completely stupid story change on the part of the movie as it doesn’t make sense). The scene is visually stunning, and considering that the real Van Trapps escapped and had been holding concerts and camps in the US for 20 years leading up to the release of the movie, that shouldn’t be a spoiler to anyone.

      As such, its not as easy as you might think to cut a trailer that everyone is happy with.

      • EM

        It might not be easy for the hapless prole in the position you describe, but I should think it idiotic for the studio or distributor not to exercise greater care in its product’s marketing, which can make or break its product—regardless of whether outsourcing is used.

  10. Someone spoiled “The Usual Suspects” for me. Just like that, in my face, “THESPIAN” did it. I wasn’t amused.
    But then, for one reason or the other, I was still baffled when I found out “THESPIAN” actually did it. The plot twist at the end is so clever, I was genuinely surprised. A rare example.

  11. JM

    I like to know going in if a film has a British ending, in order to lower my expectations.

  12. I’ve always liked how Roger Ebert has said, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” I think this applies here. If a movie is good enough it stands on its own even if spoilers are spoiled. The characters, action, direction, photography, story, plot, and acting all combined to make a good movie no matter how many “secrets” it holds.

    The problem is that so many movies RELY on secrets to be considered a good movie. Plot twists are fine, but they can’t define your movie. If they are you’ve simply made a cinematic equivalent of a Dan Brown novel.

    If your movie has the “how” that Ebert is talking about then it doesn’t matter if things are spoiled because you want to watch anyway. You’re invested in what’s going on even though you may know the ending.

    I think spoilers ruin mediocre movies. Is that an option in the poll?

    • EM

      I believe that position is, “I don’t mind spoilers. If a movie is ruined by spoilers, then it must not be very good to start with.”

    • The header picture is a perfect example of this. Knowing the ending to ‘Citizen Kane’ in no way detracts from the greatness of the movie as a whole. You can still watch the movie knowing full well what Rosebud is, and still find it an amazing film.

      • EM

        You can also watch Citizen Kane colorized or dubbed or with bad sound or with no sound or with a murky transfer or with lots of ambient light, etc. and still find it an amazing film. But the experience is better still when the film is viewed under conditions that allow the filmmaker’s vision to come through with little to no hindrance.

        Cinema is a narrative form. Narratives are built on sequentiality; they are designed to reveal information (images, sounds, ideas…) in a certain order (usually a single predetermined order, but there are exceptions). This is one of the “hows” of filmmaking; the story of Citizen Kane, for example, could have been told in a straightforward chronological sequence, but Welles chose a more complex narrative structure.

        Whatever the filmmaker’s choice, presumably the ideal viewing condition for a well-made film is to receive the film’s information in the order the filmmaker chose. Of course, this is a bit of a problem for subsequent viewings, and a viewer with foreknowledge can pretend he knows less than he already does, but there is a case for attempting at least one ideal-as-possible viewing.

        Sure, a great film can transcend the spoiler problem, just as it can transcend other presentation problems. But that doesn’t mean that those problems aren’t problems.

        • Watching it in color would make it significantly less of an experience. It would ruin much, much more of the movie than watching it knowing what “Rosebud” means.

          • EM

            Perhaps so; but even if the chiaroscuro were presented perfectly, I would not recommend viewing the film (for example) in a jumbled order, at least the first time. There are good reasons for letting the story unfold in the order Welles chose, just as there are good reasons for the film stocks and the darkness levels he chose. Of course, some people don’t care for black and white, and some people don’t care for sequential structure.

  13. JM

    The spoiler dilemma is how much sexy it takes to persuade the audience to buy a ticket.

    If a great film fails to make a profit, it damages the career arc of the talent.

    The director of ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ only made $3 at the box office, so now he’s stuck doing a remake of ‘The Exorcist’ on television.