Open Forum Friday: Is the Fear of Spoilers Killing Cultural Discussion?


When you run a movie website or podcast, it’s pretty much a given that you will have to confront the issue of spoilers on a daily basis. People who are fans of movies and TV shows want to know more about them, but they also don’t want the experience of watching those movies and TV shows ruined for them. And therein lies the problem. The issue cropped up over the past few weeks on the Film Junk Podcast as a result of a silly little spat between Frank and myself, but after I read an in-depth article on Wired this week, I thought maybe it was worth discussing further. When we have people publicly posting spoilers with malicious intent and other people actively avoiding any promotional material for a movie at all, it made me wonder if the fear of spoilers has come to a head and is in danger of killing the conversation completely.

When most people review movies they try to avoid giving away major plot elements. I think that is a reasonable expectation, and for the most part you can still get across your feelings while adhering to that. However, for certain movies, spoilers are necessary in order to get to the meat of the discussion. Again, this is fine as long as you warn people ahead of time. The situation becomes more complicated when you’re talking about older movies or news related to upcoming movies. Here the rules are more vague, and when you factor in the immediacy of social media, it’s chaos. What bugs me is when people assume that any piece of advance knowledge ruins a film when that is not necessarily the case. This boils movies down to nothing more than a plot delivery device when we all know they are more than that. Sometimes it is not what happens that is interesting, it is how it happens. Part of me feels that if you are going to actively seek out information and criticism about media, you have to accept that sometimes you will have things spoiled for you. But I know a lot of people will disagree. What do you think? Does the responsibility for spoiler avoidance fall on the audience or the critic? Are older movies fair game or should spoilers apply forever? Are people simply becoming too sensitive about spoilers? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

  • Maureen W.

    I think the definition of spoiler has changed over time. People are way more sensitive to having any detail given away. In my opinion giving away a plot twist or the ending of a film (I think it was Gene Siskel who gave away an important twist in The Crying Game during a prime time TV special) that’s a spoiler. Giving the plot in a review so that people who aren’t aware of a film might be interested in seeing it is not a spoiler. I think that if something is in a trailer, it’s not a spoiler. I mean do people cover their eyes during previews now?

  • MisterQuigley

    Do not equate “spoilers” of a original property recently released with some fuckin douchebag talking about a Lady Stoneheart. Something that’s been published for over a decade as opposed to spilling plot points to an original film meant to be surprised by? WTF Sean???

  • Owozifa

    If it was killing cultural discussion how do you get away with putting out a podcast every week?

  • Lori Cerny

    Aren’t remakes spoilers for those who’ve watched the original films?

    I don’t think it’s possible to spoil most films because they’re all so trite.
    Mysteries are an exception? Yes. Thrillers are an exception? Yes.

    Does anyone go into a superhero/comic book film and not know that the protagonist is going to win? Or that in most rom-coms, the boy will get the girl? When was the last time anyone was genuinely surprised at the ending to a movie?

    Re: the spat between Sean & Frank. I say, get some pool noodles and have at it. The loser has to wear an embarrassing shirt (in public!).

  • Sean

    So for you spoiling a recent theatrical release based on an original story is much worse than spoiling a book that’s a decade old?

  • Sean

    I mean obviously I’m exaggerating a bit but I know there are a lot of people who don’t listen to our reviews until they see a movie, which could be months later. Understandable, but it limits the amount of discussion that can happen.

  • Normally I don’t mind listening to you guys talk about a movie before I’ve seen it because I know that you keep it spoiler free.
    Though I must say: I was glad I saw Edge Of Tomorrow before I listened to the FilmJunk review (because of the thing about the girl, you know what I’m talking about). If I hadn’t seen the film already I wouldn’t have wanted to know that fact. Even though it was in the trailer, because I avoid trailers entirely if it’s a film I’m looking forward to.
    On the other hand: I can also understand that even if that part should’ve been spoiled, it probably wouldn’t have taken my enjoyment of the movie down. It’s hard to say, but I generally just try to avoid news and trailers of all kinds for movies I really want to see because I just want to go in with a clear mind and be surprised. Again: like the fact about the girl in EoT. I was pleasantly surprised when that came up in the movie, glad I didn’t see the trailer (and don’t get me started on that 15min. “featurette” that’s on youtube, that just flat out shows the entire movie, insane.)

  • pcch7

    In terms of you spoiling Frank, I don’t really think you’re in the wrong Sean. I certainly didn’t feel spoiled. I suspect a man of Franks abilities wouldn’t be spoiled by such a thing either but there you go.

    Older movies are generally fair game imo.

  • Owozifa

    It certainly depends on the movie with me, but I don’t think it’s too bad because I think you guys generally do a good job of having a main review section that won’t overly spoil things. If I know for sure I want to see a movie I might wait. Generally I see it pretty quickly and often before the episode comes out if that’s the case. If I’m on the fence about a movie the review is useful to decide whether I’ll wait to rent it later rather than go to the theater.

    I do agree that sometimes spoilers are overplayed. Even if I know something about a movie I’ll get into the narrative as it’s playing so that I forget any knowledge I bring in with me. That happened with How to Train Your Dragon 2. Trailers are much worse than discussion spoilers because if someone just says something it lacks the visual context to have you immediately place it in the movie.

  • MisterQuigley

    I’m not sure why you are taking this point of view. Answer this question, pulease…

    Why do I know who Lady Stoneheart is, having never read the books?

  • FDB

    Not demeaning the discussion in any way, but I wish everyone would shut up about spoilers. People’s definition of what constitutes a spoiler vacillates so wildly that basically ANYTHING can be labelled a spoiler, and that can only limit discussion. If “people” are so affected by the minutiae of a movie’s plot that the whole experience can be ruined for them by knowing the details, they’re probably watching for the wrong reasons. But that’s just my opinion, obvs.

  • PlanBFromOuterSpace

    I do believe that spoiling a film with an original story is worse than spoiling a film based on a series of books that’s been out there for a while, but that brings up MY biggest problem with spoilers, and that’s hearing about them where I either wouldn’t be looking for them or where they shouldn’t be in the first place.

    For instance, this is a movie review/news site, not a book review site, and you guys do a pretty good job of not getting into the differences between the story as it’s told in the two mediums. However, there’s been a lot of talk this week about “Game of Thrones” on a variety of entertainment and TV/movie sites, and one of the main problems with that has been not just simply “this character was there at this point in the book”, but then an explanation of who that character is, what they go on to do, and the fate of other characters. Now, if/when these characters ARE introduced, their storyline has already been spoiled for us, because every asshole that’s read the book that doesn’t trust the story to play out on it’s own in the show felt the need to be know-it-alls.

    I think that how you guys try to handle spoilers is great, as you put it at the end of the show, you mention it in the notes, and you even give the timestamp. There are other shows I’ve stopped listening to entirely, because they don’t at least give the same courtesy. For instance, there was a wrestling podcast that I used to listen to where they’d often go off-topic and launch into lengthy spoiler-filled discussions of that week’s episode of “Dexter”, which I hadn’t seen yet. It’s nice to hear everyone’s opinions and theories on something if I’m caught up, but even then, I’d probably seek out a “Dexter” podcast, preferably one that isn’t going to break out into a wrestling discussion in the middle of the show.

    Anyway, I think that if you frequent sites like FilmJunk, you should already have an idea of what you’re getting into, that you can’t get too worked up when someone describes the contents of a movie trailer. Upsetting would be if you went to ESPN to check football scores and were met on the homepage by pictures of secret cameos in the Justice League film that isn’t coming out for two more years.

  • Sean was in the right

    Frank stop being a little bitch.

  • Nathan

    It is not your responsibility to avoid talking about spoilers. Don’t second guess what you do. Its up to us to avoid them.

    I’ve been listening to you guys for years. One thing i have learnt is to NEVER listen to your podcast if I haven’t seen a movie and the movie is one of the main reviews. You guys are pretty good at avoiding spoilers but you seem to disregard this more often when you dislike a movie. In those cases, you will discuss more of the movie, specific plot points.

    I have started to even avoid trailers now for all main movies, like Frank does. I started this last year with Elysium and Dark Knight rises, which I think really enhanced my enjoyment of the movies, especially not seeing any of the third acts.

    I’m trying to take it to the next level with Star Wars. I have active word filters on Reddit to block all Star Wars related information, skip all news on your podcast, etc. I know JJ is pretty good a hiding info (like he did with Cloverfield) so I might watch the teaser for Star Wars, but no chance of me watching the full trailer.

  • As far as spoilers in your main reviews, I usually either wait until I’ve seen the movie to listen, or it’s a film I probably won’t be watching so I listen anyway. I think the blame isn’t on you for “spoilers” in articles, it’s more of a “how we talk about movies” problem. With casting and directing news, “new plot details revealed” articles, multiple trailers… It’s a wonder if any piece of dialogue or event can ever be a suprise anymore.

  • On the topic of spoilers of older films, imagine trying to talk about Psycho today without spoilers. So much about what makes that movies amazing, beyond just plot elements, would be considered spoiler territory on a podcast today. If I hear Jay talk about a Criterion release of an older film I think I might be interested in, I skip ahead until he’s done talking about it and then listen back later.

    I have to say,I find it remarkable that you guys are so courteous when it comes to spoilers on the show. Shows like Row 3 are full spoiler all the time. For movies like Prisoners or Edge of Tomorrow, it’s nice to go into the experience knowing as little about the plot as possible. But for Captain America and the Winter Soldier I could give a fuck.

    And, one last thing, I don’t think spoilers have EVER ruined a movie experience for me. Even if you know the ending to a movie, it’s still interesting to see how the plot gets there, and there’s much more about a film to gnaw on throughout than just which character’s end up doing what.

  • Yup, people only label something a spoiler if it is information they didn’t want to know yet. Frank doesn’t give a shit if he finds out what Tim Burton’s next movie is, but if he finds out a second monster is in Godzilla, watch out.

  • My view in general is that if a story cannot survive being spoiled it might actually not be that good of a story. In a great story the way the story is told is what is interesting.

    Besides, there is a study suggesting that people who get a story spoiled actually enjoy it more:

  • Ripplesdip

    Agreed, surely the KoC would have “Sensed” there being another creature?

  • Jr

    RCA: The internet is killing cultural discussion.

  • Jameson

    I’d say what’s more frustrating is that with every big release, we get A) Tons of trailers that give way too much away and B) Hear every detail about production. There really is no sense of surprise. I’m glad Abrams is doing his best to keep Star Wars on the hush hush, but even so the media is trying to spill as much info as possible. We no longer live in a time where people go see a movie without having significant speculation of what happens in the film.

  • Nick Poliskey

    I completely disagree with the sentiment of your last paragraph. You are talking about the “craft” of film making, and how to put a mystry on the big screen, and I assume guys like Cheel would agree, but I am more like frank (and maybe sean), I want entertainment, I don’t care how it is made. I would say MOST movies I would not see if someone told me the end. Part of the fun is red herrings, and trying to fish out what is important, so just having the end given to you is absurd.

  • Nick Poliskey

    I agree with most people that trailers are way worse than any Review site or podcast. But to your point about actually killing conversation, I think it does affect you Junk guys. I have noticed that often you will not talk about spoilers so you will cut off entire lines of conversation, but if the movie isn’t “good enough” for a spoiler discussion we never end up hearing anything good or funny!! A great example was your review for Non-stop, you guys talked about almost nothing for about 10 minutes because almost anything you gave away would have been a spoiler, and it was OBVIOUS there was some stuff you guys were itching to discuss, but since the movie was stupid you guys didn’t do a spoiler discussion at the end. I am sure I am not the 1st person to say that listening to you guys shit on bad movies is 75% of the fun!!!! That was a huge missed opportunity. Further, Frank and your argument aside, you do give tons away in your discussions (as do all podcast reviewers, I am not picking on you) anyways, so I would be fine if you guys just included spoilers in movie discussion…..I am in that crowd of people that will not listen to the podcast until after a movie I know I will see anyways.

  • Nick Poliskey

    I agree, why does a movie need 5 trailers, and 3 TV spots? Every movie should get ONE sixty-second trailer….BY LAW.

  • I’m not talking about the craft. The story of Fight Club is still interesting even if you know the twist. The story of Empire Strikes Back is still thrilling if you know that Vader is Luke’s father. Sure, it’s nice to have these moments be surprises, but to skip an entire movie because you found out the twist ahead of time is to say that the only interesting thing about movies is their plot (and, beyond that, just the plot reveals and twists).

  • They don’t need that many. But as with everything else, they want more money. So the more attention they draw to their movie, the more people will go see it.

  • Lol good point

  • The only spoilers that I care about avoiding are plot twists such as who the killer is in Se7en and the twist in The Sense. Basically anything that is a mystery or completely changes the tone of the movie.

  • I tried to edit my post to correct “The Sixth Sense” (even before posting it) but my iphone wouldn’t let me type anything. I’ve never had this happen before so I’m guessing it might be some sort if bug with this site on mobile devices? Just wanted to let you guys know about it.