What’s a ‘spoiler’? And why are some people so easily spoiled?

Peter Sciretta at SlashFilm posted something the other day that summarizes a thought I’ve been having a lot lately: People have changed the definition of what a “spoiler” is.

Peter writes:

Originally a spoiler meant something from a film that gave away a twist or turning point in the story. Basically, anything that would ruin your experience watching the story on the big screen. I don’t know exactly when, but sometime in the last year the tide began to change online, and [even] studio-released production photos began to be considered “spoilers” even when they didn’t reveal something major about the story.

Nowadays we have people freaking out if they see or read ANYTHING about a movie, no matter how minor. Peter’s article was prompted by some fans getting upset when he posted photos of the new Hasbro toy version of the “Cloverfield” monster. To them, seeing what the monster looked like constituted a “spoiler,” and he should have warned them before posting the picture.

But it’s not a spoiler, for several reasons. First and foremost, anyone who was that jazzed about discovering what the monster looks like has seen the movie by now. And second, even if these photos had been published before the movie was released, knowing what the monster looks like doesn’t “spoil” anything. The movie isn’t “about” the monster’s appearance. It was the “Cloverfield” marketing department that somehow got people hyped up about “WHAT DOES THE MONSTER LOOK LIKE?!?! OMG I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE IT AND FIND OUT!!!!!!” As Peter put it, “Seeing Godzilla before a Godzilla movie is not a spoiler.”

My general rule when I write reviews is that if something happens within the first 30 minutes, or if it’s in the movie’s trailer, it’s fair game. But even then I try to err on the side of caution. I can think of a few instances where a character dies very early in the film (like in the first 10 minutes), and rather than say the couple “grieves over the death of their son,” I’ll write that the couple “suffers a tragedy” or something vague like that. And we all know that some trailers give too much away, so I frequently find myself being more cautious than they are.

If you ever do see something in one of my reviews that you think is a spoiler, please let me know! I don’t like having things spoiled for me — and I mean actually spoiled, not “here’s what the monster looks like” spoiled — and I certainly don’t want to spoil things for my readers. The point of a review is to give you an idea of what a film is like, not to lay all the major details out for you. So if I screw up, let me know.

But if your definition of a “spoiler” is “any information whatsoever about a movie’s content,” then you would do well not to visit movie websites (and to realize that not everyone shares your definition of the word). You’d think that would be obvious, but Peter can show you the angry e-mails proving that some people haven’t caught on yet.

(Note: At the top of Peter’s article, he has a graphic from a T-shirt in which 17 movies or stories have their twists revealed. Most of them are pretty famous anyway (“Rosebud was the name of the sled,” “Soylent Green is made of people,” etc.), but just in case, you might want to avert your eyes. That’s particularly true if you haven’t seen “Fight Club” or gotten around to reading the sixth Harry Potter book yet.)