**WARNING: SPOILERS IN THIS ANTI-SPOILERS ARTICLE**
We exist in a world devoid of surprises. At least cinematically speaking. For whatever reason, whenever a new film is released the world explodes into a cacophony of rumors, behind-the-scenes leaks, and spoilers that are literally impossible to avoid if you happen to exist anywhere near a computer.
Need an example? How about Spider-Man: No Way Home, one of the most anticipated films of the year — if pre-sales are any indication — and yet, why does it feel like I know everything about the pic, including “unconfirmed” cameo appearances from the likes of Tobey Maguire and/or Andrew Garfield? Why are we getting a third trailer when the film has already made a gazillion dollars in ticket sales?
Another example is Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a movie I enjoyed when I saw it opening night, albeit one fully devoid of surprises. We all knew Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson were going to appear in the film — they told us a week before the movie came out when they made the talk show circuit rounds. Sure, nothing takes away the fun of seeing the old gang busting ghosts together on the big screen, but imagine how much of a surprise it would have been had audiences walked into the pic completely unaware of their cameo?
I think what bugs me the most about all of this is that such spoilers are entirely unnecessary. Everyone was going to see Spider-Man: No Way Home anyway, right? Not only is it the third film in a popular Spidey franchise that picks up after one of the bigger cliffhangers in recent memory, but No Way Home follows in the footsteps of the very popular (and extremely well-liked) Shang-Chi. It also has the rare distinction of being the only major live-action family film to open over the holiday season.
Yet, the marketing for No Way Home, for whatever reason, feels desperate. As though Disney and Marvel were worried people were going to skip the latest Spidey flick unless it featured Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Jamie Foxx’s Electro.
Sure, one might argue studios were worried about missing out on a big payday following the disappointing turnout for Black Widow, but one need only look at the stellar performance of literally any movie in October — aside from Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel — and Ghostbusters: Afterlife to see that audiences are more than happy to flock to the theater for a big event film.
So, why spoil the goods? And don’t say it’s because of the pandemic. Hollywood has spoiled movies for years. Remember Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Yeah, the trailers to Zack Snyder’s epic spoiled two of the film’s biggest secrets — Doomsday and Wonder Woman.
Remember when Terminator Genisys spoiled its biggest twist? Or when The Two Towers spoiled Gandalf’s return? (Yeah, that plot point was straight from the much-beloved books, but I gather a large percentage of the general moviegoing public had no idea who or what a Gandalf the White was before they saw the movie.) Thor: Ragnarok revealed Hulk, for some reason, Blade Runner 2049 spoiled Harrison Ford’s return, etc.
And this isn’t new. Remember when Robert Zemeckis went ahead and spoiled the ending to Cast Away way back in 2000? Or when the trailers for James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day famously tipped that Arnold was the good guy this go around?
Back in the day you only saw a trailer once or twice, and only in a theater, or if you were lucky, on a VHS rental. Now, the internet is bombarded with trailers, TV spots, spoilery headlines from news outlets and bloggers, as well as clips that seemingly pop up out of nowhere. I had a key bit of The Matrix Resurrections spoiled for me via some jack— on Twitter all because I was cruising through NBA news and happened upon a random tweet. Damn you, universe!
Now, for comparison’s sake, check out the trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Or Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
Both trailers give you just enough to pique your interest but keep the best bits off-screen so that, you know, the movie is a completely new experience when you see it and not a collection of clips you’ve already watched on YouTube.
Ironically, Avengers Endgame is also a terrific example of marketing taking a step back, as none of the film’s bigger moments — like the big Captain America Mjolnir scene — were spoiled beforehand. That made such moments stupefyingly awesome when seen for the first time on the big screen.
The point here is that trailers and marketing are supposed to drum up interest in a product, not reveal the product entirely. For me, I would go see Jurassic Park because, well, it’s a dinosaur film directed by Steven Spielberg. I would go see Cast Away because it has an intriguing premise and stars a then-at-his-peak Tom Hanks. I would see Batman v Superman because the movie is called Batman v Superman. And I would go see Spider-Man: No Way Home because it’s the latest Spider-Man/Marvel film.
Are there really people who are swayed by marketing? Like, was someone on the fence about Cast Away until they saw that Hanks’ character survived the island? Is there someone who only decided to see Batman v Superman once they saw Doomsday in the trailer?
Studios should reward filmgoers for taking a chance on a movie. If there are plot twists and/or special cameos or big character moments, keep them tucked away. Let the opening night audience enjoy the jaw dropping reveals and allow word-of-mouth to lure others to the cinema over the next several months. You know, like the old days? Not only will opening night crowd’s enjoy massive surprises, but the film will likely remain in the limelight longer as others flock to see what all the hubbub is about.
I wager the world entire was going to see Spider-Man regardless of whether or not Doc Ock, Electro, Green Goblin or even Dr. Strange appeared in the trailer. At this point, Marvel is such an overwhelmingly successful product in and of itself, it could probably remake George Lucas’ Howard the Duck beat for beat and still make a billion dollars. Really, there’s no need to tip your hand, Kevin Feige — the crowd is already eating straight out of it!
Now, there’s a chance all of the spoilery marketing is hiding some other earth-shattering reveal; and if that’s the case, then cool. Still, imagine sitting in a darkened theater to watch the latest Spider-Man with a bunch of popcorn eating strangers and midway through the flick see Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock appear on screen for the first time since 2004 … it would be the greatest holy s— moment since the last greatest holy s— moment.
Instead, we’ll see the big Doc Ock scene and think, “Eh, I’ve already seen this.”
Someone needs to remind the marketers that they only have to sell a product, it’s the movie’s job to blow our minds.