As online outlets drop spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals – even though it’s not out for two weeks – a plea to treat readers with a bit more fairness and respect.
This article contains no spoilers at all.
Whilst it’d be remiss to call the world post-pandemic, there’s a very real sense now of normality resuming in the world of big movies. As this piece was being written, the London Film Festival has just drawn to a close, with many stars and filmmakers jetting into the UK for glitzy premieres. Major blockbusters are back on the big screen, and finally getting the kind of box office numbers that Hollywood bean counters like to see. And the respective publicity machines for major movies are very much fired up, right down to press interviews no longer relying on a Zoom connection holding firm.
It’s against that backdrop that the Disney-owned Marvel has scheduled no fewer than four of its movies for release in the space of seven months, increasingly leaning on a cinema-exclusive bow for them too. Its willingness to bet on theatrical exhibition has clearly returned. Whilst Black Widow went to the big screen and Disney+ Premier Access (translation: we’ll have your subscription fee and an extra 20 notes off you thanks) simultaneously earlier this year, for September’s Shang-Chi & The Legend Of The Ten Rings, and the upcoming Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s cinema all the way.
Furthermore, Disney and Marvel has the confidence with Eternals, due out in early November, to do things the old-fashioned way. Thus, a world premiere took place in Hollywood at the start of the week, and the traditional press was duly in attendance. The rest of us can’t get to see the film for another two weeks, when its release date hits. But that’s the point of course of drumming up noise and getting us interested now. To build awareness and hype for the movie, and to get social media buzzing with pictures and posts from the movie’s unveiling. We all pretty much know the drill by now.
Yet, not for the first time, the debuting of a major comic book movie has come with a downside. Sadly, we’re now seeing film outlets – starved of big releases to talk about for so long – feasting on what they see as clickbait gold, with the seemingly acceptable collateral that it might just spoil the film in question for their readers.
In the case of Eternals, the film – as you’d expect from a Marvel Cinematic Universe venture – contains some hefty spoilers, the ilk of which the majority of fans would like to discover for themselves on the big screen. Unfortunately, what seems to have happened is that a reporter or two for major Hollywood trade press outlets have openly discussed those spoilers on their Twitter feeds. Then, just to double down on this – and heavily amplify what’s been said – a collection of outlets have turned those Tweets into spoiler-y news pieces. Let’s charitably say that some disguise those spoilers better than others.
Regular users of a service like Twitter will know that it can be a spoiler minefield at the best of times. If you’re awaiting the chance to watch the finale of a major TV series, most of us know to stay clear for a start. But at least on the whole, the spoilers that are thrown around on Twitter are for films and TV shows out there and accessible to most people.
When it’s an enclosed screening that a privileged few get a ticket to, to then take that privilege to spoil a film for others? At best, it’s bad manners, at worst it’s ruining or damaging a film for the very readers you’re supposed to be serving.
I’m not naming names incidentally, for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve no urge to start a pile on. Two, this isn’t exclusive to Eternals, and it’s a broader issue I think to consider. Three, and most importantly, I think the focus should ultimately be on the reader, and whether all of this is fair for them. Because I think if you get early access to something, it’s incumbent on you to keep its secrets. I think it’s basic decency too.
I’m rare I guess in that I think film Twitter can be a positive place, and I believe on the whole it is. I confess I struggle a little – and I used to be guilty of this until someone called me out on it – with the posting that you’re off to a press screening of a film that isn’t available to everyone else for weeks. But also, I’ve reconciled that’s pretty much harmless. What I instead love is the debate, the fun, the support, the surprising kindness and care that we’re sometimes led to believe doesn’t exist in the world. I also see a positive community out there, who cares about film.
And then you see representatives of hugely influential outlets taking that, and seemingly gleefully lobbing pieces of spoiler meat out there, with no warning.
Again, and I can’t say this enough: for a film in this case that nobody else can see for two more weeks. Heck, I’m all for movie exclusives that are about working contacts, breaking casting news, finding out about new projects. But when your exclusive is about spoiling a film? There’s a bin there, go and get in it. Those large outlets will face no consequence of course, and I’d imagine most of them know it. That when they want their interview time, it’ll be a smaller, fairer outlet that gets squeezed.
And so the cycle goes on.
I’ve come to conclude that the power, ultimately, rests in readers. With people like your fine selves.
I’ve long thought you can divide outlets – and of course I’ve got some skin in the game here – into those that prioritise readers over clicks, and those for whom clicks matter more than readers. I’m also not naïve: there is a balance. Put a little bit of a tease in a headline, and you’re going to draw in more traffic, and that in turn tends to have a financial ramification. It’s a tough game, and everybody gets it wrong at some point. This very website, full disclosure, gave away a spoiler in a headline last week. An absolute accident, but that doesn’t make it better for the person who had the film undercut as a result.
But I do think there’s a line of intent, and this week we’ve seen the best and worse of the movie press.
I see journalists online – and that aforementioned film Twitter – genuinely angry that outlets are playing fast and loose with story threads people should have at least have a chance to find out for themselves. I’ve seen many excellent outlets stand firm and eschew the clicks in favour of playing fair. And then I’ve seen some continue the race to the bottom. I think most of us know who they are, and please don’t go there in the comments.
Instead, can we salute the ones who do play fair. Who do respect readers. Who are a bit more on your side.
Inevitably I’d request this: please support them. Please register your displeasure with those outlets spoiling films for you ahead of release. Please save your clicks for someone else. Sadly, it’s the only way I can see this’ll change. And whilst it doesn’t, expect whatever happens in that next Spider-Man film to be spoiled for you in advance, by an outlet who’ll simply move onto the next big movie untouched.
Something, surely, has to give.
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