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How Spoilers Took Over the Movie Business

The most dedicated fans of franchises like Star Wars, The Walking Dead, and Guardians of the Galaxy won't be satisfied until they know everything—and a cottage industry of reporters are eager to help them.

Earlier this summer, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn made the Hollywood equivalent of a pre-emptive strike by spoiling the identity of protagonist Peter Quill's father—a key plot point from the very beginning of the franchise—before anyone else had the chance to do it. "If we lived in a perfect world, I wouldn't tell you ANYTHING before you walked in to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," wrote Gunn in a public Facebook post. "However, the world is imperfect."

Gunn rattled off several reasons for spoiling the plot of his own movie, but one explanation will ring particularly true for those spoiler-phobic who find themselves tiptoeing around the internet each time a new scoop on the next Star Wars or Marvel blockbuster starts cascading across the internet. "There are journalists online who love giving you scoops about characters and plot twists in upcoming films," wrote Gunn. "Frankly, I would rather be in control of the announcement myself than have it come out on SpoilersRUs.com in a few weeks."

Spoilers come in many forms, but Gunn is talking about a very specific breed of reporter: those who traffic in releasing key information about beloved franchises—cast lists, directors, even plot points—long before the studio has siphoned out the information on its own terms, via a carefully crafted press release or a splashy Comic-Con announcement. Gunn is wary, correctly, of reporters like El Mayimbe, the self-proclaimed "fanboy journalist" whose sources trade him inside info on big-ticket blockbusters in exchange for access to fancy parties. In a 2015 Grantland profile, Alex Pappademas attempted to pin down why El Mayimbe's legions of followers are so keen to have their favorite movies picked to shreds before they’ve had the chance to see them. "His scoops tap into the basic human yearning to locate and shake one's Christmas presents pre-December 25," says Pappademas. "He may be the emblematic film journalist of a moment in which the only movies that seem to move the needle culturally are movies that have yet to be released, or cast, or even scripted."

But if El Mayimbe is the poster child for the Spoil Everything School of Film Journalism, he's not the only one to make a living trafficking in casting scoops and set leaks. Making Star Wars, a site run by a spoiler-hunter named Jason Ward, became legendary among fans for correctly reporting many details about Star Wars: The Force Awakens months before the film's release, from the fact that the villainous Kylo Ren was Han Solo's son to Han Solo's ultimate death at his hands. "I got information in every single form you could possibly imagine," Ward told Wired after the film's release. "From emails to phone calls to people saying, 'Meet me at this place by the beach, and we can talk.'"

But the efforts of those individual journalists have nothing on the crowdsourced insanity of The Spoiling Dead, which is dedicated to spoiling every single thing about AMC's The Walking Dead, with information largely gleaned by enthusiasts who obsessively monitor the show's Georgia set. The Spoiling Dead is created and sustained by The Walking Dead's most devoted fans (with 332,000 Facebook Likes and counting)—but it's also turned out to be a massive headache for the show's creative team, which goes to insane lengths to keep the site from spoiling the entire plot before the show airs. "We received reports that one of the transport vans in particular was being very sneaky and careful not to get too close to onlookers," says one recent dispatch. "They seemed to be hiding whoever was inside. Another witness reported that they thought they saw a male actor trying to hide by ducking down in one of the vans."

To my mind, the ongoing war between The Walking Dead and The Spoiling Dead has grown exponentially more interesting and dramatic than The Walking Dead itself. Spoiler-hungry fans have taken to flying drones over the Georgia set to capture shots of which actors are filming, which is a particularly big problem for a show that wrings so much of its tension over who lives and who dies. The Walking Dead's creative team has responded by engineering increasingly elaborate fake-outs—including, most notably, filming the deaths of every single character involved last year's in last season’s cliffhanger ending in an effort to obscure who really dies.

Gunn attempted a similar kind of subterfuge on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, ensuring that all official documents referred to Kurt Russell's character as "J'Son," the identity of Peter Quill's father in the original Marvel comics (but not, as Gunn admitted in his Facebook post, in the films). When a group of journalists visited the set, Gunn even ensured that Russell sat in a chair with the name "J'Son" on it.

But in the end, Gunn gave up the veil of secrecy and spoiled his own movie, and he was probably right to do so. We've seen what happens when directors insist on secrecy for twists that have already been blown way open by internet sleuths. In the months leading up to the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams repeatedly insisted that Benedict Cumberbatch was'’t playing the legendary Trek baddie Khan. As the 007 flick Spectre headed into theaters, Christoph Waltz unconvincingly laughed off questions about whether his mysterious villain was actually Blofeld, Bond's most storied adversary. But once the word was out, the magic was already gone, and both the Star Trek Into Darkness and the Spectre "twists" fell flat.

At a time when the appetite for juicy spoilers has never been bigger, creators, reporters, and critics needs to simultaneously cater to a diverse subset of fans: Those who have known every plot twist for months, those who know the source material well enough to have some idea about what’s coming next, and those who are so desperate to be surprised by every twist that they think any information, no matter how speculative, constitutes a spoiler. But when a director goes out of his way to publicly spoil the plot of his own movies, I think it's probably time to admit that the spoiler-hounds have won.

So who is Peter Quill's father in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? I’m not saying—but if you'd rather have it spoiled right now, the answer is only a click away.

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