There are few sentences more alarming to a fan community than “there’s been a leak.” And that’s exactly the situation we have on our hands with Avengers: Endgame. The film, which is set to have its Hollywood premiere Monday, followed by press screenings Tuesday and a wide release Thursday night, has managed to stay one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets until now. Leaked footage was reported as popping up online Monday evening, prompting the spoiler-adverse, myself included, to temporarily abandon their social media accounts by the droves. While a desire to stay away from spoilers is pretty standard when it comes to big blockbuster releases, the reaction to Endgame spoilers being out in the wild is unprecedented. We’re in full panic mode. Never has a movie of this magnitude, with this much at stake, been subject to being spoiled before anyone, including the film’s stars, has had a chance to see it. The situation we’re seeing right now may be the biggest burden of the spoiler culture fandom has helped create.
After the leak, Endgame directors the Russo Bros. penned a letter (as they did last year for Avengers: Infinity War) asking fans not to spoil the movie. The the letter did not address the leak but rather fans who will be seeing the film in theaters.
"When you see Endgame in the coming weeks, please don't spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn't want it spoiled for you," they wrote. "Remember, Thanos still demands your silence."
If you asked me a couple weeks ago, I would have definitively said that spoilers don’t ruin movies. The subject of spoilers had built a conversation around the latest adaptation of Pet Sematary, in which the film’s trailers revealed a major deviation from the novel and the 1989 film. While I wish I’d been able to see the moment in theaters without prior knowledge, it didn’t ruin the film. Yet, here we are today, and I’ve muted all Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe associated words on my Twitter feed, an act I’ve successfully employed before earlier this year for Shazam!, Us, and Captain Marvel. On top of muting every variation of phrase and hashtag I could think of, I deleted the Twitter app from my phone and swore off scrolling through my feed for the next week, just in case something slips by the blocks I’ve set up. I still don’t believe that spoilers ruin movies; after all, you can re-watch a movie and find it just as great, or watch an adaptation of previously read book and still find enjoyment despite a knowing familiarity. But I do believe there’s a sacred experience to be found in going into a movie with as little knowledge as possible.
I’m the kind of viewer who leaves the room during TV spots for Avengers movies, who wears headphones to theater so I don’t catch a stray spoiler or opinion from a viewer leaving the theater or walking in armed with internet knowledge. And I’m far from the only one. There’s a coalition of fans who will take any temporary measures to remain shrouded. Silly to be so invested? Perhaps. But on the other hand, so much of our news media is driven by spoilers, costume reveals and behind-the-scenes photos sent off to be analyzed, poked and prodded by anyone on the internet with an opinion (that’s everyone). Every production decision, from star contracts to re-shoots, is exposed and judged. And if you want to use the internet before you’ve seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, or you’re waiting to see the latest blockbuster until after the weekend crowds die down, well…good luck. Even the meme phenomenon of “spoilers without context” isn’t so removed from context that a knowledgeable viewer can’t glean at least some meaning from it. The internet waits for no one, and the only safe option is to get out while the getting is good.
But what is it that we’re so afraid of losing when it comes to spoilers?
Even with a majority of fans believing Iron Man and Captain America will die in Endgame, the idea of that belief being confirmed before seeing it with our own eyes would be a devastating blow. It’s not so much what the spoiler is that stresses us so, but the possibility of having an experience stolen from us. Now, when there’s so much freedom that comes with our viewing habits courtesy of streaming services and YouTube clips, it’s a true pleasure to watch something that we can’t fast-forward or perform the equivalent of turning to the last page.
It’s a pleasure to watch something that hasn’t yet entered our lexicon of pop culture references and memes. To experience a film untarnished by spoilers and the guesswork that immediately results from them is to capture the magic of going to the cinema. It’s a reminder of why audiences fell in love with movies to begin with, and why maestros like Alfred Hitchcock forbade ticket sellers from letting anyone enter Psycho (1960) after the show had started. For modern audiences, the show starts a lot earlier, before filming has even finished, and there’s no clock-watching Hitchcock to wag his finger. The best we can do is mute words, perform self-imposed social media exiles, and maybe take a pair of headphones to the theater and keep the volume up until the trailers start. Only then can we get what we truly desire. When Avengers: Endgame releases next week, we don’t want to just watch it; we want to experience it, and live in those moments for the first time. It’s the inheritance so many of us filmgoers will fiercely protect from those who want to take a piece of it. Tread lightly out there, folks, and stay spoiler-free.
Avengers: Endgame opens April 26.