#585 – Spoiler Etiquette



Iron Man 3 comes out today and I won’t be able to see it until Sunday. I feel like this is a perfect time to discuss spoiler etiquette.

According to Wikipedia:

A spoiler is an element of a disseminated summary or description of any piece of fiction that reveals any plot elements, which threaten to give away important details concerning the turn of events of a dramatic episode.

Telling someone that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is a spoiler.

Telling someone that Spock dies at the end of The Wrath of Khan is a spoiler.

Telling someone that Jesus comes back to life is a spoiler.

No one gets upset over those spoilers, though. We all know that they happened unless you live under a giant, non-nerdy rock or were born yesterday.

But what about spoilers for the new season of Doctor Who? What about spoilers for the most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series? What about spoilers for Iron Man 3?

We need some guidelines and etiquette for spoilers. Here they are.

Statute of Limitations

It’s difficult to place time limits on spoilers. While everyone agrees that if you don’t know that Vader is Luke’s father by now, that’s really your problem. The situation gets a little murkier today, though, especially with so many people watching shows once they’re on Netflix. I didn’t start watching Doctor Who until last year. I was seasons behind and didn’t know anything about Bad Wolf, The Master, Amy, Rory or River Song. In fact I just recently found out who River Song really is. But I was also two years behind on that information and couldn’t have gotten mad if someone had spoiled it. We should give most television shows a one-year statute of limitations, just in case someone is trying to catch up. Movies should get at least a three-month statute of limitations, especially for a blockbuster. If you don’t care enough to see Iron Man 3 in the theater, then you probably don’t care too much if it gets spoiled.


The simplest way to avoid spoiling something is to ask whether or not the people to whom you’re speaking have seen it. “Have you seen The Prestige? No. Then I won’t spoil it for you,” is way better than, “Don’t you think it’s crazy in The Prestige how there were always two Christian Bales?” Not only is it better and more considerate, but it could also keep from spoiling a friendship (if you haven’t seen The Prestige, I’m sorry, but it did come out seven years ago). Instead of just assuming that everyone sees movies on the opening weekend and keeps up with everything in pop culture, we just need to ask. By simply pausing before blurting out spoilers we can help preserve a friendship and the magic moment of learning about a spoiler at the correct moment.

Watch Where You Share

What if I had titled this post “Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, Makes Cameo in Iron Man 3?” I don’t know if Dr. Strange is in Iron Man 3; if he is, that is an amazing coincidence. The problem with sharing that as a headline, though, is it doesn’t give the reader the opportunity to look away. I appreciate when websites place their spoilers below the cut, then it’s up to me to decide if I want to see them. When we post spoilers on Twitter and Facebook for everyone to see, we’re not letting others choose the spoilers for themselves. Last year a friend (with whom I’ve addressed this issue) spoiled the Thanos reveal in The Avengers; he posted it on Facebook the same day the movie came out and spoiled that moment for me. Some people want spoilers and some people don’t; it’s not up to use to choose for them.

I hate spoilers and I do everything I can to avoid them. Spoilers take what should be a great moment in a movie, book or show and…well…spoil it. We shouldn’t take those moments away from others; we should do our best not to spoil. Really, we’re just following Philippians 2, which tells us to think of others before we think of ourselves. There are probably more God-honoring ways to think of others before we think of ourselves, but spoilers are a good place to start.

What is your spoiler etiquette?


7 comments on “#585 – Spoiler Etiquette”

  1. For spoilers to movies: in conversation, I defintely do what you’ve suggested – I ask if they’ve seen the movie. If not, I ask whether they want to see it. As an example, my friend and I saw Iron Man tonight – the second time for me, but the first for her. I ahdn’t spoiled anything for her at all, because I asked whether she wanted to know any spoilers beforehand. She said she didn’t, so I didn’t tell her!

    However, in conversation there is always the unwitting yes, in which the person says, go ahead, tell me what happens, and then is really upset when you do. So I always ask more than once, and start of with something trivial, before actually revealing anything.

    In wordpress posts, I completely agree with you about the title issue: that’s why when I did my review on Iron Man 3, I titled ithe one with spoilers “Spoilerific Review” and the one without as “Spoiler-Free review” Another courtesy you can extend is by writing “contains spoilers” before the spoilers start, not just as a tag, and also not starting right off, so if the reader accidentally clicked on the review, they don’t see something like “Harry Potter is a Wizard” on the first line (this is fairly innocuous as a public example, I feel).

  2. “Rosebud” is Citizen Stark’s new armor…

    All your suggestions seem like good, common sense (let alone Christ-like) ones to me. I would even give big new releases longer than three months.

  3. Great allusion between Philippians and spoilers, nice way to tie that in. I think asking someone if they’ve seen a movie or show is the best way to avoid this problem. Waiting a year for a tv show seems way too long to me. But I don’t really see spoilers as a problem like others do. Sure, I avoid them, but if someone were to tell me the ending of Iron Man 3 I would not be upset at all. It does not take away from my enjoyment – I know Iron Man will defeat the bad guys, and there will be some sort of twist, and some sort of cool scene after the movie. I’m watching the movie to enjoy the spectacle of it all, and knowing the plot doesn’t necessarily ruin that for me.

    1. I can still enjoy a movie if I know some of the plot elements but there’s something special about finding out in the moment, with all of the drama and tension. Thanks for your comment!

  4. You should also take into account who you’re talking to. As the dad of a three and a half year-old and someone who is kinda required to watch a lot of Star Trek, I haven’t seen ‘Captain America,’ ‘Thor’ or ‘The Avengers.’ My wife and I just recently got ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ at Redbox and had to return it after being unsuccessful in our attempt to watch it. Asking if someone has seen a movie is just about *always* a good idea. 🙂

    1. Yeah, Alycia has already told me that she won’t be very happy if I see as many movies as I do now when we have kids. I told her that I need to start making money off of reviewing nerdy movies so it’s justified.

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