'The Dark Knight Rises' vs. the Internet: How has a culture of leaks changed the moviegoing experience?

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E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial opened in theaters on June 11, 1982. It was still playing in theaters one year later. On one hand, that kind of theatrical run is unthinkable today. Too many things have changed in Hollywood: The rise of home video as a cultural phenomenon and an economic necessity, the frontloaded release schedule that values opening-weekend gross over anything else, the rising ticket prices that have essentially eradicated any incentive to see a film more than once in theaters. But in a sense, the modern moviegoing experience isn’t so different. People saw E.T. one year and were still talking about it one year later. Today, the equation has flipped: First, we talk about movies for a full year in advance; then, we finally see the movie, and the conversation essentially stops.

It helps to remember that, in a weird way, the biggest movies of summer 2011 aren’t coming out until 2012. The internet has regularly buzzed all summer with leaked images from next year’s The Dark Knight Rises. Some of these images have been official: The famously secretive Christopher Nolan decided to grant sneak peeks at the villainous Bane and the maybe-villainous-but-probably-just-amoral Catwoman. Some of the leaks were less official: TMZ just posted video footage of Anne Hathaway’s stunt double accidentally crashing into an IMAX camera. Meanwhile, next year’s Spider-Man reboot dominated the conversation at Comic-Con. And two of the biggest movies of the summer — Captain America and Thor — were essentially advertisements for a film that isn’t coming out until next year.

Pause on that last point for a second. When I saw Captain America in theaters, the crowd enjoyed the film. They laughed at the right points; they were silent during the remarkably somber climax. But the loudest reaction by far came after the movie, during the teaser for Avengers. It was, I think, an uncannily perfect freeze-frame portrait of the nature of modern movie fandom: Forever forward-looking, forever debating movies that we haven’t even seen yet.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. (Remember: I’m the guy who wrote a freaking prose-poem over a nonsensical minute-long Dark Knight Rises teaser.) But that the whole culture of leaks — both official stage-managed Comic-Con leaks and unofficial long-lens TMZ leaks — is beginning to radically change the way a generation of moviegoers talk about movies. We have become obsessed with pre-release minutiae — casting announcements, plot points, set design. All of this has, I think, taken the focus off the most important thing: The freaking movie.

This is why the blockbuster season of 2011 has felt so particularly uninspired. It’s not that the movies are necessarily worse than they were 10 years ago (although nothing released 10 years ago was even half as bad as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). It’s just that very few of the movies were even half as interesting as the chatter that led up to their release. Take, for example, The Hangover Part 2, a film which dominated the news cycle one year ago — remember the Mel Gibson flare-up? Now, the movie was a massive success at the box office. But the only conversation we ever really had about Hangover 2 — and we all had this conversation many, many times — was: “Wow, they really just remade the first one.”

It might sound funny to say this, but the film with the longest cultural tail of summer 2011 didn’t even technically come out in the summer. I’m talking about Fast Five. Yes, it’s a silly film — but for a few weeks in May, it was also the silly film that everyone was talking about it. Part of that can be credited to the film’s surprisingly pitch-perfect over-the-top tone — best exemplified by the sequence when Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson wrestle each other through multiple walls like a pair of shaved grizzly bears. But I would argue a different theory: People were genuinely surprised by Fast Five. It was not a film that had been sold for a year in advance. The film was not at Comic-Con. The trailer did not debut one year in advance. There were no TMZ photos of Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson hanging out off-camera rubbing oil on their biceps, even though God knows that would have torn up the internet.

I realize that what I’m talking about here — “the cultural conversation” — sounds very abstract. But I ask you: Were people still talking about Transformers: Dark of the Moon weeks after it came out? That film isn’t so far removed from Fast Five tonally, and it certainly exploded at the box office, but I don’t know anything in the film that was half as interesting as the Great Megan Fox Hitler Recasting Scandal.

Or am I wrong, PopWatchers? Do you think that the culture of leaks has radically altered the way we watch movies? Do you miss the days when people generally waited to see movies before they talked about them? Or do you enjoy the aspirational quality of modern movie chatter — the fact that we all have a stake in the hoped-for quality of films that aren’t coming out until next year?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
2012: Geekiest year ever?

Comments (129 total) Add your comment
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  • joe luck

    Well, it’s a good thing EW doesn’t contribute to the fanboy hype with exclusive first pics or anything.

    • Chad

      You are 1,000,000% spot on with this comment. This article is like the manager of a fried Twinkie stand at a state fair writing a sanctimonious letter to the editor wistfully recalling the good ole days when people didn’t used to be so fat.

      • V

        HA! Let’s be friends.

      • LOL

        I am delighted to see someone at EW that recognizes the brilliant film Fast Five. I disagree that it’s a silly film, it is actually very thought provoking as well as entertaining. It may well be the best film of the last 50 years, certainly of this century, that is undeniable. I agree with Darren, it was a pitch perfect film.

      • Mike

        Wow, that took you a long time to get to this column, LOL. I figured you would have posted this 2 minutes after it went up.

    • Nick T

      You fools completely missed the point of this article.

      • Chad

        Nope, don’t think so.

      • Mike

        Yup, think so

      • Freddy

        Best article of the day. I agree with Nick, I think most people commenting on this don’t have the patience to read the whole article.

      • Craig

        Yes, Nick is entirely correct.

        The author is not making a qualitative judgment. As the final, culminating paragraph makes abundantly clear, he’s acknowledging a change in the way we “process” movies and asking if the change really is a significant one and, furthermore, asking what people think about that change.

        He’s clearly not bemoaning the change (remember this bit?: “Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. (Remember: I’m the guy who wrote a freaking prose-poem over a nonsensical minute-long Dark Knight Rises teaser)), but I guess it’s pretty easy (i.e., lazy) to just impose that simplistic dynamic on his point. You know, because it’s easy–and it clears the way for people to be cheaply snarky, the easiest way in the world to both sound smart and convince yourself you’re smart. For one thing, it allows simplistically snarky commenters to incorporate the adverb “wistfully” into their simplistically snarky replies.

      • JAM

        @Fred hit it on the dot. People just don’t have patience in general never mind to read the whole article. Instant gratification is taking over and anything over a paragraph means that 90% of the people reading aren’t getting the whole story becasue they only rea dthat first paragraph. same applies to movie news and all that bull.

    • Like

      Hunger games.

      How long has EW had a “Hunger Games Central” Section on this website? Months and Months.

      • JAM

        How about a EW Dead Horses article touching on all the movies they beat to death with their ‘exclusive coverage” before ever hitting a theater. Or an article called ‘EW: how a website killed Hollywood.

    • Strepsi

      …yet EW.com provides daily casting news of each new Game of Thrones character for next summer!

      I don’t want to click, but I’m do… DARREN FRANICH you are correct, but you’re the ones selling the crack then complaining about the addicts….

    • LP

      I thought the same thing! I am very excited for the Hunger Games, but I have to stay away from EW because I feel like by the time I see the actual movie, Entertainment Weekly will have shown me everything.

    • Necro

      Well, it’s a good thing EW doesn’t contribute to the fanboy hype with exclusive first pics or anything.

      ^^
      This! Exactly. It’s especially true of the hype surrounding those awful Twilight movies which are not worthy of any hype.

    • Ms. Chanandler Bong

      The Weekly in Entertainment Weekly is moot.

    • JAM

      HA! YES!

  • Jacob

    Nailed it. I feel like JJ Abrams tries to limit exposure to his films, but even for his stuff, it doesn’t always quite go down like he hopes. I’ve actively avoided Dark Knight Rises leaks, much like i did four years ago with The Dark Knight. I had NO clue what to expect from The Dark Knight (and I was even in Chicago while they were filming, and very very near some filming locations), and for that, I think I was rewarded with a stellar experience. I think your argument about Fast Five is right on point: we expected NOTHING from that film, so when it delivered the pre-summer goods, we got excited, and we saw it in droves, because we all wanted to see what a good Fast and Furious movie looked like (or at least I did). But, I also think that film was a fluke. Fast Six won’t have nearly the ignorance factor that Fast Five benefited from, because now we’re paying attention.

    • Lenny

      I agree. Super 8 was the best movie of the summer because I had NO IDEA what is was about. We put so much expectations into films nowadays that we ruin it before even seeing it. The Internet has done us wonders. Pre-release buzz isn’t one of them.

      • kate

        See, and I even disagree with you when it comes to Super 8. There were too many trailers, too many sneak-peeks, too many “MTV movie awards special clips” that we all knew what it was about. Plus all you really need to see is one other JJ Abrams project to know that the main character will have daddy issues and the monster is really just misunderstood.

      • Maria Theresa

        The only reason you didn’t know what super 8 was about is because you probably never heard of a super 8 camera before. Anyone who knows what a super 8 is would be able to logically form some correct assumptions about the movie

    • the floacist

      I feel like avoiding the leaks and spoilers for The Dark Knight was a lot easier.

  • orville

    Well, people are still talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt.2 (and you’re still writing about it in your magazine and on your site) and that’s a movie that pretty much started to get buzzed about seconds after the book was released.

    But in general, yes, many of the movies this summer seemed anti-climactic after the year-long (or in some cases, years-long) buzz.

    • Anne

      The only movies that seem anti-climactic after year-long buzz are movies that didn’t deserve the buzz in the first place – such as mediocre to awful films like Transformers 3, Hangover 2, and Green Lantern. But when the movie is good, and even exceeds expectations – such as Dark Knight, Inception, and Harry Potter 7 pt. 2 – then the year-long pre-release buzz and rabid discussion continues long after the film is finally released. Especially in the case of Nolan films. I mean, come on, people were debating that Inception ending for MONTHS after the film was released.

      • John

        Why do internet geeks think that when something is endlessly debated online, it means that the entire world is doing the same thing? It’s a well known fact that genre fans and the internet crowd is quite vocal and fastidious and anal when it comes to dissecting their favorite forms of entertainment. The people debating “Inception” were internet fanboys. I don’t remember anyone at my school or anybody at work talking about that film 1 week after it opened. Let’s not get carried away. The internet only makes it seem that the country at large cares about stuff that only a vocal minority cares about.

      • Mike

        Well, we’ll get past the part where you seem to be accusing others of being internet geeks but seem to have a lot of knowledge about the topics and are posting on said internet yourself! There are certain movies that even the casual fan will hear/see buzz about very early on. Your casual non-geekish work friend is going to check yahoo news or something similar at least once a day and see the Dark Knight Rises “leaked pictures”. I have a friend who doesn’t fit the stereotypical “geek” mold but he has watched Dark Knight 20 times since it’s been on HBO or whatever pay cable station has it. He’s obsessed and cannot wait for the next film. I’m a self-proclaimed “geek” and have only seen Dark Knight maybe 3 times but equally am excited for the 3rd movie. Anyway, I have to imagine there are many people like my friend who are buzzing about films such as that. These same friends are equally interested in the AVENGERS movie but never even knew the Avengers existed prior to the Iron Man easter egg. John, I think you make valid points, but it’s a pretty narrow-minded point.

    • Megan

      Correction: Potterheads are still talking about Deathly Hallows Part 2. That series is a fanboy phenomenon, especially this deep into the series. Granted, there’s a whole lot of Potter fanboys, but mainstream audiences moved on from Potter after Sorcerer’s Stone. All you have to do is compare tickets sold. From HP1 to HP8, the franchise has sold 20 million fewer tickets.

      • Summer Bay

        Just named the 3rd highest grossing film of all time! Megan there must be a HELL of a lot of fans.

      • LP

        Megan, you have to account for ticket prices when you are thinking about attendance. Since the first movie was released, ticket prices have dramatically increased. Meanwhile, the cost of home theaters- televisions, sound equipment, has decreased. Just because attendance is not as high, does not mean that interest has decreased. I know many people who never read the series, but loved the movies and were excited for the finale.

      • LP

        John, plenty of people who are not “geeks” talked about Inception after the movie, debating whether the final moment was a dream or reality, and so many people who were not “geeks” talked about Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s Joker. I think if a movie is worth its hype people will talk about it. I also agree with Darren that this new wave of hyping movies so far in advance before they come out has changed how we anticipate movies and how we enjoy them once we watch them.

      • Chris Price

        As of this writing, Deathly Hallows 2 has sold roughly 40 million tickets. Sorcerer’s Stone has sold 51.5 million. By the end of DH2′s run it will probably be the 5th best attended film in the franchise, adjusted for inflation. LP brought up a very good point about the cost of home theaters going down, not to mention all the other relatively new distractions that have popped up over the last 10 years. So in reality there probably is truly as much interest in the franchise now as there was at the beginning. But some people probably just choose to experience it at home thru Netflix or On Demand or even online somehow.

  • Alex F

    This article is yet another perfect argument for why the 80s were awesome.

    • REALLY

      Ok, maybe if you would have posted as AXEL F that comment would have nailed.

      • Alex F

        It’s my name. Can’t do anything about that.

      • W. Axl Rose

        HI

      • Lisa London

        I suspect REALLY meant as “Axel Foley”, aka Eddie Murphy in the 80s Beverly Hills Cop series… Not sure why/how I remember that!

      • Peter

        “Axel F” is also the name of synth heavy theme from BHC.

        Boooo boooo booo-ba-boo-boo-boo
        Boooo BOOO booo-ba-BOO-BOO-boo
        Booo BA-BOOO ba-boo-ba-boo-boo-boooooooo

      • Ames

        Thank you Peter. That’s now stuck in my head. Although I get the booo booos from Axel F mixed up with the boo boos from Rocket, so now there’re both in my head.

      • Peter

        Haha. Then there’s the music from Fletch, which has three different synth themes.

      • Alex F

        I knew what he meant.

      • Peter

        I’m not sure Lisa did.

      • Alex F

        Faltermeyer is the John Williams of 80s movie scoring ion my book (although John Williams ALSO is the John Williams of 80s movie scoring). Harold F’s score the Willis/Morgan for “Cop Out” was the best thing about that movie. (BTW, Lisa, I realize “Harold F” sounds a lot like “Axel F.)

      • Peter

        I didn’t know the name, but looking him up, I’d say I agree. No wonder Fletch reminds me of Axel F.

      • Axel Foley

        I agree. People with overt 80′s names should’t post.

    • Peter

      You don’t remember movie trailers from the 80s then. It wasn’t so different. I had most of the Empire trading cards before the movie came out. You could order the Boba Fett action figure before the movie came out (I suspect this hype is the real reason he’s such a beloved villain — really, what does he do in the movie that’s so great?) I knew what ET looked like, and all the best monsters from Ghostbusters from the music video. Maybe these things weren’t hyped a year in advance, but no one complained when a preview “spoiled” them.

      • Ames

        I think you’re on to something. Brand marketing. My brother and I absolutely sent in for our pre-movie Boba Fett. Action figures and Star Wars were linked. You talked about the movie forever cuz you had the toys to recreate it. Same with ET and Reeces Pieces. You went to the candy aisle and there was ET everywhere. For all the focus groups and internet polls, there hasn’t been a real tie-in like those products to a movie in some time.

  • Brownhound

    I find now that in a situation where most of the good stuff is in the trailer or that I’ve seen the first 5 min. online, there are very few surprises remaining. When I saw a screening of Horrible Bosses the audience loved it but I felt like I had already seen. It takes all the pleasure of discovery away.

  • Brian Wallace

    I agree with all of your points and the article is well written. However, I agree with Joe Luck in that ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY writing an article complaining about how early leaks are ruing the appreciation of movies is like a drug dealer complaining about all the kids on crack.

    Brian

    • Brian Wallace

      ruining.

      • John

        great comment

      • Beepela

        But can’t people at a crappy pizza place complain that the pizza is crappy? Can’t used car dealers bemoan the fact that they have to use sleazy tactics to sell their clunkers? I think the point of the article was that yes, this is the way the entertainment industry operates now, EW included, but is it a good thing, a bad thing, or just a different thing?

    • DUH

      try reading more than half the article. there’s a big difference between a complaint and a commentary.

  • JPX

    I miss the days growing up in the 70s when most of the time you weren’t even aware of a movie until you first saw it advertised in the newspaper a week before it came out. I admit that I love hearing about movies like The Dark Knight Rises, but as you note in your article, something has been lost along the way. There are no more surprises. We not only hear about movies uears in advance, we are now seeing footage of these films as amateures film movie sets.

    • e4ia

      I remember when I was a kid and I opened up the entertainment section of the Sunday paper and there was an ad for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn which was opening Friday. I got so excited because I had no idea that they had made another Star Trek film. I couldn’t wait till Friday came and ended up seeing it four times in the theater over the next couple of months.

      • JPX

        Exactly!!! The Sunday New York Times (Arts and Leisure section) had a lot of full page ads for upcoming movies and I was always surprised when I saw that a sequel was made to a movie I liked such as the Star Trek series.

  • IRISHGOD33

    its a personal torture…I love to see teasers and those pics but then I deal with having to wait for a year to see the real film. I wouldn’t change a thing

  • Dan M

    I dunno. I followed the build-up toward “The Dark Knight” with rabid, fan-boy-furious attention. Then I saw the movie. . . and I’m still loving it to this day, and yes, I still talk about it. I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating – we talk about LOTS of movies while the buzz is building, but after the premier, we continue to talk about the GOOD ones.

    • Rockdawg

      Can you imagine all the hype, screen shots, and spoilers of today going into a movie like The Sixth Sense or The Matrix? Now this was only 12 years ago but those two movies surprised everybody who watched them and was honestly the LAST time I remember such a global phenomenon that happened in the movies. EVERYONE was talking about these movies in ’99 but if they were out today, they would have been out for month and then audiences would have moved on.

      • Rockdawg

        Now don’t get me wrong, I have an addiction and EW seems to fix that addiction with constant spoilers and pictures of upcoming movies but I also feel that it has cheapened the experience of watching a movie. I can’t wait for The Dark Knight Rises but having seen all of these on set pictures, the movie almost looks cheesy and looks as though it won’t come close to The Dark Knight but I have to sit back and have patience and know that Christopher Nolan will make a great film. My point is, I miss the surprise when I step into a theater and am fully taken away in a movie experience. That hasn’t happened in quite a long time…

  • John N.

    I think a better example to use would be Bridesmaids. I don’t think anyone expected that movie to be the critical and commercial success that it was, evidenced by the fact that the movie was in the top 10 at the box office for two months straight.

    I also find Darren’s essay to be contradictory to the exposure EW gives to certain projects, like the Hunger Games. EW reported on every bit of casting, even the most minimal parts. And the movie has not even stopped filming, and yet, it has already had 2 cover stories in the magazine.

    • joe luck

      Exactly. Basically EW is always looking for its next Harry Potter that can go on 12 covers a year. Now that Twilight is winding down, they are moving to Hunger Games. And then you’re going to get an editorial about how there aren’t movies made for adults anymore, even though when one comes out, it barely gets a blurb.

  • The Truth

    The problem is people today are wired to have things immediately and have to feel included in the making of anything. Since the movie is not out yet people fill the void by talking about it. Diagnosing every little tidbet of info that comes out or speculating what will happen. People also think all their blogging, tweeting, posting, etc will influence how the movie is made. Gone are the days were people had the patience to wait for something. Also gone are the days were people let others work and just judge the final outcome. Thats why the conversation dies after the release. What else is there to comment on if you spent the entire production run of the movie commenting on everything that leaks out. Did the movie meet, exceed or not meet your speculation, done conversation is over start process over again for next year’s release.

    • Kevin

      I agree, the internet has hurt the entertainment industry more than it has helped. We have become a society with a child-like attitude of “I want it and I want it now!”
      People get to post opinions online, which gives them a false sense that their opinion not only matters, but it is a fact. “Backlashes” are created, hate spreads like wildfire, etc. I don’t think there will ever be another juggernaut show like “Friends” or “ER” because people/websites are constantly critiquing a programs every move and storyline. I remember when “Friends” was on(and the web wasn’t quite what it is today) and Joey started falling for Rachel, I didn’t care for the storyline and would discuss it(rationally) with my own friends. I didn’t rant that I was “never watching it again” or throw any tantrums. Nowadays, the next morning people login and tyrannically state that a show has “jumped the shark” because of a storyline that they don’t particularly like, planting a seed in the heads of a fickle public.

  • Gregor

    you may want to run the first paragraph by an editor. on one hand, it seems rushed. on the other hand, you never said what was on the other hand.

    • Strepsi

      Oh it’s true… “on the one hand… ” I can’t sleep now, thanks Gregor.

      where’s the other frickin’ HAND???

      • Pinchy McPunam

        Strepsi, it’s behind your couch…..
        …….waiting…
        …….waiting…

  • Brady

    Entertainment Weekly reports on all the pre-release minutiae because that is what people are interested in reading about! I’m sure they wouldn’t be posting exclusive peaks at next summer’s thrillers if no one were watching the footage. What Darren says here is an excellent point, and EW printing it is not contradictory at all in my mind. Way to start a thoughtful discussion!

    • joe luck

      So how long have you been working Entertainment Weekly?

    • Cassie

      I agree. Everyone complains about ENTERTAINMENT weekly posting the sneak peaks and all that, but that’s part of reporting entertainment nowadays. Of course they report on the big franchises and phenomenons a lot, because that’s a huge part of the entertainment business. I think people often look for things to argue about, because the internet allows them to do so without consequence.

  • JLC

    It’s not just movies. Sports now is also all about “next season.” Less than 24 hours after the Auburn/Oregon BCS Championship Game, sports sites had their top 25 for this season posted. To paraphrase Yoda, our minds are always on the future, never on where we are.

    • Ames

      It’s in everyday life, too. As soon as my group of friends gets to a bar, they spend the whole time debating on which bar to go to next. I try to get a normal conversation started, but there’s this I dunno, some sort of postmodern anxiety that makes people feel that whatever they are now doing, there’s something better happening elsewhere and they got to get there.

  • Eric

    “Today, the equation has flipped: First, we talk about movies for a full year in advance; then, we finally see the movie, and the conversation essentially stops.”

    Very insightful, and super depressing. Of course, we’re talking mainly about “geek” movies that focus of escapism, where the clear majority of the discourse is found on the same place as the pre-analysis – the internet. “No Country for Old Men” wasn’t being dissected for a year before it came out, and luckily we’re still talking about that movie and others like it. I really want to ignore Prometheus completely, and let it hit me like, say, Jurassic Park did, but I know my expectations from mere hints of pre-analysis from sites like this one are going to soften the impact.

    • LOL

      Waaaaaaaay too much is leaking out about The Dark Knight Rises. By the time we see it, it will feel like we already saw it.

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