Welcome to Spoiler Nation, an irritating minority whose noisy, nosy engagement with Hollywood has deeply aggravated many of its most powerful players and inspired many others to change the way they do business. How these leaks happen is no mystery. Spoilers have come from every corner of Hollywood, even from agents and studio execs themselves, motivated by the desire to promote an agenda or glean potential audience response. But Survivor host Jeff Probst who saw early seasons marred by gabby disgruntled contestants and locals thinks the motivation for most spoiler hunting is more basic. ''It's just gossip,'' he says. ''We live in a spoiler society. How many times does somebody ask, 'Did you hear what happened?' And you say, 'No.' In that little moment, that person with information has power. I'm 100 percent certain spoilers are as simple as that.''
And yet, many leak consumers think they are driven by a more high-minded purpose. Some see spoiler sites as a pop culture version of Consumer Reports. For those who felt burned by M. Night Shyamalan's The Village and The Lady in the Water, looking for advance info about his next cryptopus, The Happening, doesn't seem totally unreasonable. Moreover, spoiler culture has exploded at a moment when cult pop has become blockbuster business. Many geeks feel downright entitled to know what Hollywood is doing with sacred cows like Star Wars and X-Men. Explains Mirko Parlevliet, whose superherohype.com is a hub for comics-to-film scoop: ''Fans want to make sure studios are being faithful to the property'' they fell in love with.
Naturally, few people in Hollywood agree with this rationale. For J.J. Abrams, creator of Alias and director of Mission: Impossible III, the growth of spoiler culture has become so alarming, he made a movie in response to it: Cloverfield. Abrams saw his monster flick shot on the down low and marketed with coy, minimum-disclosure teasers as a protest against an information overload era where ''people think they've experienced things before they really have.'' Now the director is shooting the new Star Trek movie, and he finds himself at odds with rabid Trekkies who want to know ''every gory detail about a movie that's still a year away.'' He respects their hunger, but is convinced they are better off waiting until May 8, 2009. ''Learning raw detail and experiencing that detail as it was intended are two totally different things,'' he says. ''I would argue that not knowing those details in advance is a more refreshing way to live when it comes to entertainment.''
NEXT PAGE: ''It's easier to protect the 20 percent of a project that's really sensitive if you're open about the other 80 percent. I think that's the way to go.''