Even though the Oscar race is just now starting to heat up, one thing seems certain: With The King’s Speech, The Social Network, 127 Hours, and The Fighter all serious contenders, it’s likely that this year’s Best Picture winner will be Pre-Spoiled. Which is to say, it will be based on a real-life story whose ending is already known to most audiences (and is also probably the very reason the movie was made in the first place): We know that Mark Zuckerberg is going to become a billionaire, Aron Ralston is going to saw his arm off, King George is going to make that damned speech, etc. If anything, 2010 has taught us that when done right, pre-spoiled movies can be as suspenseful — even more so, sometimes — as films about which we wish to know nothing in advance. So what tips do these films offer on how to make great pre-spoiled movies? Read on.
Most fact-based sports movies come pre-spoiled, and they usually don’t rely on any tricks or unique narrative devices or stylistic ploys to do their thing. We’re convinced that’s because sports fans basically have no qualms about reliving great moments in sports over and over again. (Why on earth would ESPN Classic exist otherwise?) On the other hand, non-sports fans, who often get dragged to these movies by sports-loving significant others, often have no freaking idea what they’re about, so they’re mostly coming to the story fresh. Win-win.
Arm-severing hiker biopic 127 Hours
(adapted from Aron Ralston’s 2004 autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place
) reminded us of another pre-spoiled, nonfictional film about people stranded in the wilderness who do something awful to survive: Anybody remember Alive
, the 1993 tale of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes
and who were forced to resort to cannibalism? Both of these films did something wonderfully counterintuitive: They took a well-known and spectacularly gruesome real-life event and turned it into a life-affirming tale that became about much more than the act itself.
Wow, Mark Zuckerberg was a lovesick loser who created Facebook so he could score chicks? Well, not quite, it turns out: The real Zuckerberg had a steady girlfriend all through the purported events in Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s pre-spoiled Oscar front-runner. (As a matter of fact, they’re still together.) Ordinarily, we might get testy with such stretching of the truth. But The Social Network is so cavalier and bold about its fictional fantasies that it basically gets a pass from us. It helps, of course, that the thing is so damn entertaining.
If you think about it, The King’s Speech and The Fighter really aren’t so different. One stars an underdog boxer who triumphs with the help of a good woman and his erratic, crack-addicted trainer-brother; in the other, a monarch loses his stutter and makes an inspiring radio address with the aid of Queen Elizabeth and a loopy speech therapist — watching their victories feels similarly thrilling.
Let’s face it: Secretariat was a sports movie, too. And Made in Dagenham was a charming underdog story. And Fair Game had its way with facts like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Sea World. (See what we did there?) And yet there’s a good chance none of those movies will make it out of Oscar season alive. The truth, as they say, is a harsh mistress.