It’s one thing to say that spoilers don’t ruin all stories. But how does giving away the ending make us enjoy mysteries even more?
One theory is that our anticipation of surprises actually takes away from our appreciation for the 99 percent of the movie that isn’t a monster twist. “The second viewing is always more satisfying than the first,” Sternbergh said, “because you notice all the things you missed while you were busy waiting for the twist.” Psychologists have observed that when we consume movies and songs for a second (or third, or hundredth time), the stories become easier to process, and we associate this ease of processing with aesthetic pleasure.
A second theory from the paper is that audiences enjoy predictability much more than we like to admit. As the famous screenwriting how-to manual Save the Cat explains, most successful movies fit into highly conventional formulas (e.g.: superhero movies, love stories) where just about every person in the movie theater could probably guess the ending before the credits begin. For example, despite all the danger faced by Chris Pratt’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy, if you polled audiences before the movie, approximately 100 percent of them would predict he survives the film. Giving away the ending (he doesn’t die, by the way) does little to detract from the film’s many pleasures.