A movie might succeed on the quality of its performances, the awesomeness of its special effects, or the strength of its plot — but some movies only work when the element of surprise is maintained to the very last second. Keeping a script under wraps is no easy feat when dozens if not hundreds of cast and crew members have access to it and some of their lips are bound to be a little loose. J.J. Abrams has kept a tight lid on his upcoming Super 8, but it’s served only to heighten anticipation for the finished film. Which is, of course, the point. Below is a roundup of other films that maintained a veil of secrecy — or tried to, anyway.
Abrams is no stranger to this game. He produced this mid-budget thriller, which shares some stylistic elements with the pseudo-documentary The Blair Witch Project. Cloverfield was cast using specially written audition scenes or excerpts from earlier Abrams productions such as Lost and Alias rather than its actual script. And to throw the curious off the trail, the film’s title was changed several times during production to 1-18-08, Overnight, and Chocolate Outrage. (Yes, you read that right.)
One way to keep people guessing about your movie is to make it so bewildering that no one can explain it. That seems to be the tack taken by writer-director Christopher Nolan. Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the lead, called the film “incredibly confusing at certain points.” And the script was revealed to members of the crew individually, in locked rooms. The subterfuge is more than a little ironic, given that the film’s plot hinges on the stealing of secrets right out of people’s minds.
Although Hitchcock’s masterpiece holds up pretty well even if you know the ending (and we all do, by now), the director took pains to keep the final twist under wraps. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano was forbidden to discuss the script with anyone, and the director employed a particularly effective ruse: he pretended to be searching for a woman to cast in the role of Anthony Perkins’s mother.
7. The Crying Game
Another film that depended for much of its effect on keeping an important narrative element quiet is this Neil Jordan thriller from 1992, which briefly made a star of the lovely androgynous Jaye Davidson. Miramax devised a clever method of discouraging the blabbermouths: with an ad campaign that hyped the big reveal, they sought to divide those who knew from those who didn’t and thus gave the former a cachet that encouraged them to keep silent.
6. Paranormal Activity 2
Oren Peli was not going to mess with a winning formula, so after he had one smash hit with a movie about people sleeping he set out to make another. The challenge: retain the mystery. After announcing that Kip Williams would direct the sequel, Peli promised to surprise viewers, who promptly started trying to guess the plot so as not to be surprised. Would it take place in a hospital? A dorm room? The woods? (Answer: none of the above.)
5. The Last Song
Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember) and Miley Cyrus are not exactly unknown quantities, so keeping the plot of this flick on the down low was one way to preserve a bit of mystery and freshness for fans of the actress and the writer. Sparks’s previous modus operandi was to adapt his novels into screenplays. With The Last Song, he reversed the process, and the novel was released only a short time before the film premiered.
4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Do not mess with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas! They made the cast and crew sign nondisclosure agreements in order to work on this fourth installment of the beloved franchise. But that didn’t deter Tyler Nelson, a background dancer, who violated the order by providing some plot details to his hometown paper, the Edmond Sun. The filmmakers promptly took legal action against him, and the story quickly vanished from the Sun‘s Web site just as fast.
3. Return of the Jedi
After leakiness during production on the first two Star Wars films, serious precautions were taken to keep rabid fans at bay. Puppeteer Mike Quinn was issued script pages that were stamped and numbered, to be returned after review. And that was nothing compared to the elaborate scheme devised by Howard Kazanjian, Lucasfilm’s VP of production. He disguised the film as a horror movie called Blue Harvest, complete with hats and T-shirts for the crew.
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The best-laid plans of cast and crew often go awry, and so it was that a top secret script detailing the further adventures of captain Jack Sparrow wound up left behind with the dirty dishes at a London café. The script’s discoverer passed it on to The Sun, which returned it to Walt Disney Pictures. “I’m a big fan of the films, but I managed to resist the urge to have a read,” said the anonymous Good Samaritan. “I want to enjoy the movie when it comes out.” We hope the person did.
1. The Avengers
Joss Whedon’s Avengers, due out next May, has suffered a major secrecy setback. Last month, pages from Samuel L. Jackson’s copy of the well-guarded screenplay — he’s Nick Fury — somehow got loose and made their way to the Web site Obsessed With Film (among other outlets), which posted them. That set off a frantic scramble by the film’s writers, tasked with revising the now-public scenes. The production is rumored to have been halted, which Marvel denies.