Automated Movie Spoiler Tagging

Comparing Character Level Deep Learning Models

tl;dr: I trained a model to determine if Reddit posts contain Star Wars spoilers. Simpler models outperformed more complex models, producing surprisingly good results.


I'll be honest. I've seen Episode VIII, and I don't really care about spoilers.

However, I thought it would be interesting to train a model to determine if a post to the r/StarWars subreddit contained spoilers or not. More specifically, I was interested in comparing a few different model architectures (character embeddings, LSTM, CNN) and hyper-parameters (number of units, embedding size, many others) on a real world data set, with a challenging response variable. As with so many other things in my life, Star Wars was the answer.


Data Scraping

I utilized the Reddit scraper from my Shower Thoughts Generator project to scrape all post from a 400 day period. Conveniently, Reddit includes a (well policed) spoilers flag, which I utilized for my response variable. The API includes many additional fields, including:

variable type
title string
selftext string
url string
ups int
downs int
score int
num_comments int
over_18 bool
spoiler bool

I chose to utilize the r/StarWars subreddit, which is a general purpose subreddit to discuss the canon elements of the Star Wars universe. Around the time I picked up this project Episode VIII-- a major Star Wars film-- was released, meaning that there were many spoiler-filled posts.

All together, I scraped 45978 observations, of which 7511 (16%) were spoilers. This data set comprised of all visible posts from 2016-11-22 to 2017-12-27, a period covering 400 days.

Data Transformations

Once the data set was scraped from Reddit, I performed the following transformations to create the X matrix:

  • Post titles and content were joined with a single space
  • Text was lower cased
  • All character that were not in a pre-approved set were replaced with a space
  • All adjacent whitespaces were replaced with a single space
  • Start and end markers were added to the string
  • The string was converted to a fixed length pre-padded sequence, with a distinct padding character. Sequences longer than the prescribed length were truncated.
  • Strings were converted from an array of characters to an array of indices

The y array, containing booleans, required no modification from the scraper.


I chose to utilize a character level model, due to the large / irregular vocabulary of the data set. Additionally, this approach allowed me to evaluate character level model architectures I had not used before.

Moreover, I elected to use a character level embedding model. While a cursory analysis and past experience have shown little difference between an explicit embedding layer and feeding character indices directly into a dense layer, this makes post flight analysis of different characters and borrowing from other models easier.

In addition to the embedding layer, I tried a few different architectures, including:

x = sequence_input
    x = embedding_layer(x)
    x = Dropout(.2)(x)
    x = Conv1D(32, 10, activation='relu')(x)
    x = Conv1D(32, 10, activation='relu')(x)
    x = MaxPooling1D(3)(x)
    x = Flatten()(x)
    x = Dense(128, activation='relu')(x)
    x = output_layer(x)

CNN Architecture

x = sequence_input
    x = embedding_layer(x)
    x = Dropout(.2)(x)
    x = LSTM(128)(x)
    x = output_layer(x)

LSTM Architecture

x = sequence_input
    x = embedding_layer(x)
    x = Dropout(.2)(x)
    x = Conv1D(32, 10, padding='valid', activation='relu')(x)
    x = Conv1D(32, 10, padding='valid', activation='relu')(x)
    x = MaxPooling1D(3)(x)
    x = LSTM(128)(x)
    x = output_layer(x)

CNN, followed by LSTM architecture

Though these architectures (and many variations on them) are common in literature for character models, I haven't seen many papers suggesting hyper-parameters, or guidance for when to use one architecture over another. This data set has proven to be a great opportunity to get hands-on experience.


Due to the lengthy train time for LSTM models, I utilized a few p3.2xlarge EC2 instances (I had some free credits to burn). Model training wasn't too awful, with 300 epochs clocking in at a few hours for the deepest / widest models evaluated (~$12 / model).

Because I was exploring a wide variety models, I wasn't quite sure when each model would overfit. Accordingly, I set each model to fit for a large number of epochs (300), and stopped training each model when validation loss consistently increased. For the CNN model this was pretty early at around 9 epochs, but the LSTM models took considerably longer to saturate.

Wrap up

Overall, the models performed better than random, but more poorly than I expected:

Model Validation loss Epoch Comment
cnn 0.24 22
cnn lstm 0.38 164
lstm 0.36 91 Noisy loss over time graph

It would appear that good ol' fashioned CNN models not only outperformed the LSTM model, but also outperformed a CNN / LSTM combo model. In the future, it would be great to look at bi-directional LSTM models, or a CNN model with a much shallower LSTM layer following it.

Future work

In addition to trying additional architectures and a more robust grid search of learning rates / optimizers, it would be interesting to compare these character level results with word level results.

Additionally, it could be fun to look at a smaller time window; the 400 day window I looked at for this work actually a minor Star Wars movie and a major Star Wars movie. Additionally, it included a long period where there wasn't much new content to be spoiled. A more appropriate approach might be to train one model per spoiler heavy event, such as a single new film or book.

Moreover, the r/StarWars subreddit has a fairly unique device for tagging spoiler text within a post, utilizing a span tag. During a coffee chat, John Bohannon suggested it could be possible to summarize a movie from spoilers about it. This idea could take some work, but it seems readily feasible. I might propose a pipeline like:

  • Extract spoiler spans from posts. These will be sentence length strings containing some spoiler
  • Filter down to spoilers about a single movie
  • Aggregate spoilers into a synopsis


As always, code and data are available on GitHub, at Just remember, the best feature requests come as PRs.


After the original post, I did a second pass at this project to dive a little deeper:

  • LSTM dropout: Using dropout before an LSTM layer didn't quite make sense, and so I removed it. The LSTM models loss and validation loss both improved drastically.
  • Accuracy metric: It's much easier to evaluate a model when you've got the right metrics handy. I should probably add AUC as well...
  • Bi-directional LSTM: Bi-directional LSTMs have been used to better represent text inputs. Utilizing a bi-directional LSTM performed roughly as well as a single, forward, LSTM layer.
  • Data issues: Looking at the original data set, it would appear that a significant portion are submissions with an image in the body, and no text. This could lead to cases where the model has insufficient data to make an informed inference.