Monster movie Cloverfield turns 10 years old today. And with another instalment of the series looming (plus a fourth possibly arriving at the end of this year), we're recapping the history of the series so far.
4th July 2007: the first teaser drops
Summer 2007 saw the release of The Bourne Ultimatum, Shrek the Third and Michael Bay's first Transformers movie. The most interesting thing about the latter movie was the mysterious teaser attached to it.
It became apparent this was a found footage offering, in which a New York party scene is rudely interrupted by the arrival of something... big. The money shot of the Statue of Liberty's head crashing onto a street sent everyone into meltdown. The only other things we could glean were the presence of producer JJ Abrams (fresh from Lost but not quite the all-consuming Star Wars force he is today), and a release date: 18-01-08. There was no title.
No-one knew anything about this film (outside of the production itself), although Abrams had generated infamy through Lost's relentless stream of twists and reveals. That gave a possible indication as to the genre and tone of the movie, but given it didn't even have a name, the internet went crazy.
Of course, the title had been staring everyone in the face all along. As websites like Bloody Disgusting speculated it was called Colossal, geek haven Ain't It Cool News had already correctly named it on 21st June 2007: Cloverfield.
The viral marketing campaign
Cloverfield's act of keeping its cards close to its chest resulted in one of the savviest promotional campaigns in recent memory.
Taking its cue from the revolutionary The Blair Witch Project, one of the first movies to fully capitalise on the power of internet recognition, a whole host of websites and red herrings were cast into the ether, generating rabid speculation as to the film's storyline. It soon became clear that we were building towards some sort of creature feature in the manner of genre classic Godzilla.
Among these hints were websites for Slusho!, a fictional soft drink brand which has become a recurring Easter egg in Abrams’ filmography, and Tagurato, a non-existent Japanese company somehow involved in the unearthing of the monster (dubbed 'Clover').
A website listed as 18-01-08.com (now defunct), referring to the US release date seen in the trailer, appeared to offer clues to said monster, including the following fake news promo in which the creature attacks a Japanese oil rig.
The filmmakers even went to the extent of creating a MySpace page for ill-fated cameraman Hudson (played by T.J. Miller).
18th January 2008: Cloverfield arrives in the USA
By this stage, the movie had come into greater focus – sort of. It was clear that the movie (released in the UK on 1st February) was directed by Matt Reeves (soon to become a Hollywood colossus with the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies), it was 'found footage', and it involved a giant monster attacking Manhattan.
Even so, the movie remained admirably cryptic. Reeves said of the marketing campaign: "You could call it – a sort of ‘meta-story’ that is part of – almost like an origin story – that is connected. It’s almost like tentacles that grow out of the film and lead, also, to the ideas in the film. And there’s this weird way where you can go see the movie and it’s one experience. It’s a big, really satisfying and really thrilling experience."
Even so, with positive reviews rolling in from Rotten Tomatoes (it currently stands at 77%) and impressive box office returns (Reuters reported a "monstrous" $48 million opening against a $25m budget), it didn't take long for the public to catch on. Quite simply, everyone had to see this movie.
15th January 2016: the new Cloverfield is revealed
Pulling off one surprise movie is an achievement in and of itself, especially in the age of rabid social media. To do it twice is nothing short of miraculous.
The first trailer was attached to Michael Bay movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, and revealed itself as 10 Cloverfield Lane.
We're introduced to a group of characters, played by John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. They appear to be living a harmonious existence in what looks like a bunker. A jukebox blasts out cheery pop music. All appears well, but something is subtly off...
Then, a superbly edited montage of discordant rumbles, barely glimpsed rage from the characters and the famous final line, "Don't open the door", builds to Winstead's horrified expression. Upon reveal of the title, it left everyone shaking and grinning that they'd managed to be duped again. How did another Cloverfield movie rear its head without anyone knowing?
The sequel's backstory
It turned out that 10 Cloverfield Lane had been shot in extreme secrecy at the end of 2014, on just one set and with a very limited ensemble cast. Sneaky. But it wasn't originally intended to be part of the burgeoning movie universe.
It was on Hollywood's Black List of best unproduced screenplays (having been snapped up by Paramount in 2012), and re-written by Damien Chazelle, who was also set to direct. But when he left to work on his (soon to be Oscar winning) Whiplash, Dan Trachtenberg stepped in.
In fact, it was only during production that the filmmakers noticed similarities to the first movie, leading them to form a "blood relative" – in other words, a brand new story that, in its final stages, extends its tentacles into the more recognisable alien iconography of Cloverfield.
Originally titled The Cellar, it was subsequently renamed Valencia. Winstead revealed the following to Collider: "It was really fun. It’s another really contained film. It’s just three actors, in the whole thing. It’s me and John Goodman and John Gallagher, Jr. I get to be a little bad-ass in it, which was really fun. It had been a few years since I’d done something like that, so that was really cool. I won’t give away too much, but I’m excited about it, for sure."
Abrams finally decided upon the title 10 Cloverfield Lane after completing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He told Fandango: "This movie is very purposefully not called Cloverfield 2, because it's not Cloverfield 2, [...] So if you're approaching it as a literal sequel, you'll be surprised to see what this movie is. But while it's not what you might expect from a movie that has the name Cloverfield in it, I think you'll find that you'll understand the connection when you see the whole thing."
The new marketing campaign
Clearly emboldened by the success of the earlier film's marketing trickery, returning producer JJ Abrams once again dribbled out bits and pieces of information.
In early February 2016, the website for fictional oil rig company Tagruato.jp (used for the first Cloverfield) kicked back into life. The Tagruato corporation is constantly in the background of the Cloverfield mystery: it claims to have "groundbreaking deep-sea drilling technology" and also owns subsidiaries Yoshida Medical Research, Bold Futura, ParafFun! Wax Distributors and the aforementioned Slusho!.
The online viral campaign, plus an accompanying augmented reality game (ARG), swelled to encompass a whole host of Easter eggs and potential new connections between the two movies. It gets pretty complicated, so here's YouTube experts Inside A Mind with a handy video.
8th March 2016: 10 Cloverfield Lane is released in America
The new movie was released to positive reviews and box office success: Forbes reports a $25.2m opening weekend.
The story pieces soon fell into place. Young woman Michelle (Winstead) has just broken up with her boyfriend and shortly experiences a car crash. She later wakes up in a mysterious bunker, seemingly at the mercy of Goodman's Howard, who tells her the world has been wiped out by a mysterious catastrophe. Another man, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) is also a resident of the bunker – but is Howard telling the truth?
The movie does a masterful job of wrongfooting us throughout. When Michelle eventually does escape, it turns out Howard's ravings weren't delusions: the world has been devastated, and aliens are responsible. It's official: this is part of the Cloverfield universe (reinforced by the sign on the post box, '10 Cloverfield Lane'). Survivors of the invasion are encouraged to either head north, or go to Houston to join in the fight. Michelle chooses the latter.
As is the way with the Cloverfield universe, each new movie tends to begin life as something else, before steadily being drawn into the orbit of the franchise. That's what happened with God Particle: directed by Julias Onah back in 2016, the title has subsequently changed to Cloverfield 3, officially making it part of the canon.
The plot remains hazy at this stage, but appears to revolve around a team of astronauts on board the International Space Station performing a dangerous experiment involving a particle accelerator. They discover a powerful and dangerous energy source called the ‘God Particle’, which inadvertently instigates a terrible accident that causes the Earth to vanish.
God Particle screenwriter Oren Uziel, responsible for Netflix crime thriller Shimmer Lake, told Collider: "It was a spec that I wrote probably a year or so after Shimmer Lake, so it definitely existed as its own science-fiction. And then after years of, you know how scripts kind of hang around—people like them but for whatever reason they decided to make it and then suddenly everything fell into place with J.J. [Abrams], Bad Robot, and Paramount. I don’t know exactly when it became a Cloverfield movie, but I suspect in this current market where it’s just harder and harder to market an original movie of any kind, a science-fiction movie in particular, but I think everyone just knew if it fits – and it does –into that Cloverfield world, it should, and it can only help."
Going viral (again)
On the 10 year anniversary of the original movie, the marketing craze again kicked into gear with Reddit boffins claiming to have decoded a message on the ever-present Tagruato website:
"Tokyo – January 18 2018 Tagruato has begun development on a revolutionary new energy technology In what Ceo Ganu Yoshida called a technological great leap foreward for our planet This renewable technology will take at least 4 year to complete with along with another six years International regulatory bodies to bring the powerful revolutionary energy source by april 18 2028"
That's as clear as mud but this is Cloverfield we're talking about. What is clear is the excellence of the ensemble cast: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, and Zhang Ziyi.
When is Cloverfield 3 released?
Originally scheduled for an October 2017 release, then 2nd February 2018 (going via American release dates), the new Cloverfield movie has been pushed back to 20th April of this year, amid rumours that the movie will be going straight to Netflix. We haven't get a trailer yet, but indications are it may arrive during next Monday's Super Bowl.
Did you know that a fourth movie has also completed filming? It was first reported back in March 2017, with Slash Film speculating that the movie (then simply titled Overlord) may in fact be another instalment in the Cloverfield universe.
We now know that to be the truth, and if you're not already excited, the plot synopsis is sure to get your heart pounding:
"On the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation. They find themselves fighting against supernatural forces, part of a Nazi experiment."
Produced by JJ Abrams and 10 Cloverfield Lane creative Lindsey Weber, the movie stars Black Mirror's Wyatt Russell (pictured below). Directed by Julius Avery, the movie has a tenative theatrical release date of 16th October 2018, although that is subject to change.