Paramount Pictures announced yet another shift in release for the next installment of perhaps the weirdest and most secretive sci-fi franchise in cinematic history, the Cloverfield series. The J.J. Abrams-produced American monster movie by way of found footage became an instant success upon release on January 18, 2008, yet it took another eight years for a follow-up. Except it wasn’t exactly the sequel audiences were expecting. Instead of the giant, mysterious beast that destroyed nearly all of New York City, we got a claustrophobic thriller with a sci-fi twist. It too raked in the profits, solidifying Paramount and Bad Robot’s plans to unleash a series of films set in the Cloverfield universe. With not just one, but possibly two Cloverfield films set to release this year, we look back at the history of the Cloverfield series, the future of the series, and the Alternate Reality Game that connects them.
Sprouted from a small seedling of an idea that Abrams had while visiting a toy store in Japan with his son, Paramount secretly greenlit Cloverfield, written by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and directed by Matt Reeves (Let Me In). The entire film hinged on its secrecy; not even the cast knew what they were auditioning for. The actors weren’t allowed to read the script until they’d actually signed on for the movie.
Then there was the marketing. Attached to the theatrical release of Transformers in July 2007 was the first teaser for Cloverfield, and it fully lived up to the definition of the word. Enough was shown to let the viewer know there was something beyond the party in the scenes featured and that it was big and pissed off. But Paramount opted to not reveal the movie’s title, only the date 1.18.08. It wasn’t until November of that year, in a teaser attached to the theatrical release of Beowulf, that Paramount would finally clue audiences into the film’s title. The speculation ran wild. Would this be tied into Abrams’ hit series Lost? Would it be a new Godzilla movie?
While Bad Robot and Paramount remained frustratingly tight-lipped about the project, Paramount doled out clues in the form of the Alternate Reality Game, or ARG. This highly intricate and cryptic ARG enhanced the film in a way that had never been done before; months of clues dispersed across the internet built a backstory for diehard players that fleshed out some of the narrative that the film itself never had time to answer. The biggest of which was that Japanese mining company Tagruato, and its Chuai drilling station in the Atlantic Ocean near New York City was ground zero for the monster’s attack preceding the events of the film. Most important of all, aside from insight to the creature’s origins, is that Tagruato is a large corporation with subsidiaries. One of which was Slusho!, which was featured in Cloverfield as Rob’s going away party was centered around his job promotion to vice president of marketing for the company. Tagruato also developed paraffin wax via their ParafFun! Wax Distributors branch, deep-sea genetic research via Yoshida Medical Research, and advanced technology via Bold Futura.
Why is that last subsidiary important? Because on January 15, 2016, a mysterious trailer featuring the word “Cloverfield” in its title would begin the speculation anew. A month later, suspicions that we’d finally get another Cloverfield came with the launch of the next ARG game. This one, also centered on the Tagruato Corporation, fixated on subsidiary Bold Futura. And who would be featured as a key employee of the subsidiary? John Goodman’s character Howard Stambler. Though much shorter than the original ARG game, this iteration would give key backstory to Howard and the relationship with the daughter he so doted upon in 10 Cloverfield Lane, and his role in the company.
As for the film itself, it proved to be nothing at all like its predecessor. While both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane feature lead protagonists fleeing from relationships, their journeys are vastly different. From New York City to a rural underground bunker, and giant demolition monster to a paranoid human monster, it doesn’t seem to have much in common besides a moniker. Until you get to the end, and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has to contend with monsters of an extraterrestrial variety. Oh, and the clues revealed in the ARG placing this movie in the same universe as Cloverfield, though Abrams has stated that it exists in a different timeline.
Why did it take so long to come up with a sequel, though, and why was it only connected in the loosest of ways? While Abrams had always intended a sequel, especially thanks to fan demand, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla sort of made his original plan to create an American giant monster obsolete. So it reshaped how this franchise would continue, for the better I think.
The third entry in the Cloverfield universe was announced in the ARG for the avid followers. Well, sort of. The ARG for 10 Cloverfield Lane revealed a sound clip from the International Space Station, which had many looking for the next entry to take place in space. Then came the announcement that God Particle, a space thriller/horror film written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung would be the next entry, to be released on February 24, 2017. Like 10 Cloverfield Lane, God Particle wasn’t one written with Cloverfield in mind but retrofitted into the universe. Die-hard fans of the ARG game geared up to participate, and then waited for its arrival. And waited. And waited. The release date then shifted to October 27, 2017, then to February 2, 2018, before an official announcement for April. While it still remains to be seen if and when the ARG game will commence (I think it might a month before theatrical release, considering Tagruato corps’ website has undergone recent changes), I’d like to speculate that another Tagruato subsidiary makes its entrance in the franchise. Namely ParafFun! Wax Distributors, since God Particle (or whatever it will be renamed) is set on a space station and revolves around a particle accelerator and paraffin wax is used in moderating neutrons.
While we only have months to discover just how much the currently unnamed and formerly titled God Particle will tie into the Cloverfield universe, there’s yet another potential franchise entry to consider: Overlord. Another joint venture between Abrams’ Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures, Overlord is a World War II horror film that will follow the story of two American soldiers behind enemy lines on D Day, as they discover the Nazis are using supernatural forces against them. Set for release on October 26, 2018, there are elements there that would suggest this could be another Cloverfield. Same two companies behind the series, similar genres, and a potential connection to Tagruato, considering the fictional company was founded the final year of World War II, in 1945.
Cloverfield took the box office by storm, in large part thanks to the clever and secretive nature of both Abrams and Paramount’s clever marketing. More than that, it was a fantastic film. From Rob’s human relationships to the creepy parasites that dropped from the creature, Cloverfield was a unique entry in the American monster pantheon. When the long-anticipated sequel felt obsolete thanks to similar films being released, Abrams and Paramount adapted and shifted, instead choosing to produce scripts with similar themes and retrofitting them into the same universe. There’s something inherently exciting about never being able to fully anticipate the type of film you’re going to get in the Cloverfield series, or even what type of monster, sometimes even plural. You can count on similar themes among the protagonists at the center of the film, and that it will be a genre film in some way. Most of all, though, is that you can count on evil Tagruato Corporation to be behind it all.
With two stellar films released so far, and a vast potential ahead, I can’t wait to see where the Cloverfield universe brings us next. Ten years after the release of Cloverfield, it’s still as much of an enigma as it was in 2008.