10 Surprising Facts About Cloverfield
By Garin Pirnia
On February 4, 2018, football fans (and casual watchers) got an unexpected surprise during Super Bowl LII when Netflix announced that it was dropping The Cloverfield Paradox—the third film in the Cloverfield anthology—that very same night.
It was just over 10 years ago, on January 18, 2008, that Paramount released the original Cloverfield, a low-budget, found-footage monster film produced by J.J. Abrams, written by Drew Goddard, and directed by Matt Reeves. In the movie, "Cloverfield" was the case name the government gave to the monster that’s destroying New York.
During the summer of 2007, while the movie was still being filmed, the studio released Cloverfield’s first trailer, which was attached to screenings of Transformers. The teaser concluded with the release date—1-18-2008—but the name of the film was withheld. Because people now knew a secret Abrams project was in the works, the filmmakers had to give code names to the movie, like Slusho! and Cheese.
With a budget of $25 million, the film grossed an impressive $170.7 million worldwide, with $40 million of that accumulating during its opening weekend. (At the time it was the biggest opening for a film released in January, but today, 10 years later, it ranks fourth.) In 2016, Abrams resurrected Cloverfield—this time in what he called “a blood relative.”
Paramount released 10 Cloverfield Lane on March 11, 2016, after announcing it two months earlier. It didn’t have much to do with the original film, but was still connected to the burgeoning Cloverfield universe. “It’s like Cloverfield is the amusement park, and each of these movies is a different ride in that park,” Abrams told Vanity Fair of the film's connections. (The Cloverfield Paradox is the latest film in the anthology.) Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.
1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY GODZILLA.
J.J. Abrams had wanted to make a monster movie for a while. He was in Japan with his son, who dragged him to toy stores. “We saw all these Godzilla toys and I thought, we need our own monster, and not King Kong,” Abrams said during a Comic-Con panel. “King Kong’s adorable. I wanted something that was just insane and intense.”
2. GODZILLA DID NOT INFLUENCE THE CLOVER MONSTER’S DESIGN.
Neville Page had the task of designing the 250-foot-tall Cloverfield monster, known as Clover. “I am not recalling being told to not do Godzilla-like designs," Page said. "It was more implicit. Since it was not a Godzilla movie, it would have been a huge mistake to do things like it.”
Realizing the monster needed to be a water creature, Page decided to add a tail to it. The monster is covered with deadly parasites known as HSP (human scale parasites). “I knew that I wanted something thin and vertical and light. Kinda like a flea,” he said about designing the other creatures.
3. THE MONSTER WAS SLIGHTLY CLUMSY, AND THAT WAS ON PURPOSE.
In an interview with io9, Page shared that if the monster seemed a little bit clumsy, there was a reason for that: It's supposed to be a baby. "I would have preferred that it be even clumsier," Page said. "But then it can get comical. Yes, it was the intention that it is a baby and it is not only developing its strength, but also its land legs. The proportions are intended to feel a little like a newborn deer or horse. Long, thin and slightly awkward."
4. LIZZY CAPLAN HAD NO IDEA WHAT SHE SIGNED ON FOR.
When the actors auditioned for the movie, they weren’t told what the film was, and they weren’t given a full script. In fact, the cast read sides from Alias. Lizzy Caplan agreed to star in the film because she was a fan of Lost.
“I was kind of relieved that it wasn’t Star Trek, not because I think Star Trek is going to be anything less than awesome, but just because I think that would be really strange to have no idea and then be in such a recognizable franchise,” she told MovieWeb.
The producers didn’t give her much of a backstory to work with, either. “I just try to think about like how much it would suck to be in a city being attacked by a monster and how much it would really suck to do it with a group of friends you barely knew and you weren’t with your own friends, trying to figure it out,” she said.
5. IT WAS A METAPHOR FOR 9/11.
Even though the film was released several years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, having a real monster attack New York City became a metaphor for 21st-century anxieties. “[It works] in the same way that Godzilla was really a metaphor for its time, and was a sort of movie about the A-bomb and Hiroshima and all of that,” director Matt Reeves told IGN.
“We wanted to let people live through their wildest fears but be in a safe place where the enemy is the size of a skyscraper instead of some stateless, unseen cowardly terrorist,” Abrams told TIME.
Abrams and the rest of the team looked at handheld videos shot in Iraq as a way to base the film in reality. “In many of these Iraq videos, we felt like we were just missing the most terrifying thing,” Abrams said. However, he said the film was “entertainment” and a throwback to monster movies from his youth. “I hadn’t seen anything that felt that way for many years,” he said. “I felt like there had to be a way to do a monster movie that’s updated and fresh. So we came up with the YouTube-ification of things, the ubiquity of video cameras [and] cell phones with cameras. The age of self-documentation felt like a wonderful prism through which to look at the monster movie.”
6. MATT REEVES DIDN'T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY WANTED HIM TO DIRECT IT.
At this point in his career, Reeves had mainly written and directed character-based projects, including co-creating Felicity with Abrams and writing and directing the film The Pallbearer.
Drew Goddard and Abrams wrote an outline of the film and asked Reeves to direct it. “I was very taken with it, but I was like, ‘This is huge, it’s visual effects. It’s a monster movie. Why are you thinking of me?’” Reeves told IGN. “They were like, ‘Look, there’s no question, we know you love movies and you can get the monster part. We’re interested in what you would do in terms of the tone, in how you would do that and what you would do with the characters.’ And then I got very excited because the idea of doing sort of an outrageous idea, but doing it sort of naturalistically with a real aesthetic, was a real exciting idea. So that got me hooked. I jumped in.”
7. THERE WAS A NOD TO ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
In the film and in the trailer, the monster knocks the Statue of Liberty’s head into the street. Reeves said the idea came from the poster for John Carpenter's Escape from New York.
“The poster had an image on it of the head of the Statue of Liberty and that image was nowhere in the movie! And it’s an incredibly provocative image,” Reeves told IGN. “And that was the source that inspired J.J. to say, ‘Now this would be an interesting idea for a movie.’”
8. A LOT OF MOVIEGOERS VOMITED.
Because the film featured shaky, handheld images, many viewers experienced vertigo and got sick, similar to what happened during The Blair Witch Project’s theatrical run. Theaters had to post signs saying: “Due to the filming method used for Cloverfield, guests viewing this film may experience side effects associated with motion sickness, similar to riding a roller coaster.” AMC offered to refund those audience members who found the experience too unpleasant to watch.
Thankfully, 10 Cloverfield Lane was not filmed in the same manner.
9. NOT ALL OF THE ACTORS WERE CONVINCED THE MOVIE WOULD BE ANY GOOD.
In an interview with The A.V. Club, T.J. Miller revealed that both he and co-star Lizzy Caplan weren't confident the concept would pan out. “Even when we were filming, I kept talking to Lizzy Caplan, and she and I would be like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think this is going to be good,’” he said. “We knew there was buzz around it, and J.J. was good at that, and as it got closer to the release date, we started to watch the fan boards and hear what they had to say about everything, and it was pretty amazing. I’d never seen anybody position a movie like that.”
10. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE COINCIDENTALLY ALIGNED WITH CLOVERFIELD.
Josh Campbell and Matthew Stucken wrote a script entitled The Cellar, and Abrams’s production company bought it. “We began developing the story, and we came upon some things where it became clear to us that we were in a very interesting place, because the story was wholly original, a very different situation, different characters from anything we’ve done,” Abrams told Entertainment Weekly. "But the spirit of it, the genre of it, the heart of it, the fear factor, the comedy factor, the weirdness factor—there were so many elements that felt like the DNA of this story were of the same place that Cloverfield was born out of."
Despite the shared DNA, Abrams didn’t want it to be a sequel. “We very intentionally didn’t call this movie Cloverfield 2, but we realized that there was enough of a connection, and the movie was good enough that it warranted this association in a way that we think is justified and exciting,” he said.