Ten years ago, Cloverfield debuted in North American theaters, raking in an impressive $40 million at the box office and further cementing the cinematic stature of producer J.J. Abrams — as well as establishing director Matt Reeves (later to find more critical and commercial success with Let Me In and the two most recent Planet of the Apes films) as one of American cinema’s finest blockbuster filmmakers. Exploiting the found-footage conceit for a monster movie (as opposed to a straightforward horror show à la The Blair Witch Project and its legion of imitators), Cloverfield was a novel experiment, proving that genre cinema need not populate a project with A-list stars if a uniquely compelling concept is in place. Moreover, the film proved the power of a truly tantalizing marketing campaign — which in this case took the form of arguably the most memorable trailer of the past decade.
On July 3, 2007, Transformers rampaged to an opening-weekend haul of $70.5 million, but the thing most people were discussing as they headed to the exits had little to do with Michael Bay’s Hasbro toy-based adventure; instead, they were talking about a teaser trailer that had preceded the main attraction. Arriving with no internet fanfare (remember those halcyon days?), that clip (viewable above) purported to be camcorder footage shot by unseen Hud (T.J. Miller) of a going-away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who’s planning to move to Japan. Interviews with Rob’s friends make it seem like a typical get-together in a NYC apartment, full of beer-drinking and jokey comments. Then, a loud noise is heard, interrupting the revelry. People crowd around a TV to hear news reports about a “thunderous roaring sound.” Next, they head to the roof, where they witness a massive explosion. Fleeing the building, they find little solace on the ground below, where a giant projectile comes hurtling out of the sky and onto the ground. It’s the head of the Statue of Liberty.
Cut to credits, replete with no title.
As far as teases go, it was just about perfect. Cloverfield’s first promo delivered a quick glimpse of a seemingly familiar scenario, then turned it on its head to reveal that it was actually a different kind of, ahem, beast, and then cut out at the very moment it delivered its signature jaw-dropping sight. The monstrous cause of this mayhem was only heard, leaving viewers to fill in the mental blanks. And with no concrete suggestion of what the post-Lady Liberty action would resemble — or what the entire affair was called — there was no way to even know the precise genre in which the movie would be operating. The sole certainty was its release date: Jan. 18, 2008.
Online speculation quickly took off, with people making wild guesses about Cloverfield being, among other things, a Godzilla reboot, a Voltron adaptation, or a spin-off of Abrams’s Lost. Since Paramount had successfully prevented any leaks, all that online detectives had to go on were the film’s viral-marketing web sites, which included personal MySpace pages for each of the main characters, as well as 1-18-08.com, which offered a series of manipulatable photos. Sites for the make-believe drink Slusho! and the fictional Japanese company Tagruato further motivated viewers to search for clues that might help flesh out the initial teaser. And while a second trailer (premiering on Nov. 16, 2017) definitively dubbed the film Cloverfield, as well as indicated that the proceedings would follow its characters through a night of out-of-this-world craziness — involving large-scale destruction and the participation of the military — it too refrained from spelling out the exact nature of the calamity befalling Manhattan.
Watch the second trailer:
Given the immense success of Cloverfield’s teaser (and the marketing that followed), it was only fitting that its “spiritual sequel,” 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, was similarly shrouded in secrecy — most notably, with regards to how it connected to Reeves and Abrams’s initial work, especially since 10 Cloverfield Lane was shot from a third-person perspective.
Watch the trailer for ’10 Cloverfield Lane’:
And that’s also been true of the franchise’s third entry, which is now due to land on April 20, this despite the fact that it remains untitled (after being initially referred to as God Particle), and has yet to offer up a single trailer, set photo, or plot synopsis; all we know is that it stars Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, and Zhang Ziyi, and may concern astronauts on a mission to save Earth from an alien invasion. Whether it can live up to its predecessor’s famous tease remains to be seen. But by hewing to this close-to-the-vest formula, it’s proven once again that keeping things mysterious remains the series’ shrewd pre-release raison d’être.
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