The film eventually served as the first installment of the Cloverfield franchise, which also consists of 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane and the currently unnamed 2018 film formerly known as God Particle.
The film is presented as footage from a personal camcorder recovered by the United States Department of Defense in the area "formerly known as Central Park", bearing a disclaimer stating multiple sightings of a case designated "Cloverfield". The tape originally contained footage from the last day Rob and Beth had spent together, which later got overwritten in its majority by the events filmed during the night of Friday, May 22, 2009, the resulting tape alternating between the two.
The first segment is filmed by Rob on the morning of Monday, April 27. Rob and Beth wake up in an apartment after a night together and they make plans to go to Coney Island that day. The footage cuts to the evening of Friday, May 22, when Jason, Rob's brother, and his girlfriend, Lily, prepare a farewell party for Rob, who will be moving to Japan. Their friend Hud films testimonials during the party.
After Beth has an argument with Rob and leaves, a supposed earthquake strikes, causing a brief city-wide power outage; the local news reports a capsized oil tanker near Liberty Island. When the party-goers leave the building, the severed head of the Statue of Liberty is hurled into the street in front of them.
Rob listens to a phone message from Beth, stating that she is trapped in her apartment at the Time Warner Center and unable to move. Going against the crowd, Rob, Hud, Lily, and another party-goer, Marlena, venture into Midtown Manhattan to rescue Beth. By 3:17 am, they get caught in a battle between the creature and the National Guard and run into the Spring Street station, soon attacked by several of the parasitic creatures during the scuffle; Marlena is bitten by one. Exiting the subway via the 59th Street station, the four come to a command center and field hospital. Marlena reacts to the bite, causing her to bleed from her eyes. She is dragged into a tent, where she apparently explodes. Rob, intending to save Beth, persuades one of the military leaders to let him go. The man then tells Rob when the last evacuation helicopter will depart before the military executes its "Hammer Down Protocol," which will destroy Manhattan in an attempt to kill the monster.
The film skips to the early morning of Saturday, May 23, less than an hour later. A voice on the crashed helicopter's radio warns that the Hammer Down protocol will begin in fifteen minutes. The three friends regain consciousness and flee; Hud retrieves it, where the creature suddenly appears and kills him.
Rob and Beth grab the camera and take shelter under Greyshot Arch in Central Park. As sirens blare and the bombing starts, Rob and Beth take turns leaving their last testimony of the day's events. The bridge crumbles and the camera gets knocked out of Rob's hand and buried beneath some rubble. Rob and Beth each proclaim their love for each other just before another bomb goes off, with both screaming while the monster roars.
The footage concludes with Rob and Beth's Coney Island date on April 27. Unnoticed by the characters, an indiscernible object falls from the sky into the ocean. Rob points the camera toward Beth and himself, and zooms in on the latter, who says "I had a good day." At that point, the tape freezes and cuts out.
After the credits, indistinct radio chatter can be heard. It can be perceived as "Help us", but when played in reverse, it says "It's still alive".
- Michael Stahl-David as Robert "Rob" Hawkins
- T.J. Miller as Hudson "Hud" Platt
- Jessica Lucas as Lily Ford
- Odette Yustman as Elizabeth "Beth" McIntyre
- Lizzy Caplan as Marlena Diamond
- Mike Vogel as Jason Hawkins
- Ben Feldman as Travis
- Billy Brown as Staff Sergeant Pryce
- Chris Mulkey as Lieutenant General Graff
- Brian Klugman as Charlie
- Theo Rossi as Antonio
- Matt Reeves as Post-Credits Radio Message (uncredited)
J. J. Abrams thought up a new monster after he and his son visited a toy store in Japan while promoting Mission: Impossible III. He explained, "We saw all these Godzilla toys, and I thought, we need our own American monster, and not like King Kong. I love King Kong. King Kong is adorable. And Godzilla is a charming monster. We love Godzilla. But I wanted something that was just insane and intense."
In February 2007, Paramount Pictures secretly greenlit Cloverfield, to be produced by Abrams, directed by Matt Reeves, and written by Drew Goddard. The project was produced by Abrams' company, Bad Robot Productions. The visual effects producer was Chantal Feghali.
The severed head of the Statue of Liberty was inspired by the poster of the 1981 film Escape from New York, which had shown the head lying in the streets in New York. Reeves explained, "It's an incredibly provocative image. And that was the source that inspired producer J. J. Abrams to say, 'Now this would be an interesting idea for a movie'."
The film was initially named Cloverfield. This changed several times throughout production before it was decided that the original title would be used. Matt Reeves explained that the title was changed frequently due to the hype caused by the teaser trailer. "That excitement spread to such a degree that we suddenly couldn't use the name anymore. So we started using all these names like Slusho and Cheese. And people always found out what we were doing!" The director said that "Cloverfield" was the government's case designation for the events caused by the monster, comparing the titling to that of the Manhattan Project. "And it's not a project per se. It's the way that this case has been designated. That's why that is on the trailer, and it becomes clearer in the film. It's how they refer to this phenomenon [or] this case", said the director. The film's final title, Cloverfield, is the name of the exit Abrams takes to his Santa Monica office. In turn, the road used to lead to the Santa Monica Airport, which originally bore the name Clover Field.
One final title, Greyshot, was proposed before the movie was officially titled Cloverfield. The name Greyshot is taken from the archway that the two survivors take shelter under at the end of the movie. Director Reeves said that it was decided not to change the title to Greyshot because the film was already so well known as Cloverfield.
The film received a subtitle in Japan, where it was released as Cloverfield/Hakaisha (クローバーフィールド/HAKAISHA Kurōbāfīrudo/HAKAISHA). The subtitle "Destroyer" was chosen by Abrams and was translated into Japanese as Hakaisha (破壊者 lit. "Destroyer") by Paramount Japan at his request. The subtitle Kishin (鬼神 lit. "Demon[ic] God") was chosen for the manga spin-off, Cloverfield/Kishin, released exclusively in Japan.
The casting process was carried out in secret, with no script being sent out to candidates. With production estimated to have a budget of $30 million, principal photography began in mid-June 2007 in New York. One cast member said that the film would look like it cost $150 million, despite producers not casting recognizable and expensive actors. Filmmakers used the Panasonic HVX200 for most of the interior scenes, and the Sony CineAlta F23 high-definition video camera to tape nearly all of the New York exterior scenes. Filming took place on Coney Island, with scenes shot at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and the B&B Carousel. The scenes of tanks firing at the creature while the main characters hide in a stairwell were filmed on Hennesy Street on Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, CA. Some interior shots were taped on a soundstage at Downey, California. Bloomingdale's in the movie was actually shot in an emptied Robinsons-May store that was under reconstruction in Arcadia, California. The outside scenes of Sephora and the electronics store were taped in Downtown Los Angeles.
The film was shot and edited in a cinéma vérité style, to look like it was taped with one hand-held camera, including jump cuts similar to ones found in home movies. T.J. Miller, who plays Hud, has said in various interviews that he taped a third of the movie and almost half of it made it into the film. Director Matt Reeves described the presentation, "We wanted this to be as if someone found a Handicam, took out the tape and put it in the player to watch it. What you're watching is a home movie that then turns into something else." Reeves explained that the pedestrians documenting the severed head of the Statue of Liberty with the camera phones was reflective of the contemporary period. According to him: "Cloverfield very much speaks to the fear and anxieties of our time, how we live our lives. Constantly documenting things and putting them up on YouTube, sending people videos through e-mail – we felt it was very applicable to the way people feel now."
VFX and CGI were produced by effects studios Double Negative and Tippett Studio.
Several of the filmmakers are heard but not seen in the film. The man yelling "Oh my God!" repeatedly when the head of the Statue of Liberty lands in the street is producer Bryan Burk, and director Matt Reeves voiced the whispered radio broadcast at the end of the credits. After viewing a cut of the film, Steven Spielberg suggested giving the audience a hint at the fate of the monster during the climax, which resulted in the addition of a countdown overheard on the helicopter's radio and the sounding of air raid sirens to signal the forthcoming Hammer Down bombing.
The film's shaky camera style of cinematography, dubbed "La Shakily Queasy-Cam" by Roger Ebert, caused some viewers (particularly in darkened movie theaters) to experience motion sickness, including nausea and a temporary loss of balance. Audience members prone to migraines have cited the film as a trigger. Some theaters showing the film, such as AMC Theatres, provided posted and verbal warnings, informing viewers about the filming style of Cloverfield, while other theatres like Pacific Theatres just verbally warned customers in detail at the box office about experiencing motion sickness upon viewing the film and what to do if they had to step out and vomit.
The cinematography affects the encoding of the video and can cause compression artifacts due to fast motion across the field of view.
Visual main effects supervisor Nick Tom and Phil Tippett's "Tippett Studio" were enlisted to develop the visual effects for Cloverfield. Because the visual effects were incorporated after filming, cast members were only familiar with early conceptual renderings of the beast and had to react to an unseen creature during their scenes. Artist Neville Page designed the monster, creating a biological rationale for it, though many of his ideas, including an "elongated, articulated external esophagus," would not show up on screen. His central concept was that of an immature creature suffering from "separation anxiety." This recalls real-life circus elephants who get frightened and lash out. The director stated that "there's nothing scarier than something huge that's spooked."
Before the film's release, Paramount carried out a viral marketing campaign to promote the film which included viral tie-ins similar to Lost Experience. Filmmakers decided to create a teaser trailer that would be a surprise in the light of commonplace media saturation, which they put together during the preparation stage of the production process. The teaser was then used as a basis for the film itself. Paramount Pictures encouraged the teaser to be released without a title attached, and the Motion Picture Association of America approved the move. As Transformers showed high tracking numbers before its release in July 2007, the studio attached the teaser trailer for Cloverfield that showed the release date of January 18, 2008, but not the title. A second trailer was released on November 16, 2007 which was attached to Beowulf, confirming the title.
The studio had kept knowledge of the project secret from the online community, a cited rarity due to the presence of scoopers that follow upcoming films. The controlled release of information on the film has been observed as a risky strategy, which could succeed like The Blair Witch Project (1999) or disappoint like Snakes on a Plane (2006), the latter of which had generated online hype but failed to attract large audiences.
Pre-release plot speculation
The sudden appearance of the untitled teaser for Cloverfield, and limited details available in the lead up to the film's release fueled wide media speculation over the film's plot, with many expecting it to be an adaptation of an existing property. Among the possibilities reported on, The Star Ledger suggested that the film could be based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, or a new entry in the Godzilla series. The Guardian reported the possibility of a spin-off to Abrams' television show Lost, and a misinterpretation of the trailer's line "It's alive!" as "It's a lion!" led USA Today to speculate on a live-action adaptation of Japanese animated series Voltron. IGN and Time Out suggested that the film would feature an alien called "The Parasite", with that rumored to be the working title of the film. Elsewhere online, Slusho and Colossus had been discussed as other possible titles, as well as Monstrous, although this was dispelled by Abrams at ComicCon.
The viral marketing campaign drew the attention of alternate reality game enthusiasts, hoping to uncover information about the film hidden online. Members of the forums at argn.com and unfiction.com have investigated the background of the film, with the "1-18-08" section at Unfiction generating over 7,700 posts in August 2007. The members have studied photographs on the film's official site, potentially related MySpace profiles, and the Comic-Con teaser poster for the film. A popular piece of fan art posited that the monster was a mutated humpback whale.
Unlike most viral marketing campaigns, this one had virtually nothing to do with the film's plot or characters. Instead it focused mainly on the fictional drink Slusho! and the fictional company Tagruato. Puzzle websites containing Lovecraftian elements, such as Ethan Haas Was Right, were originally reported to be connected to the film. On July 9, 2007, producer J. J. Abrams stated that, while a number of websites were being developed to market the film, the only official site that had been found was 1-18-08.com. At the site, which now redirects to the Paramount Pictures home page, a collection of time-coded photos were available to piece together a series of events and interpret their meanings. The pictures could also be flipped over by repeatedly and rapidly moving the mouse side to side. Also, if the page was left open for six minutes, the monster's roar could be heard. Eventually, Cloverfield Movie.com was created. The site provided both a trailer and a number, 33287, which, when texted from a mobile phone, provided a ringtone of the monster's roar and a wallpaper of a decimated Manhattan. This eventually turns out to be a Paramount number (people later received material on Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, and The Love Guru).
The drink Slusho! served as part of the viral marketing campaign. The drink had already appeared in producer Abrams' previous creation, the TV series Alias. Websites for Slusho! and Taguruato were launched to add to the mythology of Cloverfield. The Japanese phone number in the Tagruato website did work, but only played recorded messages. For example, one of the messages was: "Thank you for calling Tagruato. Due to high call volumes, your call has been transferred to an automated answering service. There are no updates at this time. After the tone, please leave a message, and one of our associates will find you as soon as possible". A building bearing the company logo for Tagruato can also be seen in the TV spot of the 2009 Star Trek film, and Uhura orders a Slusho! during the bar scene. When Cloverfield was hosted at Comic-Con 2007, gray Slusho! T-shirts were distributed to attendees. Fans who had registered at the Slusho! website received e-mails of fictional sonar images before the film's release that showed a deep-sea creature heading toward Manhattan. Fans who ordered merchandise received pieces of torn Tagruato documents and Japanese newspapers along with their products. Slusho! has also appeared in Fringe and Heroes.
Producer Burk explained the viral tie-in, "It was all done in conjunction with the studio... The whole experience in making this movie is very reminiscent of how we did Lost." Director Reeves described Slusho! as "part of the involved connectivity" with Abrams' Alias and that the drink represented a "meta-story" for Cloverfield. The director explained, "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... But there's also this other place where you can get engaged where there's this other sort of aspect for all those people who are into that. All the stories kind of bounce off one another and inform each other. But, at the end of the day, this movie stands on its own to be a movie.... The Internet sort of stories and connections and clues are, in a way, a prism and they're another way of looking at the same thing. To us, it's just another exciting aspect of the storytelling."
At Menuism.com there are reviews for a Japanese restaurant called Garbanzos in Norway that mention Tagruato, Slusho! and Seabed Nectar.
A four-installment prequel manga series by Yoshiki Togawa titled Cloverfield/Kishin (クローバーフィールド/KISHIN Kurōbāfīrudo/KISHIN) was released by Japanese publisher Kadokawa Shoten. The story focuses on a Japanese high school student named Kishin Aiba, who somehow bears a connection to the monster.
Based on the film's successful opening weekend, Hasbro began accepting orders for a 14-inch (36 cm) collectible toy figure of the monster with authentic sound and its parasites that were shipped to fans by December 24, 2008.
First publicized in a teaser trailer in screenings of Transformers, the film was released on January 17 in New Zealand, Russia and Australia; January 18 in North America; January 24 in South Korea; January 25 in Taiwan; January 31 in Germany; and February 1 in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy. In Japan, the film was released on April 5. Cloverfield opened in 3,411 theaters on January 18, 2008, and grossed a total of $16,930,000 on its opening day in the United States and Canada. It made $40.1 million on its opening weekend, which at the time was the most successful January release (record then taken by Ride Along in 2014 with a weekend gross of $41.5 million). Worldwide, it has grossed $170,602,318, making it the first movie in 2008 to gross over $100 million. In Japan, the film held the top spot in the box office rankings until the release of Kamen Rider Den-O & Kiva: Climax Deka took the top spot in its first weekend.
Cloverfield received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 77% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 200 reviews. The site's consensus reads, "A sort of Blair Witch Project crossed with Godzilla, Cloverfield is economically paced, stylistically clever, and filled with scares". According to Metacritic, the film has received an average score of 64, based on 37 reviews.
The DVD was released on April 22, 2008, in two versions: the standard single-disc edition and an exclusive "steel-book" special edition that was sold at Suncoast and FYE retailers in the US and Future Shop in Canada. Other store exclusives include an exclusive bonus disc titled "T.J. Miller's Video Diary" with the DVD at all Best Buy retailers, an exclusive mix CD titled "Rob's Goin' to Japan Party Mix" with the DVD at all Target and Wal-Mart retailers and an exclusive ringtone with the DVD at all Kmart and Sears retailers. Borders also has an exclusive booklet encased with their DVD.
The Region 2 DVD was released on June 9 in both one-disc and two-disc editions. The limited steel-book edition is only available from HMV, while Play.com offers exclusive cover artwork. The HMV-exclusive steel-book contains two discs.
The DVD includes two alternative endings, which vary only slightly. The first alternative ending shows Rob and Beth exiting the Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue station instead of on the Ferris wheel and features different sirens in the background as Rob talks to the camera. In the second alternative ending, just after the final explosion, Beth can be heard screaming "Rob!", followed by a very brief clip of an unknown person looking at the camera (in the commentary, Reeves said that it was one of the crew members) and brushing rubble off the lens. The film then ends with the original final clip of Rob and Beth on their Coney Island date recording themselves on the Ferris Wheel as the camera tape runs out, with two differences: there is no timestamp in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and there is an additional beeping tone indicating the end of the tape.
A Blu-ray edition was released on June 3, 2008. It includes a "Special Investigation Mode," as well as all the bonus features of the 2-disc DVD in HD.