The original Cloverfield movie took the world by storm with its mysterious marketing campaign in 2008. This included a cryptic website featuring images and sounds from the film and an alternate reality game side story, but most impactful of all was the initial teaser trailer. This trailer opened up on a group of people celebrating a character’s upcoming move to Japan for a new job opportunity and ended with loud roaring noises, explosions, panic in the streets and famously, the statue of liberty’s head clanging to the ground in a state of disrepair.
Nothing else was revealed but the film’s release date, and while the roaring sounds and general destruction hinted at some kind of giant monster being involved, absolutely nothing else was known, not even the movie’s title. People didn’t even know what to call it. Nobody had any idea what the apparent monster looked like, what its true nature was, what kind of movie it would actually end up being involved in, nothing. It was the perfect mix of terror and ambiguity to spark viewers’ imaginations, and spark their imaginations it most certainly did.
Theories ran wild on the internet with people speculating what the movie might be about. From a single shot of the monster subtly darting between buildings, countless full-body sketches of what the thing might look like were put together by eagle-eyed watchers, convinced (rightly) that the monster was an original creation.
Others thought that the film might secretly be a Godzilla reboot in disguise due to the sounds and stature of the monster in question. Others still were convinced that the film was instead an unconventional Superman reboot from the perspective of Metropolis’ citizens and the monster was going to turn out to be Doomsday.
One particular theory hypothesized that the Cloverfield movie would connect to the television show Lost. Both pieces of media involved J.J. Abrams, both were set in universes where some monsters existed, both involve a mysterious DHARMA Initiative and the timeline of Lost was such so that the people who crashed onto the island they got ‘lost’ on wouldn’t have known about the Cloverfield monster before their crash, which would explain their lack of knowledge concerning it. The theory proposed that the DHARMA Initiative took the footage found in Cloverfield and used it for their own shadowy purposes. This wasn’t confirmed by the film, but it’s still a compelling idea.
One really weird instance of fan speculation came from some people somehow mishearing the line “It’s alive, it’s huge!” as “It’s a lion, it’s huge!” Because of this, some people thought the Cloverfield monster was going to be a gigantic lion, which became something of an in-joke with the fandom eventually. Even the creators of the movie heard about that one and admitted that the line was somewhat unclear due to its delivery.
Even post-release new theories have arisen to explain what was seen in the finished movie, including one particularly compelling idea that there was not one Cloverfield monster, but two. There have also been theories about how the original Cloverfield relates to its pseudo-sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane, and with the announcement that J.J. Abrams’ God Particle will also apparently be related to the original Cloverfield somehow, this has only become more intense. The Cloverfield News website that was started to keep track of theories for the first movie is still active for this reason. On top of this, the teaser trailer and the ensuing speculation for the original Cloverfield have spawned related theories for other movies, like the idea that Life was a stealth Venom prequel or the idea that The Shape of Water would be about a Hellboy side character.
Still, the hype behind the original movie has mostly died down by now since the entire thing has been out for a decade now, and so it feels appropriate to judge at this point how well the film actually holds up independent of its monstrous media presence. Fortunately, the answer is that it holds up quite well. It does fall into some annoying genre conventions with its somewhat sickeningly shaky camera and its characters delivering lines with a bit too much shouting, but the street perspective of a monster attack is still extremely compelling and the characters themselves are still movingly human in their reactions to the freak disaster they’ve become entangled in. To this day, it’s still one of the best found footage movies ever made, right up there with The Blair Witch Project. Thankfully for those who did become engrossed in the movie’s speculation, they were rewarded with a cinematic treat when it came time to actually see the movie upon release. Cloverfield’s teaser trailer did create some legendary hype, but it was more than just hype, and that’s really what makes the film’s whole story so satisfying.