Leading to its theatrical release in January 2008, J.J. Abrams’ 2008 monster movie Cloverfield had spent weeks growing into one of the most hyped film releases of all time. Thanks to its mysterious and groundbreaking fan-driven marketing campaign, Cloverfield’s notoriety spread rapidly as audiences tried to figure out what the film was about. When it finally debuted, the movie broke January box office records by earning $40 million on opening weekend.
Described as The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla, Cloverfield was produced by J.J. Abrams who recently found success with a similar promotion strategy for his hit television series Lost. In a saturated movie market, the filmmakers behind Cloverfield needed a way to stand out. The first trailers kept both the title and the plot details concealed, leading audiences to guess at what the movie was. Theories included a new entry in the Godzilla series, a spin-off of Lost, and a live-action adaptation of the Japanese animated series Voltron.
Cloverfield’s viral marketing campaign started leaving small clues on the internet, including fake Myspace profiles for characters in the movie. Searching for the film’s release date revealed a website at 1-18-08.com. Soon an “alternate reality game” was uncovered, which focused on a fictional deep sea drilling company called Tagruato, and a fictional drink called Slusho. Eventually the title Cloverfield was revealed along with an official website which showed a destroyed Manhattan and hinted at some type of monster as the cause.
Weeks later when the film was finally debuted in theatres, it broke the previous records for January by earning $40-million opening weekend. It went on to earn $80 million domestically and over $170 million worldwide. The success of the campaign ushered in a new era of fan-driven movie promotions.