What the Cloverfield Super Bowl Surprise Means for the Future

During this past weekend’s Super Bowl broadcast (Go Birds!) it was revealed that the next chapter in the Cloverfield anthology franchise would not just be available on Netflix, but would begin streaming immediately upon completion of the big game. This is HUGE. And quality of the movie aside (it’s receiving mostly poor reviews), this no-marketing marketing strategy has the potential to change things in a big way.

This surprise roll out certainly fits the brand of Cloverfield. The original film, now ten years old (ack), began its life as an untitled teaser trailer which showed just enough to pique audience curiosity, but left explicit details out. The carrot was dangled, and we chased it to the tune of $170 million. Naturally, we would expect a follow up. It wasn’t until 2016 that said sequel was released, but short of a few small Easter eggs, 10 Cloverfield Lane was only connected to its predecessor by name and tone. The thing is, in the time leading up to its release, no one knew 10 Cloverfield Lane existed at all. Its release date was announced mere weeks in advance, and until then, any pre-release news followed a script titled either Valencia or The Cellar depending on who you asked. In fact, even the cast and crew weren’t aware that this seemingly standalone sci-fi story would be branded a Cloverfield film.

But the marketing gimmick worked and the film was a success both financially and critically. It made ten times its budget ($150 million return on $15 million), and Bad Robot productions indicated that they planned to continue this “franthology” by finding cool sci-fi scripts and re-branding them to fit the loose parameters of the Cloverfield world.

And now comes The Cloverfield Paradox. This, too, had a non-brand working title. It was initially called God Particle, but savvy film fans and journalists soon posited that this would indeed be a franchise entry, and Bad Robot/Paramount almost immediately confirmed that this was the case. Beyond that, the only thing anyone knew was that it would be released in April of 2018 (after multiple delays – this was originally slated for February 2017). But this past weekend everything changed.

At the end of the big game’s first quarter, a short trailer aired promising that The Cloverfield Paradox would be coming directly to Netflix VERY soon. Within minutes, the Netflix menu confirmed that the film would be available immediately after the game ended.

We now knew exactly what Ava Duvernay was talking about when she tweeted the following right before the game:

Note: I am pretty sure the Super Bowl ad did not explicitly announce that it would be available right after the game, only stating that it was “coming soon,” but I could be wrong. The trailers currently online do indeed say “tonight,” but I’m reasonably certain that the specific live ad was a one-off. Whatever it said, this surprise release garnered such immediate buzz that its existence might fundamentally change what seems to be an indelible aspect of a huge institution. You see, for as long as football has been televised, the Super Bowl has been a ratings behemoth. Other networks know not to even try to compete with it. Anyone who puts first run programming on air simultaneously with the biggest game of the year is asking to lose viewers or potentially kill a successful show.

Furthermore, the hosting network of the big game ALWAYS stacks their lineup with a new episode of a popular show (This is Us was this year’s winner) followed by their late night talk show, complete with notable celebrity guests, most or all of whom have a fun connection to the game.

But Netflix took a substantial chunk of viewers away from that schedule. Granted, This is Us fans weren’t changing the channel, but those of us whom NBC wanted to hit with some “least objectionable programming,” were happy to turn away and fire up our streaming devices.

I wonder how much NBC was involved in this. Perhaps they got paid enough for the TV spot they they considered the loss of viewers negligible. Maybe it was the network investing in a changing programming landscape. Maybe — if what I remember is indeed true and the trailer didn’t specify “tonight” — it could be evidence of Netflix pulling a one on a clueless network. While I doubt this is the case, it’s a hell of a way for Netflix to capitalize on an investment. At any rate, this gimmick is here to stay. And it won’t be just Super Bowls that will have surprise streaming releases. It’s going to happen all the time with movies that perhaps won’t get a full theatrical release (see Ryan’s piece on Annihilation for another piece of evidence that times are a-changing). On the one hand, this could mean less theatrical exhibition (bad), but on the other, this sort of thing could open doors for films that deserve hype, but might not have the pedigree to fuel a theatrical run (good). The Cloverfield Paradox used a gimmick already inherent to the brand (the pointed withholding of information) to try something new, and that’s really cool. If anything, they got a few extra viewers out of it while moving up a few notches on their grand business plan.

Blair Witch, Split, the Cloverfield series — surprise sequels are the new hotness, and the sudden release of The Cloverfield Paradox is the next in a line of gimmicks designed to shake up a spoiler-heavy, spoiler-phobic world. I’m excited to see what comes of this, especially since I’m willing to bet that my above predictions will be off-base in some delightfully unexpected way.

Welp, I guess it’s time I go and watch the damned thing.

Alright, I’m back. So the questions remains: Is The Cloverfield Paradox any good? Haha, no. It’s farts.

Well, played, Netflix. You just saved yourselves from what was destined to be a box office bomb. Word of mouth would’ve killed this thing just the same as it bolstered the previous entries’ success. This movie is baaaaad. But the morbidly curious and those with lower standards than I, none of whom would have bought a ticket, will surely check it out now. So I guess this sneaky play is yet another thing that gimmicky marketing is capable of. Mind. Blown.

Please also note that this misfire is certainly not going to sink the brand, and that pleases me. I’ll take a few more Cloverfield flicks if’n you’re so inclined to make ‘em.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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