Credit: Paramount

Thanks to a rather creative marketing campaign, once again the word around the multiplex this weekend is “Cloverfield.” That’s interesting, considering that it’s essentially a nonsense word — albeit a nonsense word imbued with mystery, suspense, and terror by none other than J.J. Abrams.

But what does Cloverfield actually mean? Where did it come from? The answer depends on how literal you want to be.

Obviously, there are two Bad Robot-produced films that feature the word as the centerpiece of its title. Cloverfield, the original found-footage monster movie, debuted in 2008 after months of speculation about what the film — originally teased without a title and only its release date in a trailer — would eventually be called. Six years later, we have 10 Cloverfield Lane, what Abrams describes as “blood relative” to the first film that matches the original’s spooky tone.

The actual origin of the term, however, is rather mundane. Cloverfield is the exit off of the I-10 freeway that leads to the Bad Robot’s Santa Monica offices. That name stems from a previous moniker for the Santa Monica Airport: Clover Field.

Within the world of the first film, Cloverfield is the designation given by the U.S. government to the Manhattan monster attack captured by the character, Hudd. This was originally chosen as the title of the movie, and though other temporary ones were suggested, it ultimately became the final name because of fan familiarity with it.

[Beware of 10 Cloverfield Lane spoilers from here on out]

For the second film, Cloverfield is the street address of the house under which the bunker — the movie’s primary setting — is built.

So that takes care of the literal, but in a larger sense, what does Cloverfield mean to J.J. Abrams?

With these two films, the producer-director has established his own franchise, one that doesn’t link its stories through characters and setting but through tone. Under the Cloverfield umbrella, Abrams can tell original stories that communicate upfront to the audience that this will be a fun, dark ride, even if they don’t necessarily recognize the actors on screen from a previous installment.

What Cloverfield does not imply is that the same monster that attacked New York is going to be in the movie, though future installments may directly connect the events of the two movies. Put another way, Cloverfield simply is a shorthand for, “If you like that movie, you’ll like this movie.”

10 Cloverfield Lane
  • Movie
  • 113 minutes