Hot New Movie Catchphrase: Call It a "Spiritual Successor," Not a Sequel

10 Cloverfield Lane Still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

10 Cloverfield Lane Still 1 - H 2016

J.J. Abrams and Richard Linklater have been using the term to promote their new films.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Want to add some cachet to a movie that isn't a traditional sequel but could benefit from positive association with a previous hit? Just call it, in the words of J.J. Abrams, a "spiritual successor." The marketing ploy paid off big time for the Abrams-produced 10 Cloverfield Lane, which opened to a strong $24.7 million domestic during the March 11 weekend after costing Paramount $13 million to produce. The film creates a new franchise as well as a new phrase.

Details are murky as to when the decision was made to tie 10 Cloverfield Lane to Cloverfield, a 2008 found-footage monster pic that opened to $40.1 million. The project began as a spec script titled The Cellar by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken which Abrams' Bad Robot picked up in late 2012. Damien Chazelle then came in to rewrite with the intention of directing, but left the project to helm the indie breakout hit, Whiplash.

Dan Trachtenberg was hired to direct, and production began in October 2014 with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman under the working title Valencia. (No stars of Cloverfield appear in Cloverfield Lane, so the films share only a monster storyline.) So secretive was the planning that many didn't know the title until it was revealed 24 hours before the first trailer hit in January. And once Abrams was finished with Star Wars: The Force Awakens duties, he became very involved in steering 10 Cloverfield lane and linking it to the first film.

"We wanted to make it seem like a big movie, and we did it by having a very compact campaign. It's a small movie made to feel like a franchise," says Paramount vice chair Rob Moore. The hip moni­­ker is catching on: At SXSW, Richard Linklater began calling his new movie, Everybody Wants Some, a spiritual sequel to his 1993 hit Dazed and Confused.