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The Cloverfield Timeline Explained

In 2008, J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company released a monster movie, supported through detailed viral marketing and with little real plot information released through trailers. The film, told entirely through found footage in the form of a camcorder video confiscated by the government, was Cloverfield, and the details of its mythos — only hinted at in the film — immediately sparked fascination. Things got even more fascinating when the franchise continued, but not in the way anyone expected.

Rather than any direct sequel to Cloverfield, Bad Robot has continued the franchise with two more spiritual sequels, 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016 and The Cloverfield Paradox in 2018, both of which expand the mythos of the series while managing to raise even more questions about what's ultimately become a multiverse of stories in which just about anything can happen. With that in mind, let's dive into the three films, where and when each of them takes us, and how they all tie together, with the understanding that there are still many mysteries surrounding this intriguing little franchise. This is the Cloverfield timeline explained.

A day at Coney Island

Rob Hawkins and Beth McIntyre wake up in Beth's father's apartment in New York City on the morning of April 27, 2008. Rob, with his camcorder on, wakes Megan up and they begin to talk about going to Coney Island, because Beth's never been there. Because the tape that documents the events of Cloverfield is taping over Rob's recording from the Coney Island date, the audience sees glimpses of it throughout the film. At the end of Cloverfield, we see footage of Rob and Beth on a Ferris wheel at Coney Island. Upon close inspection, you can see an object crashing into the ocean as Rob films, but neither of them seem to notice.

It is commonly assumed that this object is the monster, or something containing the monster that attacks in Cloverfield, but according to the alternate reality game that made up the film's viral marketing, that is not necessarily true. The object is still somewhat mysterious, but is actually more likely to be a piece of a Japanese satellite named ChimpanzII, and its fall has to do with the Tagruato corporation launching its own effort to photograph the deep sea, perhaps in an attempt to look for an astonishing discovery that may have been the hibernating monster. So it seems this object isn't the monster itself, but rather something that could have woken it up or made it angry. The film's mythology never quite settles this.

Crashing the party

A little less than a month after the Coney Island trip, on May 22, Rob and Beth are on the rocks and Rob is preparing to leave New York City to take a new job in Japan. His brother Jason throws a going away party for him, and Rob's friend Hud decides to begin filming farewell messages from Rob's friends, unknowingly taping over the Coney Island date as he does. Hud's recording of that night makes up the bulk of Cloverfield. Rob and Beth argue after Beth brings a new man to the party, and Beth heads back to her own apartment.

The building is rocked by what seems at first to be an earthquake, and after a brief power outage the partygoers turn on the news and learn that an oil tanker has capsized near the Statue of Liberty. As the guests make their way downstairs, the head of the Statue of Liberty lands in the street. Panic ensues as Hud records a giant creature making its way through the city, attacking buildings while the military begins fighting back. To make matters worse, smaller creatures are detaching from the monster and attacking individual New Yorkers in the middle of the chaos.

The fight for survival

Rob receives a message from Beth, who says she's been trapped in her apartment building, and he decides to venture across Manhattan to rescue her with the help of Hud (who's still filming, of course), Lily, and Marlena. After 3AM, now on May 23, they get caught in the crossfire of the battle and try to escape into the subway, where the creatures that detached from the monster attack them. One of them bites Marlena, and when the group escapes the subway and comes out in a shopping center that's been made into a makeshift field hospital, doctors hustle her away until she apparently bursts open in a medical tent.

Rob persuades the military to let him go and look for Beth, but they warn him that the government has ordered the "Hammer Down Protocol" and will begin bombing the city to kill the monster at 6AM. The three friends ultimately find Beth and make it to evacuating helicopters, but while Lily's helicopter takes off, the one carrying Rob, Beth, and Hud crashes when the monster attacks it. Hud is killed by the monster, and with no time left to escape, Rob and Beth huddle under a Central Park archway and film their goodbyes as bombs fall.

As the film ends, a whispered voice says "Help us," suggesting Rob and Beth may have survived. When played backwards, the same voice says "It's still alive," suggesting the creature also survived.

Darkness in the bunker

At some point before the events of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard Stambler hires a local boy, Emmett DeWitt, to help him build a bunker under his farmhouse in rural Louisiana. Viral marketing tied to the film suggests that Howard, who was employed by the military tech company Bold Futura (which gives him the access and knowledge of the attack he seems to have in the film), is estranged from his wife and from his daughter, Megan.

Two years before the events of the film — the film never gives a definitive year, but we can assume it is contemporary to its 2016 release — a young girl named Brittany goes missing. In 2016, Michelle and Emmett are living in the bunker with Howard when they piece together that Howard actually abducted Brittany and forced her to live in the bunker, which is made clear when Michelle finds the world "HELP" scratched into a skylight near the bunker's air filtration system. The earring used to scratch out the word matches the photo of "Megan," who Emmett realizes is actually Brittany. At some point between 2014 and 2016, Howard killed Brittany, presumably because she was attempting to escape.

An accident and an attack

After a breakup, Michelle leaves New Orleans and is driving near Lake Charles, Louisiana when she's in a car accident. She wakes up in Howard's bunker "40 miles outside of Lake Charles," and Howard informs her that there's been an attack of some kind which has created contaminated air, preventing them from leaving. She meets Emmett, who also witnessed some version of the attack before heading for the bunker, and the two share suspicions about Howard.

Weeks pass, and the trio seems to relax into some sense of normalcy despite Howard's curt demeanor and paranoia. That changes when Michelle crawls into the ventilation system and discovers Brittany's message. Together she and Emmett make a plan to escape the bunker by constructing hazmat suits out of materials they can steal and hide from Howard. Howard ultimately discovers that Emmett stole a pair of scissors as part of this effort, and threatens both of them with a vat of perchloric acid. When Emmett claims he was the only one trying to steal things, Howard shoots him in the head and plans to dissolve his body in the acid.

A desperate escape

Desperate to escape the bunker, Michelle tries to secretly finish the hazmat suit, only to be discovered by Howard. In the struggle to escape, Michelle kicks over the barrel of acid. Howard slips in it and is badly burned, while the acid also reaches the cord of a lamp, starting an electrical fire. Michelle crawls through the ventilation system with the hazmat suit while Howard pursues her, and ultimately escapes to a car abandoned by Leslie, a woman who visited the bunker earlier but was not allowed in due to lesions all over her skin. The bunker explodes, killing Howard.

As she prepares to leave, Michelle sees an alien spacecraft in the sky over the farmland, and a creature detaches from it and pursues her. She eventually takes shelter in Howard's truck as a metal tentacle from the ship tries to grab her. She fights back by crafting an improvised molotov cocktail, setting the ship on fire and causing it to flee.

Michelle finally drives away and tunes into emergency radio broadcasts which tell her that survivors should head to Baton Rouge, but that anyone with military or medical experience should head to Houston to help in the fight to retake the Southern seaboard from the invasion. She drives toward Houston.

Humanity's last hope

It is 2028, and Earth is rapidly running out of energy. As people ration out fuel and electricity and use sometimes dangerous devices to siphon off power, the governments of the world unite for one final plan to save humanity: The Cloverfield Station, a spacecraft built by a coalition of global space agencies that will activate the Shepard particle accelerator. If the Shepard works, it will provide the Earth with an unlimited new supply of energy.

There are those who are not convinced that the Shepard is the best way forward. Some theorize that activating the accelerator could trigger something dubbed "The Cloverfield Paradox" and open doorways to other universes, which could then lead to all manner of terrifying alien life attacking Earth in ways it is simply not prepared for. A team of scientists launch their mission to the station, including Ava Hamilton, a communications officer who lost her children in a house fire caused by a device she was using to siphon power.

Success gone wrong

The Cloverfield team lives on the station for approximately two years, taking the mission into 2030. They have not yet managed to achieve a stable beam in the Shepard, and they are running out of fuel for more attempts when, finally, the Shepard seems to work. Just as everything seems to be stabilizing, a power surge causes a failure of the accelerator, and knocks out power in the whole station. The crew restores power, but discovers they can't find the Earth or the gyroscope they used to navigate the station. Things get even stranger when they discover a mysterious woman inside one of the station's walls, her body fused with the wires of the station itself.

A series of bizarre events unfold. The woman, Mina Jensen, makes incredible claims about the crew members, including that she and Hamilton are friends and that Hamilton is not supposed to be on the station. Russian engineer Volkov dies as the colony of worms living on the station seem to explode out of him, while Irish engineer Mundy loses his arms inside a wall without any bleeding or pain. Mundy's severed arm appears and writes a message saying they should cut Volkov open. When they do, they find the gyroscope and begin to restore navigation. They locate Earth, and learn that the Cloverfield Station apparently crashed into the ocean two days ago.

The conclusion is clear: The Cloverfield Paradox is real, and they are in an alternate dimension.

A path home

With the problem now clear, the Cloverfield scientists begin working on a solution to make their way back to their own universe via the now-damaged Shepard. The key to their plan is an algorithm developed by Chinese engineer Tam that will allow them to navigate back to their Earth, but the repairs prove dangerous. 

Both Tam and Mundy are killed through mishaps brought on by damage to the station and the instability caused by the move through universes, and station commander Kiel sacrifices himself to eject part of the station so the rest of it will hold together. Hamilton discovers via Jensen that the version of her on this Earth still has living children, and she decides she's going to stay in the universe to keep those children from dying the way her kids did. As she prepares to go to Earth with Jensen, Jensen turns on the crew, knocking out Hamilton and fatally shooting the station doctor, Monk, while wounding the German engineer Schmidt. 

Jensen explains that she can't allow the station to leave because she needs the Shepard to save her world, and there's not enough time left for her Earth to rebuild their own Shepard. Hamilton wakes up, realizes she has to stop Jensen, and fights back. Jensen is sucked out of a broken window into space, and Hamilton realizes she must return home to her own universe, because the children from this Earth are not a replacement for her own.

A bigger problem

With Jensen dead, Hamilton makes a video message for her alternate universe self, warning her about the accident that killed her own children and leaving detailed plans for how to recreate a successful version of the Shepard for this universe. Hamilton and a wounded Schmidt return the Cloverfield Station to Earth and reactivate the Shepard beam. As they re-establish communication with Earth, they announce that the accelerator is working properly thanks to Tam's new algorithm, but the station can no longer support them. They plan to head to Earth in a capsule craft.

While all of this has been happening, Hamilton's husband Michael has been dealing with problems on Earth. When the Shepard triggered the Cloverfield Paradox, it did indeed open doors to other dimensions through which monsters arrived. Each film in the series takes place in a different dimension, and they've all been infected with creatures thanks to the paradox. On the Earth of The Cloverfield Paradox, this takes the form of a massive monster very similar to the creature from Cloverfield, but much longer. Michael has been avoiding this creature throughout the film, and even saved a younger girl after a building collapsed around her. Michael tries to warn the space agencies to keep Hamilton and Schmidt on the station to avoid the carnage, but it's too late. The ship arrives on Earth just as the monster bursts through the clouds.