10 Cloverfield Lane: Changes from Original Script to Movie

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane

[This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for 10 Cloverfield Lane.]


Matt Reeves' Cloverfield (2008) dropped its audience into the fray as a Godzilla-like creature (and its hideous spawn) devastated New York City. It was an intense experience featuring at times claustrophobic moments, and an overall well-made addition to the found-footage film movement. Its sequel of sorts, 10 Cloverfield Lane, shrinks the scale of the film down, creating an oppressive, Lifeboat-esque story which plays against the backdrop of a perceived apocalyptic event outside the bunker doors.

Some readers may already be aware that 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a direct sequel, but more a distant cousin of the original film – despite the Slusho ads and other references. The film started life as a slightly different animal as well, originally an unrelated script titled The Cellar, which was acquired by J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot and adapted to fit a loose ancestry. So how exactly did the two scripts differ?

The good folks over at The Film Stage conducted a side-by-side compare and contrast between the Dan Trachtenberg-directed and Damien Chazelle-polished (Whiplash) film with Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken’s original screenplay. We’ll explore their findings here.

John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane


Some of the main differences between the initial script and the finished film have to do with the characters and how their personalities impact the developing story. For instance, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an 18-year-old collegiate in the script, as opposed to an engaged woman and would-be fashion designer in the film. The Cellar script also portrays her as more hesitant and helpless at times, an object of lust or to be defended until she’s forced to adapt to her circumstances and kick a little ass. In the film, though, she’s seen jimmying the bunker door and crawling through air ducts to fix the bunker’s air filtration system, as well as constantly questioning her captor’s and co-captive’s motives.

Howard (John Goodman) is really the linchpin to both screenplays. In the original script, though, Howard is a said to be a recovering alcoholic (as opposed to a heavy drinker in the film) and comes across more sympathetically. Emmett (or Nate in the original script) accuses him of killing his wife and inventing a daughter, but it’s merely a ploy to turn Michelle against Howard. The Cellar script eventually reveals that Howard accidentally killed his wife in a drunk-driving accident and lost custody of his daughter. In the film, though, he actually has an estranged wife and daughter living in Chicago. We also discover that movie Howard had a breakdown and moved into the shelter, eventually kidnapping a surrogate daughter and possibly killing her during an attempted escape.

Emmett (or Nate), played by John Gallagher Jr. in the film is also very different between the screenplay and the finished film. In the script, he’s clearly the aggressor from the get-go and fights him both literally and figuratively at every turn, even securing Michelle’s affections through duplicitous means. It turns out that The Cellar’s version of Emmett actually testified against Howard, causing him to lose custody of his daughter – all because Howard owed him some money. The film version of Emmett is far much more sedate and remains on the fence about Howard, only being swayed against him when they discover the truth about Howard’s family being alive and well – at least until the alien Armageddon.

John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane


Overall, the script for The Cellar is similar in tone and employs a tightly paced three-character dynamic. Where it differentiates is the arrival of the Emmett or Nate. In the film, Michelle wakes up to find herself surrounded by concrete and dealing with two strange men. The script, however, has Emmett (Nate) show up about 30 pages into the story (roughly when the woman outside the bunker dies horrifically) and wearing another man’s firefighter uniform. In addition to being in instantly suspicious character in the script, he’s very argumentative with Henry and tries to endear himself to Michelle at every turn.

There are also several minor but significant changes which aid the film in forging a deeper connection with the audience compared to the script. On screen, Michelle gets into a fight with her fiancé Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper) before crashing her car, only to be rescued/abducted by Howard. The original script, on the other hand, simply shows a fight between her and her boyfriend, as well as the accident, in "grainy and high-contrast" sequences. Another seemingly insignificant but important element in the film (but absent from the original screenplay) is the "happy family" sequence. Showing the three captives drinking and playing games together is not only a nice respite from the horror around them, but it also adds to the eventual tragedy when things beneath the surface begin to disintegrate.

Finally, both the screenplay and the finished film kill off Emmett/Nate, but they do it in far different lights. Campbell and Stuecken’s script has the duplicitous character killed in by an alpha-male-asserting, covetous Howard. Conversely, movie Emmett sacrifices himself in an attempt to conceal his and Michelle's reconstruction of a makeshift hazmat suit that will allow Michelle to escape.

However you cut it, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a taut thriller, even without a direct lineage to the first film. The semi-sequel works as a claustrophobic character study set against an alien apocalypse backdrop. It will be interesting to see if Abrams and company choose to continue the series in an anthologized manner – like Lucasfilm and Disney are doing with Rogue One and their Han Solo standalone – or adapt a more direct sequel for the next film in the possible trilogy.

Listen to our Total Geekall breakdown for more script analysis or discuss spoilers here.

10 Cloverfield Lane is now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.

Source: The Film Stage

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