Study Guide

Clue

Clue Introduction

There are two kinds of people in the world: people who love Clue and people who hate fun.

Yeah, we said it.

It's a movie based on a board game. What's not to love? And since its release in 1985, it has gone from box office flop to fan favorite.

Set in 1954, Clue is about a group of six strangers who meet in a secluded mansion on a dark and stormy night only to find out they’re all being blackmailed by the same person. Then, of course, the murders start. It really puts a damper on the evening.

Back in 1985, no one had ever thought to make a movie based on a board game. Now, we live in a world where just about every movie is adapted from something else. Comic books. Vampire novelsTV shows. Cartoons. Kids toys. And even theme park rides. Hey, you’d be surprised at how much you might enjoy an entire film based on a 15-minute boat ride.

And that’s how a lot of people feel about Clue—that it’s surprisingly good.

But here's the thing: no one felt that way when it came out. Nope, when Clue was released in 1985, audiences avoided it and critics absolutely hated it. The hated the jokes and the pacing. They hated the multiple endings. But they really hated the ridiculous idea of making a movie based on a board game. Seriously, how crass and unoriginal. (Wonder how they’d feel about making eight movies about illegal street racing?)

Yup, Clue was a genuine box office flop. But here we are devoting precious Internet space to discussing it. That’s because, like other famous flops—such as Citizen Kane, The Big Lebowski, or Office Space—it came back over the years. In a big, big way. Wow. Clue is just like Citizen Kane.

Clue’s turning point was when it came out on VHS and started showing on basic cable. A new audience discovered it in the early '90s and they loved it. They loved the jokes and the pacing. They loved the multiple endings (which all played one right after another). And there was just something these new fans couldn’t resist about a screwball comedy/murder mystery based on a classic board game.

Oh, yes, those tables turned so much they were flipped right on their heads.

Today, Clue would be considered a cult classic. Fans reenact scenes from the movie at shadowcast performances. Whole art exhibits have featured Clue fan works. And fans regularly contact the star-studded cast just to gush about Clue. Seriously. We’re talking major stars like Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, and Madeline Kahn. These guys are heavy Hollywood hitters, but loads of people know and love them from Clue.

Won’t you join the Clue-lovers club, too? All the cools kids are doing it.

What is Clue About and Why Should I Care?

Clue is a trailblazer. An we're not even talking about the fact that it's the first movie ever based on a board game.

You're looking at the first movie to ever be shown in theaters with multiple endings..

Yes, you read that right. Back when Clue came out, the movie would play in different theaters with different endings. That means you might go see it at Regal Cinemas and find out that Miss Scarlet did it. Or you might catch it at AMC and watch Mrs. Peacock murder everyone. Sure, Paramount noted which ending you would be watching in the ads (either A, B, or C), but you’d still have to pony up three different times and head off to three different theaters for just a few extra moments of new footage.

We’re exhausted just typing that.

If that whole idea sounds a bit shady to you, you’re not alone. At the time, critics hated the multiple endings. They thought it was a shameless cash grab and didn’t add anything to the movie at all. Really, if anyone could have done it, what was the point of writing, directing, and producing a real murder mystery anyway? What would Agatha Christie say?

But for the men behind the movie—John Landis and Jonathan Lynn—that was exactly the point. After all, that’s the dirty little secret behind all those murder mysteries, right? It doesn’t really matter whodunit, as long as the real murderer fits in nicely with all the clues that came before. What’s the difference if it’s Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard or Mrs. White who pulled the trigger? The audience is just along for the ride… and the popcorn.

Mmm…delicious buttery popcorn.

Today, most people watch Clue with the endings tacked on back to back. We get to see all the zaniness in action. Maybe that would have helped the movie way back in 1985. Who knows? But, really, we should be glad that Clue flopped when it did. Can you imagine a world where movie studios made multiple endings to all their biggest movies? It’s bad enough they already made us pay three times to watch The Hobbit on film.

Hey… maybe Clue was onto something after all.

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