It barely grossed $15M at the box-office, but it became a cult favorite

By Drew Mackie
Updated December 09, 2015 11:30 AM
Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

Three decades after it first opened in theaters, Clue has become a beloved movie. Thank basic cable. Those of us who grew up watching midday movies have probably seen it dozens of times, to the point that it could have become a cult favorite just by virtue of sheer repetition.

But why shouldn’t it be a cult favorite? It’s very funny, and its stellar ensemble cast – including Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Tim Curry, Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan and Lesley Ann Warren – does its best to make the most of a script inspired by a then-35-year-old board game.

We’re celebrating the movie’s 30th birthday with a few reasons why we still love it. But that’s not all: For die hard fans, the New York City-based social club The Players is staging a live performance of Clue on Dec. 13 – 30 years to the date after the original movie first debuted in theaters. Ugly Betty actor Michael Urie is headlining the cast, with more surprise celeb guests expected to attend. Plus, Clue‘s original director, Jonathan Lynn, will be honored on the occasion as well. Fans hoping to score free tickets to the show can enter a giveaway simply by quoting their favorite line.

1. It has those multiple endings

It’s the one thing people probably know about Clue, even if they haven’t seen it. As a tip of the hat to the randomized whodunit nature of the board game, co-screenwriter John Landis wrote three different solutions to the mystery: one with Miss Scarlet (Warren) as the killer, one with Miss Peacock (Brennan) as the killer, and one where everyone but Mr. Green (McKean) is a killer. The idea was that superfans would have to see the movie multiple times in order to see every one – or at least that it would be harder to spoil.

2. It found a second life after it left theaters

Part of what makes Clue fandom so special is that it took a while to grow. No, not many people ended up seeing the film multiple times in theaters to catch all the different endings. In fact, hardly anyone saw it in theaters at all. It made less than $15 million in its initial theatrical run, according to Cinema Blend, meaning it didn’t even quite break even. The fact that it would become so much more beloved years later makes it all the more special, says this ’80s child who rented it more than once.

3. There’s a ‘secret’ fourth ending

Most fans consider the third ending to be the best, but they might be interested to know that a fourth exists – if only in the form of an early version of the script. In it, it’s Wadsworth the butler who killed off all the victims, and before he makes a break for it, he reveals that he poisoned the champagne as well, all in an effort to become the perfect murderer.

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4. The flaming rage of Madeline Kahn

In one ending to the film, Miss White (Kahn) reveals that she killed Yvette the maid (Colleen Camp) and describes the magnitude of her rage toward her. Kahn’s “flames on the side of my face” line is one of the best in the movie, and it’s reputed that Kahn herself actually ad-libbed the line on the spot. That’s just one more reason we’re all the poorer for being without Kahn, who died in 1999.

McKean recalled the improvisation in an interview with Buzzfeed. “All that was written was, ‘I hated her so much that I wanted to kill her,’ or something like that,” McKean said. “But she just kind of went into a fugue about hatred. She did it three or four times, and each time was funnier than the last. I thought that they could have strung a bunch of them together because they had plenty of cutaways of all of us going, ‘What the f— is she talking about?’ ”

5. And that line lives on

Today, the GIF of Kahn delivering that line has become Internet shorthand for the very particular kind of “flames on the side of my face” rage you get in the presence of a given objectionable person. It’s a small way that Clue creeps into life in 2015, and who could object to a reminder of why Madeline Kahn was so awesome?

6. Wordplay!

The movie is full of it, but the writer seems in particular pleased with this communism joke, because the film features it twice.

7. The awesomeness of Lesley Ann Warren

She’s great in this movie, and that’s saying a lot, given how she was acting opposite some comedy legends. It’s even more interesting to know that Warren wasn’t the first choice to play Miss Scarlet: The part was initially to be played by Carrie Fisher, but she had to drop out in order to attend rehab, according to Movie Line.

8. It was a comeback feature for Eileen Brennan

Eileen Brennan’s performance as Miss Peacock is wonderfully off-kilter throughout the film, but she ascends to brilliant new levels when she hits crisis mode. (She provides the best reaction to possibly being poisoned in the history of cinema.) However, it’s interesting to note that Clue occupied a special place in Brennan’s career.

One evening in 1982, Brennan was departing dinner with Goldie Hawn in Venice, California, and stepped out in front of an oncoming vehicle. As a result of the collision, she suffered bad injuries – “smashed legs, a fragmented jaw, a broken nose, an eyeball wrenched from its socket,” according to a PEOPLE article on her recovery – and then subsequently developed a drug dependency while recovering. Clue was her first major film in years, and she would go on to act regularly until 2009.

9. There’s also a Go-Go

The ill-fated singing telegram girl, who gets blown away before she can even finish her song, is played by Jane Wiedlin, who was also a member of the Go-Gos.

10. And she’s not the only musician in the cast

Lee Ving plays the aptly named Mr. Boddy, who spends most of the film as a corpse. Ving was better known as the frontman of the hardcore punk band Fear, whose mainstream claim to pop culture fame was an infamous gig on a 1981 episode of Saturday Night Live. The performance featured slam dancers, who created such a ruckus that the audience booed, the feed cut to commercial and thousands of dollars of NBC property was damaged. (You can see the infamous performance here.)

11. It features such glorious chaos

With the entire cast propelled by the desire to root out the killer before he bumps them off next, they venture off into dark corners of the mansion. Both wordplay and physical comedy ensue, and its almost too bad when the film moves onto the final phase: when Yvette meets the bad end of a rope and Wadsworth (Tim Curry) starts walking the group through who could be the killer.

12. There’s a connection to another great all-star comedic murder mystery

According to this Buzzfeed profile on the making of Clue, Landis was inspired in part by The Last of Sheila, a 1973 film starring Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch and James Coburn, and revolving around a murder mystery. The film was written by the composer Stephen Sondheim and Psycho star Anthony Perkins, and Landis initially approached the pair about writing Clue. They were interested, according to Landis, but requested more money than the studio was willing to pay. All that said, those who enjoy Clue for reasons beyond the board game connection should give a look to The Last of Sheila.

13. There’s a Dynasty connection too

After production on Clue completed, the set was repurposed as the Carlton Hotel on Dynasty.

14. There’s also a Psych connection

A 2013 episode of Psych titled “100 Clues” features characters holed up in a mansion, and the guest stars include Lesley Ann Warren, Martin Mull and Christopher Lloyd, whose character is named “Martin Kahn.” In fact, the episode is dedicated to Madeline Kahn’s memory.

15. It has perfect closing credits

They’re simple but they really couldn’t have been improved upon: The main cast is revealed as actual clue cards from the board game Clue – font and everything. Are you listening, Hasbro? There’s a few Clue super fans who would totally shell out for a movie-themed version of the board game. Dibs on playing as Madeline Kahn.