Screen Gems

36 years ago ‘Clue’ flopped. Why is it so awesome?


Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Cult: Clue

Board games don’t have a great track record when it comes to a big-screen translation. Ouija anyone? Battleship? Forget about a rewatch; those movies make us never want to play the games that inspired them ever again.

The exception–though nobody would know based on box office receipts–is Clue, the 1985 adaptation of the classic mystery board game. Tim Curry stars as Wadsworth, the butler of Body Mansion tasked with hosting six anonymous strangers one stormy night in 1954. Said strangers adopt the character names from the board game–Miss Scarlet, Professor Plumb, Mr. Green et. al.–only to realize that Mr. Body has lured them all there as part of a blackmail scheme. When Body turns up dead, Wadsworth and the guests set about rooting out the murderer.

It’s a simple, Agatha Christie-type premise, albeit with a very camp sensibility. Clue qualifies as the rarest of dialogue-driven films that actually works without feeling too “talky;” the movie’s brand of bantering, door-slamming, farcical comedy generally plays better on stage. Here, it works, due in large part to a very game and capable cast. In addition to Curry, Eileen Brennan, Colleen Camp, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren star, each relishing their wacky dialogue and their over-the-top characters, each actor trying to steal his scenes from his co-stars. The campy sensibility of Clue has long endeared the film to a queer audience. The presence of gay favorites Curry and Kahn (the latter of whom does succeed in stealing the show), as well as a cameo from bisexual rock star Jane Weidlin also help.

An editing fiasco involving the film’s multiple endings hampered Clue‘s box office performance upon release. We also suspect that audiences in 1985 not quite understanding why anyone would want to see a movie based on, in essence, a toy (little did they know where we were headed…Transformers, GI Joe, Bratz, Jem and the Holograms…the list goes on), as well as some stiff box office competition, hampered the movie’s performance as well. Thank goodness, then, that studio Paramount corrected the ending issues for a home video release, where the film eventually found a die-hard cult following. Energetic, gamely acted, and endlessly quotable, we suggest giving Clue a watch. It’s a delightful romp with some of the goofiest dialogue of all time.

Streams on Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.