The Daily Stream: Clue Remains The King Of Great Movies That Absolutely Shouldn't Work

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Clue" (1985)

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime

The Pitch: This classic comedy whodunnit with a surprisingly high body count not only holds up but still entertains younger generations with a genuinely intriguing mystery underneath the gags. On paper, this movie should not work, but what we got was an instant classic that is eminently rewatchable and assembled one of the best funny casts ever. The energy levels of the movie are off the charts, keeping it wildly entertaining even in today's short attention span world.

Why it's essential viewing

One of my absolute favorite cinephile niches is the movie that absolutely should not work but rules extremely hard. There are only a few films that qualify for inclusion in this very select group, and like half of them are Lord & Miller joints. We're talking the "Jump Street" movies, "The Lego Movie," "Pirates of the Caribbean," and the film we're talking about today, 1985's "Clue."

"Clue" is an '80s adaptation of a simple whodunnit board game where the player has to figure out who the killer is, where they did it, and with what weapon. Made in the Reagan era where corporate tie-ins were becoming king, "Clue" had every right to simply exist as a branded IP cash-in. Instead, writer/director Jonathan Lynn gave us a comedy classic, overflowing with tongue-in-cheek satire, whip-smart rapid-fire dialogue, and one of the finest comedic casts ever assembled.

The great Tim Curry leads the cast as Wadsworth the butler, organizing a colorful bunch that includes Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum, Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock, Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White, Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard, Michael McKean as Mr. Green, and Lesley Anne Warren as Ms. Scarlett.

Silly characters, solid mystery

In that way, "Clue" takes a cue from the Agatha Christie adaptations of the '60s and '70s that always gathered together massive stars and let the best charisma machines Hollywood had to offer bounce off each other for an hour and a half before revealing which one was the killer. The whodunnit is uniquely structured to deliver ensemble greatness. The success of "Knives Out" proves that it still works and I'm frankly surprised we don't get more murder mysteries.

The key to the success of "Clue" is that it's actually a smart whodunnit beneath the silliness of the characters. Jonathan Lynn and John Landis came up with a great set-up that gives everybody a motive for killing the appropriately named Mr. Boddy, so the viewer is legitimately engaged in trying to figure out the reveal while laughing through Madeline Kahn's borderline psychotic line deliveries.

With the mystery element in place and thoughtfully structured, "Clue" gets to fill most of the time introducing memorable zingers that are meme-worthy even nearly 40 years later. If a week has gone by and you haven't seen the "Flames ... on the side of my face" gif on social media then you're following the wrong people.

Younger generations love the movie, too

Everything in this movie works. The cinematography is great, the script is smart, all the actors are having a blast, and the score by John Morris is playful and gets stuck in my damn head all the time. I'd entertain the possibility that my love of this movie is carried by nostalgia since it was a childhood favorite, but I have anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

One of my greatest pleasures is introducing my young nephews to movies and we've watched all sorts of films over the years. When it came time to watch "Clue," I was very curious as to how they'd react. I was confident that they'd dig the silly stuff, but was very pleasantly surprised at just how engaged with the mystery element they were.

They had so much fun trying to guess who did it and were overjoyed at the ending ... or rather endings (which we'll talk about in a little bit). We've watched many classics that they've out and out loved, but "Clue" was one of the only movies they requested watching again right away.

Sure, that's an isolated incident, but it's a good sign that this movie will have a life beyond its initial fans.

Multiple endings

Now let's talk about those endings. 

I'm sure you're aware, but the original release of the movie had a fantastic gimmick, especially for a whodunnit. They filmed multiple different endings with different people being the killer, and when they released the movie, different endings were attached to different prints so it was possible to go to one theater and see one ending and then go to another theater in town and get a completely different one. For home video and cable releases, they recut the ending to include all the alternates.

This gimmick is genius and makes the movie all the more miraculous that it's good. "Clue" is a board game adaptation with a gimmick finale and ends up being one of the defining movies of this particular subgenre. On paper, "Clue" is a disaster, but the final picture works and that's one of the reasons I love it so much. Those kinds of films are few and far between so you have to celebrate them when they come along. 

I'm hoping the upcoming Greta Gerwig-directed "Barbie" starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling is added to this list of movies that should suck but rule instead. Sadly, we won't know if it deserves to join this exclusive club until release. In the meantime, we can watch "Clue" a few dozen more times since it's on Amazon Prime. If you haven't seen it lately, give it a whirl — It holds up. If you've never seen it at all, then I am jealous that you get to watch it for the first time.