The 1985 film Clue, based on the popular Parker Brothers board game released in 1949, was an abysmal failure at the box office when it debuted 30 years ago this week. With an estimated budget of $15 million, the movie grossed precisely $14,643,997 in the United States — meaning that it wasn’t going to be making back its full investment (nor a profit) in theaters.
Even so, Clue has since developed quite the cult following. While most will assume this has something to do with Tim Curry’s penchant for starring in cult favorites, it also owes something to the movie’s unusual multiple endings. Three different endings exist, and each presents a unique outcome for all the twists, turns and murders that stem from the death of Mr. Boddy.
Most modern-day fans of the film have seen all three, and that’s because the VHS and DVD releases played all of them back-to-back. The first two, dubbed Endings A and B during the film’s theatrical run, are presented as possible outcomes to the dinner party-turned-murder investigation. After Ending B reveals Mrs. Peacock to be the killer, however, the screen indicates Ending C is really how things played out. That every single dinner guest committed one of the murders and the butler Wadsworth (Curry), who is the real Mr. Boddy, is going to blackmail them.
Audiences lucky enough to catch Clue in theaters didn’t experience this cut. Instead, moviegoers were treated to only one of the three endings made for the film, and whether they saw A, B or C depended on which theater they attended.
“[John Landis] thought it would be really great box office,” director Jonathan Lynn told BuzzFeed. “He thought that what would happen was that people, having enjoyed the film so much, would then go back and pay again and see the other endings.”
Unfortunately, Landis — the director who co-wrote and executive produced Clue — and the studios were completely wrong about there being any box office appeal for a film with three endings. As Lynn explained, “The audience decided they didn’t know which ending to go to, so they didn’t go at all.”
The film’s poor reviews were another indication as to why Clue did so poorly in theaters. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “They’re playing each of the endings in a third of the theaters where the movie is booked. If this were a better movie, that might mean you’d have to drive all over town and buy three tickets to see all the endings.”
Considering the two stars he gave Clue, Ebert wasn’t a huge fan of the flick. Nor was New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, who wrote that “while the multiple-ending device does not seem strictly a gimmick, neither is it very helpful in allowing for a clear and interesting solution to the small crime wave the screenplay sets in motion.” Yet Ebert acknowledged the significance of the studio’s strategy for showing and marketing an otherwise typical film fitted with an unusual number of conclusions. It wasn’t something most distributors would do, and its novelty deserved recognition. “The way Paramount is handling its multiple endings is ingenious,” he said.