In keeping with the nature of the board game, the theatrical release included three possible endings, with different theaters receiving one of the three endings. In the film's home video release, all three endings were included. The film initially received mixed reviews and did poorly at the box office, ultimately grossing $14,643,997 in the United States, though it later developed a cult following.
In 1954 Maryland or West Virginia, six strangers are invited to a party at a secluded New England mansion known as Hill House. After being met at the door by the butler, Wadsworth, the guests are reminded that they have been given a pseudonym to protect their true identity and asks that they only use that name with the other guests. During dinner, Wadsworth admits a seventh attendee, Mr. Boddy, and announces that each of the guests is being blackmailed:Professor Plum is a former professor of psychiatry and current employee of the World Health Organization whose medical license was revoked because he had an affair with one of his female patients.
Mrs. Peacock is the wife of a U.S Senator who has been accused of accepting bribes to deliver her husband's vote and claims she must pay their blackmailer to avoid a political witch hunt.
Miss Scarlet is the owner of an illegal escort service in Washington, D.C..
Colonel Mustard is thought, at first, to have been blackmailed for scandalous photographs with one of Miss Scarlet's employees, but it is later revealed that he was a war profiteer who made his money from selling stolen radio components on the black market. He now works at the Pentagon on a private fusion bomb (which is revealed later in the film).
Mrs. White is an alleged "black widow" who was drawn in to avoid a scandal regarding the mysterious death of her nuclear physicist husband. She was previously married to an illusionist, who also disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Mr. Green is a homosexual, a secret that would cost him his job with the State Department if it were widely known.
Finally, Wadsworth reveals Mr. Boddy's secret to the guests: he is the one who has been blackmailing them. As the guests begin to shout at Mr. Boddy, Wadsworth explains that he has gathered all the guests together to confront Mr. Boddy and turn him over to the police. Confronted by Wadsworth's revelation, Mr. Boddy reminds the guests that, if turned over to the police, he can reveal their secrets while in police custody. Mr. Boddy then distributes to each guest a wrapped gift box which, when opened, reveal one of six weapons: a wrench, a candlestick, a lead pipe, a knife, a revolver, and a rope with a hangman's knot. Mr. Boddy suggests that they use the weapons provided to kill Wadsworth and destroy the evidence, keeping their secrets safe. Mr. Boddy turns out the lights in the room, creating a moment of chaos in which someone shoots the revolver. When the lights come back on, Mr. Boddy is lying on the ground and is pronounced dead by Professor Plum.
Everyone denies killing Mr. Boddy, and Wadsworth reveals that he arranged the event in revenge for his wife who had committed suicide after being blackmailed by Mr. Boddy for having Socialist friends. He had also wanted to help free the group from the same cycle of blackmail his wife had been subjected to. While trying to decide how to proceed, Wadsworth and the guests check on Mrs. Ho, the Cook, who is found dead in the kitchen with the knife. Upon returning to The Study, Mr. Boddy is gone and is later found dead by Mrs. Peacock in the bathroom from the candlestick. Wadsworth and the guests assume there must be another person in the house that killed The Cook and Mr. Boddy, so they split up in pairs and search the house with the weapons locked in the cupboard. Over the course of search, three weapons (the wrench, the lead pipe, and the revolver) are used to kill a stranded motorist in the lounge, a police officer (after he investigate the motorist's abandoned car) in the Library, and a singing telegram girl in the Hall. Yvette, the maid, is found dead in the Billiard Room with the rope.
Wadsworth announces to the other guests that he deduced the identity of the murderer and runs through a frantic re-enactment of the entire evening, scene by scene, with the guests in tow. Wadsworth points out that each of the victims had a connection to one of the guests and were actually accomplices that enabled Mr. Boddy to find out the secrets he later used to blackmail the guests.The cook had earlier been employed by Mrs. Peacock.
The motorist was Colonel Mustard's driver during the war and knew of his involvement with the black market.
Yvette had worked for Miss Scarlet and had an affair with Mrs. White's husband, which made Mrs. White hate her, and led her to kill her husband. Colonel Mustard's scandalous photographs were of him and Yvette "in flagrante delicto" (caught in the act).
The police officer had been on Miss Scarlet's payroll for his silence.
The singing telegram girl was one of Professor Plum's patients. He once had an affair with her.
The accounting is interrupted by an evangelist at the front door warning "the 'Kingdom of Heaven' is at hand", who is encouraged to leave. Wadsworth then flips the electricity to the house.
At this point, the story proceeds to one of three endings: A, B, or C.
Having used her former call girl Yvette to murder Mr. Boddy and the cook, Miss Scarlet killed her and the others to keep her true business of "secrets" safe, planning on using the information learned tonight for her own benefit. While Miss Scarlet holds Wadsworth at gunpoint with the revolver, Wadsworth tells her that there are no more bullets in the gun, but Miss Scarlet insists she still has one left and threatens to kill him. Wadsworth reveals himself to be an undercover FBI agent and arrests Miss Scarlet as police arrive and secure the house. The evangelist is revealed to be the chief. Although still insisting to Miss Scarlet the revolver is empty, Wadsworth realizes she was right when he accidentally fires the last bullet into the air, hitting a chandelier and causing it to crash closely behind Colonel Mustard.
Mrs. Peacock is revealed as the murderer of all the victims and escapes after holding the others at gunpoint. However, Wadsworth reveals himself as an FBI agent with the night's activities set up to spy on Mrs. Peacock's activities, believing her to be taking bribes by foreign powers. As Mrs. Peacock makes her way to her car, she is captured by the police, and the evangelist is revealed to be the chief.
This ending is dubbed by the movie (on the home video release) as "But here's what really happened." Each murder was committed by a different person: Professor Plum killed Mr. Boddy in the hall with the candlestick, Mrs. Peacock killed the cook in the kitchen with the knife, Colonel Mustard killed the motorist in the lounge with the wrench after unlocking the cupboard where the weapons were kept and getting into the lounge via a secret passage from the conservatory, Mrs. White killed Yvette in the billiard room with the rope, and Miss Scarlet killed the cop in the library with the lead pipe. Mr. Green is accused of shooting the singing telegram girl in the hall with the revolver. Wadsworth then reveals not only did he kill her himself, but that he is, in fact, the real Mr. Boddy and the man Professor Plum killed was simply his butler. He had brought the other victims, who were his accomplices in the blackmail scheme, to the house to be killed by the guests and thus plans to continue blackmailing them now that there's no evidence against him. Mr. Green then draws another revolver and kills the blackmailer. Mr. Green reveals to the others that he is actually an undercover FBI agent and the whole evening was a set-up to catch the criminals. The police and FBI arrive and arrest all the guests for murder as the evangelist is revealed to be the chief. Mr. Green then declares that he killed Mr. Boddy, "In the Hall, with the revolver." He tells the chief to round everyone up, then smiles and says, "I'm going home to sleep with my wife," revealing his earlier claim to be a homosexual was merely part of his cover.Tim Curry as Wadsworth
Lesley Ann Warren as Ms. Scarlet
Martin Mull as Col. Mustard
Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White
Christopher Lloyd as Prof. Plum
Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock
Michael McKean as Mr. Green
Colleen Camp as Yvette
Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy
Bill Henderson as The Cop
Jane Wiedlin as The Singing Telegram Girl
Jeffrey Kramer as The Motorist
Kellye Nakahara as The Cook
Will Nye as Cop #1
Rick Goldman as Cop #2
Don Camp as Cop #3
Howard Hesseman as The Evangelist/The Chief (uncredited)
The multiple-ending concept was developed by John Landis, who claimed in an interview to have invited playwright Tom Stoppard, writer and composer Stephen Sondheim and actor Anthony Perkins to write the screenplay. The script was ultimately finished by director Jonathan Lynn.
A fourth ending was filmed, but Lynn removed it because, as he later stated, "it really wasn't very good. I looked at it, and I thought, 'No, no, no, we’ve got to get rid of that.'" In the unused fourth ending, Wadsworth committed all of the murders. He was motivated by his desire for perfection. Having failed to be either the perfect husband or the perfect butler, he decided to be the perfect murderer instead. Wadsworth reports that he poisoned the champagne the guests had drunk earlier so they would soon die, leaving no witnesses. The police and the FBI arrive, and Wadsworth is arrested. He breaks free and steals a police car, but his escape is thwarted when three police dogs lunge from the back seat. This ending is documented in Clue: The Storybook, a tie-in book released in conjunction with the film.
Carrie Fisher was originally contracted to portray Miss Scarlet, but withdrew to enter treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
Clue was filmed on sound stages at the Paramount Pictures film studios in Hollywood. The set design is credited to Les Gobruegge, Gene Nollmanwas, and William B. Majorand, with set decoration by Thomas L. Roysden. To decorate the interior sets, authentic 18th and 19th century furnishings were rented from private collectors, including the estate of Theodore Roosevelt. After completion, the set was bought by the producers of Dynasty, who used it as the fictional hotel The Carlton.
All interior scenes were filmed at the Paramount lot, with the exception of the ballroom scene. The ballroom, as well as the driveway gate exteriors, were filmed on location at a mansion located in South Pasadena, California. This site was destroyed in a fire on October 5, 2005. Exterior shots of the Pasadena mansion were enhanced with matte paintings to make the house appear much larger, and these were executed by matte artist Syd Dutton, in consultation with Albert Whitlock.
The color of each character's car is the same color as his or her playing piece from the original board game.
The film was released theatrically on December 13, 1985. Theaters received one of the three endings, and some theaters announced which ending the viewer would see.
The novelization was written by Michael McDowell based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn. There was also a children's adaptation entitled, Paramount Pictures Presents Clue: The Storybook written by Landis, Lynn, and Ann Matthews. Both adaptations were published in 1985, and differ from the movie in that they feature a fourth ending cut from the final film. In this ending, Wadsworth says that he killed Boddy as well as the other victims, and then reveals to the guests that he has poisoned them all so that there will be no witnesses and he will have committed the perfect crime. As he runs through the house to disable the phones and lock the doors, the chief detective – who had earlier been posing as an evangelist (Howard Hesseman) – returns, followed by the police, who disarm Wadsworth. Wadsworth then repeats the confession that he had given earlier to the guests, physically acting out each scene himself. When he arrives at the part about meeting Colonel Mustard at the door, he steps through the door, closes it, and locks it, leaving all the guests trapped inside. The police and guests escape through a window, while Wadsworth attempts to make a getaway in a police squad car, only to hear the growling of a Doberman Pinscher from the backseat.
The movie was released to home video in VHS format in Canada and the United States in 1986 and, on February 11, 1991, to other countries. The film was released on DVD in June 2000. and Blu-ray on August 7, 2012.
The home video, television broadcasts, and on-demand streaming by services such as Netflix include all three endings shown sequentially, with the first two characterized as possible endings but the third (Ending C) being the true one.
In February 2011, La-La Land Records released John Morris' score for the film as a limited-edition soundtrack CD.
The film was initially received with mixed reviews. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote negatively of the film and stated that the beginning "is the only part of the film that is remotely engaging. After that, it begins to drag." Similarly, Roger Ebert gave the film a 2 out of 4 stars review, writing that despite a "promising" cast, the film's "screenplay is so very, very thin that [the actors] spend most of their time looking frustrated, as if they'd just been cut off right before they were about to say something interesting."
The film holds a 62% positive rating on the film-critics aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 5.8 out of 10.
Clue has grossed $14,643,997 domestically, just short of its $15,000,000 budget.
Universal Studios announced in 2011 that a new film based on the game was being developed. The film was initially dropped, then resumed as Hasbro teamed up with Gore Verbinski to produce and direct. In August 2016, The Tracking Board reports that Hasbro has landed at 20th Century Fox with Josh Feldman producing for Hasbro Studios and Ryan Jones serving as the executive producer while Daria Cercek is overseeing for Fox. The film will be a “worldwide mystery” with action-adventure elements, potentially setting up a possible franchise that could play well internationally. As of 2017, the remake remains in development hell.