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Screwball (Cult) Classic

7 Reasons Why Clue is the Best Movie Ever Made

Clue is, quite possibly, the best movie ever made. That’s a bold statement but stay with me.

Objectively speaking, Clue is a murder mystery that tanked at the box office in 1985. It doesn’t ask important questions or speak to the human condition. It didn’t revolutionize film or stir up controversy. It didn’t ruin lives or make careers. In short, you’ll find no “rosebud” here. It’s not even in black and white.

But subjectively, Clue shines. Like the best screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, Clue revels in madcap silliness. It’s fueled by rapid-fire dialogue, double-meanings (“yes meaning no, or no meaning yes?!?”), and the joy of watching “serious” adults behaving like cartoons. Are there pratfalls? Yes. Are there ridiculous statements made in the deadest deadpan? Yes. Is it quotable? Yes. Intensely quotable. Don’t get me started because I won’t stop.

In the decades since its disappointing release, Clue has become a classic in the tradition of Bringing Up Baby and The Philidelphia Story — a quotable, quirky, outlier worthy of the Criterion Collection. Why is that? Why did a throw-away screwball comedy gain a cult following? More to the point, why is it still relevant today?

One factor answers both questions. Clue gained a cult following because it’s unlike any movie made since the 1940s. Between the Great Depression and WWII, people craved escape. They needed to laugh, so Hollywood cranked out frothy comedies starring A-list actors, like Cary Grant, William Powell, Katherine Hepburn, and Carole Lombard being unreservedly silly in equally silly situations. Going to the theater to watch His Girl Friday or My Man Godfrey was their equivalent to Netflix and chill and just as vital to mental health and morale.

That’s why Clue continues to resonate. Like the classics I mentioned, Clue is the comedic equivalent of pretty-good champagne. It wouldn’t (and didn’t) win Oscars, but it’ll give you a clever, distracting, low-stakes escape.

Clue could have easily gone off the rails. The concept reads like an episode of Scooby-Doo — six strangers meet in a spooky house, hijinks ensue. The film is based on the Parker Bros. board game, so the murder mystery comes baked in, but the chaos that comes with solving that mystery never gets old.

And now…

7 Irrefutable Reasons Why Clue is (Probably) the Best Movie Ever Made

7. The set. is. fantastic. Secret passages!!! Hidden doorways!! A fireplace that rotates!!

6. Miss Scarlet’s wardrobe. Scratch that. Everyone’s wardrobe. All of hte costumes are splendid, from Mrs. White’s iconic black netting to Yvette the maid’s problematic “uniform”. Special mention to Mrs. Peacock’s wildly expressive hat.

5. It has not one, not two, but three endings! In theaters, you only got one of the endings, but thanks to streaming and Blu-ray, you can now watch all three. The cool thing about this is that all three solutions are 100% plausible, even when viewed back to back.

4. Tim Curry. People may throw down for Rocky Horror, but I will go down swinging for Wadsworth.

3. Ridiculous dialog delivered without a whisper of irony.

Col. Mustard: “Do you enjoy Kipling, Miss Scarlet?”

Miss Scarlet: “Sure, I’ll eat anything.”

2. The ensemble is brilliant. Tim Curry is at his absolute best as Wadsworth (see #4) but you also have Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock, (“get your hands off me! I’m a senator’s wife!”) and Christopher Lloyd as a Professor Plum, a psychiatrist who does what he “shouldn’t do with his patients”. Then there’s Martin Mull as Col. Mustard, Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet, and Michael McKean as Mr. Green, as well as an expanding cast of corpses.

And last, but never least, is….

1. Madeline Kahn. No one but Madeline Khan could have given us this Mrs. White, whose flat affect face emotes so much. In a movie full of pitch-perfect performances, hers stands out as dignified, fierce, and weirdly understated. You just can’t stop watching her, even when she’s in the background, reacting. Her performance is one of a kind, so much so that, decades later, Mrs. White has become a meme unto herself.

If the cast is Clue’s crown, Madeline Khan is the jewel.

Anyone who has seen Clue knows what I’m talking about. For anyone who hasn’t…well, that’s an easy problem to fix. It’s on Netflix and Amazon Prime right now. Try it at night, preferably during a convenient thunderstorm. You may not come away thinking that Clue is (subjectively) the best movie ever made, but I promise that you will laugh. You might even become a fan.