Don’t expose a Mogwai to bright lights, feed them after midnight, or get them wet. These three simple rules were all broken in Gremlins. The chaos that ensued made for one of the most memorable movies of the ’80s. Directed by Joe Dante, the outrageous film changed the cinematic landscape by forcing the creation of the PG-13 rating. It also started the career of one of Hollywood’s most iconic writers. Do you want to know who? All the trivia and behind-the-scenes shenanigans you need to know about Gremlins are right here!
Chris Columbus Wrote Gremlins On Spec
Chris Columbus never thought his spec script for Gremlins would ever get made. He planned for it to be a writing sample to help him get other jobs. Instead, it landed in the lap of Steven Spielberg, who said, "It’s one of the most original things I’ve come across in many years, which is why I bought it."
After the film became a massive hit, Columbus started working behind the camera. In 1990, he directed Home Alone. Twenty years later he directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He’s kind of a big deal.
PG-13 Didn’t Exist Before Gremlins
The summer of 1984 was an important one for film ratings. Along with Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out. Both films were in the top five highest grossing movies of the year, and both were rated PG.
Because both were dark and violent, Steven Spielberg suggested the MPAA create a new rating to accommodate them. By creating the PG-13 rating, studios were able to release darker more violent films without the audience limiting R rating. The first film to get a PG-13 rating was Red Dawn.
Gremlins Could Have Been Even Darker
Before the camera started rolling on Gremlins, several edits were made to the script to keep it from being too dark. A few details that were left out were the creatures eating Billy’s dog along with them throwing his mother’s head down the stairs.
Everyone involved agreed that they wanted the film to be able to reach the widest audience possible, so the script was rewritten. Thankfully, Billy’s dog survives the events and is even involved in the climax of the film!
Howie Mandel Is Gizmo
Casting Gremlins was an interesting process. One of the most interesting casting choices in the film you might not know about is Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo. His casting was suggested by legendary voice actor Frank Welker, who gave life to Stripe, the lead Gremlin.
The role was one of Mandel’s first. He originally made his name in Hollywood as a stand up comic. In the ’90s he became a major star with his work on Bobby’s World, a children’s cartoon about his life.
Tim Burton Was Almost The Director
In the early ’80s, Tim Burton was a rising star with Disney who had made waves with his Frankenweenie short film. As a result, Spielberg considered hiring him to direct Gremlins. He would have been offered the job too if he had another feature film on his resume.
Joe Dante, who ended up getting the job, had experience with horror comedy, previously having directed Piranha and The Howling. One year later, Burton made his directorial debut with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
The Studio Didn’t Want Phoebe Cates To Be Cast
When Phoebe Cates was being considered for the role of Kate, the studio pushed back on the idea. She was just coming off of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and considered risque because of her topless scene. Spielberg and Dante pushed back, and she was given the role.
After Gremlins, Cates starred in three more movie before retiring; Drop Dead Fred, Bodies, Rest and Motion, and Princess Caraboo. She made the decision to call it a career so she could focus on raising her children.
Zach Galligan Was Cast Because Of Cates
Without Phoebe Cates being cast, there’s a good chance Zach Galligan wouldn’t have been cast as Billy in Gremlins. Cates was cast first, and when Galligan auditioned with her, Spielberg was impressed with their on-screen chemistry. He then gave Galligan his vote of confidence.
The movie was Galligan’s big screen debut. Six years later he returned to the role that gave him his big break in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He’s continued to work steadily, last appearing in Hatchet 3 in 2013.
It Was Supposed To Be Released During Christmas
Gremlins is undeniably a Christmas movie. The town of Kingston Falls is adorned with Christmas trees and holiday decorations, and the final act even takes place in a department store! Because of this, Warner Brothers originally planned to release the movie during the holiday season.
Warner Brothers changed their minds when executives realized they needed a big summer tentpole to compete with Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Moving up the release date proved to be a smart move, and Gremlins made $148 million, making it the fourth highest grossing film of the year.
Gizmo Was Originally Stripe
In an early version of the Gremlins script, Gizmo transformed into lead bad guy Stripe. Spielberg was adamant that the idea be changed, making the gremlins born from Gizmo. He knew how cute the mogwai was, and wanted to make sure Gizmo was in as much of the movie as possible.
Again, the move paid off. Gizmo became the center of a huge merchandising campaign. Toys of Gizmo sold like crazy and are still available in stores today. Video games starring the adorable mogwai were also released on the Atari system.
A Third Gremlins Movie Is In The Works
Gremlins 2: The New Batch came out in 1990 to mixed critical reviews and poor box office stats. Still, because we live in a reboot culture there has been talk of a new Gremlins movie since 2012. Originally, Chris Columbus wasn’t on board with the idea.
In 2017, he had a change of heart saying, “I’m really proud of the script. It is as twisted and dark as anything, so we’ll see. It’s always a budgetary conversation when we’re going to shoot it. I wanted to go back to the really twisted sensibility of the first movie.”
Billy Was Supposed To Save The Day
At the end of Gremlins, Gizmo pulls up a set of blinds in the department store, exposing Stripe to sunlight and saving the day. That’s not how the ending was first shot, however. Originally, Billy pulled up the blinds, making him the hero of the film.
Going around Dante, Spielberg suggested the scene be edited so that Gizmo is the only one to lift the blinds. He thought the ending would play better if it was clear that Gizmo was the hero and cleaned the mess he literally gave birth to.
Kate’s Backstory Almost Got Cut
One of the most memorable scenes in Gremlins is when Kate reveals the devastating story about why she hates Christmas. Her father passed away while climbing down the chimney dressed as Santa Claus. Like so many other dark elements of the film, Spielberg insisted the scene be cut.
Joe Dante refused, arguing that Kate’s dark backstory is exactly what made the scene fit. In Roger Ebert’s favorable review of Gremlins, he singled out this scene as one his favorites.
Gremlins and Back To The Future Have Something In Common
If you watch Gremlins side by side with Back to the Future you might notice something odd. Both movies appear to take place in the same town. While the films aren’t a part of a shared universe, they were both filmed on the same set.
Kingston Falls is Hill Valley. Or Hill Valley is Kingston Falls. Back to the Future was released one year after Gremlins and made $210 million against a $19 million budget. We wonder what other films used the set? It seems to be good luck!
The Iconic Amblin Logo Made Its Debut
Everyone knows the iconic Amblin Entertainment logo. The silhouette of E.T. riding in Elliot’s bike basket has long been the mark of Steven Spielberg’s production company. Gremlins, believe it or not, was the first movie to ever use the logo.
Founded in 1982, Amblin Entertainment is still going strong today. In 2018 alone, the production house helped produce Ready Player One, The House with a Clock in its Walls, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s okay to admit you watched them all.
Balloons Were Crucial For Filming
In the ’80s, visual effects departments relied less on computer generated imagery and more on practical effects. This meant that creature creator Chris Walas needed to get creative when it came to the birth of the gremlins. To have the little balls of fur pop off of Gizmo, he used balloons.
Balloons again came into play when one gremlin is microwaved and explodes. Sometimes the simple solution is the best solution. These days, of course, the gremlins would most likely be CGI creatures, making life less interesting for people like Chris Walas.
Security Was Strict With The Puppets
Security was not joking around when it came to protecting the animatronic gremlin puppets in the movie. Each puppet was expensive, and having one stolen would have been a major setback. To ensure no one walked off the set with a gremlin, cars were checked before anyone left.
Galligan revealed that everyday when he was finished filming, security would have him open the trunk of his car so they could inspect it. If any props or gremlins were found, the consequences were not friendly.
The Police Academy Connection
Another recognizable face you probably didn’t realize was in Gremlins is Michael Winslow, the man famous for the sounds he made in Police Academy. It only makes sense then with his vocal talents he would be called upon to provide the voices of the gremlins.
Sadly, Winslow did not return for the sequel in 1990, making him one of the only original cast members to not reprise their role. He was plenty busy, however, providing the voices for the New Kids On The Block animated series.
Howie Mandel Didn’t Sing Gizmo’s Song
Gizmo first makes his presence known in Gremlins when he sings a pleasant song in the Chinese shop. The song was not sung by Howie Mandel, though. Called "Gizmo’s Song," it was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who had a 13-year-old member of his synagogue perform it.
Goldsmith is most famous for composing the theme for for several Star Trek films and TV series. He has also been nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning one for his work on horror classic The Omen.
The Gremlins Didn’t Have Lines In The Script
The Gremlins talk a lot in Gremlins, which is odd considering they weren’t given many lines in the script. To keep the interaction between the creatures more natural, the voice actors ad-libbed their lines on the spot. Recording the dialogue this way also served one more purpose.
When the movie needed to be localized for international markets, the studio could hire voice actors from those markets to provide new ad-libbed lines. It also explains why most of their dialogue comes off as gibberish.
Mice Inspired The Plot Of The Film
Chris Columbus had a unique inspiration for writing the film. While he was attending film school in New York, he lived in a small, mouse-infested apartment. He said, “By day, it was pleasant enough, but at night, what sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy.”
That sounds… terrifying. The original idea of a “gremlin” actually comes from World War II, when soldiers would joke that little creatures called gremlins were causing the equipment malfunctions.
A Mogwai Is Not A Real Thing
In Gremlins, Gizmo is a mogwai. If Billy’s dad knew Cantonese, he would know that mogwai is not the name of a creature, but another word for demon. With that knowledge, he never would have paid to bring the adorable monster home.
Of course, without him buying Gizmo, there would be no movie. And if there was, it would take place with different characters in a different city. Oddly enough, moving the franchise to Las Vegas has been suggested before!
The Movie Theater Burned Down In Real Life
The movie theater the gremlins watch Snow White and the Seven Dawrves in burned down in real life. It was one of the sets from Back to the Future that burned to pieces on the Universal Studios lot in 2008.
The terrible fire blazed for hours, destroying other sets and parts of the “King Kong” attraction at the studios attached theme park. The movie studio took the unfortunate opportunity to update the sets, attractions, and shops on their City Walk.
The Movie Pays Homage To A Horror Classic
Part of the fun of watching Gremlins is that the movie isn’t just a great family horror film, it’s also a love letter to the horror genre. One scene in particular was even used to pay tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The scene we’re talking about is when Stripe attacks Billy with a chainsaw in the department store. It was never written into the script. Joe Dante and Zach Galligan came up with the scene on the spot to pay homage to the Tobe Hooper classic.
Steven Spielberg Makes A Cameo
Steven Spielberg was heavily invested in Gremlins. Not only did he buy the script and produce the film, he also made a cameo. During the scene where Ran Peltzer is calling his wife from an inventor’s convention, Spielberg drives past him in an electric wheelchair.
Another fun tidbit from the scene is the that the time machine from The Time Machine is in the background. If you watch closely, and don’t get distracted by Spielberg, you’ll notice the time machine disappear, heading off on its next great adventure.
There’s A Hint To The Mayhem At The Start Of The Film
As Ran Peltzer walks around Chinatown at the beginning of the film, he passes by a broken down car with its hood up. That car is an old American Motor Company Gremlin. Somewhere out there, a props guy is laughing.
The car isn’t just in the movie for a cheap joke, though. The design of the gremlins look strikingly similar to the logo for the car. Just look at the gas cap and you’ll be amazed!
Billy And Joe Dante Have Something In Common
Before Gremlins, Joe Dante directed several films. One of his most famous films before the movie came out was Twilight Zone: The Movie. Dante directed one of the “episodes” of the television adaptation. It was released one year before Gremlins.
A poster for the movie can be seen in Billy’s room when he takes Pete upstairs to show him Gizmo for the first time. Obviously Billy didn’t direct the film, but it is funny that Dante decided to make him a fan!
The Origins Of The Name Gizmo
One of the things that’s never mentioned in Gremins is how Billy came up with name Gizmo. The “official” comic book adaptation of the movie includes a strip to explain it. It turns out the inspiration for the name has to do with the bathroom.
In the strip, Gizmo uses Rand’s “Bathroom Buddy.” The father of the Peltzer household is known for his gizmos, so the cute creatures use of one of them earns him the name.
Another Spielberg Connection
Gremlins might have been directed by Joe Dante, but Steven Spielberg’s influence can be seen through the film. To pay tribute to the powerful producer, Dante made sure to take advantage of the movie theater in the film.
When we first see the theater, it’s showing the films A Boy’s Life and Watch The Skies. Neither are real movies, but they both mean something important to Spielberg. A Boy’s Life was the working title for E.T. while Watch The Skies was the original name of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Monkeys Almost Played The Gremlins
Before deciding on using puppets to bring the gremlins to life, Warner Brothers considered having monkeys play the beasts. The idea was a failure of epic proportions. The test monkey they used panicked as soon as they put the gremlin head on it.
Unfortunately, there is no behind the scenes video of the incident. It is funny to think that today, the first solution to creating the gremlins would be CGI. In the ’80s, though, the first solution was “use a monkey” before the logical puppet conclusion was made.
The Crew Hated Gizmo
The gremlin puppets were not easy for the crew to deal with. The worst of the bunch was Gizmo. His puppet was smaller than the others and was prone to breaking down more. The crew hated Gizmo so much they even made a “Horrible Thing to do to Gizmo” list.
One of those things ended up making it in the movie. When the gremlins hand Gizmo on the wall and begin throwing darts at him, that was something the crew imagined doing.
Mr. Wing’s Grandson Was Punished
Another part of Gremlins that is never explained is how Mr. Wing’s grandson convinces his grandfather to sell Gizmo. The novelization of the movie explains that he didn’t. He went behind his grandfather’s back to sell Gizmo (which is hinted at in the movie).
Because he crossed his grandfather’s wishes, he is harshly punished. It’s never explained what that punishment is, just that it was for going against his elder’s wishes. Mr. Wing knew what would happen if Gizmo was sold and tried his best to never let the mogwai fall in the wrong hands.
Frank Welker Was A Miracle Worker
While Howie Mandel voiced Gizmo, legendary voice actor Frank Welker voice several of the gremlins. Along with Michael Winslow, who we already talked about, the gremlins came to life thanks to the actors hired to give them voices.
Welker is perhaps most famous for his voice work on Scooby Doo. He voiced Fred Jones for a majority of the characters existence. He has also lent his vocal talents to the Transformers franchise, voicing Shockwave and Soundwave.
Warner Brothers Sued Tiger Electronics Over Furby
If only we could get forget about Furby. The interactive toy was a massive success when Tiger Electronics released it into the wild. The problem was the toy looked shockingly like Gizmo, and when Warner Brothers noticed they sued Tiger Electronics.
The toy manufacturer caved to Warner Brothers, agreeing to a seven figure settlement. They also promised to redesign the toy so it looked less like Gizmo. In 2005, Hasbro took over Tiger Electronics and optioned a Furby movie in 2016.
Joe Dante Didn’t Want To Make A Sequel
After making so much money from Gremlins, Warner Brothers was eager to get a sequel off the ground. The studio approached Joe Dante, who turned them down. He didn’t want to make the same thing twice. With Dante out, the studio began developing a sequel.
One failed idea was to have the gremlins end up in Vegas. Another wacky idea put them in outer space. Eventually, enough time passed that Dante came around. He was also given complete creative control. Gremlins 2: The New Batch, came out in 1990 and earned less than $50 million.
John Rambo Gave Gremlins His Approval
In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Gizmo is inspired to fight back against the gremlins after watching a Rambo movie on television. Because Warner Brothers didn’t own the Rambo franchise, this was almost a major problem.
Instead of going to Rambo’s producers to get permission to use the movie and have Gizmo don the characters likeness, the crew went straight to the man himself; Sylvester Stallone. Stallone was more than happy to give Joe Dante permission to parody his likeness and even use a movie clip.
Box Office Saboteur
One of the reasons Gremlins 2 probably failed was because of Warner Brothers release strategy. In 1989, Batman broke almost every box office record. The next summer, Dick Tracy was slated to come out and do the same. Warner Brothers wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
To hurt Dick Tracy’s box office, Warner Brothers opened Gremlins 2 on the same weekend. The release of horror flick didn’t affect the comic book movies success. Oddly enough, it can be argued that Dick Tracy’s success hurt Gremlins 2.
Joe Dante Prefers The New Batch
The reason Joe Dante finally agreed to make Gremlins 2: The New Batch was that he was given complete creative control. He had free reign to make the movie he always dreamed of. The humor was played up and the horror was played down.
It’s no surprise, then, that Dante prefers the sequel to the original. He believes that by pushing the concept further, he was able to improve upon the strengths of the original. Critics and audiences disagreed, although some have come around in more recent years.
Why The Movie Was Toned Down
As you’ve read, the original script for Gremlins was incredibly dark. The monsters were violent and unrelenting. They are still violent in the movie, but the tone is lighter and more family friendly. The reason for this is simple; money.
When Dante and Spielberg started making the movie, “it became apparent to make the gremlins look real, it was going to cost a couple of bucks, so it couldn’t really be the independent movie Steven envisioned.”
The Flashdance Connection
Gremlins 2: The New Batch took the franchise to new heights of comedy. The movie is a highly self referential satire of Hollywood. Do you remember the scene that parodies Flashdance? The moment is a recreation of the famous “Maniac” scene from the movie.
The song that plays is called “Gremlins (Mega Madness)” and was performed by Michael Sembello. Sembello, funnily enogh, performed “Maniac” for Flashdance. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Gremlins 2 is a very different beast than Gremlins.
With Success Came Knock-Offs
Gremlins the god father of horror films about little creatures causing havoc. With it’s massive success came dozens of imitators. Here’s a short list; Critters, Ghoulies, Hobgoblins, and Troll. The most successful of these was Critters, which became a fairly successful franchise itself.
There have been four Critters movies made. The last one was released in 1992, although a franchise reboot has been in the works for years. Critters director Stephen Herek claims that his first movie, which came out in 1986, was in development before Gremlins and is not a cheap knock-off.