25 Things You May Not Know About the 'Gremlins' Movies

Celebrate the anniversary of Gremlins 2: The New Batch with a list of 25 things fans may not know about the series

Photo: Warner Bros.

Just try explaining the premise to someone who wasn’t around at the time: “Gremlins was a movie about a cute little thing that turned into ugly little things, and you couldn’t get them wet or feed them after midnight, because they’d kill people. But it was a family movie, and America loved the one nice Gremlin.”

That is Gremlins in a nutshell, and it was 25 years ago this week (June 15, 1990) that moviegoers got the second and, for now, final movie in the series, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. In celebration of this weird, darkly funny franchise, here are 25 bits of trivia that fans might be interested to learn.

1. There may be a third Gremlins yet.

More than 30 years after the first Gremlins hit theaters in 1984, a third movie could still happen. Chris Columbus, who wrote the first movie, promised in April that it wouldn’t be a remake. “Oh, god, a completely different direction,” Columbus explained. “It’s not a remake of the first movie at all, because the first movie’s very dear to my heart.”

2. The original was a summer blockbuster, not a Christmas release.

And that’s something people forget, because Gremlins takes place at Christmas. But the film opened on June 8, 1984. It came in second for the weekend box-office returns, right behind the year’s other major horror comedy, Ghostbusters, which opened the same day.

3. It, along with Steven Spielberg, helped bring about the PG-13 rating.

Watch the first Gremlins today and you’ll probably think it’s a little violent for a PG-rated film. Parents back then did too, and similar complaints about the Steven Spielberg-directed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating. Red Dawn, released just two months later, was the first movie to bear the PG-13 rating.

4. "Mogwai" really is a Chinese word.

Or at least it approximates in English a Chinese word that means “monster.”

5. Howie Mandel Was Gizmo.

Considering the Gizmo mania sparked by the two Gremlins movies, it’s interesting how often people don’t realize that the man behind Gizmo’s purrs and squeaks was Howie Mandel. Even people who remember that Mandel voiced the title character on the cartoon Bobby’s World may not know that Mandel’s side career as a voice actor went back as far as 1984.

6. The movies owe a debt to Roald Dahl.

The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author’s first children’s book was 1943’s The Gremlins, which Dahl wrote for Walt Disney Productions in preparation for an animated movie that ultimately was never made. Gremlins director Joe Dante has said in interviews that the movies were inspired by the book, though only loosely.

7. They thought about using monkeys to play the gremlins.

It may seem like a bad idea. In fact, it was. As Dante explained to Empire magazine in 2014, “We actually did get a monkey and put a head on him and watched him careen around the editing room, pooping on everything in terror. We decided it wasn’t really going to work out.”

8. The Santa Claus monologue was especially controversial.

In the first film, Phoebe Cates’ character shares the saddest Christmas story ever: Her father never comes home from work on Christmas Eve, and much later her family finds him dead, dressed as Santa Claus and stuck in the chimney. According to the film’s DVD commentary, higher-ups wanted it excised from the film because they couldn’t figure out of it was supposed to be funny or sad. But isn’t that the point?

9. That Flashdance homage goes further than you think.

The movies crammed in references to other pop cultural works, and one of them had a leg-warmers-clad Gremlin doing his best Jennifer Beals in a parody of Flashdance. The song you hear him dancing to in the above clip, "Gremlins (Mega Madness)", just happens to be by Michael Sembello, who also performed the “Maniac” theme to Flashdance.

10. There was a Gizmo doll.

How could there not be? But you have to wonder how many kids attempted to dunk their dolls in hopes that they’d sprout new Mogwai babies.

11. There was also a Gremlins-branded cereal.

Because what says “appetizing breakfast” better than scaly monsters that are dangerous to feed?

12. Joe Dante made the sequel on one major condition.

Initially, a sequel was proposed soon after the first movie, and Dante declined. Years later, however, he agreed to helm Gremlins 2: The New Batch if he got complete creative control of the second film. He did.

13. But even then, some of the wilder ideas didn’t make the cut.

According to the DVD commentary for the sequel, one of the concepts proposed was a cow-hamster hybrid in the “mad scientist” lab. The American film canon is lacking for loss of such a creation, surely.

14. Rick Baker was reluctant to do the film’s special effects.

Special-effects legend Rick Baker was not involved with the first Gremlins, and consequently he was not interested in taking over the sequel, as he’d be creating in the shadow of Chris Walas, who designed all the Gremlins for the first movie. What won Baker over, eventually, was the opportunity to morph the Gremlins into weird new shapes, such as the spider-gremlin and bat-gremlin hybrids seen in The New Batch.

15. The She-Gremlin does not have an official name.

You remember her: She’s basically Miss Piggy in Gremlin form, and while she was known on Gremlins trading cards as Lady Gremlina, she’s also known as Greta. Both are great names. We love her no matter what name she chooses to go by.

16. There’s a story behind the Leonard Maltin cameo.

Movie critic Leonard Maltin didn’t care much for the first Gremlins, which he gave only two stars. So there’s added meaning to the scene in the sequel in which the Gremlins attack him. It’s also worth pointing out that after cameoing in Gremlins 2, Maltin gave the film three stars.

17. The "movie theater" scene played out differently in the VHS version.

Midway through the theatrical version of the movie, the Gremlins break the fourth wall – and the projector that’s supposedly playing the movie. The action shifts away from the Gremlins characters and into a theater, where audience member Hulk Hogan has to threaten the Gremlins into finishing the rest of the movie. It’s a meta moment, but it was completely missing in the VHS version, in which the entire scene is changed so that the Gremlins are simply changing the TV channel and enter a western, with John Wayne scaring them off. The Hulk Hogan cameo wasn’t available on home video versions until the DVD release of Gremlins 2.

18. The Looney Tunes segment was supposed to run longer.

Gremlins 2

really embraces its status as a Warner Bros. production, and it begins with a Chuck Jones-directed segment featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The original version of it was supposed to run considerably longer, but it was cut. You can watch the excised segments in this compilation of deleted scenes.

19. The movies are also decidedly not Disney productions.

The vibe is far edgier than Disney productions, generally speaking, but considering that the sequel actually features Warner Bros. icons Bugs and Daffy, isn’t it interesting to look back on the scene in the first movie in which the Gremlins become entraced by a Disney movie? And not just any Disney movie – it’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the mother of all Disney animated features. What kind of connections do you think are being made between these little monsters and the kind of people who go all in for Disney?

20. The first Gremlins wasn’t the only one to open in competition with another iconic blockbuster.

Whereas the first movie opened the same day as Ghostbusters, the second one opened the same day as Dick Tracy, which took in $22.5 million on its opening weekend. Gremlins 2 only made $9 million on its first weekend.

21. But that wasn’t the end of Gremlins culture.

Those who couldn’t get enough of Gizmo got the chance to play as the little guy in a Gremlins 2-inspired video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. As you can see, the game took considerable creative license with the movie, but that was par for the course with ’90s movies translated into video games.

22. There was also a Gremlins amusement park ride.

You had to visit either Australia or Germany to partake, and it only lasted for a decade – 1991 to 2001. The attraction started out with clips of bloopers from classic Warner Bros. movies, and then at the 2:15 mark you see a bizarre scene in which ALF is attacked by Gremlins. No, we don’t get it either, and yes, hearing ALF speak German is very odd. But if you wanted to see ALF and Gizmo hanging out, side by side, this was the ride for you.

23. The Gremlins also starred in a British telecommunications ad.

“Because you never know when an IT problem might strike.” That’s a pretty good celebrity endorsement, if an unexpected one.

24. And the Gremlins movies inspired a host of imitators.

Critters may be the most successful of the movies that tried the “human vs. mischievous thingamajigs” formula, but there were also Ghoulies, Troll and Hobgoblins, and likely none would have existed were it not for Gremlins. Hey, at least Critters 3 gave Leonardo DiCaprio his first movie role.

25. And Gremlins 2 gave Christopher Lee one more great genre role.

Lee, who played the villainous Dr. Catheter in The New Batch, died this week. In any overview of his great roles, you’ll hear about the Star Wars movies, the Lord of the Rings movies, the Dracula movies, The Wicker Man, and The Man with the Golden Gun. You probably won’t hear Gremlins 2 get mentioned, but it’s only because he had so many great roles. As the sequel’s mad scientist character, Lee was great, seeming to relish the dark humor of it all.

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