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Directed by Joe Dante
Produced by Michael Finnell
Written by Chris Columbus
Starring Zach Galligan
Phoebe Cates
Hoyt Axton
Frances Lee McCain
Dick Miller
Polly Holliday
Judge Reinhold
Keye Luke
Corey Feldman
John Louie
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography John Hora
Editing by Tina Hirsch
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) June 8, 1984
Running time 106 minutes
Country USA
Language English
Budget $11,000,000
Followed by Gremlins 2: The New Batch
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

Gremlins is an American horror- comedy film directed by Joe Dante and released in 1984. It is about a young man who receives a strange creature named Gizmo as a pet, which then spawns other creatures who transform into small, destructive monsters. This story was continued with a sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, released in 1990. Unlike the lighter sequel, the original Gremlins opts for more black comedy, which is balanced against a Christmas-time setting. Both of the first two films were the centre of large merchandising campaigns.

Steven Spielberg was the film's executive producer, with the screenplay written by Chris Columbus. The film stars Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, with Howie Mandel providing the voice of Gizmo. The actors had to work alongside numerous puppets, as puppetry was the main form of special effects used to portray Gizmo and the gremlins.

Gremlins was a commercial success and received positive feedback from critics. However, the film has also been heavily criticized for some of its more violent sequences. Critics alleged these scenes made the film inappropriate for younger audiences who could be admitted into theatres under its PG rating. In response to this and to similar complaints about other films, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reformed its rating system within two months of its release.


The film starts by introducing the character Randall "Rand" Peltzer, an inventor of modest abilities and questionable success. He is from the fictional community of Kingston Falls, and travels to Chinatown in New York City to sell his inventions and pick up a present for his son Billy. A young Chinese boy takes Rand to his grandfather's small shop, where Rand takes interest in a small, cute, furry creature called a mogwai (which, in Cantonese Chinese, translates literally as "evil spirit"). Mr. Wing, the Chinese boy's grandfather and owner of the shop, refuses to sell the mogwai even when Rand offers US$200 for it. This is money that the Wing family desperately needs. Consequently, Wing's grandson secretly sells the mogwai to Rand. Though the creature seems innocent enough, the grandson warns Rand that one must take certain precautions regarding it. Namely, one must not let the mogwai near bright light, especially sunlight, which can kill the mogwai; one must not get water on the mogwai; and, most importantly, one must never feed the creature after midnight.

Rand names the creature "Gizmo" and brings him home to his son. Billy has recently completed high school and has taken up a job at the bank to make ends meet for his parents, with whom he still lives. He has a dog called Barney whose mischievousness makes both him and Billy the target of harassment from Mrs. Deagle, an elderly woman with much financial influence. Being a bitter, malicious person, she threatens to kidnap and murder Barney.

Billy is fascinated with Gizmo, who is highly intelligent and can hum a tune. Billy's new companion also proves to be a very gentle and well-behaved creature. Unfortunately, however, one of Billy's friends accidentally spills water on Gizmo. This causes Gizmo to go into convulsions and instantly multiply, spawning five new mogwai in a process that appears painful to him. The new mogwai are much more aggressive than Gizmo. They are led by the mogwai Stripe, who has a white mohawk-like hairstyle. Billy donates one to his science teacher.

At about this time Billy's personal life takes a more positive turn. He asks his coworker at the bank, Kate, out for a date, and she agrees. Kate is also a local bartender, who sees first hand the misery in the town caused by Mrs. Deagle's inhumane financial leadership.

Eventually, the new mogwai trick Billy into feeding them after midnight. All the creatures soon form cocoons, except Gizmo, who was wise enough to not accept the food Billy unwittingly offered after midnight (the one in the science lab also gets hold of food.) While Billy is at the bank, the cocoons hatch, and the mogwai emerge having transformed into gremlin-like monsters with dark green reptilian skin. Billy finds the science teacher dead, and hears a noise in the corner of the room. However, when he investigates, he gets scratched on his hand, the gremlin escapes through a vent, and he never sees it. It attacks him when he heads to the infirmary for a bandage. Billy's mother is now alone with the gremlins, and comes into conflict with them. She manages to defeat them one-by-one, killing one in a blender. She stabs a second with a kitchen knife, and traps a third in the microwave oven, which she turns on. The gremlin promptly explodes. While she is being strangled by the next gremlin, Billy arrives and saves her by decapitating the gremlin with an ornamental sword. The only remaining gremlin left in the house is Stripe, who then breaks out. Billy tracks him down to the local YMCA, but the creature escapes once more by jumping into a swimming pool. This causes an incredible multiplication of gremlins.

Billy then takes Gizmo to the bar to recover Kate, who has been bartending that night. The gremlins have taken over the bar, behaving in an exceedingly vulgar fashion, and force Kate to serve them. However, she eventually discovers they are frightened by light when she attempts to light one's cigarette. She then knocks down several through flash photography, and is reunited with Billy. The two seek shelter in the bank while the gremlins wreak havoc upon Kingston Falls. Notably, the creatures kill Mrs. Deagle. When Billy, Kate and Gizmo re-emerge, they find the gremlins are gone. Billy and Kate track them down to the local theatre where the gremlins are planning to spend the coming day, and Billy manages to explode it. The gremlins burn to death, with the exception of Stripe, who had left briefly to get snacks at the department store across the street.

Billy pursues Stripe through the store, but Stripe escapes and reaches a water fountain. By this time, however, it is morning, and Gizmo, having escaped notice of the human characters, opens a window blind and exposes Stripe to sunlight. Stripe melts as everyone watches.

At the end of the film, Mr. Wing returns to collect Gizmo to prevent any recurrence of trouble. Mr. Wing observes that while western society is not ready to properly care for a mogwai, Billy shows some potential.



Gremlins was produced during a time when combining horror with comedy became increasingly popular. The film Ghostbusters, released in the same year as Gremlins – (actually on the very same day and opening weekend) and later Beetlejuice (1988) and other such films – were part of this growing trend. The new genre seemed to emphasize sudden shifts between humorous and horrific scenes, and/or drawing laughs with plot elements that have been traditionally used to scare. The comic strip The Far Side indicated this was a broader cultural phenomenon. However, this drew from older precedent, such as the film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

The notion of "gremlins" was first conceived during World War II, when mechanical failures in aircraft were jokingly blamed on the small monsters. Gremlins entered popular culture as children's author Roald Dahl published a book called The Gremlins in 1943, based on these mischievous creatures. Dante had read The Gremlins and claimed this book was of some influence to his film. Dahl's story is referenced in the film when the character Mr. Futterman, played by Dick Miller, drunkenly warns Billy and Kate of foreign technology sabotaged by gremlins: "It's the same gremlins that brought down our planes in the big one... That's right. World War II." Tellingly, one of the gremlins in the bar shoots at Kate with a pistol and hits a photograph of a WWII airplane. Falling Hare, a film about the fictional character Bugs Bunny and a gremlin, was released by Warner Bros., also in 1943. An episode of The Twilight Zone, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet featured a Gremlin terrorizing an airplane passenger played by William Shatner. This story was remade in Twilight Zone: The Movie, with John Lithgow in the role previously played by Shatner.

In 1983, Dante publicly distanced his work from earlier films. He explained, "Our gremlins are somewhat different—they're sort of green and they have big mouths and they smile a lot and they do incredibly, really nasty things to people and enjoy it all the while."

Initial stages

The story of Gremlins was conceived by Chris Columbus. As Columbus explained, his inspiration came from his loft, when at night "what sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy." He then wrote the original screenplay as a "writing sample" to show potential employers that he had writing abilities. The story was not actually intended to be filmed until Spielberg took an interest in it. As Spielberg explained, "It's one of the most original things I've come across in many years, which is why I bought it."

Spielberg chose Dante as his director because of Dante's experience with horror-comedy; Dante had directed The Howling (1981), though in the time between The Howling and the offer to film Gremlins, he had experienced a lull in his career. The film's producer was Michael Finnell, who had also worked on The Howling. Spielberg took the project to Warner Bros. and also produced it with his own company, Amblin Entertainment.

The film's script went through a few drafts before a shooting script was finalized. The first version was much darker. Scenes were cut portraying Billy's mother dying in her struggle with the gremlins, with her head thrown down the stairs when Billy arrives. Dante later explained the scene made the film darker than what the filmmakers wanted. Also, instead of Stripe being a mogwai who becomes a gremlin, there was no Stripe mogwai and Gizmo was supposed to turn into Stripe the gremlin. Spielberg overruled this plot element because he felt Gizmo was cute and audiences would want him to be present at all stages of the film.

There is a famous urban legend referenced in the film, in which Kate reveals in a speech that her father died on a Christmas when he dressed as Santa Claus but broke his neck while climbing down the family's chimney. It was rumored that Columbus had written the scene as drama, though the filmmakers and performers took it as dark comedy. This scene was always a part of the Gremlins story. In the film the speech was delivered while hiding in the bank. One early version of the script included the speech in a scene where the leading characters found a McDonald's restaurant after it had been attacked and the patrons eaten, but the hamburgers were untouched. Later, the filmed speech would be controversial, as studio executives insisted upon its removal. They felt it was too ambiguous as to whether it was supposed to be funny or sad. Dante stubbornly refused to take the scene out, saying it represented the film as a whole, which had a combination of horrific and comedic elements. Spielberg did not like the scene but, despite his creative control, he viewed Gremlins as Dante's project and left it in.


The speech was given by the character Kate, played by Phoebe Cates. She received the role despite concerns that she was known for playing more risque parts, such as Linda Barrett in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Spielberg urged the casting of the relatively unknown Zach Galligan for Billy, because Spielberg saw chemistry between Galligan and Cates during auditions. Galligan later compared himself to Billy, saying he was a " geeky kid- and so being... in this picture for me was really kind of a dream, I mean what I get to do, what my character gets to do, blow up movie theatres... got to work with great people."

In contrast to Galligan, many of the supporting actors and actresses were better known; many were longtime character actors. Veteran actor Glynn Turman portrayed the high school science teacher whose study of a mogwai leads to his death after it forms a cocoon. Dick Miller was yet another experienced actor on the set, playing a World War II veteran who first refers to the creatures as gremlins. With so many experienced actors on the set, Galligan had the opportunity to query them about their careers. Rand was played by Hoyt Axton, who was always the filmmakers' preferred choice for the role even though it was widely contested by other actors. Axton's experience included acting in The Black Stallion (1979), and he was also a country music singer. Because an introductory scene to Gremlins was cut, Axton's voice earned him the added role of the narrator to establish some context. Mr. Wing was played by Keye Luke, a renowned film actor. Although he was around 80 in reality and his character is very elderly, Luke's youthful appearance required make-up to cover.

Polly Holliday, an actress best known for her role in Alice, played Mrs. Deagle. Dante considered the casting fortunate, as she was well-known and he considered her to be talented. Ironically, two other well-known actors, Fast Times' Judge Reinhold and character actor Edward Andrews, received roles that were significantly reduced after the film was edited. They played Billy's superiors at the bank.

Special effects

The performances were shot on the backlot of Universal Studios in California. This required fake snow; Dante also felt it was an atmosphere that would make the special effects more convincing. As the special effects relied mainly on puppetry, the actors worked alongside some of the puppets. Nevertheless, after the actors finished their work for good, a great deal of work was spent finishing the effects. Numerous small rubber puppets, some of which were mechanical, were used to portray Gizmo and the gremlins. They were designed by Chris Walas. There was more than one Gizmo puppet, and occasionally Galligan, when carrying one, would set him down off camera, and when Gizmo appeared again sitting on a surface it was actually a different puppet wired to the surface. These puppets had many limitations. The Gizmo puppets were particularly frustrating because they were smaller and thus broke down more. Consequently, to satisfy the crew, a scene was included in which the gremlins hang Gizmo on a wall and throw darts at him.

A few marionettes were also used. Other effects required large mogwai faces and ears to be produced for close-ups, as the puppets were less capable of conveying emotion. Consequently, large props simulating food were needed for the close-ups in the scene in which the mogwai feast after midnight. An enlarged Gizmo puppet was also needed for the scene in which he multiplies. The new mogwai, who popped out of Gizmo's body as small, furry balls which then started to grow, were balloons and expanded as such. Walas had also created the exploding gremlin in the microwave by means of a balloon that was allowed to burst.

Howie Mandel provided the voice for Gizmo, and the prolific voice actor Frank Welker provided the voice for Stripe. It was Welker who suggested Mandel perform in Gremlins. The puppets' lines were mostly invented by the voice actors, based on cues from the physical actions of the puppets, which were filmed before the voice work. Mandel also chose the type of voice for Gizmo, which was baby-like, based on what had been done. Mandel explained, Gizmo was "cute and naive, so, you know, I got in touch with that... I couldn't envision going any other way or do something different with it. I didn't try a few different voices."


The film's score was written by Jerry Goldsmith. For his effort, he won a Saturn Award for Best Music. The main score was written with the objective of conveying "the mischievous humor and mounting suspense of Gremlins." As the filmmakers recalled, the so-called "Gremlin Rag" came across not as "horror music" but as " circus music," and some cited it as an influence to their later work on the film. Within the story, Gizmo was capable of singing or humming. Goldsmith wrote Gizmo's song as well, but Mandel never sang it. A girl Goldsmith knew was hired to sing Gizmo's song, although she had never worked in films before.

Songs heard in the film include "Gremlins... Mega-Madness" by Michael Sembello. This song is played while the gremlins party in the bar, and one break dances to it. The Peter Gabriel song "Out out," produced in collaboration with Nile Rodgers, is also heard in the bar scene. Darlene Love's song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" plays over the opening credits.


Critical reaction

The reactions of film critics to Gremlins varied. Roger Ebert was approving, calling the film not only "fun" but a "sly series of send-ups," effectively parodying many elemental film story-lines. In his opinion, Gremlins does this partly through depictions of mysterious worlds (the shop in Chinatown) and tyrannical elderly women (Mrs. Deagle). Ebert also believed the rule in which a mogwai cannot eat after midnight was inspired by fairy tales, and that the final scenes parody the classic horror films. He connected Kate's speech about her father with "the great tradition of 1950s sick jokes." Conversely, Leonard Maltin disapproved in remarks on the television show Entertainment Tonight. He called the film "icky" and "gross." Later, he wrote in his book that despite being set in a "picture- postcard town" and blending the feel of It's a Wonderful Life (from which a clip appears in Gremlins) with that of The Blob, the film is "negated by too-vivid violence and mayhem." He thus gave the film two out of four stars. Maltin actually made an appearance in Gremlins 2 and repeated his criticisms of the original on film, as an in-joke, being throttled by the creatures as a result; he gave the second film a more positive rating, three out of four stars.

While some critics criticized the film's depictions of violence and greed – such as death scenes, Kate's speech, and the gremlins' gluttony – as lacking comic value, one scholar interpreted these instead as a satire of "some characteristics of Western civilization." The film may suggest that Westerners take too much satisfaction out of violence. Gremlins can also be interpreted as a statement against technology, in that some characters, like Billy's father, are over-dependent on it. In contrast, Mr. Wing is shown having a strong distaste for television. One scholar suggested the film is meant to express a number of observations of society by having the gremlin characters shift in what they are meant to represent. At different times, they are depicted as African Americans, teenagers, the wealthy establishment, or fans of Disney films. The film the gremlins had been watching in the theatre before Billy blew it up was Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Another scholar drew a connection between the microwave scene and urban legends about pets dying in microwave ovens. He described the portrayal of this urban legend in the film as successful, but that meant it seemed terrible. This is indeed a scene that is thought of as being one of the film's most violent; even Ebert expressed some fear in his review that the film might encourage children to try similar things with their pets, and he urged parents not to let their children see the film.

It should be noted that Gremlins has been criticized for more than its depictions of violence. One BBC critic wrote in 2000 that "The plot is thin and the pacing is askew." However, that critic also complimented the dark humour contrasted against the ideal Christmas setting. In 2002, another critic wrote that in hindsight Gremlins has "corny special effects" and that the film will likely appeal to children more so than to adults. He also said the acting was dull.

Gremlins won numerous awards, including the 1985 Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Horror Film, Best Music, and Best Special Effects, and Holliday won the award for Best Supporting Actress. The film also won the 1985 Golden Screen Award and the 1985 Young Artist Award for Best Family Motion Picture (Adventure). Corey Feldman, who played Billy's young friend, was also nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama.

Charges of racism

Despite its critical acclaim and popular success, Gremlins has been criticized as racist and culturally insensitive. Some observers have commented that the film presents gremlins as African Americans in a bar scene, and in an unflattering manner. The creatures exhibit some of the worst stereotypical behaviour attributed to blacks. They are wild, drunken, carousing, violent, murderous, seductive, lascivious, sometimes simple-minded, crude and rowdy. The females are depicted with big, red lips and wearing ugly, blonde wigs. The males swagger, wear sunglasses at night and big-apple slouch hats, a fashion popular in urban African American communities in the 1970s and 1980s; and in one scene a gremlin spins on the floor, breakdancing.

In her book Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies, Patricia Turner examines the issue of the movie's depiction of the "African-American gremlins" as racist caricatures.

Nowhere are the negative ethnic messages clearer than in the actual depiction of the unearthly beings....

These malevolent miniature Mogwi are the most destructive and reflect negative African-American stereotypes. Soon after their unexpected birth, the pesky gremlins are devouring fried chicken with their hands. Their first target is Billy's kind, overburdened mother, and they are soon pursuing the hero's girlfriend at Dorry's Tavern. In some unexplained way, several of them have managed to acquire shades and caps that cover their eyes. Cigarettes droop from the corners of their mouths. They make haste to a tavern where they cannot get enough to drink. Here we see their love of music and their ability to break-dance.

The character of the elderly Asian man who sells Gizmo and sets off the chain of events that comprise the movie's story line also has been criticized as reinforcing Asian stereotypes—his flawed English, heavy accent, and his belief in, and association with, magic.

Gremlins and audiences

Gremlins was a commercial success. It was filmed on a budget of $11,000,000, making it more expensive than Spielberg had originally intended but still relatively cheap for 1984. The trailer introduced the film to audiences by briefly explaining that Billy receives a strange creature as a Christmas present, by going over the three rules, and then coming out with the fact that the creatures transform into terrible monsters. This trailer showed little of either the mogwai or the gremlins. Conversely, other advertisements concentrated on Gizmo, overlooked the gremlins and made the film look similar to Spielberg's earlier family film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Afterwards, Gremlins was released into US theatres on June 8, 1984. It grossed $12.5 million in its first weekend. By the end of its American screenings on November 29, it had grossed $148,168,459 domestically. This made it the fourth highest-grossing film of the year, after Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In August it opened in Argentina and Spain, and in October it premiered in West Germany. Screenings began in Australia and much of the rest of Europe in December. As Gremlins had an international audience, different versions of the film were made to overcome cultural barriers. Mandel learned to speak his few intelligible lines, such as "Bright light!", in various languages such as German. Regional music and humor were also incorporated into foreign language versions. Dante credited this work for Gremlins' worldwide success.

Still, there had also been complaints among audiences about the violence. This was particularly true among people who had brought their children to see the film, many of whom walked out of the theatre before the film had ended. Dante admitted to reporters later, "So the idea of taking a 4-year-old to see Gremlins, thinking it's going to be a cuddly, funny animal movie and then seeing that it turns into a horror picture, I think people were upset... They felt like they had been sold something family friendly and it wasn't entirely family friendly."

The film became available to audiences again when brought back to theatres in 1985. This brought its gross up to $153,083,102. It was also released on video, and made $79,500,000 in rental stores. The film was released on DVD in 1997 and again in 1999. On August 20, 2002, a " special edition" DVD was released featuring cast and filmmakers' commentary and deleted scenes.


With its commercial themes, especially the perceived cuteness of the character Gizmo, Gremlins became the centre of considerable merchandising. As such, it became part of a rising trend in film, which had received a boost from Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Under the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, versions of Gizmo were sold as dolls or stuffed animals. Both Gizmo and the gremlins were mass produced as action figures, and Topps printed trading cards based upon the film.

The film was also the basis for a novel of the same name by George Gipe, published by Avon Books in June 1984. The novel offered an origin for mogwai and gremlins as a prologue. Supposedly, mogwai were created as gentle, contemplative creatures by a scientist on an alien world. However, it was discovered that their physiology was unstable, and under "certain circumstances," alluding to the three rules that were given in the film, mogwai would change into creatures that the novel referred to as "mischievous". This origin is unique to the novel but is referred to in the novelization of Gremlins 2 by David Bischoff. No definitive origin for mogwai or gremlins is ever given in either Gremlins film.

Several video games based on the film were also produced; these included Gremlins (1985) by Brian Howarth and Adventure Soft. In the 2000s more were released; Gremlins: Unleashed! was released on Game Boy in 2001. It was about Gizmo trying to catch Stripe and thirty gremlins, while the gremlins try to turn Gizmo himself into a gremlin. Both Gizmo and Stripe are playable characters in this game. Gremlins: Stripe Versus Gizmo, with both Gizmo and Stripe as playable characters, was released in 2002.


Along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, also rated PG, Gremlins was one of two films in 1984 to influence the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating, with Red Dawn being the first film released with the rating in August 1984. The scene in which a gremlin explodes in the microwave was particularly influential to the idea that some films too light to be rated R are still too mature to be rated PG. Indeed, before Gremlins came out, the controversy over Indiana Jones might very well have died. The change to the rating system was not insignificant; the rating PG-13 turned out to be appealing to some film patrons, as it implied some excitement without going too far.

The film not only spawned a sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but is believed to have been the inspiration for several other unrelated films about small monsters, many of which have similar one-word titles. These include Critters, Ghoulies, Spookies, Troll, Hobgoblins, Beasties, Kamillions, and Munchies. Many of these films were not critical successes, and Hobgoblins was lampooned on the television series Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Ghoulies actually began development before Gremlins.

There were rumors that the talking doll Furby was so similar to the character Gizmo that Warner Bros. was considering a lawsuit in 1998, but Warner representatives replied that this was not true. In fact, a Furby-based Gizmo toy was later produced by the same company that made Furby. The anime Pet Shop of Horrors has also been compared to Gremlins.

In the popular web cartoon Homestar Runner, The Cheat dresses up as Gizmo for halloween in 2006.

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