Study Guide

Gremlins Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Joe Dante

    The 2010 film Piranha 3D shocked viewers with a certain, um, appendage floating toward them in 3D. But we shouldn't have been that shocked—the film was a loose remake of the 1978 movie Piranha, one of the first films by Gremlins director Joe Dante.

    Dante's original Piranha was a shameless Jaws knock-off, and we mean that in the nicest way. Spielberg took it as a compliment, because he recruited Dante to direct one of the segments in Twilight Zone: The Movie, which Spielberg produced. Dante directed the story about a telepathic kid who always gets his way.

    If Dante feels like that about children, no wonder he had no problem scarring many of them for life with Gremlins, also produced by Spielberg. Dante deftly navigated the tricky line between horror and comedy, striking a sweet spot that helped the film rake in over $150 million. (Source)

    Dante would continue exploring suburban paranoia in The Burbs (1989) starring Tom Hanks and Princess Leia. And he brought about two hundred more gremlins to theaters nationwide in Gremlins 2: The New Batch in 1990. No word on whether or not Dante will direct the rumored Gremlins 3. Personally we're rooting for an Eerie, Indiana reboot.

  • Screenwriter

    Chris Columbus

    If you know Chris Columbus, it's as a horror movie director.

    Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) is about a kind British nanny tearing her own face off in front her children and revealing a hairy ape-man underneath. Home Alone (1990) shows what happens to two unsuspecting burglars when they accidentally attempt to rob the house of a homicidal young child. And Pixels (2015) taps into the sheer terror of having to sit through an Adam Sandler movie for more than three minutes.

    Seeing the heights—or maybe depths—of Columbus's directorial work, it's not a stretch to learn that one of his first projects was a straight-up horror script: Gremlins. Columbus's original script lacked the light-hearted humor of the final project, and had a much higher death count.

    In Columbus's original draft, there's no adorable Gizmo. The mogwai Billy mutates into the murderous Stripe. From there, the gruesome gremlin bumps off Billy's mom, his friend Pete, Mrs. Deagle, a bunch of people at a McDonald's, and even the dog. The dog. (Source)

    Check out our section on the production company to see who made changes to turn the film from an R-rated horror film into a PG-rated…we're not quite sure what it is. But we know we like it.

  • Production Studio

    Amblin Entertainment (distributed by Warner Bros.)

    It's easy to imagine the 1980s as a time when everyone wore neon, all music was made on synthesizers, and Steven Spielberg had a hand in every single movie that hit the big screen.

    The guy behind E.T. and Indiana Jones executive produced Gremlins with his Amblin Entertainment production company, making Gremlins the first film with the iconic Amblin logo. (Source)

    But these fuzzy nightmareballs are about as far away from cuddly E.T. as you can get.

    Not only did he grace the movie with his logo, but also Spielberg made a bunch of changes to the original script. (See our section on the screenwriter for more on the horrors that were too much for Stevie-boy.) Spielberg read Gremlins with dollar bills in his eyes, and wanted to make the movie more family friendly to maximize its profits. This meant upping the cuteness factor of Gizmo and cutting some of the more gory deaths in the script. (Source)

    One scene that had director Joe Dante and Spielberg squaring off like Gizmo and Stripe was Kate's Christmas tragedy monologue. Spielberg wanted it gone, but Dante wanted it to stay. The director thought it encapsulated the film perfectly. (Source)

    Is it funny? Is it scary? We're still not sure. All we know is that, thanks to Spielberg's changes, the movie became a huge hit for all ages…even if some of us slept with the lights on for three years after seeing it.

  • Production Design

    To get a gremlin, take a muppet, dip it in acid, and give it a gun or a knife. Okay, it's a little more complicated than that. It took a team of talented special-effects artists to bring the gremlins to life in a pre-CGI age.

    The crew initially tried to put a monkey in a gremlin suit, but that proved to be too much like having an actual gremlin on set. (Source)

    Tired of monkeying around (sorry, we had to), Dante and Spielberg turned to Chris Walas, who worked with Dante on Piranhas. Walas designed painstakingly detailed puppets of the devious gremlins.

    The movie theater and bar scenes are packed with puppets smoking, drinking, and playing cards. Filmmakers built the sets over old swimming pools and put the puppeteers in the empty concrete basin to work their magic. (Source)

    It's a good thing the pool was empty because the gremlins would have multiplied. Oh, and the puppeteers would have drowned.

    All these scenes were brought together by editor Tina Hirsch. Hirsch worked with Joe Dante on Gremlins and Twilight Zone: The Movie, and she worked on volcano disaster Dante's Peak…which has nothing to do with Joe Dante. Why'd the volcano really explode? We're betting on gremlins.

  • Music (Score)

    Jerry Goldsmith

    Gremlins struck gold with Jerry Goldsmith. His style is all-over-the-map, which is a great match for the genre-defying Gremlins. Prior to Gremlins, Goldsmith scored Planet of the Apes (1968), neo-noir Chinatown (1974), and horror classic The Omen (1976).

    Gremlins can be seen as having elements of all these films. There's a literal Chinatown scene at the beginning. The mogwai are a bad omen for Kingston Falls. And Stripe points guns at people like famous NRA advocate and Planet of the Apes star Charlton Heston.

    Goldsmith's Gremlins theme is the perfect complement to the film. It starts sweet and innocent, like a Christmas carol, then transitions into something rambunctious and possibly sinister…which is also like a Christmas carol.

    Hey, have you ever actually listened to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"? Santa is a jerk.

  • Fandoms

    If you Google "Gremlins 3" you get about 87,100 hits, which coincidentally is also the number of gremlins rumored to be in Gremlins 3. (Source: A rumor we just made up.)

    People have dozens of ideas for a sequel, and Gremlins star Zach Galligan, whose you might remember from Chicken Soup for the Soul (TV Series) or Love Boat: The Next Wave has made a career coming up with some himself. One recent suggestion was that the gremlins combine into one big ol' giant gremlin. Gremzilla, or something. (Source)

    Whether or not there is a sequel, people still love Gremlins, and they debate what the rules really mean. For example, it's always after midnight, technically. When is it safe to feed a mogwai again? A post about gremlins and time zones has over eighty comments and counting. If people don't figure this out soon, their mogwai are going to starve.