Study Guide

Gremlins Themes

  • Foreignness and the Other

    Americans have a long tradition of exoticizing China. Chinese food. Chinese checkers. Blac Chyna.

    Because of this attitude of "foreignness," depictions of Chinese people and Chinese culture have been problematic in Hollywood. In fact, even in the 21st Century, people of Asian descent hardly get cast in movies at all. (Source)

    In the 1980s, there were lots of Asian people in films. There were the Shanghai gangsters in Temple of Doom, Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, and Japanese Mr. Miyagi, who can catch flies with chopsticks.

    Racist portrayals? Yes, yes, and yes.

    Gremlins continues the 1980s trend of showing East Asia—China specifically—as being weird, funny, and dangerous. Gremlins illustrates the two main feelings toward China. It's exotic and alluring, but its foreignness is also scary and dangerous. If you look closely enough at Gizmo, can you see a "Made in China" tag sticking out of his butt?

    Questions About Foreignness and the Other

    1. What are people's attitude toward the mogwai when they first see them? How does their attitude change as the mogwai mutate?
    2. Could Gremlins be an allegory for U.S. attitudes toward foreign cultures? If so, is it criticizing the U.S., or is it criticizing those it deems foreigners?
    3. Taking mogwai out of the equation, which people in the movie could be seen as "others"? What are their fates?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Futterman's fear of foreign-made products shows us the general suburban attitude toward foreign goods. They are wary of them, if not downright afraid.

    Gizmo is an illegally imported product, making Gremlins a cautionary tale about the dangers of free trade. (We're joking.) (Or are we?)

  • Violence

    Parents complained so much about violent movies in the 1980s that the PG-13 rating was invented shortly after Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But if these parents still let their children watch Looney Tunes cartoons, then they were being hypocritical.

    Seriously, the last place we'd ever want to be is next to Bugs Bunny. That is one sadistic rabbit.

    The 1943 Bugs Bunny cartoon featuring little devious gremlins—from the same legend that inspired the film Gremlins—features bombs exploding, hard hits from wrenches, and plane crashes. Gremlins almost looks tame by comparison. But the fact that Gremlins uses real people (and a ton of puppets) makes it seem all the more traumatic to those with impressionable minds. Cover your eyes, kiddos.

    Questions About Violence

    1. Is the violence in Gremlins horrific, comedic, or a blend of both?
    2. Why was the violence in this film so shocking back in 1984?
    3. Should the film have received a different rating for violence?

    Chew on This

    The gremlins are violent either to eat or to amuse themselves. Their violence is amoral.

    All humans are killed off-screen. The most graphic violence comes when the gremlins are killed, like when Mom purees one in a blender. Those scenes are intended for comic effect.

  • Change

    Some people are so scared of change, they don't even want to change change. (If you don't get the pun, we're talking about money, guys.)

    We're here to talk about something else that is green like money: Gremlins. They're not nearly as dangerous as money. Have you ever heard someone say gremlins are the root of all evil? Didn't think so.

    The gremlins are scary because they signify things are changing. Gremlins is a movie about fear, and its characters fear many things. They fear foreignness. They fear change. And they fear getting eaten alive by something that starts out cute, then enters a grotesque cocoon and comes out a monster.

    Hmm. That's one time a fear of change is perfectly valid.

    Questions About Change

    1. Is this film an allegory for a fear of change? What might the gremlins stand for that is changing in society at the time?
    2. Other than physical appearance, how are the gremlins different before and after their mutation?
    3. What are the three rules that make a mogwai change? Does Billy ever knowingly break these rules?
    4. Does Gizmo change during the course of the movie?

    Chew on This

    Some people, like Mr. Futterman, believe that their society needs to watch out and actively be against change. Billy doesn't believe this. His carelessness brings about change faster.

    Change is seen as definitively bad in this movie, because the gremlins changing brings nothing good to Kingston Falls.

  • Family

    All families have different holiday traditions. Some families gather around a Christmas tree and pass out presents. Some families light a menorah and eat latkes. Some families put up the Festivus pole and air their grievances.

    There are a few different families portrayed in Gremlins. The Peltzer family's loving, but strained. The Futtermans appears to be a childless old couple. Kate's family was scarred on Christmas and will never be the same again.

    And, if you think about it, the gremlins are the most dysfunctional family at all. Or maybe they're functional. The family that wreaks havoc together, stays together.

    Questions About Family

    1. What is causing strain on the Peltzer family? Does the Gremlin incident help them come together, or does it pull them apart?
    2. Why is Kate's family different than other families on Christmas?
    3. Would you consider the gremlins a family? If so, why is Gizmo an outcast?

    Chew on This

    Gremlins is the best family Christmas movie, because it unites the Peltzer family against a common enemy, instead of watching them fight amongst themselves.

    Not having a family can make a person bitter, or it can make them stronger. Kate's family was devastated by tragedy, but she has a strong will as a result. Mrs. Deagle's husband has died, leaving her alone, and she is bitter and angry about it.