Before he directed the first two Harry Potter films (or, if you prefer, Pixels), Chris Columbus first came to Hollywood’s attention as a script writer. Undoubtedly, his greatest success as a scribe was Gremlins, Joe Dante’s 1984 dark comedy that was one of the weirdest family films ever made, thanks to its over-the-top violence and unrelentingly mean-spirited nature. In honor of Columbus’ 57th birthday, we thought we’d take a look back at Gremlins and provide you with some insight into aspects of the film that you may not be aware of. Unlike caring for Mogwai, there are no rules for this list. Let’s begin!
The movie spawned a would-be dance hit.
In 1983, Michael Sembello had a huge hit with “Maniac” from Flashdance. Hoping to recapture sweaty, headbanded lightning in a bottle once more, the film’s producers enlisted Sembello to record the above single, “Gremlins… Mega Madness,” for the soundtrack. (It can be briefly heard during the sequence in the movie when the Gremlins take over Dorry’s Tavern). Unfortunately, the track failed to chart, proving yet again that America was not ready for monster puppet-inspired aerobics. Bummer.
The movie’s novelization is absolutely insane.
Movie novelizations are usually pretty strange things because they are either based on script elements that change before the film hits theaters (resulting in deleted scenes and/or discarded plot elements making their way into the book) or the subject to the author’s creative whimsy. When it came time to bring Gremlins to the printed page, author George Gipe — who also wrote the novelization to Back to the Future and Joe Dante’s Explorers — invented an elaborate, and kinda bonkers, backstory for the Mogwai claiming that they were created by a powerful being known as Mogturmen from the planet Enz, and sent to every inhabitable body to “inspire alien beings with their peaceful spirit and intelligence, and to instruct them in the ways of living without violence and possible extinction.” You can find a complete breakdown of the book’s profound brilliance and/or insanity here, but don’t blame me if you never look at the movie the same way again.
The Gremlins merchandising machine made it all the way to the cereal aisle.
INSERT JOKE ABOUT NOT EATING THIS AFTER MIDNIGHT HERE. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, it is important to note that Ralston’s short-lived Gremlins cereal was a tasty affair that was representative of the seemingly endless desire by consumers for breakfast foodstuffs based on pop culture in the 1980s — a trend that also brought us cereals based on Mr. T, C-3PO, E.T., Pac-Man (whose commercial features a young Christian Bale), G.I. Joe, and Nintendo. While none of these exist today, there is some comfort to be found in the fact that you can walk into a supermarket right now and buy cereals promoting Star Wars and The Avengers. Truly, we live in the best of all possible worlds. And speaking of Gremlins merchandising…
A pilot for a cartoon spin-off was made, but never aired.
In this age when seemingly everything is available to watch on demand in an instant, it is beyond frustrating when certain media seems to be lost to the mists of time. Such is the case with Gizmo and the Gremlins. This pilot for a potential ongoing series — which would have seen the cute Mogwai fighting Stripe and his cronies on a weekly basis — never aired, and may not ever have been completed. What we do know is that the toon would have reached the airwaves around the same time as Tiny Toon Adventures and Batman: The Animated Series, and that Quincy Jones’ name was bandied about to create a theme song. Other than that, the project remains an absolute mystery… as does a companion show based on the Griswolds from the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies that was also proposed at the same time.
The film was used as the basis for an anti-drinking and driving public service announcement.
This actually makes a great deal of sense, given how the Gremlins were throwing them back at Dorry’s tavern. In a nice touch, Keye Luke reprises his role as Mr. Wing in the spot, which, unbelievably enough, isn’t even the strangest anti-drinking and driving PSA based on a movie. That honor goes to this Star Wars commercial set in the Creature Cantina. Wow.
Chris Columbus’ original screenplay was much darker than what wound up on screen.
One of the most enjoyable things about Gremlins is how it mixes cuteness and smart humor with vicious moments that grab the attention of unsuspecting viewers. Its moments of violence — such as the killing of a Gremlin via microwave or the airborne death of Mrs. Deagle — remain a crucial part of the film’s enduring popularity. But Chris Columbus’ original vision for the film was originally more akin to a traditional horror movie than the (mostly) family-friendly effort we came to know and love.
Columbus’ early drafts for the movie (one of which can be read here, and a detailed breakdown of another can be found here) transport you to a parallel universe where Billy’s mom is killed by the monsters, and everyone else in Kingston Fall generally has a much tougher time of things. There’s also a rather infamous scene in which the Gremlins have eaten all of the customers at a local McDonald’s, but left the food untouched. Despite rumors to the contrary, the scene was never filmed. Those still seeking a scarier take on the movie are encouraged to seek out any of the entries in the Ghoulies or Critters franchises.
The film’s violence helped usher in the PG-13 rating.
Between Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the summer of 1984 was heavy with kid-friendly movies that featured intense or scary moments. Thus, before you can say “monkey brains,” the growing outrage by parents about the ratings of these films, despite their at times graphic content, resulted in the birth of PG-13. Sure, some kids may have had fleeting nightmares, but that’s a small price to pay for a new rating that brought some edge to the cinema. Wouldn’t you agree?
The original idea for Gremlins 2 came from Monty Python’s Terry Jones.
What makes Gremlins 2: The New Batch one of the more memorable sequels of the past three decades is how different it is to its predecessor. Very self-aware and full of meta-humor at a time when such a thing was rarely used in popular entertainment, the film joyfully skewers the first Gremlins every chance that it gets. Although he wasn’t credited on-screen, Monty Python’s Terry Jones was integral in helping bring Gremlins 2 to life because it was his idea to set the sequel in New York (with the mutated Mogwai’s rampage going throughout the Big Apple, including a sequence in which they destroy the Empire State Building).
The Gremlins reboot remains in development hell.
Sure, there will eventually be another Gremlins flick. Whether or not this is a good idea remains to be seen. So, for now, at least we have fan films like the one featured above to remind us of how much fun these mischief makers can be.