You know not to get them wet, expose them to bright light, or feed them after midnight. But here are 21 things you might not know about Joe Dante’s creature-filled dark comedy classic, which turns 30 years old today.
1. ITS UNEXPECTEDLY DARK THEMES ARE PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CREATION OF THE PG-13 RATING.
Truth be told, it’s Steven Spielberg who is really responsible for the introduction of the PG-13 rating. Both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which he directed, and Gremlins, which he executive produced, were rated PG upon their release, and subsequently criticized for not being kid-appropriate. To avoid being slapped with an R rating in the future, Spielberg suggested that the MPAA add a rating between PG and R. On August 10, 1984, Red Dawn became the first movie to be released with the new PG-13 rating.
2. BUT GREMLINS COULD HAVE BEEN A WHOLE LOT DARKER.
The original Gremlins script, written by Chris Columbus, was much, much darker. Case in point: Earlier scenes included the Gremlins eating Billy’s dog then decapitating his mom and throwing her head down the stairs. Spielberg, director Joe Dante, and Warner Bros. were all in agreement that they should tone down the gore in order to make the movie more family-friendly.
3. CHRIS COLUMBUS DIDN’T WRITE GREMLINS WITH THE IDEA THAT IT WOULD ACTUALLY BE MADE.
He wrote it as a spec script and writing sample. It found its way into the hands of Spielberg, who explained that, “It's one of the most original things I've come across in many years, which is why I bought it.”
4. THE GREMLINS WERE INSPIRED BY MICE THAT INHABITED COLUMBUS’ APARTMENT.
“By day, it was pleasant enough,” Columbus noted of the Manhattan loft that he lived in while attending film school at NYU. “But at night, what sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy.” Those mice inspired the Gremlins.
5. THE SCRIPT DOESN’T INCLUDE MUCH GREMLIN DIALOGUE.
Much of the chatter spoken by Gizmo and the Gremlins is ad libbed, or in reaction to whatever is happening in the scene. Keeping the dialogue loose also allowed the filmmakers to localize the dialogue for the film’s various international markets.
6. HOWIE MANDEL IS THE VOICE OF GIZMO.
It was the suggestion of voice actor Frank Welker, who voiced Stripe in Gremlins (and Fred on Scooby-Doo before that), that Howie Mandel be hired for the role.
7. BUT MANDEL DIDN’T SING “GIZMO’S SONG.”
The song was written by Jerry Goldsmith, who hired a 13-year-old girl who was a member of his synagogue to sing it for the film.
8. MICHAEL WINSLOW HELPED TO VOICE THE GREMLINS.
Yes, this is the same Michael Winslow who is better known as “the guy who makes all those funny noises in the Police Academy film series."
9. TIM BURTON WAS IN CONTENTION TO DIRECT IT.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Burton after the success of his short film, Frankenweenie—so much so that Spielberg considered him to direct Gremlins. But the fact that Burton had yet to direct a feature film worked against him, and the gig was given to Joe Dante. A year later, Burton released his first theatrical feature, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
10. SECURITY WAS TIGHT WITH THE GREMLINS.
Because there was no CGI at the time of Gremlins, the creatures were animatronic puppets, each of which took a major chunk out of the film’s budget. Zach Galligan revealed that when leaving the set each night, security personnel asked the cast and crew to open the trunks of their cars to ensure that they hadn’t stolen any of the props.
11. BALLOONS CAME IN HANDY.
Creature creator Chris Walas used balloons in an innovative fashion: they were the secret VFX ingredient when the new Mogwai popped out of Gizmo’s body, and he used a balloon again to explode the Gremlin in the microwave.
12. PHOEBE CATES WAS A CONTROVERSIAL CASTING CHOICE.
Given her sweet demeanor as Kate, it’s hard to imagine that not everyone was on board with casting Cates. But her infamous topless scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High gave the studio pause about putting her in the lead.
13. CATES’ CHEMISTRY WITH ZACH GALLIGAN WAS WHAT GOT HIM THE ROLE.
Though there were better-known actors like Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson in contention for the role of Billy, Spielberg cast his vote for Galligan, based on the chemistry he and Cates displayed during auditions.
14. IT’S THE FIRST FILM TO FEATURE THE NOW-ICONIC AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT LOGO.
By now, Spielberg’s E.T.-themed logo for Amblin Entertainment is familiar to all moviegoers. But Gremlins marked its first on-screen appearance.
15. KINGSTON FALLS AND HILL VALLEY ARE ONE AND THE SAME.
If the fictional town of Kingston Falls in Gremlins looks familiar, that’s because it was filmed on the same set used for the town of Hill Valley in Back to the Future, released a year later.
16. THE FILM WAS ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED FOR A CHRISTMAS RELEASE.
Offbeat as it may be, Gremlins is definitely a Christmas movie, and as such had been planned for release during the Christmas season. But when Warner Bros. realized it didn’t have a "summer movie" to put up against Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Ghostbusters, it moved up the release date. The film performed well and ended up being the fourth highest-grossing film of 1984, behind Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
17. KATE’S STORY ABOUT HER FATHER’S DEATH WAS A POLARIZING SCENE.
As a nod to the popular urban legend, Kate tells the story about how her father died while dressed up as Santa Claus and climbing down the chimney. When the rough cut was complete, both Spielberg and the Warner Bros. executives wanted it cut, as it wasn’t clear whether it was meant to be sad or funny. Dante insisted that that’s what made it a perfect metaphor for the film itself, and insisted it be kept in. In Roger Ebert’s three-star review of the film, he singled out this scene in particular, citing her story as being “in the great tradition of 1950s sick jokes.”
18. BILLY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE HERO.
At the end of the film, Gizmo saves the day by pulling up a window blind and exposing Stripe to sunlight. Originally, Gizmo lifted the first blind, followed by Billy. Spielberg suggested the scene be edited so that it was clear that it’s Gizmo, not Billy, who is the movie’s hero.
19. GIZMO AND STRIPE WERE THE SAME CREATURE AT ONE TIME.
It was also at Spielberg’s suggestion that Gizmo’s role in the film grew. Originally, it’s the cute little Mogwai pet himself who transforms into Stripe the Gremlin. But Spielberg knew that audiences would want to see as much of Gizmo as possible, so he withdrew the idea so that they would appear as totally separate characters.
20. THE GREMLINS MAY RISE AGAIN.
Though Gremlins did spawn a sequel (1990's Gremlins II: The Next Batch), there’s been much talk in recent years about a reboot of the original. In April 2014, Ain’t It Cool News reported that Warner Bros. had placed the film on the remake fast track.
21. BUT CHRIS COLUMBUS, FOR ONE, DOESN’T SEE HOW A REBOOT WILL WORK.
In a 2012 interview with Screen Rant, Columbus noted: “I think it’s impossible to re-create [Gremlins] in a CGI environment. I think it will inevitably lose some of its charm. Those are edgy Muppets in a sense and you don’t want to lose that sense of anarchy that those gremlins had, because behind the scenes are 25 puppeteers making them to come to life.”