Article by: Greg Roberts
Support KR and share this article with your
View Reader Comments
1984 - The Apple MacIntosh computer is introduced. The Space Shuttle
Discovery makes its maiden voyage. British and International recording
artists ban together for Band Aid. Crack, a smokeable form of cocaine is
introduced into the Los Angeles area. And a film by the name of Gremlins
took the country by storm.
Gremlins began as an idea of writer Chris Columbus Ė the same Chris
Columbus that would go on to direct Home Alone and two of the Harry Potter
films. The script was found by Steven Spielberg who immediately fell in love
with the story and purchased the screenplay under his newly formed Amblin
Entertainment production company.
Shopping it as a producer to Warner Bros. studio, Spielberg began
scouting for potential directors to helm the story of cute furry creatures
that spawn evil imps if three simple rules are broken (Donít feed them after
midnight. Donít get them wet. And donít expose them to bright light).
Spielberg originally considered Tim Burton for the directorís chair, but
later opted against him due to his lack of experience. Spielberg would
eventually give directorial duties to Joe Dante who had directed the
werewolf film The Howling in 1981 to which Spielberg has admitted to being a
With a director on board, the focus shifted back to the screenplay that
would go through multiple re-writes before the final shooting script was
approved. In the original script, the Gremlins were more sinister (in one
scene the family dog was killed and in another, the motherís head was cut
off and tossed down the stairs), but Dante, Spielberg and Warner Bros. all
wanted a softer more family oriented movie, so the rough edges of the
Gremlinís characters were trimmed to fit the genre.
With a more family oriented script nailed down, it was time to begin
casting. Phoebe Cates was one of the first cast as Kate Beringer. Phoebe was
known for more risquť type roles in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Private
School, but Spielberg liked her audition and her chemistry with Zach
Galligan who was cast as Billy Peltzer (Both Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez
were early considerations for the role of Billy). Dick Miller, Glynn Turman,
Judge Reinhold (also from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Corey Feldman
(pre-Goonies) were also cast in support of the two leads.
To provide the voice of the cute Mogwai creature named Gizmo, the
producers turned to impressionist Howie Mandel (Deal or No Deal). The voices
for the other Gremlins were all supplied by Michael Winslow (Police
With casting and scripting complete, Gremlins went into production in
late 1983 at the Universal Studioís back lot in California Ė the same lot
that would be used for 1984ís Back to the Future (in fact, the theatre that
blows up in Gremlins is the same theatre that Marty McFly smashes into at
the end of Back to the Future).
Because of the intricacies of the script changes and the expected
maneuverability of the Gremlin and Mogwai creatures, technical delays were
constant and stories began to circulate about the cast falling asleep on set
while awaiting for the Gremlin puppets to work appropriately. Still,
Gremlins finished on time and within budget.
The final product was produced for a total of $11,000,000 (more than the
budget for Steven Spielbergís E.T.), but still relatively cheap for its
time. Gremlins was then released on June 8, 1984 (the same day as Ivan
Reitmanís GhostBusters) after the studio discovered they had no major
release in the summer to combat heavy weights such as Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom. In its first week-end, Gremlins grossed over $12 million
dollars (only $1.1 million less than GhostBusters) and went on to gross over
$150 million in domestic box office receipts.
The story of a boy (Billy) who breaks the three rules concerning his new
pet that unleashes a horde of mischievous monsters in a small town was an
instant success and is now considered an 80ís classic. However, the toned
down violence of the script still didnít sit well with the ratings board and
Gremlins was credited (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) to
have been the source for the creation of the PG-13 rating system by the MPAA.
With such a return on their investment, a sequel was inevitable. But it
took nearly 6 years before Dante, Cates and Galligan would reprise their
roles in the sillier (but potentially better) Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Director Joe Dante would never again see the successes he did with
Gremlins. In the years following he helmed Explorers and Innerspace and
collaborated again with Steven Spielberg in the tragic segment of Twilight
Zone: The Movie that resulted in the loss of actor Victor Morrow.
Writer Chris Columbus continued to churn out screenplays and his scripts
for The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes were both picked up and made into
feature films. In 1987, Columbus tried directing with Adventures in
Babysitting before supplanting himself as a credible director with the box
office hit Home Alone in 1990.
Phoebe Cates showed up in a few films such as Bright Lights, Big City
(1988) before heading back to Gremlins 2: The New Batch in 1990. She married
actor Kevin Kline in 1989 and has only done a few acting jobs since.
Zach Galligan worked in films such as 1988ís Waxwork and Warlock: The
Armageddon (1993), but he too would never find the success and fame that
Gremlins brought to his resume.
Gremlins is thought of fondly by both those that grew up with 80ís films
and by the new younger crowd that can still enjoy the horror and slapstick
of the Gremlins and their mischievous actions. It has become somewhat of a
Christmas classic in many households and has enough hidden jokes and
references (Indiana Jones, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Howling eg.) that
you can pick up something new each screening. A Gremlins 3 has long been
rumored in the Hollywood trades, but nothing in the immediate future is
imminent. Until then, we have this classic to remind us of how good movies
used to be.