When you think of the movies we watched while growing up in the 1980s I guarantee that Gremlins was one of the first titles that came to mind. While we all know the three rules for looking after your mogwai, there are a lot of things you probably don't know about this beloved 80s classic.
1) It was set during Christmas for a reason
Like Die Hard, Gremlins is one of those movies that shouldn't be a Christmas movie, but totally is, and not just because it's set at Christmas. While the Christmas setting may seem odd for a movie that was released in June, there was a very good reason for that: it was supposed to be released during Christmas. While Warner Bros. had planned on a December release date, they quickly realized they didn't have any summer movies that could compete with Paramount's offerings of Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so they bumped up Gremlins release date. Considering it went on to become the fourth highest grossing movie of the year, their last minute switch clearly worked out in their favor.
2) Gremlins is why we have the PG-13 rating
Okay, so it's not the only reason, but it is partly responsible. Before the MPAA came up with the PG-13 rating, the only options for anything that wasn't 100% kid friendly or about to be banned from theaters were either PG or R, which seems a little extreme. But all that changed in the summer of 1984, thanks to Steven Spielberg. Both Temple of Doom and Gremlins raised a fair amount of controversy thanks to parents who felt both films required something more than a PG rating. Though the MPAA pushed back at first, they eventually caved to the demands of the film industry - including Spielberg himself - and added the PG-13 rating to make it clear when films were more geared towards older teens.
3) It was actually meant to be much, much darker
While it may have deserved a rating higher than PG, if director Joe Dante had followed the original Chris Columbus script it could have easily gotten an R rating. Take for example the death of Mr Hanson: in the film, he's found under his desk with a syringe sticking out of his butt, but originally, he was meant to be found with his face covered in needles. And it only gets crazier from there.
Billy's dog Barney gets killed and eaten by the gremlins, Billy has his mom's decapitated head thrown at him, Pete Fountaine gets his throat ripped out, and a McDonald's full of customers basically turns into a bloodbath. Kate's story about her father's death is actually one part of the original script that didn't get cut, though the studio certainly tried. Spielberg also didn't want it in the movie, but Joe Dante argued that it fit the idea of the film perfectly, since no one knew whether they were supposed to laugh or be horrified.
4) Kingston Falls probably looks very familiar
The town where Gremlins is set, Kingston Falls, is clearly meant to be your typical idyllic small town, like so many found all across America; but that's not why it seems so familiar. The sets they used for the town are the exact same sets that would be used a year later for Hill Valley in Back to the Future. When you see pictures of the two side by side, the only real difference is that the town besieged by gremlins has a lot more snow.
5) Gizmo and the gremlins weren't really scripted
All the noises, words, and chattering that Gizmo and the gremlins do were almost entirely ad libbed while recording the voiceovers. This actually helped the film when it was released internationally; when recording Gizmo's voice they recorded his lines phonetically, which made it easier to "localize" the movie for different markets. Fun fact, Gizmo was actually voiced by none other than Howie Mandel, though he didn't do the singing for Gizmo's song; that was instead done by a 13 year old girl that the songwriter knew.
Find out why they had some hardcore security restrictions on set and more Gremlins facts on the next page
6) They had super high security on set
Security guards searched everyone in the cast and crew, plus their cars, before they were allowed to leave for the day. The reason for this was simple: they didn't want anyone stealing the animatronic gremlins or Gizmo. Each puppet cost between $30,000-$40,000 each, so obviously the studio wasn't interested in having any of them walk away.
Despite their crazy high cost, the Gizmo puppets were notoriously difficult to work with and broke down frequently. The scene where the gremlins use Gizmo as dart target practice was added to basically allow the crew to work off some of their frustration.
7) Using animatronics was the lesser of several evils
Considering the price tag on those animatronic puppets, it's not surprising that it wasn't their first choice for how to bring Gizmo to life. Initially they were planning on using stop motion animation, but they quickly realized that would be too time-consuming to film. Next, someone suggested they use monkeys in costumes. They tried it out, but apparently when they put the gremlin head on the monkey, it flipped out and ended up running around the editing room pooping on everything out of fear.
8) It almost had a different director
Steven Spielberg picked director Joe Dante thanks to his habit of making horror films with a sense of humor, like 1978's Piranha, and probably the greatest werewolf movie ever made, The Howling. But Dante wasn't the only option. Thanks to the success of his short film Frankenweenie, Spielberg had considered picking Tim Burton for the job. Spielberg ended up deciding against going with Burton because he hadn't actually directed a feature-length film at that point.
It wasn't just the directing job that almost went to someone else. The studio wasn't sold on Phoebe Cates playing Kate because she was best known for her topless scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson were both considered for the role of Billy, but Zach Galligan won over Steven Spielberg thanks to his chemistry with Phoebe Cates. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing those characters!
9) Gremlins marked an important first for Steven Spielberg
In 1981 Steven Spielberg teamed up with producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall to create the Amblin Entertainment production company. Amblin Entertainment would go on to produce just about every movie we loved growing up: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time are just a few of the movies Amblin's produced over the years. Gremlins, however, was the first time Amblin's now iconic logo featuring E.T. and Elliott appeared in one of their movies.
10) One scene is Zach Galligan and Joe Dante's tribute to a surprising movie
The scene in the department store where Stripe attacks Billy with a chainsaw wasn't originally in the script. Zach Galligan and Joe Dante came up with the idea and added to the movie as a tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Reading all these facts makes me want to watch Gremlins again!