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Film / Gremlins

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For the trope, see Griping About Gremlins.

Gremlins is a 1984 dark comedy/horror film directed by Joe Dante, and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The film kicks off with an inventor, Randall Peltzer, stopping by Chinatown in New York City to pick up a gift for his son, Billy. He ends up getting a mysterious, yet undeniably adorable critter called a mogwai. The creature comes with instructions though, namely:

The little critter, named Gizmo, is gentle and well behaved, but after he accidentally gets splashed with water, more mogwai suddenly are formed, and this new, mean-spirited batch tricks Billy into feeding them after midnight. They all form cocoons, and then turn into ugly, frightening gremlins, who cause havoc and terrorize the town.

Followed by the 1990 sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. This one relocates the main characters to New York City, and features a parody of moguls such as Donald Trump and Ted Turner, as well as references to films like The Wizard of Oz and the Rambo series.

A second sequel is rumored to be planned, read more here.

This movie, combined with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is the reason why the USA PG-13 and UK 12 rating was created.

This film and its sequel provide examples of:

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    Both movies 
  • Adaptational Heroism: Daffy and Lenny, while arguably the least malicious of the known Mogwai, were still antagonistic and ultimately evolved into dangerous Gremlins in the second film. In the Gremlins: Gizmo video game, they are Eternals you can choose to take control of like Gizmo.
  • Alien Blood: The Gremlins bleed (often copious amounts) of green goo, even though the Mogwai bleed red.
  • All There in the Manual: The Novelization has a prologue that explains that Mogwais were genetically engineered by an alien race called the Mogturmen as the perfect companion. However, the vast majority of Mogwais turned out to be dangerous, not to mention the unforeseen Gremlin problem. Gizmo is one of the few Mogwais to turn out right (labelled 'Eternals').
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Emphasis on "chaotic" in the case of any of the Mogwai/Gremlins who aren't Gizmo. Emphasis on "evil" when it comes to Stripe and Mohawk. That said, the other Gremlins do not exactly weep over killed comrades.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Averted. The Gremlins aren't even safe from each other.
  • Artistic License Biology: The twin scientists in the sequel guess that Gizmo is some kind of rodent, yet he lacks the buck teeth that all rodents share; if anything, he looks like a prosimian primate.
    • The Gremlins don't seem to reproduce again until Stripe dips his finger in the fountain, even though he and most of the Gremlins have been walking barefoot through snow to reach the bar and the movie theater.
  • Ascended Extra: Murray Futterman is a relatively minor character in the first film, but has a much bigger part in the second, sneaking into the building the Gremlins are occupying and even pulling a Big Damn Heroes moment to save Billy.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The first Mogwai is bought from a Chinese shop. "Mo-Gwai" is Cantonese for "devil"
  • Celestial Deadline: Mogwai shall not be fed "after midnight", lest they turn into Gremlins. Nothing is said about when you can feed them again. Sunrise, maybe?
    • Lampshaded in the second movie, when the security crew mocks Billy by coming up with various scenarios, such as eating on a plane and passing into another time zone.
  • Clock Discrepancy: One of the rules for handling mogwai was to never NEVER feed them after midnight (as turns out, it turns them into gremlins). One night the mogwai in the box were making noises like they were hungry. The alarm clock says it's about 11:30, so the boy feeds them some leftover chicken. The next day, the boy notices the clock reading the exact same time. Seems the extension cord had been ripped from the plug, the mogwai actually chewed through the electrical cord, so it was after midnight after all.
    • In the sequel, Billy has all the clocks in Clamp Tower set ahead a few hours, to convince the Gremlins the sun has gone down and it's safe to come out.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The Gremlins may well define this trope.
  • Cute Is Evil: The cuteness of the Mogwai/Gremlins blinds people to the fact that they could possibly be dangerous.
  • Explosive Breeder: The mogwai/gremlins
  • The Fair Folk: The novelisations outright state that the Mogwai/Gremlins are their direct inspiration, and they are modelled after a particular fey creature anyways. If you consider the novels' statements about them being aliens to be true, then they also reference the similarities between traditional fairies and the grays.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence / Family-Unfriendly Death: To the point that the graphic content of the first movie (along with another Spielberg production) was used as an indication that a rating between PG and R was necessary.
  • Follow the Leader: There were oodles of gremlins-like creature features in between the two films, including Ghoulies and unfortunately Hobgoblins. (The movie Critters was not following the lead of Gremlins, as it had been in the works before Gremlins went into production.)
  • Genetic Memory: Gremlins, as part of their nature, are born with the capacity to understand the interworkings of machinery and how to sabotage it. As well as an apparently instinctive grasp and love of pop culture.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: In spades; both Gizmo and the Gremlins are huge pop culture junkies. This quality is exaggerated and highlighted in the second film.
  • Green Aesop: "You have done with mogwai what your society has done with all of nature's gift!" Forced as forced can be, as the causes of the whole incident were 1: an innocent accident, 2: Billy having no idea that the mogwai would trick him into feeding them after midnight by sabotaging his clock, and 3: the Mogwai are clearly *not* natural, eventually being revealed as the result of genetic experiments by aliens to create the perfect pets.
    • It can be argued that the real cause of the whole incident was Billy's father going against the Mogwai's original owner and taking it from the place where it was protected and understood, then bringing it into an environment that was both unfamiliar with it and to it, so the Aesop still stands. As for the whole "alien genetic experiment" angle, it's not in the original movies, where the "nature's gift" line was first spoken, so it's more like a case of Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole.
    • The Aesop is also undermined by the man delivering it: if you know anything about Chinese Folk Medicine, then you'll know that the Chinese do more than their fair share of exploiting and harming nature for selfish reasons.
  • Griping About Gremlins
  • I'm Melting!: Prolonged exposure to sunlight causes gremlins to melt. For added points Gremlins 2 has one dressed as a witch recite the trope namer as he melts.
  • It Amused Me: The main motivation behind the Gremlins' actions. They aren't inherently evil; it's just that they are The Unfettered in their pursuit of fun, resulting in it often involving wanton destruction.
  • Jerk Ass: Most gremlins qualify for this, save for Lenny and Daffy, but Stripe and Mohawk especially stand out in the jerk department.
  • Killer Rabbit: The mogwai, save for Gizmo.
    • Gizmo himself qualifies when he models himself after Rambo.
  • Knight of Cerebus: While the Gremlins are played for violent laughs in general, both Stripe and Mohawk are played deadly straight.
  • Laughably Evil: Most gremlins in general. They're both incredibly dangerous and very funny.
  • Lighter and Softer: The first film compared to the original script, where the gremlins usually killed and ate people in exceedingly horrific ways. Also the second film to the first, which set out to be much sillier and slapsticky rendition than the occasionally dark first one (compare Kate's Santa monologue with the way a similar one is treated in the sequel).
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Sunlight kills mogwai and gremlins who are also afraid of bright lights. Water splashed onto either of the two produces more creatures spawned from their backs. Feeding a mogwai after midnight causes it to metamorphosize into a gremlin. This gets played with in the second movie.
  • Metamorphosis Monster: The Mogwai transform if fed after midnight.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: While no one seems to make a big deal out of who kills what gremlin, it always seems to be Gizmo's destiny to be the one to destroy the lead gremlin which seems to be his main rival.
    • For that matter, while some manage to kill at least one gremlin, it always seems to be Billy's plan that exterminates the entire horde of gremlins except the leader.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The fluffy mammal-like Mogwai outside of Gizmo are already depicted as a malicious bunch, but they become an unstoppable horde who create havoc in the town and kill several people only after they're turned into fierce reptilian-esque Gremlins.
  • Restraining Bolt: In the novelization, Stripe tells Gizmo right to his face that he wants to kill him but can't for some reason. Gizmo explains that their alien creators made sure that Mogwai could never kill each other. That Restraining Bolt vanishes after Stripe becomes a Gremlin, since he isn't a Mogwai anymore.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The mogwai, particularly Gizmo. At least before they have an after-midnight snack.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Gizmo goes from harmless furby to sharp-shooting Rambo-clone over the course of the two films.

  • Action Mom: Mrs. Peltzer turns unexpectedly and brilliantly badass when she kills three (pre-gremlin army) gremlins in one scene alone. Her weapons of choice: Blender, kitchen knife, and microwave.
    Mrs Peltzer: Get out of my kitchen!!
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas
  • Artistic License Economics: As soon as Randall Peltzer finds out that Gizmo reproduced upon getting wet, he thinks that selling mogwai could be his big break. Yeeeeeeeeah... because a species that reproduces when exposed to a little water is sure going to stay in demand for awhile.
    • Justified Trope — Rand's frequently shown to be absolutely terrible with money, to the point Billy's the breadwinner for the household.
  • Asshole Victim: Mrs. Deagle was SUCH a bitch, especially in the deleted scenes that reveal she was forcing people out of their homes to put down a strip mall, effectively destroying Kingston Falls.
    • In the novelization, she was selling their land to a chemical company (named "Hitox" of all things), so one can assume she was going to turn the town into a toxic waste dump.
    • Even in the onscreen version, she is a heartless ice-bitch who casually evicts poor widows with children on Christmas Eve, and gleefully threatens to kill helpless little dogs by throwing them in the drying machine.
      • Almost Lampshaded herself after seeing the Gremlins for the first time, convinced "they're" coming for her. Her breakdown into delusional sobbing before she activates her tampered stairlift and her own demise almost makes you feel sorry for her makes you cheer as she literally flies down to Hell where she belongs (the Latin American translation even adds "to go to Hell" to the line below).
      Mrs. Deagle: I'm not ready!!!
    • There's actually a bit cut out of the scene leading up to her death, where she looks at a picture of her dead husband and sighs "Oh, Donald. . ." It was so good they had to cut it out because it made her too sympathetic. And this after she's threatened to put a friendly, cute dog into a spin dryer on high heat!
  • Big Bad: The Stripe Gremlin is the leader.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Billy manages to decapitate a Gremlin choking his mother.
    • Gizmo exposes Stripe to sunlight at the end, just as the gremlin is about to shoot Billy.
  • Black Dude Dies First: He did bring it on himself. High school biology teacher who experiments on weird creatures at night; when has that ever worked out?
  • Bungling Inventor: Rand
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Gremlins have been defeated and everything is safe again, but Gizmo has to go back to Chinatown with Mr.Wing. The sequel has a happier one however.
  • Captain Ersatz: Mrs. Deagle looks and acts a lot like The Wicked Witch of the West and her human counterpart Miss Gulch, right down to threatening the main character's dog.
  • Chekhov's Gun: At the beginning of the movie, the first rule explains that Gizmo's species hates bright lights and that sunlight in particular is lethal to them. At first, this just seemed like a necessary rule to care for Gizmo, but it ends up being the most important weapon in the fight against the gremlins, the former part allowing them to drive them off while Gizmo ends up using the latter half to destroy the gremlin leader.
    • The ornamental swords hanging next to the door (and which keep falling off every time someone comes into the house) are actually pretty deadly when put to good use.
  • Chimney Entry: Kate's father tried to surprise his family this way one Christmas. Unfortunately, he broke his neck and died in the process.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs. Deagle again. She is shown to adore her numerous cats and nurture them in a disturbingly affectionate manner. Not that the heartless old hag showed any of the same kindness to children who can be made homeless by one word from her, mind you. The fact that the cats are all named after various pieces of currency from around the world plainly shows what she REALLY cares about.
  • Creator In-Joke: The working titles for Steven Spielberg's movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were "Watch the Skies" and "A Boy's Life" respectively. Both were referenced as a Creator In-Joke in Gremlins (which Spielberg produced), as two movies reportedly showing in the town theater when Billy walks past it. Also, Rockin' Ricky Rialto's billboard is in the style of Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Darker and Edgier: The first film is definitely this to the Lighter and Softer sequel, having a ton of frightening imagery, making the Gremlins nightmarish demons with a sense of humor that ranges from corny to twisted. Not to mention the death toll by the end of the film.
    • And the original script compared to the first film. The script includes such scenes as the Mogwai eating Barney (before they turn into Gremlins), killing Billy's mom immediately after they turn (and throwing her dismembered head down the stairs just as Billy walks in the front door and thus landing at his feet...imagine that image welcoming you home as you walk unsuspectingly into your house), a McDonald's full of half-eaten burgers (by people) and half-eaten people (by Gremlins). Oh, and Gizmo turned into a Gremlin, indistinguishable from any of the others.
  • Deadline News
  • Destination Defenestration: This is how Mrs. Deagle meets her end, courtesy of the Gremlins.
  • Disney Death: It appears that the Futtermans are crushed and killed by a snowplow-driving gremlin, but at the very end of the movie we hear a news reporter mentioning that he'd just spoken with the lovable old couple, who are still alive and well. Viewers who missed that often mistake their reappearance in the sequel as an Unexplained Recovery (although how they survived the encounter isn't shown, either).
    • The novelization, based on an earlier draft of the script, reveals this to be a last second addition. They're explicitly stated to have died in that version.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Mr. Futterman is put out of a job, and then finds out his beloved Kentucky Harvester has foreign-made parts in it.
  • Eats Babies: In the original script, a scene was planned where Billy and Kate would have come across a McDonald's full of partially devoured people, including many empty baby strollers and a gremlin so bloated from its feast that it had been abandoned by its fellows.
  • Gambling Brawl: A group of Gremlins are playing poker in the bar when one of them tries to cheat. Stripe pulls out a gun and shoots the other Gremlin dead on the spot, which causes the rest of his ilk to burst into laughter.
  • Hero of Another Story: Rockin' Ricky manages to survive a Gremlin assault on his radio station, and is back on the air at the end of the movie. In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line from his survival broadcast, he mentions Marines have arrived to keep the creatures away from his station. Armed with fire hoses.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday
  • Kick the Dog: In the Darker and Edgier original script, the gremlins killed the Peltzers' pet dog, and Billy would have returned home to see his mother's head roll down the stairs.
    • In the final version they just dangle Barney up with Christmas lights, and the mother survives with minor injuries.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The gremlins' murder of Mrs. Deagle.
  • Lighter and Softer: At least, compared to the original script draft.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
  • My Car Hates Me: Played with. In the beginning, Billy's car refuses to start, forcing him to walk to work. In the middle of the Gremlin attack, it actually starts for him, indicating a Gremlin messed with it. But later, when he tries to drive it again, it won't start. Indicating that it got fiddled with again.
    • Or just that it's really unreliable.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Billy unwittingly feeding the mogwai after midnight, though that can be forgiven as they had to trick him into doing it. Also implied near the end of the film where Rockin' Ricky can be overheard on the radio saying that the marines are planning to spray down the Gremlins with firehoses, though the main characters manage to stop them before that ever happens.
  • Nightmare Face: The sight of the gremlin laughing evilly up close facing you after the deputy's car crashes is enough to give anyone a nightmare. Yeah, good luck trying to sleep after seeing this.
  • Nobody Can Die: Sort of Retcon. In the first movie we see Mrs Deagle's body and a number of humans seem to die offscreen. But early in the second movie Kate mentions that fortunately nobody got killed.
    • Deagle might have just been knocked out. But one wonders how the science teacher survived. Maybe Kate was lying.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Played With. While the Gremlins have a lot of screen time in the second half of the film, including a full ten-minute scene of them wreaking havoc in the bar, after the Gremlins first hatch we see almost nothing of them. Only a few hands and arms as they push their way out of their cocoons, scratch Billy's hand, and tear out the phone cable in Billy's house. We get a brief glimpse of a full-body Gremlin as it pops out of a cabinet in the Nurse's office to startle Billy, but through the first third of Lynn Peltzer defending her house from the Gremlins, we only see handprints and a shadow on the wall. Then Lynn comes around the corner into the kitchen, the camera pulls back, and we see the first Gremlin in all its hideous glory. The scene builds tension superbly, letting your mind run away with trying to figure out what these creatures are, and then you finally see one, and it's even more horrific than you were imagining! Part of this is the limitations of the puppets, and Chris Walas always racing to keep up with the film's shooting schedule.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Possibly with Rockin' Ricky Rialto. The gremlins attack him while he's on the air, but he later comes back to the airwaves, apparently none the worse for wear. This could imply that he managed to defeat whatever gremlins attacked the radio station, although the gremlins may also have simply broken off their attack to the movie theater with the others.
  • Off with His Head!: In the Darker and Edgier original script, Billy returned home to see his mother's head rolling down the stairs.
    • In the film itself Billy decapitates a gremlin with a sword and kicks the severed head in the fireplace.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Billy's reaction after the last gremlin, Stripe, jumps into a public swimming pool. Gremlin Army ensues.
    • When he's lying on the ground gasping in pain from Stripe shooting a crossbow bolt into his arm, and then he hears the sound of an electric chainsaw whirring to life.
    • The Gremlin choking Billy's mom, just before Billy chops his head off. "Uh-oh."
    • Really, one after another after another as soon as the Gremlins hatch:
      • Billy when he gets the phone call from Mr. Hanson saying that "it just hatched."
      • Again when he finds Mr. Hanson's dead body.
      • Billy's mom when she hears the Gremlins upstairs, then goes up to Billy's room and sees the hatched cocoons.
      • Billy calling his mom to warn her that "they've hatched, get out of the house!"
      • Billy and his mom as the phone call gets cut off, then "Do You Hear What I Hear" starts playing downstairs.
      • Billy running out of the high school, trying to make it home.
      • Finally, Billy's Mom when she sees the Gremlin eating one of her gingerbread men.
  • Out of Focus: Mrs. Peltzer has one awesome Action Mom scene and then disappears for most of the movie. Possibly because in the original script the gremlins killed her.
    • There was also the mogwai/gremlin (named Earl in the novel) Billy left with a teacher to study. During the test, the teacher took a sample of its blood. Afterwards they made a dramatic scene out of it getting a hold of a sandwich and eating after midnight. After completing its transformation, it took its revenge on the teacher for the blood test before scratching Billy and escaping into the school's ventilation system. It briefly appeared and attacked Billy in the nurse's office before escaping. After that, it disappeared and Billy didn't give it any thought when he went to tracking down Stripe.
  • Police Are Useless: Joe Dante probably defines this trope best in the commentary track: "Whenever you have a sci-fi film, and police, you always have to have a scene with the police, and it's always the same scene." Which ends with the police, still not believing Billy despite seeing Gizmo with their own eyes, leaving to investigate the Futterman's "freak accident" with the snowplow, seeing Mrs. Deagle and a guy playing Santa getting attacked by Gremlins, then getting their brake lines cut and presumably dying in the ensuing car crash.
  • Schmuck Bait: "And the most important rule of all, the one you must never forget: no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never, EVER feed him after midnight."
    • Subverted. Billy takes this rule seriously, even though he doesn't know what exactly is going to happen, and honestly intends to follow it. The evil Mogwai had to trick him into breaking it. To be specific, he thought it was safe to feed them as it wasn't midnight yet. His clock had been tampered with.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Hi, Doctor Moreau."
      • Notably, this isn't the neighbor Billy takes his injured mother to after the Gremlins first hatch (that's Dr. Mollinaro). This is someone Billy sees as he's running down the street to get to work at the bank. Apparently, Dr. Moreau works at the animal clinic. . .
    • When Billy is hunting down Stripe in the department store, he walks past a row of plush dolls. Not only is Stripe hiding amongst them (a direct reference to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) he pushes away an actual doll of E.T. while poking his head out.
    • Robbie the Robot and The Time Machine (1960) appear (or disappear, in the latter's case) in the inventor convention attended by Mr. Peltzer.
    • At Dory's when talking with Billy Gerald orders a martini shaken not stirred.
    • Rockin' Ricky Rialto's billboard is a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with Rialto's name in the same font as Raiders' poster and Rialto's likeness dressed as Indiana Jones.
    • Mr. Wing's son is dressed like Short Round.
    • The gremlin cocoons bear a resemblance to the eggs from Alien.
    • In Billy's bedroom you can see a Twilight Zone: The Movie title marquee in the background. The film featured a segment Joe Dante himself directed: A radically different remake of the episode It's A Good Life.
    • Billy mentions he got a comic book from "Dr. Fantasy's". Dr. Fantasy is the nickname of movie producer Frank Marshall, a regular collaborator with Spielberg.
  • Soft Glass: Combined with Super Window Jump.
  • Technicolor Death: It's not enough for sunlight to just kill Gremlins. It has to melt them alive.
  • Theme Naming: All of Ms. Deagle's cats are named after different currencies: Dollar, Kopeck, Drachma, etc.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Kate's father had to have been a very stupid man. Jumping down your own chimney while overloaded with presents like Santa Claus is only asking for trouble.
  • The Voice: The DJ at the town radio station, "Rockin' Ricky Rialto". Gremlins are heard breaking into his studio, but as noted above he survives.
    Rockin' Ricky: Hey wait a minute, you're not Rockin' Ricky fans!...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Billy's friend Pete is last seen firing his slingshot at a few gremlins. Then later we hear him calling into the radio station trying to give a warning out about them, and then he gets cut off. Pete doesn't appear in the sequel (Corey Feldman was in rehab at the time), nor is he even mentioned.
    • Judge Reinhold's character Gerald is seemingly introduced as an (unsuccessful) rival for Kate's affections, and disappears from the movie after appearing in two scenes. A deleted scene shows that he was hiding out in the bank vault while the Gremlins ran wild, and is losing his sanity.
    • The final fate of the Mogwai/Gremlin that Billy lent to Mr. Hanson is never really explained.
      • He could have joined with the other Gremlins afterwards.
    • The two cops flip their car after a Gremlin cuts their brakes, and don't appear for the rest of the movie. It's unclear whether or not they survived.
    • Mr. Wing's Grandson is never seen again in the movie or mentioned in the sequel. The novelization however explains that he was severely punished by his grandfather for the back alley sale of Gizmo.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Do not feed Mogwai after midnight.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: One particular Mogwai, stated as Earl in official media, is hinted in the film and novel as being one of the few Mogwai blessed with a more docile personality similar to Gizmo, that is until he is taken to the university to be experimented on and then happening on that sandwich, condemning him to become another psychotic Gremlin and suffer the same ill fate as all his other brethren.
  • You Are Not Ready: Although it is hinted that Billy may be one day.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: There are three rules to properly care for Mogwais. Billy goes far enough as to break two of those rules so that the movie can really set in full gear in favor of the Gremlins. However the third rule is used to finally thwart Stripe.

Alternative Title(s): Gremlins Unleashed