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"There's something... on the wing of the plane!"
Bob Wilson, and millions of William Shatner impressions.
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Gremlins are mythical little creatures who are said to live solely to infest mankind's machinery and tear it apart, either just to be mischievous (or downright evil), or in an insanely curious attempt to figure out how various devices work. Especially found around airfields or on airplanes, as they originated as a story told by British pilots starting in roughly the 1920s to explain various mechanical failures on their planes (and, rarely, to explain inexplicable lack of failure). They only began to penetrate mainstream culture during World War II; see below under Literature. Although the name may have been derived from an Olde English word, gremian, which means "to vex", this obviously makes them Newer Than They Think.

One possible precursor of the gremlin is the "sea gobelin", a solitary goblin from the Age of Sail Nautical Folklore. The gobelin would set up shop on a ship, start tangling ropes, scaring seamen and stealing their stuff. Of course, the folklore gobelin was usually used by less-than-innocent sailors as a scapegoat for their misgivings. This is a subtrope to Peeve Goblins and Our Goblins Are Different.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Humanoid Monster Bem: Impu, the gremlin from the hospital Impu, the gremlin from the hospital.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima! when shadow-demon summons comes to Mahora, Nanaka Earhart from aviation club calls them gremlins.
  • Pokémon: In "Throwing in the Noctowl", Ash, Misty and Brock meet an old pilot named Wings Alexander, who agrees to give them a ride back to Olivine City. Unfortunately, the plane is as old as Alexander and his Noctowl and during the flight Ash and his friends (along with a stowaway Team Rocket) must work together to help Alexander navigate through a treacherous storm and keep the plane from falling apart. Meowth spots a familiar shape on the plane's wing and it turns out to be Jigglypuff! She then starts to sing, not only making everyone fall asleep once again, but also causing the plane to take a violent dive. But just as she prepares to draw on everyone's faces, she is swept off the plane by a strong gust of wind. Everybody then immediately wakes up and the plane is set back in gear just in time.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, one was used to sabotage a plane the main characters were using to travel to China.
  • Ushio and Tora: The youkai Fusuma has many things in common with the western gremlin, being a greenish, sky-bound monster who hunts planes and wrecks them apart to feed on the passengers. However, he differs physically by being huge, capable to extend his limbs and fingers to wrap them around planes and having one heck of a Nightmare Face always on. He's weak to fire and ultimately burned to death after being hit by a missile.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Originally, the game had all of two Gremlins, discounting the every-creature-at-once Changelings of Lorwyn, both associated with Phyrexia: the really old Phyrexian Gremlins, whose artifact-disabling ability fits the trope but is no longer considered something Black can do, and the significantly less old Flensermite, which does nothing related to artifacts at all and instead ties in to New Phyrexia's poison theme.
    • Later, the Kaladesh block introduced a number of red-aligned gremlins, which more or less fill the niche usually occupied by goblins. Kaladeshi gremlins are a non-sapient race, resembling six-legged aardvarks with blue-tipped snouts, and feed off aether, digesting it and releasing it back into the environment. Since aether fuels most of the complex technology of Kaladesh and since gremlins are quite happy to use their acidic saliva to dissolve whatever's between them and their lunch, this has not made the locals very fond of them. Mechanically, they tend to have artifact-destruction abilities or be empowered by energy counters.
    • Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths cemented the shift of gremlins to being a red-aligned, rather than black-aligned creature, with Blisterspit Gremlin. It's associated with instants and sorceries, rather than any of the above themes, fitting into a few different themes in the Ikoria set.

    Comic Books 
  • Wynonna Earp: In Home on the Strange, the Cowboys send a pack of hillbilly gremlins to kill Wynonna by sabotaging her plane while it is in flight. Wynonna and Smitty escape by co-opting one of the gremlins and forcing him to use his ability to teleport to get them off the plane.
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    Fanfic 
  • The Great Alicorn Hunt: Malfunziona (Italian for "it malfunctions") is essentially a merger of a gremlin and a draconeqeus, especially since his power is to make technology go haywire.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cast a Deadly Spell: During his investigation, Lovecraft discovers gremlins infesting a car. A man tells him that they were brought back from the Pacific theater by the U.S. military during World War II.
  • Gremlins is the most known movie, despite being unrelated to planes or machinery in general — here, gremlins are short, reptilian and large-eared humanoids who delight in cruelty and mayhem in general, often the sort that involves tormenting or killing people.
    • Gremlins originate as furry, stocky creatures called mogwai, which while outwardly adorable are just as wicked and destructive as gremlins are. When fed after midnight, mogwai spin themselves into cocoons and emerge as gremlins a short while later; both mogwai and gremlins also reproduce through explosive budding when wet, spawning new members of their kind from their backs, and are destroyed by sunlight.
    • Gremlins 2: The New Batch features a number of gremlins who are turned into chimeric creatures after drinking "genetic samples" from a biotechnology lab; one becomes a Plant Person gremlin covered in fruits and leaves, another's lower body turns into a spider's abdomen and legs, one sprouts bat wings, one turns into a human-like female and another develops super-intelligence (while still retaining a gremlin's destructive maliciousness).
  • Star Wars: The "buzz droids" from Revenge of the Sith are heavily inspired by gremlins. They are tiny robots that infest starfighters and tear them apart in mid-flight.
  • Twilight Zone: The Movie included a remake of the classic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" listed below under Live-Action TV, with John Lithgow in the lead (human) role.

    Jokes 
  • In a Russian joke about gremlins, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill are flying on a plane. Suddenly, a gremlin is spotted sawing the plane's wing with a saw. Churchill asks the gremlin to leave them alone and promises him land and peerage; the gremlin ignores him. Roosevelt does the same and offers the gremlin a billion dollars. The gremlin ignores him, too. Stalin says: "You're good with a saw! You'll make a fine kolkhoznik!". The gremlin flees as fast as he can.

    Literature 
  • Bailey School Kids: One story features a gremlin who ruins technology around the school.
  • City of Devils: Gremlins show up as one of the many creatures in the Monster Mash They appear to be highly reminiscent of the film version, and are generally named for the shock of white hair on their bodies. One has giant white eyebrows (Brows), and the other has massive muttonchop sideburns (Chops). As a race, they're obsessed with candy, clever (if weird) inventors, and allergic to sunlight.
  • La Grande Encyclopédie des lutins, by Pierre Dubois, is a whimsical catalogue of fey creatures, in which gremlins are described as spirits of technology. They are mostly benevolent (most of "human" inventions were actually gifts from gremlins) but can turn vicious if enraged. The gremlin on the illustration has the form of a tiny, anthropomorphic wrench wearing jeans and a safety helmet, but they can assume any form, including an oil slick, a patch of rust, or even a computer virus. They also like popcorn and video games, which makes them true oddballs among the usually conservative and nature-loving fey.
  • The Gremlins was Roald Dahl's first children's book, written for Disney to tie in with a movie that was never made. The characters in it, though, would go on to appear in Epic Mickey. The book was the first appearance of Gremlins outside of the Royal Air Force, making this the Trope Maker.
  • Griezelklas: Gremlins appear in one of the books by Tais Teng. They're small, cuddly mammals who turn into vicious reptiles if water is sprayed on them. Contrary to how they're portrayed in the Gremlins films, the transformation can be reversed by getting them dry again—Meral scares them away with a blowdryer. They're also much more intelligent, being capable of articulated speech.
  • The Gypsies in the Wood: Construction of a faerie-themed amusement park (inspired by the artwork of an artist who was abducted by The Fair Folk as a child) is plagued by numerous problems, which rumor attributes to an infestation of goblins. The problems frequently involve malfunctions in the park's equipment or electrical systems.
  • Mercy Thompson: Zee calls himself a gremlin, though Mercy points out that Zee is hundreds if not thousands of years old while the term only dates back to the early 20th Century. He normally does a good job of looking the part, resembling a small, grey skinned old man. His true form does not resemble a gremlin at all, though.
  • The Mote in God's Eye features a sort of space gremlin, which humans encounter while visiting a distant planet. These gremlins are actually known for fixing things (including tech they've just recently encountered), and if you leave some food lying around they'll eat it and then fix anything in the vicinity that seems broken. Unfortunately, this leads to the entire ship getting infested with gremlins, at which point the gremlins suddenly decide that they'd rather run the whole place themselves without those pesky humans...
  • Myth: Gremlins are one of the many "Demon" (dimension-traveling) races. Aahz the Pervect does not believe they exist until he meets one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Charmed (1998), Page befriends some Gremlins that help her fight the bad guys in one episode. She rewards them with leaving them in a junk yard where they can destroy whatever they want.
  • Dead Like Me has "gravelings" that look like invisible goblins and work to set up Rube Goldberg-esque accidents for those fated to die that way. The second season suggests they're produced when a Reaper kills someone who wasn't on their list.
  • Monster Warriors: In "Invasion of the Computer Bugs", computers in Capital City are infiltrated by gremlin-like computer bugs that wreak havoc with the city's infrastructure.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch - the Spellmans discover a gremlin in the dryer who appears to be made of lint. The fun starts when a repairman sets it free just as Sabrina has a friend staying the night.
  • Seven Days has Parker bring a gremlin with him during a jump. The jump turns out to be a failure. Repeating it correctly is a problem because the gremlin keeps messing with the time flow.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) gives us the Trope Codifier in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", where an airplane passenger played by William Shatner sees a gremlin tearing up the wing, but can't get anyone else to see the gremlin or believe him.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Personal Demons", Rockne O'Bannon sees strange, hooded creatures all around him but can't convince his agent Brian, his friend Herman Gold or anyone else of their existence because they're Invisible to Normals.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Various sorts of gremlins appear, and are usually portrayed as related to goblins and/or evil fey.
    • Gremlins exist in the Basic/Expert/etc. version of the D&D rules, in which they radiate an aura of "Murphy's Law", causing all manner of minor mishaps to occur around them. They appear prominently in "Top Ballista", in which skygnomes deflect their attentions from their Magitek airplanes by leaving complicated-looking, useless machines around to distract the pesky creatures.
    • Dragon magazine #79 had an article on gremlins. While some gremlins were observing a nuclear test in our real world they were sent through an energy rift to the AD&D world.
    • In AD&D and 3rd Edition, gremlins were called jermlaine, and were noted for having a sweet tooth, a fondness for cruel pranks, and a connection to rats. They're also known as jinxkin, hence the jinkin gremlins in Pathfinder.
  • Exalted: Gremlins are Autochthonian machine spirits who have gone rogue as a manifestation of Autochthon's disease, an effect known as Gremlin Syndrome. They tend to work to destroy both Autochthon himself and the humans who inhabit him, and since the latter are a lot more fragile, they tend to leave behind casualties. Killing them is a major part of the duties of the Alchemical Exalted. The problem is that Alchemicals are not immune to Gremlin Syndrome themselves. That tends to end messily for everyone concerned.
  • d20 Modern: Gremlins are in the splatbook Menace Manual. Their entry notes that they visit planes on the ground, do their dirty work and then hitch a ride to see them fall from the sky.
  • Gurps: Presented as a species of The Fair Folk in GURPS Faerie.
  • Pathfinder: Gremlins are an evil, ugly, and small sub-type of fey who live to spread discord and mischief, usually through sabotage and dangerous pranks. Since all fey are supposed to represent some aspect of the natural world, gremlins are sometimes described as embodying nature's drive towards entropy and ordered systems breaking down.
    • The jinkin gremlin strongly resembles those in Gremlins; the insectoid vexgits are the sort that love (to take apart) machines; the dog-headed pugwampi (who are quite possibly the most hated Tiny fey creatures in existence) have an aura duplicating the classic things-go-wrong ability of the classic gremlin; erinats, resembling rag-clothed children with pointy ears and yellow eyes, are social saboteurs that delight in sowing discord and causing fights.
    • Other types are pulled from various stories across the world, like the fungus-like nunos (from the Philippines), which are actually fairly passive and will only harm you if you disturb their anthills; the marine hanivers (based on the Jenny Haniver); the hobkins (based on the Hopkinsville Goblins), which are especially fond of tricking people into breaking their own things; and monaciellos (from Italian folklore), stout and red-skinned gremlins who delight in tormenting the scholarly and pious.
    • There are also mites, the degenerate descendants of gremlins, who are bigger, uglier, and trade the ability to sabotage with empathy for giant insects and arachnids. Normal gremlins loathe them.
    • Bulabars are bipedal beetle-like fey with a complex relationship with gremlins. They embody the evolution of tool use in nature, and love to invent, fix and improve machines — unsurprisingly, they hate gremlins, and especially vexgits. Their shared insectoid appearance, Tiny size, particularly vehement hatred of the other fey and the bulabars' own ability to break objects with a touch has fueled speculations that bulabars and gremlins are closely related. Bulabars... don't appreciate this idea.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has Glitchlings, minor Daemons of Nurgle that often appear on starships infected with the Gellerpox. They're similar to the more widespread Nurglings, but whereas they spread disease amongst mortal beings, Glitchlings instead rust and disrupt machinery.

    Video Games 
  • Attack of the Mutant Penguins: Gremlins actually help build machines rather than cause them to break down. They are also necessary for opening treasure chests; the more gremlins working on a chest, the sooner it will burst open.
  • In Disgaea, the second variation of the winged demons are called gremlins.
  • Dwarf Fortress's gremlins like to sneak into your fortress from the caverns below, pulling levers, opening cages, and messing with various other machinery as they go, and running away once spotted. The popular way to get rid of them is to set up some Schmuck Bait in the caverns to make them Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Epic Mickey has Gus the Gremlin and his friends. In a bit of Irony, both the original and the second game give you at least one quest where you can break something a gremlin made.
  • Grim Fandango: You encounter some gremlins in Year 4. They service the gondolas that lead up the mountain to the gate of the Ninth Underworld, and hold Glottis in high esteem. Coincidentally, they look and sound a lot like minions. They also reveal that Glottis is the exact same species as them, only much bigger for some reason.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic 3 had Gremlins as recruitable units, in a technomagical city of Tower. Average unit, but upgraded Gremlins were one of the few first tier units with ranged attack. They return in V. In the vanilla game their upgrade, the Master Gremlin, can repair friendly mechanical units (like golems) and war machines. In Tribes of the East, their alternate upgrade the Gremlin Saboteur is closer to the classic depiction of gremlins since it has the ability to shut down enemy mechanical units and war machines.
  • Pokémon Diamond and Pearl: Rotom is an Electric/Ghost-type Pokémon that can possess electronics, and its name even comes from the word "motor" spelled backwards.
  • Space Colony has gremlins as a type of alien that leap into base equipment and leave it inoperable until repaired.
  • Spiral Knights has Gremlins as a monster type. They originally were just the "insanely curious" type, but the players stepping into their territory prompted Project Roarmulus, a superweapon to be used to destroy Haven. Gremlins actually have some form of hierarchy, but you never see it in game. note 
  • Tales of Phantasia: Gremlin appears as a summon spirit found in the Bonus Dungeon. When summoned, he and his friends bite on every enemy on-screen for over 6000 damage.
  • Ultima: Gremlins are small, pesky little creatures that move very fast and steal your food upon contact. Since they do no physical damage, one might consider them a minor nuisance — except that one tends to starve to death very rapidly in these games.
  • Zool: The eponymous character is a Ninja Gremlin from the Nth dimension.

    Web Original 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd often butts heads with the Game Graphic Glitch Gremlin.
  • CollegeHumor: There's a sketch called "I Swear I Didn't Wreck the Bathroom" that involves one of these. Zac goes into the bathroom to wash his hands, and hears some strange noises coming from inside one of the stalls. He is concerned, because he's worried that one of his coworkers is sick or something, and opens the stall only to find...a goblin spraying its poop all over the stall, intending to blame it on Zac. Sure enough, Zac's coworkers come in and start berating him for the mess and the smell, though he tries to convince them it was the goblin. Long story short, he gets fired, as this sketch marks his leaving of CollegeHumor. (Voluntarily.)
  • In one of Krissy Vaine's columns on Diva Dirt, she compares Depression to a gremlin disrupting the way the human mind works.
  • Mortasheen:
    • The Dingnuts are creatures resembling malformed monkeys with mechanical clamps for hands, and while normally helpful mechanical monsters, feral colonies often do imitate the behavior of gremlins, and are especially prone to sabotaging military aircraft. Tame and feral dingnuts don't mind each other — if anything, each group gives the other more work to enjoy.
    • Hobkins, based on the Hobkinsville goblins, are peculiar and uncommunicative alien creatures that compulsively pick apart and disassemble any small object that can get their hands on, both mechanical and organic, and then either reassemble it in working order (and seamlessly restoring it to life if it was a living thing to start with) or rearranging its parts in abstract patterns of unknown purpose or meaning.
  • In The Questport Chronicles, dimwitted gremlins act as servants for the Lord of Angels and Demons.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dragon: Jake Long: Gremlins are slippery and hard to catch and can only be caught if they're put to sleep by Hawaiian Folk Music.
  • Ben 10:
    • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: One of Ben's alien forms, Jury Rigg, is basically an alien gremlin. It's very good at taking machines apart (and has a powerful compulsion to do so that Ben can't control) and it's also very good at fixing them.
    • In Ben 10: Omniverse, Jury Rigg even wears a little aviator outfit. We eventually meet two more of the race; they're Lawyer Friendly Cameos of Click and Clack from Car Talk. (All There in the Manual: Their names are even Grick and Grack.)
  • Ghostbusters:
  • Gravity Falls features the Gremloblin, which is half-goblin and half-gremlin.
  • Mr. Bogus: Averted with the titular character, who may be a gremlin but is actually often shown to have a good heart as well as displaying heroic feats in the line of duty.
  • Looney Tunes:
  • Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series: In one episode, Draganus unleashed a mischievous gremlin-like energy creature against the titular ducks which was capable of blowing up or controlling any technology it touched, and multiplied every time it was struck. The ducks managed to get rid of most of the creatures note , but found one last one in their wrecked computer, which they end up sending right back to the Saurians where it reeked havoc on their ship.
  • Noveltoons: In the cartoons starring the short-lived character Goodie the Gremlin, gremlins are a race of green-skinned Card Carrying Villains who live to pull cruel pranks, start fights, stir up trouble, and generally make things difficult for people in any way they can... except of course for the eponymous Goodie.
  • The Simpsons: "Treehouse of Horror IV" gives us "Terror at 5 1/2 Feet", replacing the plane with a bus and William Shatner with Bart. Of course, when Bart tells Otto "there's a Gremlin on the side of the bus!" Otto sees an AMC Gremlin car and sideswipes it off the road.
  • TaleSpin: In one episode a one-shot villain named Crazy Edie had several small, furry creatures equipped with radio-control collars which, when activated, caused them to take anything mechanical apart...especially airplanes.
  • Trollz: Simon the gremlin plays this straight and averts this; while he's skilled at building magical machines, he has no aptitude for modern-day technology.

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