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Griping About Gremlins

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"There's something... on the wing of the plane!"
Bob Wilson, and millions of William Shatner impressions.

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 1920's 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 Our Goblins Are Different.



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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.

    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.

  • The Great Alicorn Hunt: Malfunziona (Italian for "malfunctioning") is essentially a merger of a gremlin and a draconeqeus, especially since his power is to make technology go haywire.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, giant Gummi Bears try to pull the wings of Flint's flying car apart. Since Gummi Bears are Steve's Trademark Favorite Food, he has no problem fighting them off.
  • In The LEGO Batman Movie, the Gremlins plague the Batjet midflight with their destructive antics. Although obviously originating from the namesake movie, this is more in line with what could be expected from the traditional gremlins that inspired them, thus making it a bit of a Mythology Gag.
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa references gremlins when Alex mistakes Mort for one when he's clinging on the plane's wing. When he realizes it's Mort, he waves hi. Mort waves back, letting go of the plane's wing, and is swept off by a massive gust of wind.
    Alex: Oh... Hey, Mort.
    Mort: Hi! AAAAAHHHH!!! [is swept off the wing of the plane by a massive wind]

    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.
  • 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 remade the classic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".

  • Here's 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.

  • 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, describes gremlins among all of the other fey, as spirits of technology. They are mostly benevolent (most of "human" inventions were actually gifts from gremlins) but can turn vicious if enraged. On the illustrations they're depicted as tiny, anthropomorphic wrenches wearing jeans and a safety helmet, but they can assume any form, including an oil slick, a patch of rust, or 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.
  • 7Days 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.

    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.
  • 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); and the hobkins (based on the Hopkinsville Goblins), which are especially fond of tricking people into breaking their own things.
    • 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Inverted, as gretchin (the goblin equivalent) are an ork subspecies who serve as mechanics (and servants and ammo and rations and ordnance disposal and entertainment), and actually repair complicated machinery in the midst of battle, sent into the bowels of tanks and gargants with nothing more than oil rags, hammers and wrenches.

    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.
  • 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.)
  • 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:
    • Tiny Toon Adventures has two more appearances of the gremlins from Falling Hare. The first is in "Journey to the Center of Acme Acres", where the gremlins cause earthquakes after Montana Max steals a Golden Idol. The second is another parody of "Terror at 20,000 Feet" in the "Night Ghoulery" special, this time with Plucky Duck in the Bob Wilson role.
    • Gremlins feature in two Wartime Cartoons : "Falling Hare", a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and "Russian Rhapsody", involving Soviet Gremlins ("Gremlins from the Kremlin") making Adolf Hitler's life hell.
  • The Mighty Ducks: 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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