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Griping About Gremlins

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"There's something... on the wing of the plane!"
Bob Wilson, The Twilight Zone (1959), "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (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 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. See also Our Imps Are Different.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Humanoid Monster Bem: Impu, the gremlin from the hospital.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi when shadow-demon summons comes to Mahora, Nanaka Earhart from aviation club calls them gremlins.
  • Pokémon: The Original Series: 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 is used to sabotage a plane the main characters are 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1942): Glitch is a gremlin from outer space with multiple aliens seeking him for revenge for the chaos he has caused. He's quite good at getting machinery and tech to do impossible things.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Star Wars: Galactic Folklore and Mythology mentions that the Frozians, a race historically known for their airship technology, believed in gremlin-like creatures which stole food and cigarettes, tore holes in parachutes, and even sang hypnotic lullabies to make pilots fall asleep mid-flight.

    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. They do sabotage some machinery and vehicles for the fun and For the Evulz. These movies were so popular that they have largely displaced the earlier World War II-era depiction of Gremlins thanks to Popcultural Osmosis.
  • The "buzz droids" from Revenge of the Sith are heavily inspired by gremlins. They are tiny robots deployed by a Trick Bomb that tear enemy starfighters apart in mid-flight.
  • Shadow in the Cloud: A B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II is menaced by a large bat-like creature that not only damages the plane but even attacks the crew directly.
  • Twilight Zone: The Movie includes a remake of the classic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" listed below under Live-Action TV, with John Lithgow in the lead (human) role.

  • In a Russian joke about gremlins, Josef Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston 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!"note  The gremlin flees as fast as he can.

  • Artemis Fowl originally had them as one of the fairy races, but they're never mentioned after the first book (and the second book's graphic novel adaptation).
  • 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. Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen was a longer adaptation, and his first serious fiction book.
  • Gremlins appear in one of the Griezelklas 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. Mercy explains how he's able to do this: the fae never lie, but because there's no actual gremlin race counted among the fae, Zee is allowed to define himself as being a gremlin. Apparently, a lot of old fae do something similar to avoid telling humans what they really are.
  • 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 Adventures: Gremlins are one of the many "Demon" (dimension-traveling) races. Aahz the Pervect does not believe they exist until he meets one.
  • In Pale, Gremlins are a subtype of Goblins, with a focus on messing with technology.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of 7 Days (1998) 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.
  • In the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode "The Tale of the Curious Camera", the titular camera's ability to supposedly predict the future in its photos is actually caused by a gremlin inhabiting it, who deliberately causes disaster to those the camera photographs as well as bring misfortune to the camera's owner. In the end, when the camera is destroyed, and the gremlin thought to be with it, a shot reveals to the audience that the gremlin has escaped into a computer.
  • 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.
  • Muppets Tonight: One episode spoofs the Twilight Zone example when Ms. Piggy is on a plane and spots a gremlin out on the wings. She tries warning everyone, but a man played by William Shatner tells her that he's been saying the same thing for years, and no one's believed him.
  • 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.
  • An episode of So Weird features a town being menaced by gremlins. Apparently, these guys helped kickstart the Industrial Revolution by passing along ideas to some of the great inventors of the time, and their predilection towards mechanical sabotage is born out of spite for not being credited.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Nomine:
    • Gremlins are minor infernal spirits, generally resembling ugly winged creatures, sent to Earth to break and vandalize the works of humans, such as by putting sugar in gas tanks or spraying graffiti everywhere.
    • Vapula, the Prince of Technology, can grant demons who distinguish themselves in his service the rank of Baron of Gremlins, which allows them to cause a minor defect in any technological device that they touch. Ten uses of this will cause the target device to fail disastrously.
  • 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. Their young are called grubs, and are rather cute. 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.
  • 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.
  • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon: Gremlins are flying spear throwing enemies.
  • 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. Ironically, this gives a practical purpose to the community's memetic habit of buildings machine that exists just to kill their operator.
  • 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.
  • Monster Hunter (PC) has gremlins as a recurring enemy type, the third introduced after Man Eating Plants and Lagoon Creatures. They are also the only enemy variant who is created two at a time, necessitating players to destroy both as soon as possible (since the spawner that creates monsters are invulnerable until all its creations are killed, and is only destroyable in the process of spawning creations) — destroy only one, and the spawner will quickly create a second.
  • 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.

  • In Leftover Soup, computer technician Ellen says that gremlins don't infest machines, they infest people who are perpetually unlucky with technology. While attempting to repair her roommate's computer she comes to suspect that he is a host for gremlins.

    Web Originals 
  • 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).
  • Gremlins as seen in The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids are small imps, who describe themselves as "wee sprites of mischief-making", with a predilection for dismantling aircraft. They are physically described as somewhat bird-like, but without any beak or nose, instead having big, toothy grins.
  • 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.
  • The Batman: When Maxie Zeus loses the mayoral election and decides to conquer Gotham by force with a flying fortress, Batgirl manages to sneak aboard and does whatever she can to impede his attack without getting noticed, which mainly involves identifying wires that look important and ripping them out. The crew refers to having a gremlin. At first, they seem to be sarcastic, assuming it's standard issues, but eventually they become convinced someone is there and start looking for their gremlin in earnest.
  • Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!: One episode has the gang aboard the world's largest airplane, and the Monster of the Week is a gremlin determined to cause the flight to fail.
  • Ben 10:
  • Futurama: Another spoof of the Twilight Zone example in "I Dated a Robot" has a man who believes he's died and gone to Hell finds out he isn't, but is on an airplane. He sees a gremlin dismantling the wing, but his claims are immediately ignored because he turns out to be Adolf Hitler (much to his own surprise).
  • Ghostbusters:
  • Gravity Falls features the Gremloblin, which is half-goblin and half-gremlin.
  • 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.
  • Monster Loving Maniacs depicts gremlins as short wingless bat-like humanoids dressed like flight engineers. Their style of sabotage tends to involve cartoonish antics involving mallets, dynamite, and the like, but it's possible to distract them from their shenanigans by putting on a show for them (provided they like the entertainment).
  • 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.
  • 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 has several small, furry creatures equipped with radio-control collars which, when activated, cause them to take anything mechanical apart — especially airplanes.
  • Transformers: Rescue Bots: The episode "Blame the Gremlins" reveals that Kade has been afraid of gremlins since he was a little kid. In an effort to help, Dr. Greene uses a device that manifests his nightmares as constructs of energy and crystal particals for Kade to confront. This backfires when, not only do they engage in the usual chaos from this trope, but they're also able to drain energy from machines in order to fuel themselves.
  • Trollz zig-zags this with Simon the gremlin; while he's skilled at building magical machines, he has no aptitude for modern-day technology.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Our Gremlins Are Different


Jury Rigg

Jury Rigg is a gremlin-like alien, whose power is wrecking (and later revealed to also fix) any kinds of technology.

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