It’s been 30 years, but we all still remember the three rules: Don’t expose them to bright light, don’t get them wet, and never feed them after midnight.
“Gremlins,” which opened on June 8, 1984, has been a pop culture mainstay ever since, playing often on TV, launching a number of careers, influencing countless other tongue-in-cheek horror movies, and even changing the way movies are rated.
Still, as familiar as you are with adorable Gizmo and demonic Stripe, there may be many things you don’t know about “Gremlins” — like the famous voices behind the gremlins, the in-jokes, and the film’s role in the creation of the PG-13 rating. Read on for more secrets of the mogwai.
1. “Gremlins” marked the screenwriting debut of Chris Columbus, who would later go on to direct “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and the first two Harry Potter movies. He wrote the script as a calling card just to get noticed in Hollywood, little imagining that Steven Spielberg would buy the script and produce it.
3. As the movie suggests, gremlins are an urban legend that began with pilots in the First and Second World Wars, who blamed mechanical problems on the imaginary mischievous creatures. As for the species name “mogwai,” that’s a real Chinese word meaning “evil spirit.”
4. Phoebe Cates landed the role of Kate, the clean-cut love interest, despite her reputation for more salacious roles, a la “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” (As in “Fast Times,” Judge Reinhold was cast as the guy who pines for her in vain.)
5. Zach Galligan made his film debut as the hero, Billy, beating more established actors for the role because the filmmakers liked his chemistry with Cates in auditions.
6. Polly Holliday, known for her role as sassy waitress Flo on TV’s “Alice,” was cast against type as the tyrannical Mrs. Deagle.
7. Hoyt Axton, who played Billy’s inventor father, was best known as a singer/songwriter (“Joy to the World,” “Never Been to Spain”), but he was also a sometime actor and landed the “Gremlins” role on the strength of his performance in 1979’s “The Black Stallion.” He also had a connection to Holliday: for her short-lived sitcom spinoff, “Flo” (1980-81), he’d written and performed the theme song.
8. Corey Feldman, who played Billy’s young friend Pete, was 12 years old at the time and primarily a veteran of TV commercials; he was still a couple years away from his star-making appearances in “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me.”
9. Howie Mandel, the comedian-turned-“St. Elsewhere” star, provided the childlike voice of Gizmo, Billy’s cuddly new pet mogwai.
10. Veteran cartoon voice actor Frank Welker voiced the part of Stripe, the ringleader of the turned-evil mogwai. Other gremlins were voiced by the likes of “Police Academy” human beatbox Michael Winslow and Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen.
11. Among the in-jokes in “Gremlins” are several winking cameos. The most prominent is Spielberg himself as a man on an exercise bicycle.
12. Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the film’s score, can be seen in a phone booth.
13. Legendary Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck animator Chuck Jones also appears, as Billy’s artistic mentor.
14. The gremlin puppets were reportedly difficult to animate, especially Gizmo, who kept malfunctioning. A scene where Gizmo gets pinned to a dart board was filmed as a sop to crew members irked over the cute furball’s mechanical misbehavior.
15. Columbus’s initial drafts were darker than the final shooting script. Among the gruesome scenes that were cut was one where the gremlins decapitate Billy’s mother, one where they eat his dog, and one where they visit McDonald’s and snack on the customers. Also, Columbus had Gizmo turning into Stripe instead of being separate creatures; Spielberg didn’t want to lost the lovable Gizmo part-way through the film.
16. Another urban legend yielded Cates’s ghoulish Santa Claus monologue, in which her father disappears on Christmas Eve, only to have his rotting corpse found stuck in the chimney. Warner Bros. wanted the scene to go, and while Spielberg wasn’t a fan of it, he didn’t want to be seen as overruling Dante.
17. The film went over budget, ultimately costing $11 million.
18. “Gremlins” opened the same day as another horror comedy, the lighter “Ghostbusters.” Remarkably, both did very well. By year’s end, “Ghostbusters” was the second highest grossing film of 1984, while “Gremlins” was fourth, with $148 million.
19. There was even a “Gremlins” breakfast cereal, shaped like little Gizmos. (Don’t eat them after midnight, and if you get them wet… they’ll get soggy with milk.)
20. Given such kid-friendly marketing, the cuteness of Gizmo, the small-town Christmastime setting, and the movie’s PG rating, many moviegoers expected a more family-friendly film than the darkly comic chiller that Dante delivered. (The scene of a gremlin exploding in a microwave oven drew special condemnation from parents and critics worried that kids would try the devices out on their own pets. Coming on the heels of Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” two weeks prior, with its PG rating and its occasionally over-the-top gore, there was a sense of outrage over the idea that the PG rating was no longer protecting children from extreme content. The complaints prompted Spielberg to propose the idea of an intermediate rating between PG and R. The result was the creation of the PG-13 rating in July 1984, the first new rating since the system began in the late 1960s. August’s “Red Dawn” would be the first new release to earn the PG-13 rating.
21. Critic Leonard Maltin famously panned “Gremlins,” but he was a good enough sport about it to appear in 1990’s “Gremlins: The New Batch,” repeating his criticism of the first film before being dispatched by the malicious mogwai.
22. Besides its own franchise, “Gremlins” was the apparent inspiration for several other tongue-in-cheek horror franchises about tiny monsters, including “Ghoulies,” “Critters,” “Munchies,” “Hobgoblins,” and “Troll.”
23. The 1990s talking Furby doll looked so much like Gizmo that there were rumors that Warner Bros. would sue its makers for trademark infringement, rumors that proved to be unfounded.
24. The Scottish band Mogwai took its name from the movie, and so did Bright Light Bright Light (a.k.a. Welsh singer/songwriter Rod Thomas), after a line of dialogue from the film.
25. Warner Bros. announced a reboot of the “Gremlins” franchise last year, with Seth Grahame-Smith (screenwriter of “Dark Shadows” and the upcoming “Beetlejuice” remake) — not Joe Dante — set to produce.