Gremlins! One of the most beloved films of the 1980’s and a movie that has aged surprisingly well thanks to the practical effects and puppets used. This Spielberg produced blockbuster made 153.1 million dollars on a budget of 11 million, placing it fourth on the highest grossing list behind Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (what a year!!!). Those figures aren’t adjusted for modern day ticket prices, mind you! It would be closer to 204 million today…not too shabby, especially considering the competition.
While your memories have probably rose tinted Gremlins, and honestly, as a kid you probably didn’t know, but the film created quite a bit of controversy in 1984! Along with the aforementioned Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins helped create the PG-13 rating. It was initially released with the PG rating and was marketed as a family film, leaving parents flabbergasted as they eschewed terrified younger children from the theater. With graphic on screen depictions of death (microwave scene, am I right?!?) and bleak sub-stories (such as the dead father in the chimney), parents were not at all happy about what they had taken their children to. Spielberg himself successfully appealed to get the rating changed to PG-13 shortly after its release. This new rating gave the board a buffer between the seemingly family safe PG rating and an R rated film (Fun Fact: Red Dawn would be the first film released under the new rating!).
I saw the film as a kid and I loved it. Of course I did. It was one of the first films that I saw that bordered on horror, was an uproarious comedy, and had all the cool effects a kid could want. It was loosely based on the stories that World War II told, jokingly blaming mechanical failures on “gremlins.” What would happen if you let these gremlins loose on a postcard perfect town as it gets ready for Christmas? A riot, that’s what! With countless nods to other films, Gremlins wears its influences on its sleeve while also creating a space on its own in movie lore, just like all the great films do.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the insanely successful marketing behind the film. Merchandising was in its infancy at this point, but Gremlins was a cash cow for toy makers going into the busy holiday season. Gizmo dolls were impossible to find and were in high demand during the Christmas of 1984. Topps had a line of trading cards, the fast food chain Hardee’s offered storybooks with 45 records included, and Atari released a game for the 2600.
Gremlins, a movie that is firmly in the Christmas movie category for me (just like Die Hard), is still a great film that can be enjoyed any time of the year…even Halloween. Gizmo and is fight for survival against the rip-roaring hoard of Gremlins is a tale that never gets old, is a whole lot of fun, and watching it as an adult is just as great as when I saw it in 1984, maybe more so.