Gremlins' Director Shares Details on Original Gory, R-rated Premise That Would Have Killed the Movie (2024)

By Anthony Lund

Gremlins may be an iconic family Christmas movie, but things could have been very different with some bloodthirsty, violent murders.

Gremlins' Director Shares Details on Original Gory, R-rated Premise That Would Have Killed the Movie (1)


  • Gremlins was originally scripted to include severed heads and gory B-movie horror.
  • The original script was much darker and violent, but was toned down and changed due in part to technical limitations.
  • Despite challenges and intense scenes, the team behind Gremlins pushed through to create a timeless classic loved by audiences.

Festive monster movie Gremlins celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, and director Joe Dante recently discussed the movie in the latest edition of Total Film Magazine. As well as sharing the story of how the studio “didn’t get” the Steven Spielberg-produced movie when it was originally presented to them, Dante also revealed how the film was originally planned to be a gory R-rated B-movie. Dante began:

“[Warner Bros.] just didn’t get it. They thought Gremlins doing stuff like blowing their nose on the curtains was disgusting. At one point they say, ‘The only think wrong with this movie is that it’s got too many Gremlins in it.’ Spieldberg said, ‘Well, we can cut out the Gremlins and call it People but nobody’s gonna see it…’”

Gremlins' Director Shares Details on Original Gory, R-rated Premise That Would Have Killed the Movie (2)





Where to Watch

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Release Date
June 7, 1984
Joe Dante

Hoyt Axton , John Louie , Keye Luke , Don Steele , Susan Burgess , Scott Brady

Main Genre
Chris Columbus

Don't get him wet, keep him out of bright light, and never feed him after midnight.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the sight of some mean, green little monsters running amok through the small town of Kingston Falls, and singing along to the soundtrack of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, while Gremlins has become a festive, mostly family-friendly, classic, it could have been a very different story if Chris Columbus’ original script had been used for the movie. Dante noted:

“My Roger Corman beginnings marked me as a B-picture director and since Spielberg’s view was that this was going to be a B-horror movie, I was judged appropriate for the role. Chris Columbus’ original draft was intended to be a B-horror movie, which is what Steven wanted to do as his first Amblin production, because it was a safe bet.”

Gremlins producer Michael Finnell explained how that first draft was dramatically different from the version that would end up being filmed, and had some much more horrific moments that Dante believes would have left it “languishing on the shelves.” Finnell said:

“It was originally much more violent, which was fine with us, but the other problem was that it was virtually impossible to produce with the technology that existed at that time. It was pretty gruesome. Billy’s mother got her head chopped off and it bounced down the stairs, and the Gremlins ate the dog. It was really grizzly, like many horror movies of that period were.”

Gremlins Changed Due to Technical Limitations of the Time

It is hard to knock the invention and creativity that Dante, Finnell, Spielberg and the rest of the production team put into making sure Gremlins not only worked, but still stands up today when it comes to its creature effects. Although Spielberg helped to drive scripting changes to remove some of the more horrific elements, even then there were several sequences that pushed the team to their limits. Finnell said:

“The original script had Gremlins running around in the snow and we couldn’t do that; there was no such thing as CGI back in 1983. We had to change the screenplay into something we could actually make.”

Those changes certainly didn’t mean the making of Gremlins was any easier, as the complex and chaotic tavern scene proved. The scene, which happens in the final third of the movie and sees Phoebe Cates’ Kate serving drinks to an unruly mob of little critters, was so challenging that Dante had to completely shut down the production on the movie to work out how to create the scene. Dante explained:

“[It allowed us to] fix puppets and plan the scenes with just the Gremlins, one of which was the bar scene – which, by the way, is the bar from The Shootist. We brought Phoebe back and show just the stuff in the bar for a week. We left the rough cut in [previews] to see what worked with audiences and kept the parts we thought worked best. It was exhausting but a lot of fun.”


Every Pop Culture Reference in Gremlins

Gremlins is an iconic Christmas-themed movie and a tribute to cinema, delivering many exciting references to the movies and artists that inspired it.

While many of the issues faced by Gremlins would now be solved with a click of a mouse, in 1983 the production on the movie had no choice other than to work through its challenges with real props and a live-action creative process. From the popularity of the movie 40 years later, it is clear that the effort was well worth it to end up with an almost perfect movie.

Gremlins is currently streaming on Fubo, and available to purchase/rent from usual outlets.

Gremlins' Director Shares Details on Original Gory, R-rated Premise That Would Have Killed the Movie (2024)


Gremlins' Director Shares Details on Original Gory, R-rated Premise That Would Have Killed the Movie? ›

Finnell said: “It was originally much more violent, which was fine with us, but the other problem was that it was virtually impossible to produce with the technology that existed at that time. It was pretty gruesome. Billy's mother got her head chopped off and it bounced down the stairs, and the Gremlins ate the dog.

What killed the gremlins in the movie? ›

Kate and Billy, who still has Gizmo, flee through the back door with the gremlins in hot pursuit, and they manage to barricade the door, trapping the gremlins inside. After a few minutes, the gas leak causes an explosion, and all the gremlins are killed.

What was the movie Gremlins mistakes? ›

The items that the gremlins use, such as guns, tools and utensils are too small to be normal (human) sized and appear to be made specifically for gremlins. When Billy walks through the town on his way to work, even though there is heavy snow in the town square, the hills behind the cinema have no snow on them.

Was Gremlins supposed to be a horror movie? ›

As scary as it can be, with creepy creatures running amok, and even causing a few deaths, the original screenplay was even more terrifying, with an even higher body count. Gremlins would have been a straight-up adult horror film had producer Steven Spielberg not intervened with his own ideas.

Did Steven Spielberg have anything to do with Gremlins? ›

Steven Spielberg was the film's executive producer, with the film being produced by Michael Finnell. Gremlins was theatrically released on June 8, 1984 by Warner Bros. to critical and commercial success. However, it was heavily criticized for some of its more violent sequences.

Did critters rip off Gremlins? ›


Critters is absolutely a Gremlins rip-off. But it is at least an inventive Gremlins rip-off. It begins in space, aboard a prison asteroid, where we're introduced to the galaxy's most heinous knee-high hairballs. These dinky demons are nothing but fur and teeth... and fun.

Is the teacher in Gremlins dead? ›

Hanson (Glynn Turman), the science teacher, originally died with dozens of hypodermic needles stuck in his face. However, by request from executive producer Steven Spielberg, this scene was re-shot with just a single needle in the buttocks. The set for Kingston Falls is the same one used for Back to the Future (1985).

Was Gremlins supposed to be rated R? ›

It may shock younger viewers to learn that the Joe Dante-directed film, which features blood, mayhem, and murder in addition to its many laughs, is rated a mere PG. Gremlins premiered in theaters on June 8, 1984; at that time, there were only four possible movie ratings.

What happens when Gremlins get wet? ›

Add water to your gremlin and it will multiply! It is imperative for both gremlins and chinchillas to not get wet. Okay, a chinchilla won't multiply, but you still don't want to get them wet. Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in Chile, and are found at high, chilly altitudes.

Was Gremlins marketed to kids? ›

“Gremlins” was marketed as a family film—Steven Spielberg-produced, no less–and one which was now coming after their children. Sound familiar? Parents didn't just feel duped, they felt they'd been sinned against.

Why was Gremlins 2 different? ›

Like the first film, Gremlins 2: The New Batch is a live-action horror comedy film; however, Dante put effort into taking the sequel in new anarchistic directions. Dante created the film to act almost as a parody of the original Gremlins, and it is meant to be more cartoon-like and less dark than the original.

Did Chris Columbus write Gremlins? ›

He first came to Hollywood's attention when Steven Spielberg's production company, Amblin, purchased Columbus' original screenplay for Gremlins. "I consider my years at Amblin to be my graduate course in film," said Columbus, who at the time was fresh from New York University's prestigious film school.

What kills a Gremlin? ›

For example, sunlight is the fastest way to kill them as it will instantly cause them to melt. However, if there is no sunlight available, more conventional weapons can be used. Some examples seen in Gremlins include the use of fire, stabbing and gunshots to destroy them.

Why doesn't a gizmo turn into a Gremlin? ›

Also, this previously mentioned mogwai is effectively immortal. As Gizmo is gentle, and has a long list of historical figures that have owned him, it is clear that he is this mogwai type. If this mogwai eats after midnight though, he will lose his longevity, becoming a typical gremlin.

What is the rip off of gremlins? ›

Gremlin rip offs
  • Critters. 19861h 26mPG-13. 6.1 (39K) Rate. ...
  • Critters 2: The Main Course. 19881h 26mPG-13. 5.5 (17K) Rate. ...
  • Critters 3. 19911h 26mPG-13. 4.5 (13K) Rate. ...
  • Critters 4. 19921h 27mPG-13. 4.1 (8.3K) Rate. ...
  • Ghoulies. 19841h 21mPG-13. ...
  • Ghoulies II. 19871h 29mPG-13. ...
  • Ghoulies Go to College. 19901h 34mR. ...
  • Ghoulies IV. 19941h 24mR.

Can gremlins turn back into Mogwai? ›

Chaos ensued as the mogwai became gremlins and people died. Before the rest of China could fall, Nuwa stopped the test and intervened, reverting the gremlins back into mogwai and hid them in the Valley of Jade which would be her very last creation since she had lost the bet.

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