Gremlins, the 1984 horror-comedy written by Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, is now rightly considered a classic. We all know the three golden rules when dealing with an adorably cute mogwai like Gizmo in the film: don’t expose it to sunlight, don’t get it wet and never feed it after midnight. Of course, these rules get broken and the result is a rampaging squadron of gremlins wreaking havoc at Christmas. A huge hit at the time, it’s been a seasonal favourite ever since.
Gremlins spawned a sequel in 1990 – Gremlins 2: The New Batch. This has divided fans and critics since its release, with some die-hards disliking the more playful, satirical tone. For others, this is exactly its appeal, with Gremlins 2 sacrificing some of the horror elements of the original in favour of a series of gleeful slapstick parodies that send up the idea of film sequel cash-ins and generally set genre conventions on their head.
The news that a new Gremlins film was in the works first surfaced in 2013. At that point, Warner Bros was negotiating with Amblin Entertainments for the rights and Seth Grahame-Smith was down to produce, alongside David Katzenberg. That was put on hold, but interest remained, and in 2015, original star Zack Galligan was asked about the possibility of the franchise returning. He revealed that a third film was still in the pipeline and added that it would be a sequel, not a reboot.
It seemed though that Gremlins 3 might actually be a sequel to the first film, ignoring Gremlins 2 altogether, at least if original writer Chris Columbus gets his way. Speaking to Bleeding Cool in December 2016, Columbus said that his motivation for working on the project would be to “undo” Gremlins 2 as he’d never liked it (Gremlins 2 was written by Charles S Hass, hence the markedly different tone).
Secrets of the Mogwai
By 2017, Columbus revealed he’d completed a script exploring the idea that as Gizmo was the source of the gremlins, the only way to stop them for good would be to kill off the loveable mogwai. That same year, the gremlins made an unexpected appearance in The Lego Batman Movie, but nothing more was heard of them until last year, when Warner Bros successfully regained ownership of the name and franchise. The company immediately announced Gremlins: Secrets Of The Mogwai, an animated series to run on its new online streaming channel, HBO Max.
This is not the Chris Columbus script, nor is it Gremlins 3, which is presumably still languishing in development hell somewhere. Written and co-executive produced by Tze Chun, the ten-episode series is actually a prequel to the original film, set in 1920s Shanghai and featuring a 10-year-old Sam Wing meeting Gizmo for the first time and going on a quest across the Chinese countryside with a young street thief named Elle. Wing, you will remember, was the elderly shopkeeper who refused to sell Gizmo to Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) in the 1984 film.
In other media
Meanwhile, the gremlins continue to enjoy an abundant afterlife in the form of merchandising and spin-off media. Browsing a list of reputable casinos online, you’ll soon come across Fun Casino which hosts the Gremlins video slot game. This features ‘mogwai scatters’ that award one of five different bonus rounds, wilds that multiply randomly if they get wet, and gremlins that link together for bigger prizes, all set against an authentic themed backdrop.
In fact, after Star Wars, Gremlins was among the first wave of films to benefit massively from merchandising opportunities. A cuddly Gizmo was the must-have present for kids in Christmas ’84, and the shelves were piled high with action figures, trading cards and endless branded items from lunchboxes to backpacks. There was even a Gremlins breakfast cereal for several years in the mid-eighties.
Of course, video games were just beginning to become popular at the time and Gremlins made a splash in that arena, too. There were two completely different Atari games of that name, released in ’84 and ’86 respectively, as well as Gremlins: The Adventure (1985), a text-based interactive fiction game. Similarly, two entirely different Gremlins 2 games appeared in 1990. One was developed for Nintendo’s Game Boy by Sunsoft, while the other was a sidescrolling game from a Spanish company that was playable on the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad and ZX Spectrum.
New Gremlins toys and collectables started appearing in the early noughties and, in 2017, Trick Or Treat Studios began producing official life-size puppets of Stripe and Gizmo. NECA’s 2019 Christmas Collectable featured two gremlins singing carols and the original film was re-released in certain cinemas that Christmas, to mark its 35th anniversary. Halloween 2019 also saw both films remastered and re-released in 4k Ultra HD on Blu-Ray.
All this proves that the gremlins never went away: they were just biding their time in the shadows, waiting for you to give in and feed them after midnight. With the animated series hopefully testing the waters for a full-length new Gremlins movie, we’ve definitely not seen the last of those pesky scaly critters yet.