Gremlins Director Says Steven Spielberg Saved the Film by Making Gizmo the Hero’s Pal

It’s hard to imagine Gizmo as violently evil, but that was the original plan for Gremlins. Released in 1984, Gremlins was directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg. The film was met with tremendous success and is widely regarded as one of the very best movies of its era and an all-time great of the horror genre.

Certainly, a lot of credit for the success of Gremlins would have to go to the inclusion of Gizmo (Howie Mandel), the cute Mogwai befriended by Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan). But the character’s popularity was not originally foreseen when the screenplay was first written. Per Variety, Dante recently said that the plan was for Gizmo to turn evil and join the other “Gremlins” pretty early onin the film, ultimately serving as just another antagonist for the humans. Spielberg, however, saw greater potential in keeping Gizmo as the lovable sidekick.

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“No one is more surprised than we are that this franchise is still popular after 40 years… In the original script of Gremlins, the Gizmo character turned into a bad Gremlin after about half an hour. We planned to make the movie a little bit darker. But Steven Spielberg decided in his wisdom that Gizmo should stick around and be the hero’s pal. If we had made the movie the other way, nobody would remember it. The addition of Gizmo made the difference. In his own way, he’s the star of the movie.”

Spielberg was right. Fans responded very well to Gizmo, leading to the birth of a franchise that includes a sequel, video games, and an upcoming animated series. Of course, there has been an untold amount of Gizmo merchandise sold to fans over the past few decades with the enduring popularity of Gremlins and its star Mogwai.

Thanks to Gizmo’s Enduring Popularity, the Gremlins Franchise Lives On

HBO Max will soon debut Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, an animated series that brings back Gizmo for some new adventures. Serving as a prequel, the animated series follows 10-year-old Sam Wing, a younger version of the Mr. Wing we see in Gremlins, who teams up with Gizmo and a street theif named Elle in a quest to return Gizmo to his family (spoiler alert: Sam eventually bestows Gizmo to Zach Galligan’s Billy decades in the future). Their journey takes them through the Chinese countryside as they encounter various monsters and spirits from Chinese folklore, as Gremlins remain in pursuit all throughout.

Howie Mandel does not reprise his role as Gizmo, as A. J. Locascio takes over the role for the animated series, though the show does have a very solid voice cast. Joining Izaac Wang as Sam Wing are Ming-Na Wen as Fong Wing, B. D. Wong as Hon Wing, James Hong as Grandpa Wing, Gabrielle Green as Elle, and Matthew Rhys as Riley Greene. Tze Chun wrote and executive produced the 10-episode series, which has already been renewed for a second season.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is coming to HBO Max in 2022 with an exact date yet to be announced.