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How Steven Spielberg changed Gremlins for the better with one script note

The 1984 film could have been very different

Prod DB © Warner Bros - Amblin / DR GREMLINS de Joe Dante 1984 USA avec Joe Dante sur le tournage
The set of Gremlins, featuring one of the creatures and director Joe Dante. The film's writer Chris Columbus has revealed how Steven Spielberg's advice was essential (Warner Bros.)

Gremlins wouldn't have been the film it is today without helpful advice from Steven Spielberg, which writer Chris Columbus said helped shape the narrative and "solidified the success of the movie".

The writer originally envisioned Gremlins as a "hard R-rated" horror film, with untold levels of violence at the hands of the cute Mogwai turned evil.

Read more: Gremlins director Joe Dante says Baby Yoda was 'completely stolen' from his 1984 film

While the 1984 classic has maintained some of the original horror, Spielberg made a suggestion for the script that Columbus still remembers years later.

"In my script they were all bad but he felt that one Gremlin should stay true to his original Mogwai form and basically become Billy's sidekick in the course of the film, and that Gremlin was Gizmo," Columbus revealed in a making of documentary for the film.

GALLIGAN,GIZMO, GREMLINS, 1984
The film, which was directed by Joe Dante, follows a young man named Billy who received a strange pet known as a Mogwai, some of which go bad and wreak havoc on Christmas Eve (Amblin)

"So that really turned the movie around and made the film a lot more accessible to an audience and a lot more emotional."

The film, which was directed by Joe Dante, follows Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) who receives a strange pet known as a Mogwai, he is warned never to get it wet or feed it after midnight but one thing leads to another and a whole swarm of the furry creatures gone bad wreak havoc on a town during Christmas Eve.

Columbus originally intended the film to be very different: "I was obsessed with writing this screenplay, and the first draft of the movie was a very hard R-rated horror film.

"Basically, these cute little Mogwai were fed after midnight and then turned into these horrible Gremlins, it was really tough stuff.

Prod DB © Warner Bros - Amblin / DR GREMLINS de Joe Dante 1984 USA avec Steven Spielberg (producteur executif) et Joe Dante sur le tournage
The writer originally envisioned Gremlins as a "hard R-rated" horror film, and while he loved the script Spielberg made one suggestion: Make one of the Mogwai stay good. (Amblin)

"Billy's mother's head was cut off and it rolled down the stairs, the Gremlins all went into a McDonalds at one point and ate all the people but left the food on all of the tables."

"So it was dark and twisted, and a lot of fun to write. I sent it to my agent and he sent it to maybe 45-50 producers and everyone rejected it," he adds.

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While Columbus said his script struggled to garner interest, one person who saw the potential in the violent film was Spielberg, who later helped to produce the film alongside his company Amblin Entertainment.

Columbus was unsure of Spielberg's interest in the story, feeling that it didn't match his previous work or the films that had been produced by Amblin Entertainment — who at that point was best known for the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 24:  Director, writer and producer Chris Columbus discusses producing
Chris Columbus said Spielberg's "goal was to make it more audience friendly, and still maintain its satirical edge and it was really smart." (Getty Images)

The writer met with Spielberg several times during the early stages of production and it was during this time, Columbus said, he "realised his goal was to make it more audience friendly, and still maintain its satirical edge and it was really smart."

"It really taught me a lot about understanding the needs of the audience, and Steven came up with an idea that I think solidified the success of the movie which was one of the Gremlins not turning into a bad Gremlin," Columbus says of Spielberg's input.

Gremlins went on to become one of the most beloved film of the '80s, though it was criticised for its violent nature at the time of its release.

Prod DB © Warner Bros - Amblin / DR GREMLINS de Joe Dante 1984 USA avec Joe Dante sur le tournage
Gremlins, which was directed by Joe Dante (pictured), went on to become one of the most beloved film of the '80s, though it was criticised for its violent nature at the time of its release (Amblin)

This wasn't the only impactful thing Spielberg did for the film. The movie's violence led to Spielberg suggesting the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) changed its movie rating system, thus leading to the creation of the PG-13 rating which is still in use today.

Columbus went on to become a director in his own right, gaining recognition for other Christmas classics: Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

Gremlins spawned a sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch and a new animated CBBC series titled Gremlins: Secret of Mogwai.

Gremlins is available to rent and buy now, Gremlins: Secret of Mogwai is available to watch on BBC iPlayer and on CBBC every Monday.