Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Corey Feldman, Frances Lee McCain
If left to his own devices, executive producer Steven Spielberg likely would have changed the name of Gremlins to Gizmo and made it the damn cutest, feel-good movie of the year. Lucky for subversive cineastes, he turned the reins over to Joe Dante, who had tinkered with the horror-meets-comedy formula on Piranha and Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Intent on giving his son Billy (Zach Galligan) something truly unique for Christmas, Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) purchases a Mogwai, an adorable bundle of fur that comes with an explicit set of rules that are as easy to remember as Fight Club's: no bright light, do not get him wet, and never feed him after midnight. Oh, if only it were that easy.
In what seems like only minutes later, rule number two is broken, causing the little guy Gizmo to spawn five more Mogwai (these ones not quite as sweet as their host) who trick Billy into breaking rule numero tres, which turns them into the titular band of little monsters looking to mete out destruction on the town of Kingston Falls.
In stark contrast to the picturesque town in which the raucous little creatures wreak havoc, Gremlins has been criticized for its over-the-top violence. A scene in which one gremlin explodes another in a microwave actually played a part in the initiation of the PG-13 rating (as did Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which Spielberg directed the same year). Yet its unique mix of black comedy, gory horror, and traditional holiday tropes helped it spawn a sequel and a host of imitators—Critters, Ghoulies, and Hobgoblins among them—some of which proved more popular than others (we're not naming names).