Why Gremlins is One of the Most Important Christmas Movies Ever Made
The 1980s classic is more about the dangers of commercialism than horror
There are many great Christmas classics released over the years, and you no doubt have your favorites. But does the comedy/horror movie Gremlins give us the best lessons on many important holiday issues?
“It’s a Wonderful Life” has always been the standard for teaching us valuable lessons during the holidays — but I think it’s pretty overrated tripe.
This is a look at why Gremlins is one of the most important Christmas movies ever made.
A Quick Recap On Gremlins
If it’s been a while — or you’ve never seen it (for shame) — the basic story is about an inventor trying to find the perfect gift for his son, Billy. He stumbles upon a store that features the bizarre Mogwai creature. He buys one, but it comes with a few conditions:
- Don’t get it wet
- Keep it away from light
- And whatever you do, never, ever feed it after midnight
We meet Gizmo and one night; he gets wet and spawns off other little Gizmos. The house is now full of them.
But these things are smarter than you think — especially their leader, Stripe. They trick Billy to feed them after midnight, allowing them to metamorphose from cacoons to full-on Gremlins.
The Gremlins now terrorize the town while eventually being killed off. (Including a very graphic blender scene involving the mom, played by the same actress who plays Lorraine’s mother in Back to the Future.)
Most of the Gremlins are killed while they watch Snow White in a movie theatre — and it leads to a final showdown with Stripe. Gizmo comes to the rescue and exposes Stripe to enough light that it melts him.
The original owner of Gizmo comes to retrieve him as it’s thought that the Western world is not ready for the existence of the Mogwai.
If you want a full rundown of Gremlins — including production, and a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff — just check out my blog here.
But what specifically makes the 1984 classic a Christmas movie? Let’s look at a few important things.
The Obvious: It’s Set at Christmas
Ditto for Die Hard — and this seems the most blatant, but it goes deeper. Gremlins take place in the town of Kingston Falls in the days leading up to Christmas — including Christmas Eve.
Gremlins has everything you would expect in a Christmas movie including snow, music, carolers, decorations, and toys.
The very premise of the movie is about a father buying his son a gift, and the holidays are the primary theme that runs throughout the film. The colors and images are explicitly Christmas-based. The Gremlins themselves are green with red eyes. When they hatch out of their cocoons, they also glow both green and red.
It’s Filled With Christmas Music
Any of the music you hear in Gremlins has Christmas connections. Even the score of the movie is Christmas themed. They weave the classic Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ into the musical score of the movie.
This creates a specific mood and atmosphere to set the tone of the film.
Listen to some themes from the soundtrack, such as “Fanfare in C/The Shop/The Little One. “Late for Work” has a decidedly Home Alone, Christmas feel to it. “The Gift” has a real carol sense to it and “The Lab/Old Times” even features church bells and magical Christmas songs.
The movie itself opens with Christmas (Baby please come home) by Darlene Love. We also hear “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and other caroling songs, including Silent Night.
So that’s the obvious stuff out of the way, but what about the deep Christmas themes explored in the movie? Here are a few to pay attention to.
Gremlins is About the Dangers of Commercialism at Christmas
This is the major theme to take away. Again, the basic plot of the movie is about a father buying a present for his son. But it’s an important present. Billy’s father has been so absent with his business travels that Billy has become very neglected.
His father realizes this, too, and needs to find the greatest gift possible to make up for it. But affection and love can’t be bought with commercial goods. This is a major problem that has emerged in our society over the decades.
The Gremlins also represent the chaos that happens when consumerism takes over the heart and soul of a holiday.
The Gremlins run amuck the same way capitalism and commercialism has during the holiday season. The Gremlins represent the damage that happens when the focus shifts from joy, love, peace, and family to greed and want.
Parents think they need to buy the latest and greatest to show they love their children. Maybe they just need to focus on actual love and more quality time. Your acts will always show someone you love them more than a gift.
The Gremlins grow in numbers and spread out of control. This represents how our greed and commercialism at Christmas have also spread out of control.
I believe this is why Silent Night plays through the score in the last parts of the movie. People need to slow things down and quiet their hearts instead of succumbing to the chaos the season has evolved into.
Gremlins is also a pretty wacky comedy — and this is used to illustrate the absurdness that the holidays have become. The Gremlins turn into caricatures and go through very cartoony circumstances, again, to show our own absurdness of pursuing possessions — and breaking someone's arm to get said possessions during Black Friday.
Gremlins Represent How Difficult Christmastime is For Many People
I love Christmas. I love the spirit of it and its traditions. There is a lot that is joyous and wondrous about this time of year. But it’s not that way for everyone. Christmas can be difficult for many people. Not everything is shiny and bright.
The movie — and the Gremlins themselves — represents the opposite of the many “Christmasy” movies that force holiday cheer down your throat.
It’s ok to be upset and realize that not every Christmas can be perfect. It’s also ok if you don’t feel the joy of the season. Gremlins reminds us that not all people experience Christmas in the same way — and it’s a time they just have to get through.
This is summed up perfectly by Kate’s speech about the way she found out there isn’t a Santa Claus — and it doesn’t get much darker than that.
Gremlins isn’t an “anti-Christmas” movie — it’s one that shows the opposite side of the coin. The movie is a reminder that there are struggles, anguish, and strife for many people during the holidays.
How do you sum up Gremlins? Is it a Christmas movie; a Christmas horror movie; a dark comedy; or just an awesome 80s movie?
I believe it’s all these things combined, but at its core — it’s primarily an important Christmas movie. The setting, style, tone, and message are all about the Christmas season.
It illustrates the dangers of consumerism, and what happens when commercialism gets out of control. It also reminds us that you shouldn’t feel forced to act a certain way just because it’s a holiday.
Christmas can be whatever you make it, so make it a good one.