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Franchise Killers: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Gremlins 2

More often than not, movie franchises end on a low note.  Sometimes one truly awful entry in a series can kill an audience’s appetite for any additional follow-ups.  Other times, a series will follow a long, slow decline that ends in apathy.  But every now and then, you come across a franchise killer that is actually worth watching.  That’s what we have here with Joe Dante’s zany sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

The original Gremlins came out in the summer of 1984.  The movie’s marketing material proudly proclaimed that it was produced by Stephen Spielberg which at the time was a seal of approval that practically guaranteed box office success.  It also suggested that a movie would be appropriate for families which resulted in some controversy when the movie turned out to be darker and more violent than something like E.T.

The original Gremlins and the Spielberg-directed Raiders sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, both shocked audiences that summer with images of beating hearts being removed from human chests and little green monsters exploding in microwave ovens.  These two movies combined helped pave the way for the PG-13 rating.

Gremlins was written by Christopher Columbus.  His original screenplay was about a sweet little town right out of a Frank Capra movie which is besieged by nasty, murderous beasts.  It’s no coincidence the movie is set at Christmas.  The town, Kingston Falls, was modeled after Bedford Falls from Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.  The tone of the script was more along the lines of a straight-up horror movie with Gizmo actually turning into the leader of the monsters instead of remaining a cuddly cutie.

Director Joe Dante had a very different view of the movie.  He was bored by the human characters of Columbus’ quaint little town.  He was firmly on the side of the monsters.  Like the gremlins, Dante wanted to see Kingston Falls burn.  The more chaos he could depict on the screen, the better.  So he ended up imbuing the creatures with a sense of humor and unique characteristics.

Gremlins 2 - Gizmo

As producer, Spielberg had the final say on the tone of the movie.  He reigned in both the horror elements of the original script and some of Dante’s zanier impulses.  Gizmo’s fate was altered so that he could remain a lovable child’s plaything, much to the chagrin of Dante who liked his Mogwaii green and scaly.

Of course Gremlins was a hit at the box office and probably more importantly, Gremlins merchandise sold very well.  As expected, cute little Gizmo was on backpacks and lunch boxes and stuffed dolls.  Warner Brothers wanted a sequel as soon as possible.  When they approached Dante with the idea he turned them down flat.  On a creative level, he didn’t feel there was any more story left to tell.  But also, he found working on a big studio project to be exhausting and didn’t want to repeat the experience on a sequel.

Gremlins 2 - Mohawk

Undaunted, Warner Brothers continued developing Gremlins 2 without Dante’s involvement.  There were ideas to send the gremlins to Vegas or even into outer space.  But none of these ideas gelled.  Eventually, the studio went back to Dante and offered him pretty much anything he wanted to make a Gremlins sequel.  The director couldn’t say “no”.  Not only did Warner Brothers give Dante complete creative control over the movie, they also agreed to give him a much larger budget than he had on the first film.

You have to wonder if anyone at Warner Brother had even met Dante.  Giving him complete creative control and a big budget is a lot like handing Wile E. Coyote the entire ACME warehouse and letting him go crazy.  He’s probably not going to kill the Road Runner.  But he will create a massive amount of chaos and destruction as he tries to do so.

Dante being Dante, he decided he wasn’t going to make a proper sequel to Gremlins.  Instead, he decided to satirize his first movie and the concept of sequels.  A life-long fan of the Looney Tunes, Dante began and ended Gremlins 2 with animated sequences featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  He also used the movie to express his disdain for cute little Gizmo.  Gizmo spends most of the movie being tortured by other Gremlins until he gets in touch with his inner Rambo.

Phoebe Cates - Gremlins 2: The New Batch - 1990

Phoebe Cates – Gremlins 2: The New Batch – 1990

The sequel moves the action to New York but brings back the first movie’s leads, Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates.  They have new jobs in a high-tech high-rise owned by a millionaire played by John Glover.  Glover’s character is a thinly veiled send-up of Donald Trump named Daniel Clamp.  Hopefully Dante is working on a spin-off movie in which Daniel Clamp runs for president.  I’ll buy a ticket for that right now.

Gremlins 2 - John Glover

What’s Daniel Clamp’s stance on immigration?

The movie was filled with satirical touches some of which may not land as well today as they did when the movie was originally released.  Gremlins 2 spends a lot of time satirizing cable TV and technological advances that seemed silly then, but are kind of mundane now.  As the movie goes on it becomes more and more cartoonish which all leads up to the monsters doing a big musical number.

You can see how that might not go over with fans of the first movie who just wanted more of the same.  But for a kindred spirit like me, I found the off-the-wall humor to be refreshing.  Most fans disagreed and many felt betrayed by the silly sequel.  Many more stayed home.  It had been six years since the original Gremlins and by the time the sequel was released there was no longer a lot of demand for Gremlins 2.

Warner Brothers decided that the failure of Gremlins 2 indicated that the series was dead.  It’s been 25 years since the last Gremlins movie was released.  But in the modern age when everything is rebootable, there have been rumors that the studio is trying to interest Spielberg in reviving the series.

Let’s break this down:

How many movies in the series? 2

How many of them were good? 2

Health of the franchise before it died? Old

Likelihood of a reboot? Probably just a matter of time

Any redeeming value?  Tons if you like your Gremlins silly

More Franchise Killers

 

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Posted on September 15, 2015, in Franchise Killers, Movies, sequels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Great write-up! Obviously it doesn’t top the original but I, too, had fun with the sequel. Of course I did – it was Gremlins! 🙂 But a reboot would REALLY piss me off…. Oh, I’m very glad Gizmo stayed cute & cuddly! I love Gizmo. 🙂

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    • In some ways, I would argue that the sequel did top the original. It just depends on what you want from a movie. If you want a more traditional horror-comedy, the original Gremlins is a great choice. If you’re looking for something really outside the box, Gremlins 2 is going to deliver that like very few mainstream movies. It just depends on what mood I am in. Original if I’m feeling nostalgic. New Batch if I am in the mood for something screwball.

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      • Oh, I definitely prefer the first one. But the second was fun – I had no problem with the direction that one took! 🙂

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        • If I had to pick one for myself, I’d pick the sequel. But for most people, I would recommend the original. It takes a certain kind of person to really appreciate Gremlins 2. 😉

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      • I felt different when I was a kid, but apples to apples, I think the sequel here is better. First off, the original was mean-spirited, while the sequel is the word you used in the write-up: zany. I’m also a fan of satire (it keeps me sane) and this film has it in spades. Sure, I still love the original, as nasty as it is, but I favor the new batch.

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        • I don’t know that I would go so far as to say the original Gremlins is mean-spirited, but I know what you mean. I think there is a tension between the film Columbus wrote about the sweet little town being terrorized by monsters, the movie Spielberg and Warner Brothers wanted to market about a cute little stuffed animal who could be under every kid’s Christmas tree an the movie Dante wanted to make where a bunch of funny monsters wreck havoc on the dull town that deserves to be burned to the ground.

          With the sequel, for better or worse that tension is gone. You are just getting Dante’s anarchism and nothing else. If you like Dante, you will love Gremlins 2. If not, you may be left scratching your head.

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  2. This is indeed interesting. I never saw the sequel; can’t remember why but at the time I had this feeling that it would suck. Thinking now it might be more fun than the original by far!

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    • It’s definitely sillier. In fact, it goes out of its way to make fun of the first movie. For example, in the original movie, Phoebe Cates has a long and disturbing monologue about how her father died on Christmas. In the sequel, she starts giving a goofy, satirical speech about why she hates President’s Day. No one pays her any attention. As the movie progresses, it gets crazier and crazier. They start breaking the fourth wall. Monsters attack film critic Leonard Maltin while he pans the original movie. Hulk Hogan shows up when the Gremlins break the film projector and cause the movie to stop. And then of course it all ends with a Gremlins sing-along.

      This is what happens when you give a mad man like Joe Dante a lot of money and complete creative control. And I kind of love it.

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      • Dante knows how to make em like this. In fact, I’m thinking of doing an entry on another Dante movie, one that also ended a franchise. but deserved a far better fate and was way better than the one that started the franchise,

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  3. Oh yeah, I think “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” is REAL good.

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  4. Very nice write-up; I’ve never seen Gremlins 2 but I’m sure I’ll get around to checking it out someday. Joe Dante has done some interesting work over the years. His films are often uneven and imperfect, but they frequently have great moments and they seldom boring. One of these days I’m hoping to check out his early film Hollywood Boulevard once again–I saw it on cable a couple of times way back when.

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    • As a Dante fan, I agree with you. He can be a frustrating film-maker because he will make an uneven movie like The Burbs with hints of brilliance. If you enjoy his work on any level, definitely keep an eye out for Gremlins 2. It’s probably Dante’s most purely realized vision ever.

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  5. The 90s Comedy Sequels That Deserved Better:
    http://www.denofgeek.us/movies/90s-movies/249272/the-90s-comedy-sequels-that-deserved-better

    Gremlins 2: The New Batch

    It may just have been bad scheduling that cost Gremlins 2: The New Batch the dollars it deserved at the box office. Warner Bros. was confident in Joe Dante’s sequel, and thus released it opposite Disney’s Dick Tracy. But while Dick Tracy wouldn’t be the Batman-equal that Disney was hoping for, the millions it invested in promoting it – plus the tabloid-baiting pairing of Warren Beatty and Madonna – ensured it comfortably defeated Gremlins 2. The sequel would gross just $41 million in the US, less than a third of the original’s $153 million take.

    More’s the pity. Director Joe Dante has since said that he was keen with Gremlins 2 to make sure there wouldn’t be a Gremlins 3, which is why it’s a movie that gloriously lampoons itself so often (see: the scene where Leonard Maltin is reviewing the original film). Dante would put together Gremlins 2 as a satire on movie sequels, as well as a follow-up to the original film. He pretty much hit both targets.

    Dante only got freedom on Gremlins 2 because Warner Bros. wanted a sequel, and were struggling to get one off the ground. Dante had originally turned the project down, and so by the time the studio came back to him, he was in a position of some power, and had genuine creative control over the film. The keyword, clearly, being creative. Can you imagine a sequel now that sidelines arguably the main attraction of the original film – Gizmo in this case – for so much of the movie, to go off and have fun with everyone else instead? It just wouldn’t happen.

    Plans remain afoot for a new Gremlins film, and in truth, however it turns out it’s likely to be more successful that Gremlins 2 on the balance sheet. But it’ll have to go a long, long way to beat it on the screen.

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  6. 13 Planned Film Trilogies That Need To Be Completed

    http://whatculture.com/film/13-planned-film-trilogies-that-need-to-be-completed.php/13

    Gremlins 3

    Gremlins is one of those beloved movies that must be watched every Christmas, and Gremlins 2: The Next Batch was a great follow-up. Surprisingly audiences didn’t warm to the sequel which, to be fair, was making fun of the idea of sequels anyway. Director Joe Dante has said many, many times he weren’t interested in making another Gremlins, but accepts a remake or belated sequel will happen someday.

    Spielberg has apparently been protective of the franchise and has blocked ideas he didn’t feel worked over the years, but recently some progress has been made. The third movie would apparently take inspiration from Jurassic World, where it will acknowledge the original but feature a new set of characters. The original cast might make an appearance – and Gizmo had better come back – and original writer Chris Columbus will return to oversee it.

    The movie isn’t a guarantee at this point, but it would be nice to see the triumphant return of Gizmo and friends to complete the series; preferably with practical puppet effects too.

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  7. More often than not, movie franchises end on a low note. Sometimes one truly awful entry in a series can kill an audience’s appetite for any additional follow-ups.Read more http://www.iwizfranchise.com

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  8. Gremlins 3 still alive, Chris Columbus (not pictured) gives update on script https://t.co/dQg9S935aB

    Like

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