Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big  Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

30 Years Of 'Gremlins': How Steven Spielberg Ushered In The Era Of PG-13 Blockbuster Entertainment

The Playlist By Ben Brock | The Playlist June 5, 2014 at 2:27PM

30 years ago, Steven Spielberg—still some way from his 38th birthday—was at the height of his power. He had invented the modern blockbuster in “Jaws,” re-invented the old-school adventure in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” perfected the family movie in “E.T.,” united all these things for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and founded an immensely powerful production company, funding and steering innovative, horror-flavored projects like “Poltergeist” and “The Twilight Zone”—and something called “Gremlins,” a project Spielberg had bought and then given to a promising director of comic horror called Joe Dante, because the maestro himself was busy with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
9
Gremlins

Canby conceded that Cates' Santa speech was hilarious, but the damage was done. Steven Spielberg, hero of the middle-American multiplex, was suddenly Steven Spielberg, monster under your kids' beds. That the kids probably loved the movies in question wasn't the point.

Red Dawn

Instead of going on the offensive, or going to ground, Spielberg made a cunning move, the kind of cunning move that explains just how he got to be so powerful in the first place: he came out for tougher ratings. Not just in a well-timed interview or a carefully phrased press release: he phoned his good friend Jack Valenti, the head of the MPAA, and suggested a new, tougher rating that would sit between PG and R. As Spielberg said in one interview, "I created the problem and I also supplied the solution ... I invented the rating.” Two months later, “Red Dawn” became the first movie to be released as a PG-13 (nonsensically, “Gremlins” didn't even get re-rated: you could still see it playing as a PG in August of that year, next to the new PG-13s).

PG-13 was a rating that allowed more latitude than the PG—which now essentially denoted a kid's movie—but didn't put the film off-limits to large audiences the way an R did. And it had been created not by outraged moral guardians, but by the filmmaker of the moment, the one who caused the trouble in the first place.

Dark Crystal

The rest is history. The PG-13 rating was a cash-cow, box-office “hot sauce” (Spielberg's words again): at the time of writing, 9 of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time are PG-13s (it was all 10 until “Frozen” happened). It was the perfect blockbuster rating: you could push the violence and destruction, swear once or twice, suggest some sexy stuff and still pack as many people as possible into the theatre. Win-win.

It was also the end of an era. Suddenly, making weird, kid-friendly, kid-frightening, adult-intriguing films wasn't really possible; the arrival of the new rating had a chilling effect, and a kind of film that had been blossoming in the ‘80s suddenly died, becoming ghettoized as “for kids.” In 1982, Don Bluth's uncanny, unexpected “The Secret of NIMH” had been a box-office success and a critical darling; Bluth ended up working with Spielberg on the much tamer and less interesting “An American Tail” a few years later. The same year as “NIMH,” Jim Henson's “The Dark Crystal” was a weird, eerie all-ages hit; by the time the follow-up “Labyrinth” came around in 1986 no-one was interested, even with David Bowie's crotch doing its best, and the film was a financial failure. “The Never-Ending Story” appeared in theaters a couple of months after “Gremlins” and was met with confusion. Disney panicked and demanded extensive cuts to their “Black Cauldron” project, which would have been their darkest ever film; when it came out in 1985, the censored version was a box-office flop that left behind an intriguing suggestion of a much better, forever-lost piece of work.

Critters

Other horror, freed from the burden of worrying about the kids, could be much nastier (although there's also an argument that since PG-13 debuted, more mature films have been watered down to earn the certification). Followers of “Gremlins” like “Critters” are more brutal but lack the keen edge of the bizarre. Great comedy-horror continued to be made throughout the ‘80s—the decade that brought you “An American Werewolf in London” and “Evil Dead 2”—but it was very much for adults.

Those who had worked on “Gremlins” went one way or the other: Chris Columbus had a 1985 kid's hit with the sanitized “The Goonies,” while that same year Spielberg made “The Color Purple,” the first film in his later style of Oscar-friendly, grown-up worthiness.

Gremlins II

Dante, meanwhile, has had an odd career, with its share of hits and flops and a consistent off-beat tone that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. He made the 1990 sequel “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” which is nastier and significantly less interesting, and 1998's “Small Soldiers”; a film mostly forgotten now unless you happened to be at the precise right age to see it on release. It was marketed weirdly and set off its own argument about violence in children's films, becoming the only Dreamworks release so far to be a PG-13. It's actually a clever little film about violence in kid's films (and with several cheeky “Gremlins” references), but it cost Dante the chance to work in cinema for over a decade. He came back with “The Hole,” which we really wanted to like and basically didn't.

Dante, Spielberg and “Gremlins” created—and if you haven't seen this line coming, you haven't been paying attention—a monster, in the form of the PG-13 rating. “Gremlins” feels almost unique now, the kind of film you wish there was more of—but it's also the reason there aren't any others, a victim of its own grotesque success. But perhaps that's just as it should be: we go back to look for the mysterious Chinese place we rented the VHS from, and it isn't there any more.

This article is related to: Features, Gremlins, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg, Feature


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates