The 1984, Steven Spielberg-produced classic, Gremlins was directed by Joe Dante, but the job almost originally went to a young Tim Burton. One of the most beloved horror/comedy films of all time, Gremlins will never be accused of being that scary, but it's certainly a ton of fun. It also makes for a great alternative Christmas movie, for those who want a break from the standard wholesome messages and sappy reunions found in most of the holiday season's most well-known cinematic classics.
Gremlins served to introduce the world to the adorable Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), a creature known as a Mogwai. Gizmo is so lovable that he's spawned basically every type of tie-in merchandise imaginable, but if three important rules regarding his care are broken, Gizmo also spawns evil monsters known as Gremlins. As nice as Gizmo is, the Gremlins are the opposite, getting their kicks via murder, mayhem, and general chaotic behavior. Needless to say, the small town of Kingston Falls wasn't ready for their rampage.
Despite only receiving one sequel, Gremlins remains a popular franchise, with a third film seemingly forever in development, and an animated prequel series called Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai headed to WarnerMedia's upcoming HBO Max streaming service. Gremlins might well be the biggest achievement of Joe Dante's directorial career, but it turns out another filmmaker almost helmed the film.
Why Tim Burton Didn't Direct Gremlins
Today, Tim Burton is one of Hollywood's most recognizable directors, well-known for possessing a style that's uniquely his own. While Burton's career has had its ups and downs in recent years, his filmography still boasts iconic classics like Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and the Michael Keaton-led Batman films. Back when producer Steven Spielberg was looking for someone to direct Gremlins though, Burton was still a relative unknown, although his short film Frankenweenie had been received so well that his name had a certain buzz around it.
Spielberg is said to have thought long and hard about offering Burton the gig directing Gremlins, but eventually settled on Joe Dante (who Spielberg had previously worked with on Twilight Zone: The Movie) for the job. The reason Spielberg passed Burton over was due to concerns about him not having directed a feature film at that point, while Dante already had several features under his belt, including werewolf classic The Howling. Considering that Burton's eventual film debut, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, came out just one year after Gremlins, it's likely Spielberg's concerns were unfounded. One wonders what Burton's unique sensibilities would've brought to the project, although it's doubtful Burton has any sour grapes about the decision, as things certainly worked out well for him either way.