Warner Brothers was undoubtedly shocked when it saw the first cut of Gremlins. The slightly scary family film they thought they were getting was a full fledged horror picture with comedic touches. The licensees were definitely not going to be happy. While director Joe Dante didn’t have final cut on the film, he answered to Steven Spielberg and his production company and the only restriction placed on them was to bring in a PG film. Warner Brothers could have pressured Spielberg, but he was a hot commodity and they were loathe to make him mad. The last chance they had to get a less violent film was in the hands of the MPAA. If they gave it an R, Spielberg would have no choice but to order the picture be recut.
The MPAA provided no help in that regard. The film was given a PG. The picture went out on the same weekend as Ghostbusters and it was most likely seen as the more family friendly film released that weekend. The studio’s promotion and marketing had put the adorable Gizmo front and center. That’s why many people were shocked at some of the films’ violent scenes. That controversy, however, did little to dampen enthusiasm for the film. It was a monster success and its merchandise flew off the shelves.
The negative reaction to the violence in this and another Spielberg produced film- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom- led to a re-evaluation of the ratings system and resulted in the creation of a new rating- PG-13- that could be used for films deemed too intense for those younger than 13 years of age but not quite deserving of an R.