Repeat after me: "Reel 4" is to film reels as "Room 237" is to room numbers. Okay, did you repeat it? Now, forget that for a minute and let's go back to the summer of 1984, when Gremlins debuted and brought "Don't feed them after mindnight," to T-shirts and lunch boxes and a decade's worth of late-night monologue jokes overnight.
Gremlins, written by kids' movie superstar Chris Columbus (who wrote The Goonies and directed Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the first two Harry Potter films) and directed by Joe Dante under the wise producing eye of Steven Spielberg, was a few different kinds of good sci-fi wrapped up into one, surprisingly Christmas-themed blockbuster summer release.
It's a boy-and-his-dog tale, except the "dog" is a mogwai: a magical, cooing, furry creature with ears the size of Kingston Falls. And it's an unlikely-buddy flick that's downright E.T.-like at first: the mogwai, named Gizmo, even learns a few things about suburban life by watching TV. Then the film quickly diverges into a full-on creature-feature when the rules given to the boy's dad outside the mogwai shop are broken, turning all the mogwai except Gizmo into scaly, nasty beasties with an appetite for disorder and a chaotic-evil idea of a good time.
With the birth of the Gremlins came a host of Gremlins-inspired films. Some are more obvious than others. One, in particular, might surprise you.
It's no wonder Gremlins was such an influential film when it was released, spawning series-length lookalikes, sound-alikes, and chaos-causing creature-alikes with names likes Critters and Ghoulies and Munchies and Hobgoblins. Would Stranger Things' Dustin have ever found his own creepy lil monster pal Dart if it weren't for the Gremlins? SYFY WIRE's Dany Roth even postulates here that Gremlins opened the door for much later developments as disparate as Pokémon, Nightmare on Elm Street, Minions, and even Toy Story. And let's not forget the much-too-overlooked Gremlins 2: The New Batch of 1990, which, despite its parody-ready details, is actually quite great.
However, the one major film Gremlins has influenced that is so often left out of the official tally is the one that fans have had to figure out for themselves. But once you see it, you can never not see how this film borrows from Gremlins. Are you ready?
Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
Inglourious Basterds is one in a long line of Tarantino's trademark revenge flicks, though unlike Kill Bill Vol. 1 or 2, this one is a reimagining of real events in world history. The titular Basterds are a troupe of Jewish-American and Jewish-German soldiers traveling through World War II-ravaged Europe, defeating Nazis and ultimately plotting a way to end the war once and for all by taking out all the Nazi leaders at once. Simultaneously, a young Jewish woman named Shoshanna, hiding in Paris under the assumed name of Emmanuelle, has the same idea.
Tarantino released Inglourious Basterds, which he both wrote and directed, in 2009, but it had been in the works for a long time; he first finished a draft of the script in 1998. Though it might as well have been 1988 for as much as the story relied on Gremlins.
In Basterds, the film's heroes, Shoshanna and the Basterds, separately hatch plans to defeat the Nazi brass. How are they going to do it? The SS decides to use Shoshanna's movie theater for a premiere of their latest propaganda film. All of the highest-ranking officials are going to be in the theater at the same time, and Shoshanna (and the Basterds, in a separate plot) decide that the best way to win the war is to set fire to the movie theater.
Sound familiar? Let's go back to Kingston Falls, where Billy Peltzer (the boy who got the mogwai Gizmo) and his girlfriend Kate are looking for the Gremlins on a deserted main street that bears all the marks of a Gremlin rampage.
"Where did they all go?" Kate asks.
"It'll be light soon," Billy replies. "I bet they're all together someplace dark."
Then they see it, glowing in the distance, as Gizmo shouts "mogwai!" (Pokémon, anyone?). The movie theater marquee is all lit up before them, advertising Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and they are all, indeed, inside. Billy and Kate decide to burn down the movie theater to catch 'em all.
What follows are two sequences so similar that it's hard to believe various fan videos detailing Tarantino's influences leave this one out. Many details of the two sequences are alike, such as the inclusion of scenes behind the screens, in which Billy and Kate scramble down to the basement or Shoshanna's boyfriend waits for her signal.
But the real kicker (or rather, the reel kicker) comes in this Easter egg we found upon rewatching, something we've seen shown in the various "Inglourious Gremlins" mash-ups out there, but never realized overlapped 'til just now. In Inglourious Basterds, Shoshanna tells her boyfriend that the signal he's waiting for in their plan to defeat the Nazis is for her to start "Reel 4." In Gremlins, what do we see when we first see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs onscreen? A title card: "Reel 4."
Add all of this to the fact that earlier on in Gremlins, Billy's eccentric next-door neighbor explains to him that the term "Gremlins" comes from a popular WW2 Allied soldier belief in little creatures that could muck up machinery. And considering that the Basterds director once told Empire magazine, "I steal from every single movie ever made," it's hard to believe Tarantino does not owe as much to Gremlins as, say, the makers of Critters 4 do.
Which is to say, a lot.