After the death of his owner Mr. Wing, the mogwai Gizmo becomes the guinea pig of scientists at Clamp Enterprises, a state-of-the-art office building in Manhattan, run by eccentric billionaire Daniel Clamp. At the mercy of the chief researcher Dr. Catheter, Gizmo is rescued by his friend Billy Peltzer and his fiancee Kate, both of whom work for the company. Clamp befriends Billy upon being impressed by his skills in concept design, also sparking the interest of Billy's superior Marla Bloodstone. Gizmo is left in the office, where water spills on his head and spawns four new mogwai (George, Lenny, Mohawk and Daffy) who then lock Gizmo in the vents. They eat after midnight, turning into gremlins.
After Gizmo finds a way out of the vent, Mohawk tortures him by beating him, shocking him with an electrical wire, putting him in the photocopier, putting Velcro strips on him and ripping them off, and finally ramming him with a toy train while the other gremlins cause the fire sprinklers to go off and spawn a gremlin army that throws the building into chaos. Billy attempts to lure the gremlins into the lobby, where sunlight will kill them; after Billy briefs Clamp on gremlin knowledge, Clamp exits through a secret tunnel to cover the front of the building in a giant sheet to trick the creatures. The gremlins devour serums in the lab; one becomes the intelligent Brain Gremlin, who plans to use a "genetic sunblock" serum to immunize them to sunlight. One gremlin turns into a female, while a third becomes pure electricity and is trapped in Clamp's answering machine by Billy. All the while "Grandpa Fred" films the chaos on camera with help from a Japanese tourist named Mr. Katsuji.
Murray Futterman, Billy's neighbor from Kingston Falls who is visiting New York City, encounters a bat-hybrid gremlin and covers it with cement, effectively turning it into a gargoyle. Murray realizes that he is not crazy and that he has to help; when Clamp escapes the building using a secret route, Murray uses it to sneak inside to aid Billy. Billy and the chief of security Forster team up, but Forster is stalked and trapped by the female gremlin. Mohawk finishes torturing Gizmo and devours a spider serum, transforming into a monstrous half-gremlin half-spider hybrid. He attacks Kate and Marla, but Gizmo confronts Mohawk and kills him with an ignited bottle of white-out. Outside, a rainstorm frustrates Clamp's plan as the gremlins gather in the building's foyer, singing "New York, New York".
Billy formulates a plan to kill the Gremlin army: Mr. Futterman sprays the army with water while Billy releases the electric gremlin, electrocuting them. Clamp charges in with the police and press, but sees the battle is over; he is so thrilled by the end result that he gives Billy, Kate, Fred, and Marla promotions and hires Mr. Katsuji as a cameraman. Billy and Kate then return home with Gizmo.
The film has various crew and guest cameos: Jerry Goldsmith as a yogurt customer, John Astin as a janitor, and Henry Gibson as an employee fired for smoking. Rick Ducommun cameos as a security guard, and Joe Dante as the director of Grandpa Fred's show. Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith cameo as themselves getting attacked at the salad bar. The cast of the PBS children's show Square One TV appear as themselves filming an episode in the lobby of the Clamp building.
Along with the main plot, there is animation by Chuck Jones in the film featuring the Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig (who are now voiced by Jeff Bergman, due to the death of Mel Blanc, the original voice actor). Jones had actually quit animation before returning to work on Gremlins 2. Dante explained the animation at the beginning of the film was meant to "set the anarchic tone."
The first scene appears at the very beginning of the movie, and features the classic "Looney Tunes" opening card, causing people to assume it is the short cartoon that usually plays before a movie begins; however, when Bugs Bunny appears through the rings on top of the Warner Brothers shield, Daffy interrupts the intro, and steals the shield from Bugs. Daffy attempts to recreate the opening with himself in place of Bugs Bunny, but the shield overshoots, causing the entire title card to fall apart. Daffy surrenders the stardom, claiming that since he won't star in the cartoon, they might as well just skip straight to the movie. Bugs is willing to do so, and spins Daffy off screen like a spinning top for the movie title to appear.
The DVD and Blu-ray include a longer version of the cartoon short. In it, Daffy is informed by Bugs that he has been promoted to executive and is subsequently put in charge writing the title of the movie. When Daffy mistakenly writes the title Gremlins 2 as "Gremlin Stew", Bugs corrects the error. Daffy then attempts to rename the film The Return of Super-Daffy Meets Gremlins 2 Part 6: The Movie, but Bugs rejects this for being too long, changing it back to Gremlins 2 (rendered in the font of the official logo). Daffy then quits his new job and Bugs decides to add in the subtitle, saying it looks "a little skimpy". This material was removed from the film because early audiences expected a live-action film and were bewildered by the lengthy animated sequence.
Throughout the film's closing credits, Daffy pops into frame sporadically and spouts off sarcastic comments. The last scene appears after the credits, and again features the Looney Tunes rings. This time, Porky Pig comes out of the rings and says his usual "Th-th-th-that's all, folks!" However, Daffy Duck interrupts again and takes over. After Daffy says the slogan, the back of the Warner Bros. shield, with the words, "Written and Directed by Chuck Jones (with Chuck Jones' signature)", smashes him. He peeks his head out to the left side and says, "Fade out," and the segment ends.
The original Gremlins was a financial success, and Warner Bros. asked its director Joe Dante to make a sequel straight away. Dante declined, because he saw Gremlins as having a proper ending, and thus a sequel would only be meant to be profitable. Moreover, the original film was a taxing experience for Dante, and he wanted to move on. Work on Gremlins 2 continued without him, as the studio approached various directors and writers. Storylines considered included sending the gremlins to cities like Las Vegas or even the planet Mars. After these ideas fell through, the studio returned to Dante, who agreed to make the sequel after receiving the rare promise of having complete creative control over the movie; he also received a budget triple that of the original film's. Dante later acknowledged that by this point too much time had passed between the films, thus possibly reducing Gremlins 2's appeal.
Gremlins 2 was shot in New York in June 1989, the film was released in 1990, and as the filmmakers later noted, this was a time when cable television, genetics, and frozen yogurt were becoming more common and influential. This left a mark on Gremlins 2. Gremlins 2 exaggerated what could be seen on cable television at the time, although as the filmmakers noted in 2002, that humour might be lost on present-day audiences. Cable television later grew to provide the same variety. Genetics in 1990 is reflected in the laboratory scene in Gremlins 2, and frozen yogurt is what the mogwai eat after midnight.
With more control over the film, Dante engineered a project that he later referred to as "one of the more unconventional studio pictures, ever." Dante included some material that he believed Warner Bros. would not have allowed had they not wanted a sequel to Gremlins. Allowed to break a number of rules in filmmaking, he also later claimed it was the film into which he had put the most of his personal influence. Dante imagined Gremlins 2 as a satire of Gremlins and sequels in general. Another basic description of Gremlins 2 was that, as Dante said, an hour into the film it becomes "extremely cartoony."
The recommended screenwriter, Charlie Haas, brought to the project the basic storyline of moving the gremlins to New York City, and he also imagined a corporate head (the character Clamp) being Billy's boss and at the center of the new disaster. When the Warner Bros. executives grew concerned about the expense of portraying the gremlins attacking an entire city, Haas came up with the idea of confining the action within Daniel Clamp's "smart building". Haas also included a great deal of material in his screenplay that proved too elaborate to produce, including having a cow–hamster hybrid running on a treadmill in the laboratory.
In keeping with Dante's desires to satirize the original film, the sequel has some meta-references and self-referential humor. These include a cameo appearance by film critic Leonard Maltin. He holds up a copy of the original Gremlins home video and denounces it, just as he had in reality; however, his rant is cut short when gremlins pounce on him. Partly for this scene, one academic called Dante "one of contemporary cinema's great pranksters."
Additionally, when Billy is trying to explain the rules regarding the mogwai to staff in the building, the staff find them quite absurd and derisively interrogate Billy on their precise meaning; at one point considering the thought experiment of a mogwai in a plane which crosses a time zone. This scene originates from the fact that the filmmakers themselves saw the rules as irrational, and some questions in the scene were based upon those raised by fans of the original film.
At one point in the film, Dante attempted to involve his audience in the story by making it seem as if the gremlins had taken control of the theatre where Gremlins 2 was showing. The film strip appears to be broken by the gremlins, who then engage in shadow puppetry over a white screen before replacing the reel with the vintage nudie film Volleyball Holiday. Hulk Hogan then makes a cameo appearance as an audience member and intimidates the gremlins into running the rest of Gremlins 2. This joke was inspired by a similar stunt in William Castle's film The Tingler (1959). The studio feared that people might leave the theatre if they thought the film had broken; Dante therefore secured the inclusion of the sequence by assembling some people for a preview of the film. When the scene was shown, the real-life audience found it enjoyable and stayed in the theatre. Dante later described this scene as one of the most widely enjoyed jokes in Gremlins 2. When the film made its debut on home video, the filmmakers replaced the scene, to make it seem as if the viewer's VCR had been broken by the gremlins. In this version, the gremlins do their shadow puppetry over white noise before changing the VCR's channels. Their antics stop at a broadcast of Chisum, where John Wayne forces the gremlins into continuing the film, although voice impersonation was needed since Wayne had been dead since 1979; actor Chad Everett was recommended by Wayne's son Patrick Wayne. Notably, a clip from Falling Hare, a film released in 1943 featuring Bugs Bunny and a gremlin, appears in this version. These sequences occur in lieu of the Hulk Hogan sequence which also featured Paul Bartel; home video audiences would not see these sequences until the DVD release (which includes the reworked VHS scene as a bonus feature).
The original version of the film was longer, but executive producer Steven Spielberg claimed that there were too many gremlins, and several scenes were cut as a result. One deleted scene portrayed three of the main gremlins, Daffy, Lenny, and George, sneaking into television host Grandpa Fred's studio and "helping" him host, acting on the premise that Grandpa Fred's show was intended to be scary (though this scene was later included in the tie-in novel).
Several actors from the original film returned to make Gremlins 2, including Galligan, Cates, and Dick Miller. Miller reprised his role as Billy's neighbor Mr. Futterman, who the gremlins severely injured (both physically and mostly mentally) in the first film, in an expanded role in this film. In the second, he plays a part in wiping out the creatures by dousing one in cement and using the building's fire hose against the others. Character actress Jackie Joseph returned to play Mr. Futterman's wife, and there were also brief reappearances in the movie theatre sequence from Belinda Balaski as a complaining mother and Kenneth Tobey as the projectionist. Keye Luke also returned to play Mr. Wing, Gizmo's original owner. When Luke heard his character would die in Gremlins 2, he quipped, "Remember, when you make Gremlins 3, I'm a flashback!". Hoyt Axton was meant to return as Billy's father, the inventor. He would have appeared at the end of the film, having designed special clothing for Gizmo that would ensure Gizmo would never come into contact with water again. At the last moment, the filmmakers decided not to shoot the scene to reduce time.
New performers included Robert Picardo, who had previously worked with Dante and producer Michael Finnell in films such as The Howling (1981). He plays Forster, one of Billy's crueler bosses. Robert Prosky played Grandpa Fred, a television host, and his character was based upon Al Lewis's character Grandpa Munster. Joe Dante has a brief cameo as the director of Grandpa Fred's show. John Glover played Clamp (character based upon Donald Trump and Ted Turner) and brought to the role an enthusiastic innocence that overrode the fact that his character had been written as a villain, which Dante thought lightened the film in general.
Christopher Lee (who previously worked with Spielberg in 1941) played the mad scientist Dr. Catheter. Lee imagined his role as light-hearted; but Dante encouraged him to portray the scientist as evil to better match the atmosphere of the laboratory set. Lee was revered on the set for his experience. In a deleted scene, Dr. Catheter examines a bat injected with "genetic sun-block". He then says to his colleague, "I'm told they sometimes feed on blood"; this is a reference to Lee's performances as Count Dracula in the Hammer Horror films. Later, as the Bat Gremlin is transforming, Dr. Catheter experiences Deja-vu (the audience hears Dracula music).
For special effects, the original film relied on Chris Walas, who moved on to pursue a directing career. Dante turned to Academy Award-winner Rick Baker to create the effects for Gremlins 2. Baker was not interested, as he saw Gremlins 2 as too much work for a project in which he would not be the creator but rather a successor to Walas. He was eventually persuaded to accept the job when it was suggested he could make the gremlins and mogwai more diverse.
In the first film, when Gizmo multiplied, his off-spring closely resembled himself, except for the leader, Stripe. Here, the four mogwai Gizmo produces each possess their own distinct personalities and physical features. Additionally, each mogwai has a name, although the names were used in the script and never spoken aloud in the film. Two of the mogwais were George, black without a stripe and a caricature of Edward G. Robinson, and Lenny, buck-toothed, named for the principal characters in Of Mice and Men, whom they resemble in both appearance and demeanor. Daffy was named for his manic behaviour, and the leader, Mohawk, for his mohawk hairstyle. Based on the original film's character, Stripe, Frank Welker also voices Mohawk. While both the mogwai and gremlin versions of Stripe had fur stripes, Baker hit upon the idea of giving the Mohawk mogwai a fur stripe and giving the Mohawk gremlin something scalier. Gizmo was also redesigned; the puppet was generally larger and its design was simplified. Dante commented Gizmo may look less real in Gremlins 2, but the result was that Gizmo could convey more emotion.
Later on, when the mogwai metamorphose into gremlins and multiply, they further diversify by running amok in the bio-lab and ingesting various drugs. One turns into a sunlight-resistant hybrid with a bat, thus becoming the Bat Gremlin. Mohawk becomes part-spider. One becomes part-vegetable (Vegetable Gremlin, as Dante named it), and another consumes a drug and turns into a female gremlin, referred to in at least one script as the "Girl Gremlin" and in the official trading card series and other promotional materials as "Lady Gremlina" with shiny red lips and mascara. Yet another has acid thrown onto his face, quickly presenting a mask of the Phantom of the Opera.
As with the first, puppetry was involved, and some of the puppets were mechanical. An actor holding a puppet would have to have wires strapped to him. Gremlins 2 also includes more stop motion animation than the first film; the Bat Gremlin was portrayed through some stop motion animation. Film technology since the original had improved, and as a result the creatures can be seen walking more. Gizmo is able to dance, although this scene took the longest to make. Because there are more gremlins in Gremlins 2 than the original, additional filming lasted five months. Many of the effects had to be completed after the actors had finished their work.
For the Gremlins' voices, Howie Mandel returned as the voice of Gizmo, while Tony Randall provided the voice of the Brain Gremlin, Frank Welker provided the voice for Mohawk, Mark Dodson provided voices for George, Lenny, and Daffy, Joe Dante provided voices for the Beanie Gremlin and the Witch Gremlin, Nancy McConnor provided the voice for the Bat Gremlin, while Kirk Thatcher provided voices for most of the Gremlins, alongside Welker.
As with the first film, the music in Gremlins 2 was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, who also has a cameo in the film alongside his wife. In the latter half of the film, Gizmo, inspired by the Rambo films and tired of the abuse he has suffered at the hands of the gremlins, takes revenge on Mohawk. Gizmo shoots the Mohawk spider-gremlin with a makeshift bow and flaming arrow. For the scene in which Gizmo prepares for this move, Goldsmith – who had also authored the music in the Rambo films – employed a variant of Gizmo's theme in the style of the Rambo theme. The soundtrack was released August 31, 1990 through Varèse Sarabande and features twelve tracks of score at a running time just under forty minutes.
The scene featuring Mohawk transforming into a spider-like monster features a portion of the song "Angel of Death" by thrash metal band Slayer. In another scene, the Brain Gremlin leads hundreds of gremlins to sing "New York, New York". Dante claimed that "The musical number is a shameless steal" from the film Dames (1934).
Film critics varied in their reviews of Gremlins 2: it scored a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert, who had approved of the first film, observed that Gremlins 2 was meant to satirize sequels. Nevertheless, he felt it did not manage to differentiate itself from the original enough and was not as good. He went on to claim that the film lacks a well-constructed plot, and once the Gremlins arrived the film simply becomes a "series of gags." He thus gave the film two and a half stars, out of a possible four. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post caught on to how the Looney Tunes animation is meant to imply "anarchic wit," but nevertheless felt both the cartoon short and the film itself are failures. He saw the beginning as too slow and, like Ebert, thought the film is too similar to the first. Hinson did, however, approve of the characterization of the gremlins and their version of "New York, New York." He also noted that turning the gremlins against Clamp resembles anti-corporate "poetic justice."
In contrast, while one reviewer for Films in Review, like Ebert, argued the film resembles the original and abandons its plot when the gremlins arrive, he also felt the film's appeal could be found partly in its self-consciousness of these facts and its in-jokes and satire. He also complimented Cates as "wholesomely bewitching," and Galligan as "a suitably naive foil for the scaly fiends." Desson Howe of The Washington Post also approved of the film, including its special effects and the parodies of Trump, Turner, genetics labs, cable television, and the film Marathon Man. Some critics thought the film has qualities the original lacked, such as wit. A critic for National Review called the film "much freer and wittier than the first one," though he felt the sequel shies away from becoming an important piece of satire. The cover of an issue of Entertainment Weekly in July 1990 also exclaimed that "actor John Glover... and director Joe Dante made Gremlins 2 wittier, better, and more subversive than the original." Some critics who found the first film too dark also gave Gremlins 2 more positive reviews. Leonard Maltin, who appears in the film, gave it three out of four stars for its references to other films, Glover's imitation of Turner and Trump, and Lee's performance. VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever gave the film three-and-a-half bones out of four as opposed to the three bones given to the original, stating:
An Allmovie critic complimented the sequel by saying the "original's violence and mean-spiritedness are gone, making this follow-up somewhat more kid-friendly." The film was nominated for several Saturn Awards, namely for Best Director, Best Fantasy Film, Best Music, and Best Special Effects. Glover and Picardo were both nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award.
Still, the film did not perform as well at the box office. The trailer introduced the film to audiences by displaying a surface of water intercut with scenes from the original. A narrator goes over the rules regarding how to safely handle mogwai. After the narrator says, "You didn't listen [to the rules]," scenes from the sequel are shown, revealing the gremlins morphing into strange new creatures and then ending with the Brain Gremlin speaking. Gremlins 2 was released into US theatres on June 15, 1990, the same day as Dick Tracy. In its first weekend it made $9,702,804, and it ultimately made $41,482,207. It was thus only the thirty-first highest-grossing film of the year, behind a few other films in the comedy, horror or fantasy genre, such as Back to the Future Part III ($87,727,583), Edward Scissorhands ($56,362,352), and Arachnophobia ($53,208,180). It did, however, outperform Predator 2 ($30,669,413), Child's Play 2 ($28,501,605) and The Exorcist III ($26,098,824).
Gremlins 2 also played in other countries. Canadian audiences reportedly enjoyed one scene in which Billy and his boss meet at a Canadian-themed restaurant, where the waiters are dressed like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The film was released in Norway on July 5, Finland on July 6, Colombia on July 12, and much of Europe in the rest of July, including in the United Kingdom and Spain on July 27. It opened in France and Argentina in August and reached Australia on September 20. It earned £7,400,000 in the United Kingdom. Later, the film made an additional $20,800,000 in rental stores.
In 2015, comedy duo Key & Peele spoofed Gremlins 2 with a sketch imagining what the writers' room for the movie was like.
As with the first film, merchandising accompanied Gremlins 2. This may have been integral to the film's purpose. As one critic wrote, "it's a savvy, off-the-wall comedy that acknowledges, yes, it is just one more silly rip-off sequel, produced to sell off the merchandise inspired by the first film." One reference the film makes to the original, an allusion to the merchandising surrounding Gizmo, drew criticism. Some critics saw the mention of merchandise as tasteless. This type of product placement has since become more common.
The new merchandise released alongside the film included PVC figures, plush, and other collectibles by the now-defunct Applause company in 1990. Much later, action figures by the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA Toys) based on characters such as the Brain and Mohawk Gremlins were released. NECA is also releasing mogwais and gremlins from the film in late 2011 and 2012; there will be mogwai and gremlin versions of Daffy, Lenny and George, as well as a mogwai version of Mohawk. The Electric gremlin, flasher gremlin and the Phantom of the Opera gremlin will also be released in action figure form by NECA. There are also newer versions of Gizmo being released, including his Rambo look. Greta, a newer version of Mohawk and Mohawk in Spider form are also being planned for the future.
There were also children's books like Gremlins 2: The New Batch: Movie Storybook, by Michael Teitelbaum, published by Goldencraft in December 1990. Little Golden Books published Gremlins 2: The New Batch: Gizmo to the Rescue in July 1990. In the United Kingdom, William Heinemann Ltd. had published two tie-in picture books from Buzz Books in August 1990 which contains photographs and scenes taken from the film. They were titled Don't Get Wet and Midnight Feast. Buzz Books had also released other picture books that are particularly suitable for children such as Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Fireman Sam, TUGS, The Flintstones, The Animals of Farthing Wood, Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Joshua Jones and Rupert. David Bischoff wrote a novel based on the film published by Avon Books in June 1990. A unique aspect of the novel is how Bischoff adapts the sequence where the film breaks. In the novel, the Brain Gremlin subdues and locks Bischoff in his bathroom before taking the reins for a little bit to explain that the Gremlins take over at this point in the film, his displeasure at Bischoff using the nickname "Mr. Glasses" instead of his official name, and begins a treatise on politics before Bischoff breaks his way out of the bathroom with an axe and subdues the Brain Gremlin. The novel then continues where the film picked up after the film break.
The Spanish company Topo Soft developed a side-scrolling Gremlins 2: The New Batch video game for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum, distributed by Erbe Software in Spain and by Elite abroad, being the first time a Spanish video game company got an exclusive license from a Hollywood movie to make a videogame. Hi-Tech Expressions also released a DOS game at around the same time, but it was poorly received. Sunsoft released versions for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy in 1990.
On January 2013, Vulture reported that Warner Bros. was negotiating with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment to reboot the Gremlins franchise. Seth Grahame-Smith was tapped to produce, alongside David Katzenberg. However, Grahame-Smith has since stated that the project has been put on hold. In November 2015 Zach Galligan confirmed that the third film will be a sequel and not a reboot.
In a December 2016 interview with Bleeding Cool, Galligan again spoke about a third film saying that "Warner Bros. definitely wants it, Chris Columbus wants to do it because he’d like to undo the Gremlins 2 thing as he wasn’t thrilled with it, and Spielberg wants to do it I imagine – because he’s Spielberg – and why wouldn’t he want to do it." He said that Columbus was now in control of the franchise and once confirmed that there will be no remake or reboot, only a sequel. He also said that that Columbus "has been aggressively working on a Gremlins 3" and Columbus even went into some detail about what the third film would be about. Gremlins 3 takes place in present day. He tantalizingly says there will be some new characters and some old characters – I guess in the style of a Force Awakens type sequel. One thing we know for sure is they have a writer on board. The only insight I can give is the following: There was a 6-year gap between Gremlins and Gremlins 2; most of that time was spent with them writing and rejecting ideas and re-writing. One of the ideas that was rejected was ‘gremlins in Vegas.’ They went with that for 18 months and felt it was too expensive. Eventually they came up with the tower idea, where essentially I’m working for Donald Trump, our new President! That took six years to happen. Carl Ellsworth has been apparently working on the script for a year and a half now." Galligan said. It is unknown if Joe Dante will return to direct the third film.