Home Alone is 30 years old! To celebrate this McCallister family milestone, we’ve gathered 30 surprising, funny and festive facts you may not know about the classic Christmas film.
Ready? This is it. Don’t get scared now.
An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation.
According to Home Alone screenwriter and producer John Hughes’ son James, the idea for the film sprang from a chaotic start to a family holiday to Europe in 1989. On their return home, Hughes took this idea – what if one of the kids had been accidentally left behind? – and wrote the first draft of Home Alone in just nine days.
200 potential Kevin McCallisters auditioned for Home Alone’s director, Chris Columbus, but John Hughes was fairly sure he’d already worked with the perfect candidate on 1989’s John Candy comedy Uncle Buck. Macaulay Culkin played Miles Russell in that film and impressed Hughes (who directed the film) during a scene where he interrogates a potential babysitter through the letterbox.
Talking of Uncle Buck, its star John Candy filmed his entire role as Gus Polinski, ‘Polka King of the Midwest’, in one 23-hour day. Not only that, but he improvised Gus’s story about leaving his kid for a day in a funeral parlour – “He was okay, y’know, after six or seven weeks...” – on the spot. What a pro.
Because child labour laws prevent young actors from shooting after 10pm, the crew had to subsititute Macaulay during evening and night shoots. Sometimes, director Chris Columbus would play Kevin off- screen. And, when it came to shooting close ups of Catherine O’Hara (Kevin’s mum), the crew would have her deliver lines to a tennis ball on a stand positioned at Macaulay’s height so her eyeline would match.
In fact, Joe Pesci wasn’t even the second choice to play the leader of the Wet Bandits. The role of Harry was originally offered to Pesci’s pal and fellow Scorsese collaborator, Robert De Niro and, when he turned it down, it was offered to Saturday Night Live’s Jon Lovitz. Happily, though, Pesci stepped up and was perfect.
Home Alone’s Marv (Daniel Stern) wasn’t only familiar with Joe Pesci’s work before they teamed up as the Wet Bandits – they’d worked together in 1982 on a film called I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can. Their scenes were cut from the final film, but Daniel remembered the experience fondly as he told Chicago Magazine: “During one of the takes, there’s a Ping-Pong table in the middle of the room, and Joe takes [t]his tube of paper and puts it up to his nose and snorts the line of Ping-Pong balls. I fell on the floor laughing. I became his friend right then.”
Harry’s full name is Harry Lyme, which is the name of Orson Welles’ character in the fantastic 1949 film noir, The Third Man (well,Welles’ character is Harry Lime to be 100% accurate).
Kevin’s reaction when he looks at a framed photo of older brother Buzz’s girlfriend is unforgettable – “Buzz, your girlfriend: woof!” – but Chris Columbus thought it would be way too mean if it was directed at an actual girl. And so, the startled-looking girlfriend in the snap is actually the son of the film’s art director.
Chris Columbus originally chose Bruce Broughton (Young Sherlock Holmes, The Monster Squad, Harry and the Hendersons) for Home Alone’s score – his name even appears on some teaser posters. But, when a scheduling conflict prevented Broughton from taking on the project it remained score-less until Columbus sent a finished print of Home Alone to Williams who absolutely loved it. The rest is history.
Given that the King died in 1977 it seems highly unlikely that the bearded guy in the turtle neck, standing behind Kate McCallister (Catherine O’Hara) while she argues with a Scranton airport ticket agent is actually Elvis Presley. But the thought that it might be him has certainly got us all shook up.
When it came to dedication to his craft, it didn’t matter to Pesci that he was filming a festive, family comedy rather than a blood-soaked mobster movie. And so, to ensure the most authentic reactions possible from ‘Kevin’, Pesci did his best to avoid Macaulay Culkin on set between scenes so the young actor would genuinely be wary of him when the cameras rolled.
Remember when the Wet Bandits finally catch Kevin, hang him on a coat hook and Harry threatens to bite off his fingers, one by one? Okay, so the actually-very-nice Pesci didn’t do that but according to Culkin Joe did accidentally bite one of his fingers during rehearsals, and Macaulay still bears the scar.
On release, Home Alone was an absolute smash hit. It became the highest-grossing film of 1990 and scored a Guinness World Record for the highest-grossing live action comedy in a single territory. This was a record that Home Alone would hold onto for 27 years until Chinese film Never Say Die took the top slot in 2017.
Globally to date, Home Alone has made a staggering $476,684,675. That’s enough to buy Harry 39,723,722 replacement beanies at $12 each.
Home Alone’s snowy backdrop seems like the perfect bit of festive set-dressing doesn’t it? As it happens, though, the film didn’t budget for snow but a blizzard on the second day of shooting forced the crew to keep the McCallisters’ Chicago suburb covered in fake flakes even after the real stuff melted away.
If you ever happen to see a production that features snow, at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, you may well be watching some of the same pretend flakes that adorned Home Alone’s exterior shots. After wrapping, the production donated the fake snow to the locally based theatre and it’s still in use.
Remember Fuller, Kevin’s Pepsi-guzzling, bed-wetting cousin? He’s played by none other than Macaulay Culkin’s younger brother, Kieran, in his first screen appearance. Happily, Kieran wasn’t typecast and hasgone on to star in everything from The Cider House Rules (1999) and Igby Goes Down (2002) to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) and TV’s Succession (2018-).
Legend has it that Kevin’s first face-to-face exchange with Harry and Marv – “Do you guys give up or are you thirsty for more?” – was made up by young Macaulay Culkin as they were filming.
If you’ve ever done the iconic Home Alone pose – hands clamped to your face in shock – know that the moment you’re copying wasn’t planned to happen like that at all. Apparently Macaulay was supposed to pat the aftershave on, remove his hands and then scream. But, instead, he kept his hands on his face and when the crew fell about laughing, the ‘error’ made it into the final cut and into movie history, becoming Home Alone’s defining image.
Poor old Marv. The moment when Buzz McCallister’s pet tarantula ends up on the Wet Bandit’s face and he screams is one of Home Alone’s most memorable shots, and it really happened. What wasn’t real – in the moment at least – was Daniel Stern’s terrified scream. Fearing that the sound might spook the hairy spider (and make it bitey), Stern mimed it, and recorded that classic shriek later on.
In Home Alone’s original script, the menacing McCallister furnace was set to be the star of an extended dream sequence in which it terrorised Kevin all around the house. Sadly for the furnace’s IMDB profile, it was deemed too expensive so it was scrapped. In the end, what you see was operated – budget-style – by two guys with a fishing line and torches.
Christmas fast approaching and you feel like watching Kevin taking on the Wet Bandits? If you’re in Argentina it’s time to watch Oh, the Poor Angel, in Italy it’s Mom, I Lost the Plane, and in Poland you’ll gather on the sofa to watch Kevin Alone in the House.
Talking of Poland, watching Kevin Sam w Domu (Kevin Alone in the House) on TV at Christmas has become a beloved tradition. It was one of the first Western films to be shown there after the fall of Communism in 1990, and by 2011 some five million people tuned in to watch it. There was even a backlash in 2010 when schedulers tried to drop it!
If speeding down a staircase on a toboggan and flying down a zipline looks risky, it is. So, naturally, Macaulay Culkin had a stunt double. What you may not know, though, is that this stunt double was a 30- year-old stunt veteran named Larry Nicholas. Nicholas has crushed it – stunt-wise – in everything from Jurassic Park and The Truman Show to The Matrix Reloaded.
The black and white noir classic that Kevin uses to terrify Marv into diving behind the bins looks like a genuine movie but was actually created purely for Home Alone. Johnny the Tommy Gun-wielding gangster was a local Chicago actor called Ralph Foody who you can also glimpse in Curly Sue, and The Blues Brothers.
Did you know that the Home Alone house basement set was built in the swimming pool of the New Trier High School to the north of Chicago? (It gave the filmmakers the freedom to flood the set if required). Did you also know that the school was also used for scenes featuring the police station and some of the airport shots? You do now.
Who can forget Marley, the McCallister neighbour whom Kevin believes is a serial killer but who’s actually our hero’s snow shovel-swinging saviour? Given his prominence in the film it’s surprising to know that he was a late addition to the script. Apparently, Chris Columbus suggested his addition would add a welcome shot of festive feels to the story.
Goodfellas. Raging Bull. JFK. Joe Pesci’s CV boasts some of the great films of American Cinema. However, according to Home Alone director, Chris Columbus, Pesci only gets recognised in the street as Harry the Wet Bandit. And who told him that? None other than Pesci’s mate and directing legend Martin Scorsese.
Delve into Daniel Stern’s back catalogue and you’ll find a 1995 film called Bushwacked. It’s about a dim- witted delivery man who gets framed for a major crime, forcing him to go on the run masquerading as a scoutmaster. This was originally set to be a Home Alone spinoff featuring Stern’s hapless Wet Bandit, Marv. Watch the trailer and you can see how the spinoff might have played out.
In 2018, Macaulay Culkin returned to the McCallister household for a Google Assistant ad that saw the now 38-year-old reliving some of his iconic Home Alone moments with a technologically enhanced twist. It’s better than it sounds (even if we did miss the swinging paint cans).