1990 film directed by Chris Columbus
Home Alone is a 1990 American Christmas family comedy film written and produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus. It stars Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, and Catherine O’Hara. The film follows Kevin (Culkin), an eight-year-old boy, who must defend his home from two burglars, Harry and Marv (Pesci and Stern), after his family accidentally leaves him behind on their vacation. It was filmed between February and May 1990 in a variety of locations throughout Illinois. The film was originally meant to be distributed by Warner Bros., but was transferred to 20th Century Fox when Hughes exceeded the $10 million limit that had been imposed on the film’s budget by Warner.
Home Alone premiered on November 10, 1990, in Chicago, and entered wide release in the United States on November 16, 1990. With a total gross of $476.7 million, it held the record for the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever, until it was overtaken by The Hangover Part II in 2011. The film received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Culkin, as well as two Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score, which was composed by John Williams, and Best Original Song for “Somewhere in My Memory”. Home Alone spawned a successful film franchise that started with the 1992 sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which is the only Home Alone sequel to have most of the original cast reprising their roles.
The McCallister family is preparing to spend Christmas in Paris, France, gathering at Peter and Kate’s home in a Chicago suburb on the night before their departure. Peter and Kate’s youngest son, Kevin, is the subject of ridicule by his older siblings, Buzz, Jeff, Megan and Linnie. Later, Kevin accidentally ruins the family dinner and their flight tickets to Paris after a scuffle with Buzz, resulting in him getting sent to the attic of the house as a punishment, where he berates Kate and wishes that his family would disappear. During the night, heavy wind damage the power lines, which causes a power outage and resets the alarm clocks, causing the family to oversleep. In the confusion and rush to get to the airport, Kevin is accidentally left behind.
Kevin wakes to find the house empty and, thinking that his wish has come true, is overjoyed with his newfound freedom. However, he soon becomes frightened by his next door neighbor, Old Man Marley, who is rumored to be a serial killer who murdered his own family, as well as the “Wet Bandits”, Harry and Marv, a pair of burglars who have been breaking into other vacant houses in the neighborhood and have targeted the McCallisters’ house. Kevin tricks them into thinking that his family is still home, forcing them to put their plans on hold.
Kate realizes mid-flight that Kevin was left behind, and upon arrival in Paris, the family discovers that all flights for the next two days are booked. Peter and the rest of the family stay in his brother Rob’s apartment in Paris, while Kate manages to get a flight back to the United States but only gets as far as Scranton, Pennsylvania after flying from Dallas, Texas. She attempts to book a flight to Chicago, but again, everything is booked. Unable to accept this, Kate is overheard by Gus Polinski, the lead member of a traveling polka band, who offers to let her travel with them to Chicago on their way to Milwaukee in a moving van, which she gratefully accepts.
Meanwhile, Harry and Marv finally realize that Kevin is home alone, and on Christmas Eve, Kevin overhears them discussing plans to break into his house that night. Kevin begins to miss his family and asks the local Santa Claus impersonator if he could bring his family back for Christmas. He goes to church and watches a choir perform, then meets Old Man Marley, who dispels the rumors about him. He points out his granddaughter in the choir, whom he never gets to meet, as he and his son are estranged; Kevin suggests that he should reconcile with his son.
Kevin returns home and rigs the house with booby traps to take on the burglars. Harry and Marv break in, spring the traps, and suffer various injuries. While the duo pursues Kevin around the house, he calls the police and flees, then lures Harry and Marv into a neighboring home which they previously broke into. They ambush him and prepare to get their revenge, but Marley intervenes and knocks them unconscious with his snow shovel. The police arrive and arrest Harry and Marv, having identified all the houses that they broke into due to Marv’s destructive characteristic of flooding them.
On Christmas Day, Kevin is disappointed to find that his family is still gone. He then hears Kate enter the house and call for him; they reconcile and are soon joined by Peter, Buzz, Jeff, Megan, and Linnie, who waited in Paris until they could obtain a direct flight to Chicago. Kevin keeps silent about his encounter with Harry and Marv, although Peter finds Harry’s knocked-out gold tooth. Kevin then observes Marley reuniting with his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. Marley notices Kevin, and the pair wave to each other.
- Macaulay Culkin as Kevin, a rambunctious eight-year-old with a penchant for creating harmful inventions
- Joe Pesci as Harry, a short and hotheaded thief who targets the McCallisters’ home with Marv
- Daniel Stern as Marv, a tall and dim-witted thief who targets the McCallisters’ home with Harry
- John Heard as Peter, Kevin’s father
- Roberts Blossom as Marley, Kevin’s elderly neighbor
- Catherine O’Hara as Kate, Kevin’s mother and Peter’s wife
- Angela Goethals as Linnie, Kevin’s older sister
- Devin Ratray as Buzz, Kevin’s oldest brother who often gets him into trouble
- Gerry Bamman as Uncle Frank, Peter’s older brother
- Hillary Wolf as Megan, Kevin’s oldest sister
- John Candy as Gus Polinski, a polka musician who helps Kate
- Larry Hankin as Officer Balzak
- Michael C. Maronna as Jeff, Kevin’s older brother
- Kristin Minter as Heather, Kevin’s oldest cousin
- Daiana Campeanu as Sondra, Kevin’s older cousin
- Jedidiah Cohen as Rod, Kevin’s older cousin
- Kieran Culkin as Fuller, Kevin’s youngest cousin
- Senta Moses as Tracy, Kevin’s older cousin
- Anna Slotky as Brook, Kevin’s younger cousin
- Terrie Snell as Aunt Leslie, Uncle Frank’s wife
- Jeffrey Wiseman as Mitch Murphy, an eight-year-old neighbor of the McCallisters whom Heather mistakes for Kevin during the headcount
- Virginia Smith as Georgette, Kevin’s aunt, wife of Uncle Rob, and mother of Heather and Steffan
- Matt Doherty as Steffan, Kevin’s older cousin
- Ralph Foody as Gangster #1 (Johnny), character in the film Angels with Filthy Souls
- Michael Guido as Gangster #2 (Snakes), character in the film Angels with Filthy Souls
- Ray Toler as Uncle Rob, Kevin’s uncle, younger brother of Peter and Uncle Frank, and father of Heather and Steffan
- Billie Bird as Woman in Airport, Irene, who sells Kate her ticket to Dallas
- Bill Erwin as Man in Airport, Ed, Irene’s husband who agrees with Irene’s ticket sale
- Gerry Becker as Officer #1
- Alan Wilder as Scranton Ticket Agent
- Hope Davis as French Ticket Agent
- Kenneth Hudson Campbell as a Santa Claus impersonator whom Kevin meets
Credits adapted from Rotten Tomatoes.
The conception of Home Alone arose from a personal experience of its writer, John Hughes. Hughes explained that “I was going away on vacation, and making a list of everything I didn’t want to forget. I thought, ‘well, I’d better not forget my kids.’ Then I thought, ‘what if I left my 10-year-old son at home? What would he do?‘“ Hughes then wrote eight pages of notes that developed into the screenplay of the film. Imagining that children are naturally most scared of robbers, Hughes also worked that aspect into the plot of the film.
Home Alone was initially set to be financed and distributed by Warner Bros., and Hughes promised the studio that he could make the movie for no more than $10 million, considerably less than most feature film production budgets of that era. Concerned that the film might exceed that amount, even minimally, and that Warner would insist on keeping to it, Hughes met secretly with 20th Century Fox before production to see if they would be interested in funding the project if Warner proved as inflexible as the producer feared. According to executive producer Scott Rosenfelt, a copy of the script was “clandestinely” delivered to Fox, bypassing the legal restrictions that would have otherwise prevented Fox from seeing it until the project was in turnaround. Early in production, the film’s budget grew to $14.7 million, well past the limit Warner had imposed. The studio demanded that it be cut by $1.2 million; the producers responded with a memo arguing that the budget could not be cut any further. Unconvinced, Warner shut down production the next day, but it quickly resumed when Fox took up Hughes on his earlier offer. The final budget would grow to $18 million.
Hughes had originally asked Patrick Read Johnson to direct, but he was already committed to directing Spaced Invaders. He then turned to Chris Columbus, who had left National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation before shooting started, because of a personality clash with starring actor Chevy Chase, who Columbus said treated him “like dirt”. Hughes then gave him the script for both Home Alone and Reach the Rock; Columbus chose to direct the former, as he found it funnier and liked the Christmas theme.
Columbus did an uncredited rewrite of the script, which included the character Old Man Marley. He added the character to give the story a more serious layer, as well as a more emotional ending.
Hughes suggested to Columbus that they cast Macaulay Culkin in the main role, because of his experience with the child actor while shooting Uncle Buck. Columbus met with other actors for the part, by his count “hundreds and hundreds” (actually 200), as he felt it was his “directorial presponsibility”. Columbus finally met with Culkin and agreed he was the right choice for the role.
Robert De Niro and Jon Lovitz were considered for the role of Harry, one of the bandits. After both rejected it, Joe Pesci accepted it. The role of Uncle Frank was originally written for Kelsey Grammer, but was given to Gerry Bamman when Grammer was unavailable.
Daniel Stern was cast as Marv, but before shooting started, he was told that the production schedule had been extended from six weeks to eight; after being informed that there was no money in the budget for a pay increase he sought due to the extended schedule, he dropped out of the role. Daniel Roebuck was quickly hired to replace him, but after two days of rehearsal, Columbus did not see any chemistry between him and Pesci and decided to bring back Stern. Roebuck later admitted that, although he was upset to be fired from the production, he now believes the experience to be “such a little blip of unimportance”.
John Candy was available for only one day to film his scenes, which took 23 hours to shoot. He was paid $414, since he did the film as a favor to Hughes. In return, he was the only actor Hughes allowed to go off-script – according to Columbus, all of his dialogue was improvised.
Principal photography took place between February and May 1990. The house exterior scenes were filmed on location at a three-story single-family house located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in the North Shore village of Winnetka, Illinois, where Hughes’s previous films Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, She’s Having a Baby, and Uncle Buck had also been shot. The only interiors of the house used for filming in the film were the main staircase, basement, attic and most of the first floor landing, while all the other interiors of the house (including the aforementioned rooms) were duplicated on a sound stage to allow more room for equipment and crew. It was built in the gym and empty swimming pool of the former New Trier High School building, previously used by Hughes for Uncle Buck and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where the production company had already set up its offices. The tree house in the back yard was built specifically for the film and dismantled after filming ended. The church interiors were shot at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, Illinois.
For the film within a film, Angels with Filthy Souls (the title of which parodies the 1938 crime film Angels with Dirty Faces), shooting took only one day, on the final “test day” prior the official start of principal photography. To create the illusion that the film was an authentic 1940s gangster film, the scene was filmed on black-and-white negative film, and Johnny’s office featured props from that era. Like much of the film, most of the sequence was shot with low, wide angles that, according to journalist Darryn King, “capture the action as if a child were perceiving it”.
Cinematographer Julio Macat recalled that Pesci was more difficult to work with than Culkin. The older actor believed some of the dialogue was not of a quality commensurate with his acting ability. He also resented the early unit calls, since they prevented him from starting his day with nine holes of golf as he preferred to do. After he took the assistant director by the collar one day to complain about this, daily call times were moved back from 7 to 9 a.m. to accommodate his rounds. On the other end of the schedule, the crew had limited time to film the many nighttime scenes, since Culkin could not work any later than 10 p.m. due to his age.
On the set, Pesci and Stern both had difficulty refraining from swear words, which became annoying to Pesci, since Culkin was on set as well. In fact, the only swear word that made it into the film was “shit”, accidentally said by Daniel Stern when his shoe fell through the doggy door. Pesci’s use of “cartoon cursing”, or menacing gibberish, garnered comparisons to Looney Tunes character Yosemite Sam.
The film’s stunts also created tension for the crew during shooting. Columbus said, “Every time the stunt guys did one of those stunts it wasn’t funny. We’d watch it, and I would just pray that the guys were alive.” Stunts were originally prepared with safety harnesses, but because of their visibility on camera, the film’s final stunts were performed without them. According to BuzzFeed, an injury had occurred between Pesci and Culkin during one of the rehearsals for the scene in which Harry tries to bite off Kevin’s finger. Culkin still has the scar.
Columbus initially hoped to have Bruce Broughton score the film, and early posters listed him as the composer. However, Broughton was busy with The Rescuers Down Under, and he had to cancel at the last minute. Columbus was later able to get in touch with Steven Spielberg, who helped him contact John Williams to produce the final score. Traditional Christmas songs, such as “O Holy Night” and “Carol of the Bells“, are featured prominently in the film, as well as the film’s theme song “Somewhere in My Memory”. The soundtrack was released by Sony Classical Records on cassette on December 4, 1990, and on CD on May 27, 2015.
Home Alone was first released by Fox Video on VHS and LaserDisc in the United States on August 22, 1991, their first video to go direct to sell-through rather than to the video rental market first. It sold 11 million copies, generating Fox revenue of $150 million making it, along with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the highest-selling video of all time at that point. Due to the sales, the film did not perform as well in the rental market.
It was later released on DVD on October 5, 1999 as a basic package. The film was released on Blu-ray on December 2, 2008, titled Family Fun Edition, and was released alongside Home Alone 2: Lost in New York in a collection pack on October 5, 2010. The film was reissued again on DVD and Blu-ray on October 6, 2015, alongside all four of its sequels in a box set titled Home Alone: 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Christmas Edition.
On September 15, 2020, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and 20th Century Studios Home Entertainment released Home Alone on Ultra HD Blu-ray in time for its 30th anniversary in the United States.
Home Alone grossed $285.8 million in the United States and Canada and $190.9 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $476.7 million, against a production budget of $18 million. In its opening weekend, Home Alone grossed $17 million from 1,202 theaters, averaging $14,211 per site and just 6% of the final total and added screens over the next six weeks, with a peak screen count of 2,174 during its eighth weekend at the start of January 1991.Home Alone proved so popular that it stayed in theaters well past the Christmas season. It was the No. 1 film at the box office for 12 straight weeks, from its release weekend of November 16–18, 1990 through the weekend of February 1–3, 1991. It was dethroned from the top spot when Sleeping with the Enemy opened with $13 million. It nevertheless remained a top ten draw at the box office until the weekend of April 26 that year, which was well past Easter weekend. It made two more appearances in the top ten (the weekend of May 31 – June 2 and the weekend of June 14–16) before finally falling out of the top ten. After over nine months into its run, the film had earned 16x its debut weekend and ended up making a final gross of $285,761,243, the top-grossing film of its year in North America. The film is listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever and held the record until it was overtaken by The Hangover Part II in 2011.
By the time the film had run its course in theaters, Home Alone was the third-highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, as well as in the United States and Canada behind only Star Wars ($322 million at the time) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ($399 million at that time), according to the home video box. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 67.7 million tickets in the United States. It was also the highest-grossing Christmas film until it was surpassed by Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch in 2018. According to William Goldman, the film’s success prompted the creation of a Hollywood verb: ‘to be Home Aloned‘, meaning to have a film’s box office reduced by the impact of Home Alone.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Home Alone holds an approval rating of 65% based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 5.65/10. The site’s critical consensus reads: “Home Alone‘s uneven but frequently funny premise stretched unreasonably thin is buoyed by Macaulay Culkin’s cute performance and strong supporting stars.” On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A” on an A+ to F scale.
Variety magazine praised the film for its cast. Jeanne Cooper of The Washington Post praised the film for its comedic approach. Hal Hinson, also of The Washington Post, praised Columbus’ direction and Culkin’s performance. Although Caryn James of The New York Times complained that the film’s first half is “flat and unsurprising as its cute little premise suggests”, she praised the second half for its slapstick humor. She also praised the dialogue between Kevin and Marley, as well as the film’s final scenes.Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a 2 1⁄2 out of a 4-star rating and 2 thumbs down. He compared the elaborate booby-traps in the film to Rube Goldberg machines, writing “they’re the kinds of traps that any 8-year-old could devise, if he had a budget of tens of thousands of dollars and the assistance of a crew of movie special effects people” and criticized the plot as “so implausible that it makes it hard for [him] to really care about the plight of the kid [Kevin]”. However, he praised Culkin’s performance.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly magazine gave the film a “D” grade, criticizing the film for its “sadistic festival of adult-bashing”. Gleiberman said that “[John] Hughes is pulling our strings as though he’d never learn to do anything else”. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 3 out of a 5-star rating and praised Culkin’s “vivid screen presence, almost incandescent with confidence”. However, he criticised his acting, calling it “a bit broad and mannered”. Ali Barclay of the BBC wrote “Culkin walks a fine line between annoyance and endearment throughout the film.” He also called Home Alone “a film which manages to capture some of the best qualities of Christmas”.
Naomi Barnwell of Roobla said that “Home Alone has all the ingredients that make for a great kids’ film”. Adrian Turner of Radio Times commented “[Home Alone is] a celebration of enterprise that captured the heart and wickedness of every child on the planet.” According to TV Guide, “[Home Alone]’s slapstick falls flat and only the pain remains.” Marielle Sabbag of Vocal wrote “Everything about [Home Alone] is beautiful and has a realistic quality.” Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times criticised the fact that “there is a reason why this film plays better as a trailer than as a full-length film.”
Following the film’s release, Home Alone gradually became a Christmas classic. It was praised for its quotable phrases, morals, traps, and main character. Hannah-Rose Yee of Stylist called the ending “very sweet” and praised the score from John Williams, calling it “fantastic”. Christopher Hooton of The Independent also praised the film, calling the film-within-a-film Angels with Filthy Souls “a fond footnote in cinema history”. Matt Talbot from Simcoe.com said that the Wet Bandits were “fantastic” and “never [got] old” on “repeat viewings”. Michael Walsh of Nerdist noted the church scene as “One of the best, most touching scenes [in the film]”.
At the 12th Youth in Film Awards, Macaulay Culkin won Best Young Actor Starring in a Motion Picture. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Original Score, which was written by John Williams, and the other for Best Original Song for “Somewhere in My Memory”, music by Williams and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.
Accusations of plagiarism
The 1989 French film 3615 code Père Noël, which is about a young boy who is home alone with his elderly grandfather and has to fend off a home invader dressed up as Santa Claus, has been noted for its plot similarities to Home Alone.3615 code Père Noël director René Manzor threatened the producers of Home Alone with legal action on the grounds of plagiarism, alleging that Home Alone was a remake of his film.3615 code Père Noël was not released in the United States during its original theatrical run in January 1990 and did not become widely available there until 2018.
The film was followed by a commercially successful sequel in 1992, Lost in New York, which brought back most of the first film’s cast. Culkin was paid $4.5 million to appear in the sequel, compared to $110,000 for the original. The film within a film, Angels with Filthy Souls, had a sequel in Home Alone 2, Angels with Even Filthier Souls. Both Angels meta-films featured character actor Ralph Foody as stereotypical 1930s mobster Johnny. A third film, Home Alone 3, was released in 1997; it has entirely different actors and characters as well as a different storyline, with Hughes writing the screenplay.
A fourth made-for-TV film followed in 2002: Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House. The movie features some of the same characters who were in the first two films, but with a new cast and a storyline that does not fall into the same continuity. On November 25, 2012, a fifth film, The Holiday Heist, premiered during ABC Family‘s Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas programming event. Similarly to the third film, it does not focus on the McCallister family. Chris Columbus later revealed that there had been discussions on a sequel starring Kevin’s son: “This was talked about maybe 10 years ago – I don’t know, we were just having fun with it – and we said, ‘What if Kevin is an adult and he has a kid?’ But it was still Pesci and Stern – Pesci and Stern are still obsessed with this kid. They’re going to get this kid.”
On August 6, 2019, Disney announced plans to reboot the franchise on its Disney+ streaming service. On December 10, 2019, Archie Yates, Ellie Kemper, and Rob Delaney were announced as the cast for a reboot. Yates will not play Kevin, and the movie will have a new story. The story reportedly “sees Kemper and Delaney play a wife and husband who, in order to save their home from financial ruin, go to war with a kid who has stolen a priceless heirloom”. Dan Mazer will direct, from a script by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell, and produced by Hutch Parker and Dan Wilson. The film will be a production of 20th Century Studios, and marks the first 20th-produced project on Disney+. Filming began in February 2020 in Montreal, Canada. On March 13, 2020, filming was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The music video for Snoop Dogg‘s 1994 song “Gin and Juice” opens with a gag where, after a teenaged Snoop’s parents have left him to watch the house in their absence, he places his hands to his face and yells in the manner of Kevin McCallister in the first film, while a title comes on screen reading “Home Boy Alone”.
In December 2015, Culkin reprised his role as an adult Kevin McCallister in the inaugural episode of the Jack Dishel web series, “DRYVRS”, where a visibly disturbed Kevin recounts his experience of being left home alone by his family. In response to Culkin’s video, Daniel Stern appeared in a short video reprising his role as Marv, released in conjunction with Stern’s Reddit AMA, where he pleads for Harry to return to help protect him against Kevin’s traps.
The 2016 Christmas-set horror film Better Watch Out includes a scene where a character who is obsessed with the Home Alone films demonstrates how, in real life, it would be deadly for someone to be hit in the face with a paint can swung from a distance.
On December 15, 2018, Culkin made a guest appearance as himself in an episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd to review multiple video game adaptations of the first two Home Alone films, as well as a gameplay session of The Pagemaster with James Rolfe and Mike Matei in the days following that episode’s release.
On December 19, 2018, Culkin would once again reprise his role as an adult Kevin McCallister in a 60-second advertisement for Google Assistant, titled Home Alone Again. The commercial contains shot for shot remakes of scenes from the film. Google Assistant helps Kevin set up the house to look active by remotely turning on lights, devices, and setting up cutouts of people, in order to have the thieves parked in a van outside (presumably Harry and Marv) steer clear of the house. Additionally, Joe Pesci also reprised his role as Harry, only for his voice making a small cameo. Pesci later appeared in another ad where he watches the short with his friends and jokes about his brief cameo.
Home Alone (ISBN 0-590-55066-7) was novelized by Todd Strasser and published by Scholastic in 1990 to coincide with the film. On October 6, 2015, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movie, an illustrated book (ISBN 1-594-74858-6) by Kim Smith and Quirk Books was released.
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For one sequence, the movie becomes a cat-and-mouse cartoon and a lampoon of home-invasion thrillers.
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