It’s hard to overstate what a phenomenal success Home Alone became in 1990. Directed by Chris Columbus with a soundtrack by John Williams, this Christmas movie was the highest-grossing film of the year, and it stayed in cinemas well past its Thanksgiving, 1990 release date and into Easter of the following year.
Home Alone brought some truly devilish stunts into a heart-warming tale, with Adrian Turner of the Radio Times describing it as “a celebration of enterprise that captured the heart and wickedness of every child on the planet.” But even behind the scenes, this prank-packed movie was full of surprises. Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Home Alone.
20. The movie’s snow is actually mashed potato
Home Alone is a picture-perfect Christmas movie. Director Christopher Columbus went to great lengths to fill almost every frame with red and green, making sure everything from the bedding to the napkins in the McCallister household fit the theme. Not only that, but the score is wonderfully festive, and a blanket of snow covers the neighbourhood for the majority of the runtime. With that said, even with the prevalent snow on the ground in most scenes, there aren’t actually that many snowy sequences throughout Home Alone.
That might seem odd, but in the days before widespread CGI use, the techniques utilised to create dazzling flurries of snow were both difficult and fairly unpleasant, especially for the actors who had to shoot in the resulting ‘winter wonderland’. For example, the blizzard surrounding Kevin’s house at the end of Home Alone was made entirely from flakes of mashed potatoes. The crew carefully positioned fans behind the cameras to waft the falling potato towards the house. The technique was actually quite popular for snowy scenes in the days before CGI.
19. Macaulay Culkin’s stunt double was a 30-year-old man
Home Alone exists in an ocean of similarly nostalgic Christmas movies, so why is it that it feels so singularly successful? Home Alone has made it into the highly desirable pantheon of festive films that we reliably watch every year, no matter how old we (and the films) get. The question is: how has it managed to stay so beloved? Many fans point to the fact that despite its sentimentality, Home Alone never feels overly saccharine or shmaltzy. Part of that comes from Kevin McCallister’s own personality, which is bratty and irresponsible as opposed to overly idealised or naive. However, another important component is that at many points during the film, Kevin appears to be in very real peril. Especially when he is setting up precarious traps, or attempting to escape the terrifying burglars, it feels so much like Kevin is in real danger that Home Alone can be hard to watch.
If you find yourself watching through your fingers at some of the more tense scenes, then it might help to know that Macaulay Culkin was not allowed to do all his own stunts. Larry Nicholas, aged 30, stepped in as Macaulay Culkin’s stunt double for some of Kevin’s more dangerous antics, with Nicholas’ short stature making him a really convincing duplicate. This stunt performer also worked on Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Hook and Jurassic Park.
18. Google Maps had to blur out ‘Kevin’s house’ because it attracted so many tourists
Home Alone was filmed in a quiet Illinois suburb – and after the film won a cult following, fans began to take an interest in Kevin’s house. The movie was largely filmed at 671 Lincoln Avenue (although many of the interiors were also shot in a local high school gym). Lincoln Avenue became so popular with tourists that the traffic became a nuisance to local residents, and the people affected soon realised that the flow of tourists needed to be stemmed.
A few of the homeowners, including the couple who lived at 671, requested that Google Maps blur out their homes to deter fans from visiting. The Home Alone house is still available to visit, although tourists will need some determination to locate the home without the aid of Google Maps. Not only that, but the house recently underwent some remodelling, although it is still recognisably the McCallister house from the outside.
17. John Candy improvised all of his lines, got paid just $414 for taking part
John Candy, playing the friendly but somewhat baffling Gus Polinski, feels like a huge part of Home Alone. At the very least, his sweetly awkward performance is one of the reasons families return to watch the film every year. Despite Candy being a part of the movie everyone remembers, however, his actual screentime amounts to very little – under ten minutes in fact. John Candy was such a small part of Home Alone that he didn’t even ask for a proper fee, instead being paid a total of just $414 for his contribution to the film. Candy famously didn’t even have to spend a full day on set, as he wrapped up all his scenes in just 23 hours. It probably helped that all of his dialogue was improvised on the day, so he didn’t even have to spend time reading the script.
With all of this extra information, it might seem baffling that John Candy appeared in the film at all, but the reason has to do with a previous John Hughes project. Uncle Buck, released in 1989, starred both Candy and Macaulay Culkin, and it was while shooting the film that Hughes decided he should write a story around Culkin. John Candy appears in Home Alone as a homage to the project that allowed it to be made in the first place.
16. Joe Pesci avoided Macaulay Culkin on the set to seem more menacing
Home Alone works so well because you get the sense that Kevin McCallister is really in danger, and that is largely due to Macaulay Culkin’s performance. However, another reason this dynamic works so well is because both the Wet Bandits appear genuinely threatening, and Joe Pesci in particular committed to keeping this dynamic going even when the cameras weren’t rolling. Unused to working with child stars, Joe Pesci (in the role of burglar Harry) decided he should remain mean and menacing towards Culkin off-screen as well.
He carefully avoided spending any downtime with the 10-year-old, hoping to instil some genuine dislike and make the movie more realistic. According to NME, Pesci even kept up this mean façade for Home Alone 2, although the actor also commented: “[Culkin is] pampered a lot by a lot of people, but not me, and I think he likes that.” The result was an authentic performance from Culkin, who seems perfectly comfortable treating Pesci with scorn and mistrust.
15. Alan Rickman, Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito were all considered for the role of Harry
Both the Wet Bandits are iconic, but when it comes to deciding which is the more formidable threat, it’s pretty obvious what the hierarchy is. While Marv has his fair share of scary moments, it’s clear that Harry is the one in charge, constantly admonishing Marv for his sillier antics, as well as being far readier to escalate the violence. Given that Harry is the de facto leader of the Wet Bandits, it makes sense that Christopher Columbus spent a long time trying to find the perfect actor to portray him.
Finding a performer who could pull off the scarier aspects of the character as well as the comedy beats was a challenge, as they needed to walk the line and not appear either too goofy or too brutal. In the end, Alan Rickman, Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro were all seriously considered for the role of Harry Lyme. Rowan Atkinson, Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Dudley Moore, Phil Collins, Jack Nicholson and Jon Lovitz were also reportedly in the running before Joe Pesci won the role.
14. Daniel Stern would only perform his tarantula scene scream when he was reassured the animal didn’t have ears
When Marv and Harry break into Kevin’s home, they are confronted by Buzz McCallister’s pet tarantula, which has been seen crawling ominously around in the film ever since it escaped its cage. In one of Home Alone’s most iconic scenes, Marv actor Daniel Stern has to scream while the arachnid crawls over his face. In an adorable twist, Stern was only willing to go ahead with the scene once the animal handlers reassured him that ‘Barry’ the tarantula had no ears. Stern insisted on asking because he was worried that the spider would be startled by his yelling, or that its hearing would be damaged.
In a 2015 Facebook post, Stern noted: “People who meet me are always curious if the tarantula was real, if my scream was real, and if I was scared, crazy or both. The answer to all three of those questions is ‘Yes.'” Considering that Stern really allowed a huge spider to crawl over his face, it’s fair repayment that his scream became one of the most memorable parts of Home Alone.
13. Macaulay Culkin still calls Catherine O’Hara “Mommy”
No matter whether it’s in TV or film, it’s not uncommon for actors to become friends on set and continue that friendship even once the project in question is over. Not only that, but there are countless stories of actors playing love interests in a story, only for them to fall in love and begin dating in real life. These kinds of ongoing relationships seem much rarer when it comes to actors playing children and parents, with there not being many examples of actors seeing other actors as their children even once the project they are acting in concludes. However, that does not mean it never happens. For example, Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, often refers to Jason Isaacs as his dad, and Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy, responds in kind.
The same is true of Macaulay Culkin and his on-screen mother Catherine O’Hara, even if they had reportedly drifted apart over the decades. In a 2015 interview, O’Hara said that when they reunited at an art gallery, Culkin snapped straight back into character. “I hadn’t seen him for years and years but I saw him… a year and a half ago,” O’Hara recalled. “He was coming in and he said, ‘Mommy!’ and I said, ‘baby!’”
12. Four of director Chris Columbus’ relatives cameo in the movie
Home Alone is a family film through and through. It can be enjoyed by anybody of any age, and there are characters of all ages so everyone who watches has someone to relate to. With that said, Home Alone is also a family film in the sense that the set itself was a family affair, with Chris Columbus inviting many members of his family to participate in the production. Specifically, Columbus brought many members of his extended family to Chicago so they could act as extras in the film.
Almost all of them can be spotted in the aeroplane scene, where they play various different roles from air hostesses to annoyed passengers. Columbus’ mother-in-law and daughter are passengers on the same flight as the McCallisters, and Columbus’ wife stars as a stewardess in the same scenes. As for Columbus’ father-in-law, he appears as the police officer who says the McCallisters need to “count their kids again.”
11. Kevin’s “You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?” line was improvised
One of the oldest maxims in the world of entertainment is “never work with children or animals”, and that advice becomes doubly true when the child or animal features in a starring role. Resting the success of a film on the shoulders of a young child actor is a hugely risky business, and relies on the director knowing how to work with children to get the best performance possible out of them. Normally, getting the right performance out of an inexperienced child actor means directing them closely, and guiding them through each scene by feeding them the emotions they’re supposed to be experiencing.
That means that cases of improvisation with child actors are pretty rare, and when they happen it is even rarer that they are good enough to make it into the final film. With that said, Kevin’s taunt to the burglars, “You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?” wasn’t actually in the script. When Macaulay Culkin added it to his own dialogue, Chris Columbus thought it was perfect and left it in the movie’s final cut, a testament to Culkin’s skill.
10. The film was a Guinness World Record holder
Home Alone represents one of those rare cases where it was pretty clear a film was going to become a classic right from the moment it appeared in cinemas In its opening weekend alone, Home Alone grossed $17,081,997 in 1202 cinemas, topping the box office for that week and several weeks afterwards. In fact, Home Alone was so successful that it maintained its number one box office spot for a full 12 weeks. As if that wasn’t enough, Home Alone also managed to stay in the box office top ten until June of the next year, which allowed it to become the highest-grossing movie of 1990.
Home Alone even earned a Guinness World Record for being the Highest Grossing Live-Action Comedy of All Time, until it was beaten out in 2017 by the Chinese hit Never Say Die. In fact, Home Alone’s unusually long and successful run turned the name of the movie into an entertainment business slang term, with “my movie was Home Alone’d” meaning it would have done much better in the box office numbers had Home Alone not still been running.
9. Macauley Culkin’s brother plays cousin Fuller
We’ve already discussed the fact that Christopher Columbus brought many of his own family members on to the production in order to have them act as extras. However, he wasn’t the only person working on the film who had family involved too, as Macaulay Culkin’s brother was also given a role in the production. Macaulay Culkin’s younger brother Kieran Culkin ended up playing the slightly embarrassing role of Fuller in Home Alone.
Fuller is Kevin McCallister’s cousin, and is most notable for deliberately drinking lots of soda in order to wet the bed that he is supposed to share with Kevin. Obviously, acting in the slightly humiliating role of the bed-wetter paid off, as Kieran Culkin has since gone on to have a successful movie and TV career in his own right. As well as playing Wallace in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the younger Culkin has also been nominated for a Golden Globe twice, both times for his performance in HBO’s Succession.
8. The whole film was shot in Chicago
Home Alone follows Kevin McAllister as he navigates being left in Illinois, while his family are stranded in Paris trying to get back to check on him. In real life, though, Kevin McAllister need not have worried, since no one in his family actually ever left the Chicago area. Not only were the scenes set in Paris actually shot in America, but all the scenes were actually shot remarkably close together in terms of geography. For example, the scenes supposedly set at the Paris Orly Airport were actually shot at O’Hare International Airport.
Even the scenes with the McCallister family in their aeroplane seats were shot close to the McCallister household, since the whole aeroplane interior was built inside of a local school basketball court. The whole basement of the McCallister house was also reconstructed at a local swimming pool, so the flooding scenes could be filmed without damaging the house.
7. Kevin’s older sister was an Olympic-level Judo master in real life
As we’ve already seen in the case of Kieran Culkin, some of the kids who played Kevin McCallister’s siblings and family went on to have their own successful acting careers. That seemed like it was going to be the case for Hillary Wolf, who played Kevin’s older sister Megan in both Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. After appearing in the Home Alone sequel, Wolf went on to star in the 1991 film Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even.
It seemed as though Wolf was set up to go from strength to strength in the film world, but she never starred in another project. As surprising as that might be, it turns out Hillary Wolf simply had other priorities and goals that she’d rather pursue instead of acting. This was proven when, in 1996 and 2000, Wolf became a member of the USA summer Olympic Judo team.
6. The role of Kevin was written specifically for Macauley Culkin
John Hughes realised that Macaulay Culkin was a special actor when he cast him in 1989’s Uncle Buck. After watching Culkin work, Hughes decided to gamble and write a whole new film, one which would be built entirely around the young actor. What you might not know is that even though Hughes was determined to make sure Culkin starred in the project, contingencies had to be made. Even once it was agreed that Culkin could star in Home Alone, the studio still insisted that other kids be auditioned, in order to find a back-up in case Culkin was unable to do the project.
In the end, over 100 other pre-teen boys auditioned for the project, all hoping to win over the casting director and be given the starring role. However, it was clear after auditions that none could give a better performance than Macaulay Culkin, and the part was officially given to him.
5. Columbus struggled to work with Culkin’s family
Directors struggle to work with actors they have cast all the time, but when their movie stars a child actor, it’s not just them the filmmaker needs to worry about getting along with. Younger actors usually come with a whole entourage, with members of their family present at all times, and it’s important for the family of the star to have a good working relationship with the director. Unfortunately for Christopher Columbus, when it came to Macaulay and Kieran Culkin’s family, getting on with them proved to be a difficult feat.
Macauley’s parents were constantly on set, and were also in the early stages of what would become a very public and ugly break-up, as well as a legal battle over Macaulay’s fortune. Speaking about the experience of working in proximity to them on set, Columbus later said: “I was much younger and I was really too naive to think about the family environment as well. We didn’t know that much about the family at the beginning; as we were shooting, we learned a little more.” Columbus went on to say: “The stories are hair-raising. I was casting a kid who truly had a troubled family life.”
4. Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci struggled not to swear on set
To a certain generation of people, Joe Pesci is no doubt most associated with playing the Wet Bandit Harry in Home Alone. However, to those a little older, Pesci is more famous for starring in much darker projects, such as Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino. Given that Pesci came to Home Alone after decades of doing more adult-oriented movies, there were some conditions of a more child-friendly set that he struggled to adapt to. Specifically, Pesci’s cursing between takes became such a problem that Columbus tried to coach him to say “fridge”, rather than the more troublesome four-letter word.
Pesci was not the only actor to struggle to curb their swearing habit, as Daniel Stern (Marv) even ended up swearing while the cameras were rolling. At one point, Stern uttered the word ‘s**t’ when attempting to pull his shoe back out of the doggie door. The sound was cut, but you can still see his lips mouthing the word in the final film.
3. Harry and Marv probably wouldn’t have recovered from their injuries
Compared to the injuries that the Wet Bandits receive in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, their injuries from the first film feel relatively minor. With that said, fans of the film have often discussed whether or not some of the more dangerous traps, like the paint tin to the face, would have been lethal. The horror movie Better Watch Out even had its pre-teen killers try out the paint can trick for themselves, only for it to have very fatal consequences. As for what would happen in reality, several medical professionals have weighed in over the years, and claimed that the bandits probably would not have survived without immediate treatment.
Discussing the outcomes of each of their injuries in detail for The Week, Dr Ryan St Clair said that the bandits would have “serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision” as a consequence of the iron being burned into their face. Not only that, but the doctor’s professional diagnosis regarding the blowtorch was: “The skin and bone tissue on Harry’s skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.” Yikes.
2. There’s a fan conspiracy theory that Elvis makes a cameo in the film
For whatever bizarre reasons, many classic movies eventually find themselves becoming conduits for elaborate conspiracy theories of some kind. Perhaps the most obvious example is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which has been used as evidence in so many conspiracies – most prominently to back up the idea that the Moon landing was faked – that a feature-length documentary was made about it. Many fans of Home Alone tie it to an even more bizarre conspiracy, which says that Elvis Presley never actually died in 1977.
According to some theories, Presley actually faked his own death, and may still be alive today. The ‘evidence’ believers have includes one scene in Home Alone. In the scene where Kevin’s mother goes to the desk at the airport, there is a tall man behind her with short, brown hair and a beard. Some dedicated believers of the conspiracy theory believe this man is actually Elvis Presley – alive and well and acting as a movie extra.
1. Marv was supposed to have his own spin-off movie
Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, are still two of the most beloved Christmas films in existence today. Not only that, but the Wet Bandits have become two of the most hilarious villains in TV history, even if not everyone thinks they’re particularly terrifying. The potentially classic nature of the Wet Bandits was recognised early on, with the studio wanting to make a spin-off film following Marv.
The film would have followed a Marv who has officially given up on a life of crime, only to be pulled back in when he is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. The film was eventually made, only all hints that it had ever been a Home Alone spin-off were removed – and Daniel Stern was cast as a mailman instead. Instead, the movie was released in 1995 with the title Bushwacked.