Home Alone has been one of my favorite holiday movies for as long as I can remember. It’s got that perfect combination of humor, sentimentality, and satisfying personal narrative that makes it eminently watchable — plus there’s a weird fascination in comparing cherubic eight-year-old Macaulay Culkin with … present-day Macaulay Culkin.
Since the movie is having its 25th anniversary, I got to write about its enduring popularity for Vox — and learned a lot of things about it (including some things I probably should have known already). For instance, it was written by John Hughes, the ’80s movie king responsible for Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, among many, many other films. I learned that Hughes always wanted Culkin as the star, but director Chris Columbus auditioned more than a hundred kids anyway, before realizing there was no one better than Culkin. I learned that Marv and Harry probably would have died from their Kevin-inflicted injuries in real life, and that the crew was constantly in fear for the stunt performers’ lives. (I also learned it is a bona fide holiday tradition in Poland, possibly even more so than in America. The more you know!)
Most of all, researching this story just reminded me of what a weird, unpredictable combination of hard work, cash, and serendipity it takes to create an enduring classic. Articles that reflect back on the making of hits like this always make it seem like fate — like the stars aligning to create something that will sketch itself onto the public consciousness for decades to come. The creators often talk about when they realized they had something truly special on their hands. For Columbus, it was during the first test audience screening. He told Chicago Mag:
When we previewed the movie for the first time in Chicago, it was amazing. You’re in a situation where the audience was literally running from their seats to go to the bathroom or to get popcorn, and they were running back to their seats. It was like a rock concert. John [Hughes] and I kept looking at each other. That’s when we knew we had something special.
There’s something so interesting about the happenstance behind nostalgia; the properties you consumed endlessly as a child were likely not totally your choice but rather were selected by your parents or drilled into your brain via advertising. I’ll never have memories of watching Frozen as a kid (still haven’t seen it, actually), but kids growing up today have probably had the merchandise adorning their rooms since before they could be fully conscious of it. I’m all for every generation getting their own heroes to look up to and their own high-tech equivalent of the Talkboy to go along with them. But I hope someday I’ll still get to introduce my kid(s) to the misadventures of Kevin McCallister — preferably with an epic brownie sundae as a movie-watching snack.
If you’re so inclined, you can read my full Home Alone piece at Vox.