26 Secrets About Home Alone That Will Leave You Thirsty For More

26 Secrets About Home Alone That Will Leave You Thirsty For More

11/16/2020

Happy birthday, ya filthy animal! It's been 30 years since Home Alone filmmaker John Hughes introduced us to the forgetful McAllister family and their plucky son Kevin.

If you come of age in the '90s, at some point in your childhood you slapped both hands to either side of your face in mock horror. 

Sorry, those are just facts. 

So popular was Macaulay Culkin's portrayal of intrepid—and perhaps a touch psychotic—Kevin McCallister, an 8-year-old from the Chicago suburbs whose parents weren't the best at keeping track of their outsized brood, that 30 years after Home Alone's Nov. 16, 1990 release, his signature move is still instantly recognizable. (And reason enough to avoid aftershave at all costs.)

And that's not the only thing that keeps John Hughes' instant classic, about an elementary school kid teaching two, largely incompetent, career criminals what happens when they don't get their ugly, yella, no-good keisters off his property, firmly at the top of holiday movie watcher's wish lists. 

The box office sensation (it held the No. 1 spot for 12 weeks and grossed more than $476 million worldwide) may be short on realism (yes, Kevin's antics would have killed Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern's burglars many times over) and relevance in today's uber-connected times. But it's filled with one-liners any millennial worth their highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner can still recite today. And the laugh-out-loud moments still smack as hard as a grown man getting his face smashed in by a can of paint. 

So let's celebrate the Christmas flick's big 3-0 by diving in deep to all its private stuff, ordering a plain cheese pizza and then cueing it up on the ol' VCR. Okay, fine, watching it on Disney+.

If you need us, we'll be eating junk food and watching rubbish until the end of 2020. You better not come out and try to stop us. 

1. John Hughes' creation was born from his own parental anxiety. In an oral history compiled for Chicago Magazine in 2015, his son, James Hughes, revealed the legendary filmmaker jotted the idea down in a notebook on Aug. 8, 1989 just ahead of the family's first trip to Europe. "Two weeks later, after returning home," James wrote, "he revisited the premise: What if one of the kids had been accidentally left behind?"

Inspired, the creator of The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink crafted the initial draft in just nine days "capped by an eight-hour, 44-page dash to the finale," he shared. "Before finishing, he'd expressed concerns in the marginalia of his journal that he was working too slowly."

2. Macaulay Culkin is not among those who consider his star-making flick appointment viewing at the holidays. "I can't watch it the same way other people do," he explained to Ellen DeGeneres in 2018 of changing the channel when the blockbuster comes on his TV. Though in certain situations, he has made an exception. "You get like a new girlfriend and she's flipping through the channels and then there's Home Alone and she's like, 'Ehh, you wanna watch it?'" he described on The Tonight Show that same year. "I have indulged that and most of the time I'm just muttering my lines under my breath." It's a bit strange, he allowed, but "Whatever gets her motor running, I guess."

Perhaps that was part of his motivation for reprising his gig for a must-watch 2018 Google ad that shows what Kevin would be like as a technologically-equipped adult?

3. Or quipping "Hey @Disney, call me!" when news broke in 2019 that the studio was planning to reimagine the '90s classic. (Though he should know the Mouse House has already found its new lead in Jojo Rabbit's Archie Yates.)

4. The film may have had a whole different look if Chevy Chase wasn't kind of a jerk. Director Chris Columbus was set to helm the comic's 1989 hit National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, he shared with Chicago Magazine, but when he and Chase went out for an initial get-to-know-each-other dinner, "To be completely honest, Chevy treated me like dirt."

A second outing didn't fare much better and soon Columbus found himself calling producer Hughes and bowing out of the project. "About two weeks later, I got two scripts at my in-laws' house in River Forest," Columbus recalled. "One was Home Alone, with a note from John asking if I wanted to direct. I thought, Wow, this guy is really supporting me when no one else in Hollywood was going to. John was my savior."

5. Though the picture came this close to not getting made at all. Due to a budget dispute between Warner Bros. and the production team, the film was put up for grabs. That's when Joe Roth, chairman at 20th Century Fox at the time, had lunch with Hughes' agent and discovered they were squabbling over $700,000. 

"He told me Home Alone was costing $14.7 million and Warners would only pay $14 million," remembered Roth. "I said, 'What's the idea?' He told me. I said, 'OK, if you can get it out of there, I'll make it.' Seemed like a no-brainer. Didn't cost much. I didn't have a Thanksgiving movie. I liked the idea. I loved the people involved." Good call: The film went on to gross more than $476 million.

6. Culkin pretty much had the lead role in the bag. Having directed him the previous year in Uncle Buck with John Candy, Hughes was certain the 9-year-old was their guy, "but I owed it to myself as director to see other child actors," explained Columbus. "John said, 'OK, take your time, do what you need to do.'" More than 200 auditions later, Columbus saw Culkin "and you immediately knew this was the kid. I knew subconsciously that John knew that was going to happen, but it was really sweet of him to give me that sort of freedom."

7. Inept burglars Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) bonded long before becoming the Wet Bandits. "Everyone assumed we were thrown together for the first time on Home Alone, but we'd made each other giggle on the set in another movie years before that we were both cut out of: I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can," Stern shared with Chicago. "We played people in a mental institution. Joe walked around all the time with this rolled-up tube of architectural drawings. That was his character. And during one of the takes, there's a Ping-Pong table in the middle of the room, and Joe takes 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."

8. And Stern reallllly wanted this part. "The script struck a chord in me. I hadn't gotten a chance to express that kind of physical comedy since I was a kid," he explained. "I thought, I can hit a f–king home run with this. I went to an audition for Chris. I wanted it so bad. When I left, I thought, I could do that better. It was the only time in my life I called and said, 'Can I come back?' Chris told me later he was already gonna cast me, but he saw me audition again."

9. Off-camera Pesci and Stern were not the murderous big horse's asses they were made out to be. "I'm a big softy when it comes to kids and I loved hanging out with Mac," Stern admitted in a 2015 Christmas Eve Reddit session.

When shooting the film's 1992 follow-up, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, his son Henry (now a state senator in California!) and daughters Sophie and Ella "visited me much more than on the first one… and we all had a great time taking Mac to Central Park, playing tag and catch. In any way, I think my character was much more of a softy than Joe's." Makes sense considering reports that Pesci purposely avoided Culkin on set so he'd be more terrified of his character.

10. But the stunts were all too real, including the still-to-this-day-creepy tarantula to the face. Despite the ick factor, Stern said it was one of his favorites to shoot. "Not only was it really fun and funny to do but it was a personal challenge to overcome my fear of having something that ICKY and deadly crawling on my face," he wrote. "It was even freakier because I had to do that scream, which meant my mouth was wide open too—and I was afraid the little bastard might take a detour down my throat!" No wonder he said his bellow "came from a place in my soul that I've never before touched and never hope to again!" 

11. The stunt guys got the brunt of it, though. "Literally, three or four times while shooting Home Alone and Home Alone 2, I thought those guys were dead," Columbus admitted to Chicago. "There was no CGI. It was kind of terrifying to watch. Only after they got up and came to the monitor to watch playback did we actually laugh." Agreed Stern, "The stuntmen were the unsung heroes of the show. Whenever people tell me moments they like, I say, 'Oh, that was Leon [Delaney].'"

12. The sound team truly flexed the muscles with each pratfall, relying on a frozen roast beef to double as the sound of a body slamming onto the ground and a soldering iron on chicken skin to imitate flesh burning. 

13. Somehow, though, it was Culkin who ended up with a scar. "In the first Home Alone, they hung me up on a coat hook, and Pesci says, 'I'm gonna bite all your fingers off, one at a time,'" he recalled in a 2004 interview with website Rule Forty Two. "And during one of the rehearsals, he bit me, and it broke the skin."  

14. Chris Farley almost counted the flick as his film debut. Actor Ken Hudson Campbell, who nabbed the role of the church Santa, recalled seeing the comic legend at his audition. "Apparently, he was out all night and had just been dropped off after a night of shenanigans, shall we say," he said of the early call. "Chris went first. It didn't go very well. He walked in and walked right out. I felt I went in and hit what I wanted to hit. A few weeks later, I got the call."

15. Other near-misses include Robert De Niro and Jon Lovitz, who both turned down the role of Harry, and Kelsey Grammer, who passed on Uncle Frank. Look what you did, you little jerks!

16. The owners of the famed Winnetka, Ill. house—some 16 miles outside of Chicago—actually lived there during filming. Though production rented Cynthia and John Abendshien an apartment for what they said would be a four- or five-week shoot, the location manager "explained that, under the contract, if they needed to knock down a wall when we weren't home, they could do it," Cynthia told Chicago. "So she told us it was best if we remained on the premises."

For five-and-a-half months, the family of three holed up in their four-room master bedroom suite. "We put a hot plate up there to cook," said John. "We didn't have to cook that much, because we had full access to the food truck that the crew used, which our daughter, who was 6 at the time, loved." Fortunately most of the house-destroying interiors were shot at a local high school that was closed down for the shoot. 

17. Residents of the North Shore neighborhood have grown used to the fans that drive down their suburban street to gawp at the $1.585 million Georgian stunner. "Most people who live on the street love it, and think it's a lot of fun," longtime local Ann Smith told the Chicago Tribune in 2019. "It was a big deal having the movie filmed here, and it's still a big deal. Any time I'm walking by that house, I see someone out in front, taking pictures."

18. Call it the ones where Friends' producers thought they could pull one over on fans. In 2016, an eagle-eyed fan at 22 Vision uncovered a connection between the holiday flick and the beloved NBC comedy—splicing together footage that proved Monica and Chandler's new house in the New York City suburbs was actually the McCallister's giant Illinois pad. 

19. Chicago weather pulled through in the stretch. To create the snowy look of the film, the crew relied on snow machines and semi trucks filled with shaved ice. But when they captured the moment Kate McCallister (Catherine O'Hara) finally arrived home, "It was gorgeous, real snow," recalled location manager Jacolyn Bucksbaum. "The biggest snowstorm in years, and it was Valentine's Day. Mother Nature really helped us out with that one."

20. The family's mad dash to their Paris flight was actually captured on location at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. "We had to move fast," Columbus shared. "We only had two or three takes of the entire family running down the terminal. That was nail-biting."

21. Of course ad-libbing was encouraged on set. There's a reason John Candy was a fixture in '80s and '90s fare, after all. On set for just a day to shoot his bit part as Polka King Gus Polinski ("He did it as a favor to John," noted Columbus), "I swear we worked for 21 hours straight, improvising," said O'Hara. "Candy would start a bit. John Hughes would start a bit, and Candy would pick up on it, and we would just go with it. It was all in the moment. We'd start a ridiculous conversation and go as far as we could. Chris told me later how we couldn't use most of it. He laughed and said, 'You're supposed to be looking for your kid, and you're just having a good time with these guys in a truck.'"

22. Candy wasn't the only quick thinker. Culkin reportedly came up with his threat to Marv and Harry: "Do you guys give up or are you thirsty for more?"

23. Little known fact about Buzz's girlfriend (woof): She was actually the art director's son made up to look like an unattractive young girl, actor Devin Ratray revealed to Yahoo!: "The producers decided that it would be a little bit unkind to put a girl in that role of just being funny-looking."

24. The snippets of the movie within the movie, mock-noir Angels with Filthy Souls, was written entirely by Hughes down to the "Keep the change, ya filthy animal," line. Local actor Ralph Foody was tapped to play the role of a 1940s screen star. "To this day, people are still fooled by Ralph's performance," said Columbus. "They think that's an old movie."

And the original script included a fun callback to Angels, with Marv and Harry watching the flick in prison and realizing how completely they'd been duped. 

25. Three decades on, the movie still resonates with audiences worldwide. "Anywhere I go, I'm the Home Alone dude," Stern told Chicago. "In 2003, I went to visit troops in Iraq. I was at a base camp, and they wanted to take me into Baghdad, to a jewelry store that they'd secured. They said I could buy earrings for my wife. I was like, 'What? All right.' So we go in these cars into Baghdad, and as I'm walking into the jewelry store, we get surrounded by kids going, 'Marv! Marv!' Like 16 Iraqi kids in the middle of a war zone in Baghdad still recognized me from Home Alone. That movie is everywhere."

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