In November of 1990, a little movie called Home Alone premiered, broke box office records, and made a star out of its nine year-old lead, Macaulay Culkin. Written and produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, it boasted an impressive cast, featuring veteran actors like Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, John Heard, and John Candy.
Home Alone told the story of Kevin McCallister, a little boy who gets accidentally left behind when the rest of his family heads to Paris for the Christmas holidays. While his family realizes he’s missing en route and his mother tries to get back home to him, Kevin faces off against bandits who are determined to rob his house. He sets up elaborate booby traps, enrages them, saves the day, and still manages to get the grocery shopping done.
The movie is now considered a holiday classic. Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Home Alone.
15. Macauley Culkin’s Stunt Double Was a 30 Year-Old Man
Obviously, no sane movie director is going to let a nine year-old kid do dangerous stunts. But the story for Home Alone required its lead character, Kevin McCallister, to risk life and limb more than a few times. Tobogganing down the stairs is a pretty unsafe thing to do, as is ziplining (sort of) from an upstairs window to the treehouse across the lawn, or climbing up a wall of shelves and falling down with them. So every time you watch the movie and see what looks like a nine-year-old flying across the room, it’s really Larry Nicholas, a 30-year-old stunt man, who happened to be the right size to step up and slide on.
Nicholas has an impressive résumé, by the way: his film credits include The Matrix Reloaded, Dante’s Peak, Jurassic Park, Hook, Waterworld, and Matilda, among dozens of others. And that toboggan that he rode down the stairs was signed by the entire cast and given to Chris Columbus; he keeps it in his office.
14. Michael Jackson Visited The Set
It makes sense, when you think about it, that Michael Jackson and Macauley Culkin would become friends. They both became wildly famous when they were still little kids, they both had overbearing, controlling fathers, and they both didn’t get to have much of a childhood thanks to their superstardom. So the two of them spent quite a bit of time together. Jackson came to visit Culkin on set during the shooting of Home Alone, although to be completely transparent, there are conflicting reports on this: some stories have him showing up on the Home Alone 2 set instead.
Two years after Home Alone, Culkin appeared in Jackson’s innovative video for the song “Black or White,” along with George Wendt, in an intro in which he, in a very Kevin-like move, builds a giant amp that blows “dad” Wendt out of the house, literally. Culkin also shows up again in the middle of the video, lip-syncing with a bunch of kids on a stoop.
13. Paris Was Not Paris, and The Airplane Was a Basketball Court
There’s a whole slice of the movie that takes place at Paris-Orly airport, but it was neither cost-effective nor practical to pack up most of the cast and ship them to France, let alone to try to shoot in the famous airport. So the cast remained in Chicago where the rest of the movie was filmed, and Chicago’s O’Hare airport stood in for its French counterpart.
Those scenes in first class, when Kevin’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) realize he’s missing? That set was built on the basketball court of New Trier High School in nearby Winnetka, Illinois. The school also had a swimming pool, which subbed nicely as the flooded basement.
New Trier might look a little familiar to John Hughes fans; it also turned up in Uncle Buck, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Sixteen Candles. Years later, it would be used for the Tina Fey movie Mean Girls.
12. Have You Heard The Expression “Big in Poland”?
Every Christmas here in the U.S., we know that certain holiday classics are going to come on TV: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. But in Poland, the can’t-miss holiday TV is Home Alone. For 20 years, it’s aired on Polish TV on or close to Christmas Even, and it’s the biggest Christmas movie there is over there. With a population of 38 million, the average viewing audience is four million people.
The movie’s title, in Polish, is Kevin Sam w Domu, which translates literally as “Kevin Alone in the House.” In 2010, when a major Polish network decided not to air Kevin Sam w Domu, the internet exploded in protest. A “defenders group” sprung up on Facebook, and the protestors won their case. The network changed its mind, aired the movie, and the following year were rewarded with a viewing audience of five million, topping all previous records.
11. Nobody in the Cast Thought The Movie Would Amount To Much
During the shooting of the movie, no one in the cast thought they were making a holiday classic, let alone one that would break records at the box office and become a behemoth blockbuster. Catherine O’Hara simply hoped for the best but didn’t expect much, John Heard complained about it regularly, and Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci hammed it up with way over-the-top performances, figuring that it didn’t really matter because the movie wasn’t going anywhere, although Stern has said in more recent interviews that he loved the script when he read it.
The movie was a massive hit, opening in theaters in November 1990 and staying until Easter of the following year. It’s still the highest-grossing live action comedy in the United States, and was so popular that “Home Aloned” became a verb in Hollywood, meaning that a movie didn’t have a chance at getting to #1 because of another, bigger and unstoppable movie.
During the shooting of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Heard finally apologized to director Chris Columbus for his crabby skepticism, and since the cameras were rolling at the time, Columbus still has his apology on film.
10. That Plot Hole You Thought Was a Plot Hole is Not A Plot Hole
You remember how Kevin’s mom couldn’t call him because a tree damaged the phone line at the house? Kevin’s parents call the police and various neighbors, because they can’t reach their son to tell him they’re trying to make their way back to him. But when he’s hungry, Kevin somehow manages to order himself a pizza for delivery, and later still, he’s able to dial 911 to report the bandits to the police.
In 2016, this wouldn’t even be an issue thanks to cell phones, nor is it still the way land lines work for people who do still use them, but The Huffington Post investigated this particular scenario with a Vice President at AT&T in 2015 and he confirmed that back in 1990, it was definitely possible for a “trunk connection,” which connected people to places far away, to be damaged but for someone to still be able to make local calls on the damaged line.
9. Robert De Niro and Jon Lovitz Both Turned Down Joe Pesci’s Role
If the movie had been cast as originally envisioned, Robert De Niro would have taken his Goodfellas co-star Joe Pesci’s part as bandit Harry Lime, named after Orson Welles’ character in The Third Man. De Niro turned it down, as did Jon Lovitz, who we’re guessing went on to regret that decision.
The part of Uncle Frank was originally written for Kelsey Grammer, and rumor has it that earlier versions of the script had him turning out to be the bad guy in cahoots with the would-be burglars.
SCTV veteran Catherine O’Hara played Kevin’s mom, but actresses considered before she signed on included Diane Keaton, Jodie Foster, Carrie Fisher, and Jessica Lange, while John Heard’s role as Kevin’s dad could’ve been Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, or Chevy Chase. Chase would’ve been a particularly bad choice, since Columbus took the Home Alone gig after turning down National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation due to a lunch he went to with Chase, who, he said, treated him “like dirt.”
8. The Broken Christmas Ornaments Were Made of Candy
Daniel Stern, aka Marv the bandit, wore rubber feet for some of his more challenging scenes, like the ones where he’s running around barefoot in the snow, getting stuck in tar, or stepping on nails. But when he climbs through the window, barefoot, and steps on the Christmas ornaments, those were no stunt feet, they were the real deal.
The ornaments were made of candy glass, so they’d still make a satisfying crackly crunch sound and look right, but wouldn’t hurt Stern’s feet … but they did, a little. Still, he wanted to do that scene himself, since his stunt double (along with Pesci’s) was already the “unsung hero” of Home Alone.
According to Stern, he took a much worse beating on Home Alone 2, though, where he ended up with black and blue legs from all the different angles they had to get for the injuries Kevin inflicted on him.
7. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern Had a Little Swearing Problem On Set
Both actors weren’t particularly used to having a lot of kids around, and had a huge problem keeping their language G-rated while they were shooting, especially given all the stunts, smashes, slips, and tirade-style rants they had to endure, and the fact that Pesci was in Goodfellas that same year. Columbus asked them to say “fridge” every time the OTHER f-word sprang to mind, in the hopes of keeping things kid-friendly.
One thing that probably didn’t help much was that Columbus was a Goodfellas fan–like everybody else in the country–and repeatedly asked Pesci to do his “how am I funny?” speech, which is filled with four-letter expletives. That scene was actually mostly improvised by Pesci and based on a true story he told at rehearsal, but that didn’t keep Columbus from wanting him to repeat it, over and over.
6. Camera Angles Play a Role in Kevin’s Transformation
As Home Alone progresses, you witness the transformation of Kevin from a scared, somewhat helpless (and whiny) 9 year-old into a kid who can feed himself, take care of himself, cheer himself up, bolster his own courage, and foil two determined burglars. If you look more closely, you’ll notice that it’s not just what Kevin does that makes him go from weak to strong, but some very deliberate camera work.
At the beginning of the movie, Kevin is mostly shot from higher angles. This makes him look puny and small, even weak, as we always see him from above as if we are the adult looking down on the kid. As the movie keeps going, the angles change, and eventually the camera moves so that it’s mostly underneath him, making him look taller, stronger, and more capable.This is what good movie-making is all about: you don’t need to give someone a metal suit to make them into a superhero. Sometimes it’s just about how you look at them.
5. Some of the Special Effects Were Done in a Guy’s Parents’ Basement
The original budget for Home Alone was $14 million. When they told their studio, Warner, that they were going to need 14.7, Warner actually dropped the movie from its roster and it got picked up by Fox, with the final budget number eventually rising to $17 million. Still, that wasn’t enought to give them any wiggle room, so all kinds of ideas for special effects (like the furnace coming alive in a nightmare sequence) had to be scrapped.
While the movie relies mostly on practical effects, they did need a few special visuals done, so they hired a local guy, Kevin Nordine, who hand-painted directly onto the film whenever they needed something, for about $100 a pop. He was living at his parents at the time, which meant that optical effects for the highest grossing live-action comedy in U.S. history were done in some guy’s parents’ basement in Chicago. Nordine’s only other credit is in John Hughes’ Curly Sue.
4. The Entire Movie Was Inspired By A Short Scene in Another Movie
While John Hughes had had a story brewing in his head about a family who leaves a kid behind on a family trip, it was a specific scene in his movie Uncle Buck that kicked his premise to the next level. When Macauley Culkin (who co-starred in the movie with John Candy) interrogates a potential babysitter through the mail slot, Hughes realized he had a whole movie idea ready, and that it should star Culkin.
Director Chris Columbus hadn’t worked on Uncle Buck, though, so he auditioned over 200 kids for the role, then hired Culkin anyway, for whom the part had been written in the first place. And while John Candy appears in Home Alone, he and his former co-star didn’t have any scenes together, as Candy’s Gus Polinski never shows up at the house himself or interacts with him. He doesn’t even get out of the car after dropping off Kevin’s mom. Here’s why:
3. John Candy Shot All His Scenes in One Very Very Long Day
John Candy plays Polka King Gus Polinski (a character inspired by his role in Planes, Trains and Automobiles) who offers a desperate Kate McCallister a ride home to reunite her with her son. He got paid scale, shot all of his scenes in one 23-hour day, and improvised most of his dialogue. Candy and O’Hara had a long history together; they’d both been on SCTV, which premiered on Canadian television in 1976 before making its way to the U.S. a few years later.
O’Hara described what it was like shooting his scenes: “John Hughes was there, and I swear we worked for 21 hours straight, improvising. 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.'”
2. That Spider Was Not a Stunt Spider — and Its Name was Barry
While Macaulay Culkin had a hand stunt double for his spider scene, Daniel Stern did not. Editor Raja Gosnell remembers that Stern couldn’t scream because it would scare the tarantula, and says Stern mimed it, but on his Facebook page, Stern remembers it differently.
He says the tarantula was named Barry, and contrary to post-movie lore, had not had its venom removed, as that would have killed it. When he asked if screaming would be a problem, he was told it would be fine, because Barry didn’t have ears. Stern wrote, “I think I felt comfortable enough to have let out that scream right at him in the scene, but there’s another legend that says I only mimed it and added in the scream later. (I would love for the powers-that-be at 20th Century Fox to release the original footage to see if I screamed or mimed, so we can settle this “controversy” once and for all – and the world can finally be at peace.) Either way, the scream came out pretty good and was an homage to the shower scene in “Psycho”. I then had to beat Joe Pesci with a crowbar. And we all know that even though it was pretend and funny and a fake crowbar, it’s a thousand times more dangerous pissing off Joe Pesci than pissing [off] a venomous spider that’s crawling on your face.”
1. Joe Pesci Scared Macaulay Culkin, and Injured Him Permanently
During the shoot, Joe Pesci kept his distance from Macaulay Culkin, as he wanted to make sure that Kevin would really seem afraid of Harry. It worked; Culkin was definitely a little nervous around him. But they still had to rehearse, and when they were rehearsing the scene pictured above, where the bandits actually hang Kevin on a coat hook, one of Pesci’s lines is “I’m gonna bite all your fingers off, one at a time.”
According to Culkin, it was during one of their rehearsals when Pesci really got into character and bit him, and broke the skin. As a result, his right index finger still has a white scar on it, a permanent memento of his role in this legendary movie. He reports that he was genuinely angry at the time. “I got really mad at him. I was like, ‘I don’t care how many Oscars you have, or whatever – don’t go biting a nine-year-old! What the heck’s wrong with you?'”
Method acting or not, it worked.