It would be hard to explain the phenomenal success of Home Alone to anyone who wasn't there or who didn't pay attention to box office statistics in 1990. The movie, written and produced by John Hughes, was massive in a way that few are. No one expected all that much from it. The studio, 20th Century Fox, didn't give it an especially wide opening on November 16 of that year, putting it in just 1,200 theaters. The movie surprised everyone, beating out Rocky V to grab the #1 spot, with a debut of $17 million. It continued to hold strong, so they added more theaters every weekend until it reached 2,100 right before Christmas.
When all was said and done, Home Alone topped the box office for a whopping twelve weeks. That's right, it was still the #1 movie in North America the first weekend of February. Even more amazingly, it played for six straight months, finally exiting cinemas at the end of June. The total domestic gross was $285 million, which would equal more than $600 million in today's dollars.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Home Alone 3 hit theaters in the next few years, while the original took its place alongside It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th St. as required annual viewing in many homes. Making the Home Alone movies wasn't always easy. It came with some trials and tribulations, but also some happy accidents and some bits of movie magic. We've got all the details.
Here are 25 Wild Details Behind The Making Of The Home Alone Movies.
25 Hundreds of kids auditioned to play Kevin
John Hughes cast young Macaulay Culkin in his 1989 comedy Uncle Buck, where he proved to be a real scene-stealer. He wrote the part of Kevin McCallister with the actor in mind. During pre-production on Home Alone, Hughes touted Culkin's skills to director Chris Columbus, saying he'd be the perfect Kevin.
Columbus, however, felt the need to conduct a traditional audition process. He saw hundreds of children, in person or through audition tapes. After seeing them all, he came to the conclusion that Culkin was indeed the right choice to star in the movie, just as his collaborator had claimed.
24 Kevin's famous scream was improvised
The image of Macaulay Culkin screaming with his hands on his cheeks is probably the most iconic image in Home Alone. It ended up being featured on the poster and marketing materials. That scream was never intended to be as prominent as it became.
Director Chris Columbus told Entertainment Weekly that Culkin was merely supposed to slap on some cologne and scream. Instead, he kept his hands on his face the whole time he screamed, making him resemble the famous Edvard Munch painting "The Scream." Culkin's idea was perfect, so it stayed in the film.
23 HOME ALONE 3 STARRED A FUTURE AVENGER
It's always fun to look at an old movie and discover the early work of someone who became a mega-star. While utterly forgettable by most traditional measures, Home Alone 3 is notable for giving early screen time to a future Avenger.
There are no McCallisters in this one. Instead, it focuses on a different little boy, Alex Pruitt, who accidentally ends up in possession of a computer chip and pursued by the criminals who want it back. Playing Alex's older sister Molly is none other than Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson. It was one of her earliest roles.
22 The tarantula was poisonous
These days, if there was a scene in movie where a tarantula crawled across someone's face, it could easily be accomplished through CGI. The technology wasn't quite there in 1990, so for the scene in which Marv endures this exact scenario, a real tarantula had to be put on Daniel Stern's face.
Stern asked the wrangler if its stinger had been removed and was told no, because that would have destroyed it. This meant he not only had a tarantula on his face, he had one that was poisonous and could have fatally wounded him. No wonder that shriek of fear sounds so convincing.
21 Kevin's hotel bill in Home Alone 2 would have been massive
In Home Alone 2, Kevin spends a couple nights in a luxury Manhattan hotel, where he orders a ton of food from room service. Among the treats he requests are cakes, several types of ice cream, a pastry cart, and strawberry tarts. Of course, in a 4-star hotel, room service isn't cheap. How much would his stay have cost?
A room at the Plaza would have set him back more than $1,000 a night in 1992. Add to that the cost of all that food, the car ride from the airport to the hotel, and renting a movie on pay-per-view, and the grand total would have been in the neighborhood of $2,200.
20 Kevin's Mom thought she was too mean
Catherine O'Hara first rose to fame on the Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV. From there, she transitioned to movie work, with one of her most notable roles being Kate McCallister, Kevin's mom.
Despite enjoying working on the movie, the actress had a problem with the line in which her character tells Kevin that he'll be sorry if he wakes up and his family is gone. She felt it was too mean for a mother to say to a child. After arguments with the movie's director, she agreed to recite the dialogue, despite her objections. O'Hara later realized how crucial it is to the story.
19 Joe Pesci bit Macaulay Culkin for real
Joe Pesci plays the hilariously angry Harry Lime, a character named after the villain in the 1949 Orson Welles drama The Third Man. Much of the humor in the first two Home Alone movies comes from the comical way Harry is continually exasperated by Kevin. Macaulay Culkin has repeatedly said over the years that his co-star tried to mimic their antagonistic relationship off-screen.
That led to injury in one case. During the rehearsals for a scene where Harry hangs Kevin on a coat hook and threatens to bite his fingers off, Pesci bit Culkin for real, breaking the skin and leaving a permanent scar.
18 HOME ALONE HAS A WEIRD CONNECTION TO FRIENDS
What do Home Alone and Friends have in common? You might be surprised. During the final season of the hit sitcom, Monica and Chandler buy a house in the suburbs. Some eagle-eyed viewers picked up on the view from the windows of that house. The homes across the street are the exact same ones across from the McCallisters' house in Home Alone.
Apparently, the Friends set designers used some stock footage from the movie to create the background. In other words, Monica and Chandler appear to have bought the McCallisters' place!
17 Macaulay Culkin earned a record payday for the sequel
When Home Alone came out, Macaulay Culkin was not a star. He was simply "that kid from Uncle Buck." His salary for the movie was $100,000. That's a lot of money for a kid, but it's small change in Hollywood.
Once Home Alone became a massive blockbuster, he was suddenly a household name. The studio, of course, wanted a sequel, which they couldn't realistically make without him. This put the young actor in a powerful position. His management was able to command -- and receive -- a $4.5 million payday for Culkin. That was a record-breaking amount for a child performer.
16 How they lit Joe Pesci's head on fire
One of Kevin's more tricky traps involves rigging a door so that Harry will have his head lit on fire when he walks through it. The bit looks realistic, but clearly they couldn't burn actor Joe Pesci. An old magician's trick was used to accomplish the visual.
The fire was actually blown onto a dummy head that was painted black. The camera was pointed at a piece of glass placed at a 45-degree angle. When Joe Pesci hit a very specific mark on the set, he blocked out the reflection of the dummy head, leaving the flame visible -- and appearing to singe his scalp.
15 THERE'S MORE THAN ONE CULKIN IN THE MOVIE
Obviously, Macaulay Culkin is front and center in Home Alone. He's in virtually every scene, and the whole thing revolves around his character. What many people miss is that he's not the only Culkin family member to appear in the movie. His younger brother Kieran plays Kevin's cousin, Fuller McCallister. He's the one with the big glasses and the uncontrollable urge for Pepsi.
This was Kieran's screen debut. He went on to have supporting roles in several other notable films, including She's All That, Father of the Bride, The Cider House Rules, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
14 Macaulay Culkin turned down Home Alone 3
The third Home Alone movie has an almost entirely different premise. There's a new lead character, Alex, who defends his home from criminals who want to retrieve the computer chip inside his toy car. Needless to say, the simple appeal of the original is nowhere to be found.
Initially, Home Alone 3 was supposed to revolve around the teenage Kevin McCallister. Macaulay Culkin had, by 1997, temporarily retired from acting, though. He refused to return for the third installment. This left the studio and writer John Hughes with no choice but to reboot the franchise.
13 MACAULAY CULKIN HAD A 30-YEAR-OLD STUNT DOUBLE
Kevin McCallister does some insane stuff in Home Alone. He rides a sled down the stairs of his home, flying right out the front door. He climbs a wall of shelves, only to have them collapse on him. Later, he rides a zip line from his house to his treehouse. These were stunts much too dangerous to have Macaulay Culkin perform on his own.
Instead, they were performed by Larry Nicholas, a 30-year-old stuntman who was conveniently only about as tall as your average 9-year-old boy. Despite him wearing Kevin's clothing, the use of a stunt performer is particularly noticeable in that zip line scene.
12 The director got the job after walking off Christmas Vacation
An unfortunate professional situation led director Chris Columbus to the biggest hit of his career. Writer/producer John Hughes originally hired him to direct the sequel National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Columbus met with star Chevy Chase over dinner, only to discover that their personalities didn't mesh. Chase, he told Chicago Magazine, “treated me like dirt.”
The two had a second meeting, which went no better. Columbus then called Hughes to back out of the film. Feeling somewhat guilty over the whole affair, Hughes offered him another Christmas-themed script to direct. It turned out to be Home Alone.
11 John Candy filmed all his scenes in one day
John Candy was a close pal of John Hughes. They'd worked together on Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Uncle Buck together, both of which were huge hits. For that reason, the producer wanted the actor to take a small role in Home Alone. He agreed, signing on to play polka musician Gus Polinski.
Because he was an in-demand comedy star, Candy's schedule was pretty full. He was only able to give the Home Alone team one day of work. All of his scenes, most of which he improvised, were completed within that 24-hour time span in a marathon shooting session that left everyone exhausted, but excited about the outcome.
10 There's a rumor that Elvis Presley is in it
Elvis Presley passed away in 1977, but to this day, there are people who believe he's actually still alive and in hiding. Some of those folks also think that he appeared in Home Alone as an extra.
In the scene where Kevin's mother argues with an airline employee in the Scranton, Pennsylvania airport, a bearded man wearing a turtleneck sweater and a sports jacket stands behind her on the right-hand side of the screen. The guy bears a passing resemblance to Elvis. This has led to a long-standing conspiracy theory that it's the King of Rock and Roll himself. In reality, Elvis would have been much older in 1990 than the background extra clearly was.
9 How the bellhop became "Cedric" in Home Alone 2
Saturday Night Live comedian Rob Schneider has a memorable supporting role in Home Alone 2 playing a bellhop at the Plaza Hotel, where Kevin stays while in the Big Apple. He's continually frustrated by the child's refusal to tip. The bellhop's name is Cedric, but that was not always the case.
According to Schneider, the character was nameless in the original script. During filming, someone on the production found a name tag from the Plaza that said "Cedric" on it. They gave it to him to wear, and suddenly he had a moniker. Schneider also says that he kept the name tag after filming wrapped.
8 A real house was used for filming
The McCallister home is really beautiful. Unlike a lot of movies, which film on a studio lot and simply re-dress house-like structures, Home Alone filmed its exteriors at a real residence. The actual house is located in Winnetka, Illinois, which is slightly north of Chicago. It was chosen partially for its look, and partially because the production needed a house that had the properties -- like front steps -- needed to pull off some of the film's stunts.
Since the release of Home Alone, it has become a popular tourist attraction. Being used in a hit film also spiked its value. The place was sold in 2012 for $1.5 million.
7 A French filmmaker claims it ripped off his work
When a movie becomes a blockbuster, it's not uncommon for someone to come out of the woodwork claiming that it ripped off their idea. Home Alone is no different.
A French filmmaker named Rene Manzor sued 20th Century Fox, claiming Home Alone copied his 1989 movie Pere Noel. His work, a thriller, was about a boy left home by himself on Christmas Eve who has to fight for survival when an intruder breaks in. The studio unsuccessfully tried to reach a settlement. For his part, John Hughes claimed to have never seen or heard of Manzor's film.
6 The inspirations for Harry and Marv
Harry and Marv are the bungling burglars who are repeatedly outsmarted by little Kevin in the first two installments of the series. They're portrayed by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, actors who had previously worked together in a 1982 drama called I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can.
The chemistry they developed was no accident. In a Facebook post from 2015, Stern revealed that he and Pesci found inspiration in several sources. Their performances were influenced by the cartoon characters Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny, as well as the classic comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.
5 The Talkboy wasn't real-- at first
In Home Alone 2, Kevin has a device called a "Talkboy." It's a variation of a tape recorder. In one scene, he uses its function to slow down his voice and make it sound deeper so that he can impersonate his father on the telephone. It was just a prop for the film; no such toy existed.
After the movie's release, though, kids began requesting Talkboys. The toy company Tiger Electronics jumped in, securing the rights to make the gizmos for real. Unsurprisingly, they were a runaway success. Talkboys flew off the shelves so quickly that the company couldn't make them fast enough to meet the demand.
4 Daniel Stern's most serious injury
Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci take quite a beating in the two Home Alone movies in which they appear. Despite all the requisite safety precautions, there were still some injuries. The stunt that caused Stern the most pain is probably the one you'd least expect.
The actor said that a scene from Home Alone 2 that required him to climb a tower of TV sets left him battered and bruised. "It wasn't a big laugh or a big stunt, but all those angles beat the [stuffing] out of me," he said. "My legs were black-and-blue from the weird angles I'd get snagged on."
3 The premise came from real-life travel anxiety
The concept of a family going on vacation and forgetting one of the children is original, if not entirely plausible. After all, they'd have to be astonishingly clueless not to realize someone's missing. Still, the origin of Home Alone lies in some real-life travel anxiety suffered by John Hughes.
The writer was preparing to go away on vacation and made a list of things he didn't want to forget to take with him. He jokingly thought to himself that he'd better not forget his children. This led to him thinking about what would happen if such a scenario were to occur. Seeing comedic potential in the idea, Hughes turned it into a script.
2 The first one held a world record for 27 years
We all know Home Alone was a blockbuster of rare proportions. To help put that in perspective, consider that its success was so gargantuan that it literally ended up in the record books.
The $285.7 million North American gross was the highest ever for a live-action comedy in a single release territory. The movie held on to that record for an amazing twenty-seven years. In 2017, a Chinese movie called Never Say Die earned $286 million in its homeland, usurping the title. If you adjust for inflation, however, Home Alone still comes out on top.
1 There are two sequels you might not know about
Everyone remembers Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Some people also remember Home Alone 3, although it was not nearly as big a hit. What you may not know is that there were two more sequels after that, neither of which saw the inside of a cinema.
Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House was released straight-to-video in 2002. Michael Weinberg took over the role of Kevin and French Stewart played Marv. Home Alone: The Holiday Heist, meanwhile, was made for the ABC Family Channel. It aired in 2012. Both quickly disappeared into obscurity.
Which of the Home Alone movies is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.