Home Alone tells the story of Kevin McCallister, and 8-year-old boy left behind by his Paris vacation-bound family and forced to single-handedly defend his Chicago home on Christmas Eve against petty thieves by crafting deadly traps throughout the house. While that sounds like a dark premise unlikely for a family film, this comedy, which launched the career of ‘90s child star Macaulay Culkin, has since become cinematic tradition for the holiday season.
The painfully hilarious third feature from director Chris Columbus, from a script by legend John Hughes, was a massive hit in 1990, grossing more than $400 million worldwide and spawning four sequels and counting. But the behind-the-scenes secrets of Home Alone tell a decidedly crazier story.
Let's take a look back on this comedy classic by exploring its best kept secrets. This is a collection of some of the most intriguing behind-the-scenes facts about Home Alone.
Macaulay Culkin Inspired John Hughes To Write Home Alone
Home Alone was the film that made Macaulay Culkin Hollywood’s biggest star at the time, and at just 10 years old. Even with subsequent re-castings of the lead role in follow-ups after Home Alone 2, it is impossible for one to imagine anyone else filling the role of Kevin McCallister. That was especially the case for John Hughes.
In fact, it was the charming young actor’s performance in John Hughes’ Uncle Buck (particularly scene in which his character interrogates his babysitter) that contributed to his idea to write a film carried entirely by a child protagonist. Even though director Chris Columbus pushed to hold auditions for the role of Kevin McCallister, by the end, it was unanimously clear that Home Alone had found its hero in Macaulay Culkin.
Warner Bros. Initially Shut Down Production On Home Alone
Home Alone was obviously very profitable for Twentieth Century Fox. However, that was almost not the case, as said studio was not the film’s original home.
According a segment of Netflix's docuseries The Movies That Made Us, filming of Home Alone began in February 1990 under Warner Bros., who made the decision to shut down almost halfway through production over budgetary concerns. Unbeknownst to that studio, the producers had already been in contact with Twentieth Century Fox, who had been made aware of production’s tension with Warner Bros. and expressed interest in backing the project. They took over the film’s production immediately, saving the entire cast and crew’s jobs.
Looking back, it’s easy to imagine that Warner Bros. was kicking themselves after seeing Home Alone’s box office returns. Of course, their confidence in the project was made clear from the start with the initial budget.
For A Huge Box Office Hit, Home Alone’s Budget Was Modest At Best
When production for Home Alone began under Warner Bros., the budget was set at just $14 million, a particularly tight number, even in 1990. Thus, the crew had to jump through a few hoops to pull off some of their biggest ideas and even abandon some that proved too expensive.
For instance, the furnace that grunts Kevin McCallister’s name early into the film was originally envisioned as a dream sequence in which the furnace comes to life and chases the boy out of the house, but was scrapped after accruing an estimated $1 million cost. The budget on Home Alone rose to $17 million after Fox took over the project.
Much Of Home Alone’s Production Was Done In A High School
The house recognized as the McCallister residence in Home Alone is actually seen in select portions of the film. Kevin McCallister’s real home is a high school gymnasium.
The production crew actually set up shop in New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Illinois (also used for John Hughes’ Uncle Buck and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), at which they filmed many of Home Alone’s interior shots in a set the built in the gymnasium. In fact, the sequence in which Kevin runs through a flooded basement was achieved by building the set over the school’s swimming pool.
Macaulay Culkin Improvised The Most Iconic Home Alone Moment
Macaulay Culkin’s contribution to Home Alone’s enduring success goes further than showing up to set. The world-famous image of Kevin McCallister screaming with his hands on his face was his idea… sort of.
In the Home Alone scene in which Kevin uses aftershave, supposedly for the first time, Macaulay Culkin was originally supposed to pull his hands away as he let out his bloodcurdling yelp, but forgot to. Not only did this unintentional tribute to artist Edvard Munch become the most iconic shot in the movie, it was immortalized in the marketing, gracing the film’s poster and VHS packaging.
Chris Columbus Almost Directed Another Christmas Comedy Instead of Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin would also have fun jokingly assisting Chris Columbus in directing Home Alone, which would prove to be the future Harry Potter helmer’s biggest hit at that point in his otherwise financially dismal career. However, the thankful filmmaker almost missed out on this chance.
John Hughes had initially hired Chris Columbus to direct his 1989 holiday-themed comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but after butting heads with star Chevy Chase, Columbus asked to be removed from the project. The understanding Hughes sent Columbus the script for Home Alone, which he immediately fell in love with.
Home Alone’s Harry And Marv Were Almost Played By Different Actors
Christopher Columbus wasn’t the only one to almost miss out on the success of Home Alone. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s roles of bumbling thieves who have it out for Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin went through a large rotation of other casting choices.
Among the lengthy list of actors considered for Harry were Danny DeVito, Bob Hoskins, Kurt Russell, Tommy Lee Jones, and even musician Phil Collins. Robert De Niro also reportedly turned down the role before it went to his friend and frequent co-star Joe Pesci.
Daniel Stern, actually, was initially cast as Marv, but dropped out when he learned he would be working for eight weeks for the price of six and was replaced by Daniel Roebuck by Warner Bros’ recommendation. Believing him to lack chemistry with Joe Pesci, the studio dropped Roebuck and reapproached Stern, who looks back on Home Alone thankfully. In the Netflix documentary, Daniel Stern actually says, "Thank God they came back to me."
Joe Pesci Treated The Set Of Home Alone Like A Scorsese Movie
In the same year in which Home Alone was released, Joe Pesci turned in an Academy Award-winning performance in Martin Scorsese’s mob masterpiece Goodfellas. That might explain some of his on-set behavior while playing Harry.
The Netflix Movies that Made Us episode actually has a whole segment dedicated to Joe Pesci's propensity for swearing, complete with a bleeped out montage of examples from other films. Chris Columbus advised against such language, especially in the presence of Macaulay Culkin, which led to Harry’s incoherent Yosemite-Sam-like rambles through his pain in Home Alone’s finished cut.
The Painful Stunts In Home Alone Were No Joke
Speaking of pain, Home Alone is best known for the unlikely suffering of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s characters at the hands of Kevin McCallister and his potentially lethal traps. These darkly humorous moments of anguish are so convincing is because many of the stunts are very much real.
In a time that preceded Hollywood’s reliance on CGI to achieve elaborate stunts, Home Alone’s team of stunt performers, including a very short 30-year-old man who doubled for Macaulay Culkin, made every dangerous pratfall count by actually enduring the pain. According to what Chris Columbus told EW, when asked if there was a scene they were worried about pulling off, he responded:
I think all of the stunts Every time the stunt guys did one of those stunts it wasn’t funny. We’d watch it, and I would just pray that the guys were alive. And then they would get up and they were absolutely fine, and then we would watch the playback on video and then we were relaxed enough to laugh. [Laughs]
Of course, some people were spared, such as Joe Pesci, whose head was made into a fake recreation for the scene in which a blowtorch lights Harry on fire. The prop eventually found a home in Chris Columbus’ office.
Buzz’s Girlfriend In Home Alone Was Not Who “She” Seemed
In another case of using movie magic to avoid harm, there is a surprising secret behind one of Home Alone’s cruder jokes. When Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin finds a picture of his brother Buzz’s girlfriend, he scoffs in disgust at how unattractive she is.
Chris Columbus feared photographing a girl in service of such a joke would be too cruel. Instead, Buzz’s girlfriend was actually the son of the film’s art director Dan Webster made up to look like a girl.
You Won’t Find Home Alone’s Movie Within A Movie Anywhere Else
There are actually a few moments of Home Alone that are not what they seem. For example, Angels with Filthy Souls, the black and white that Kevin uses to fool both the Wet Bandits and the pizza deliverer and features the often quoted line “Merry Christmas, ya’ filthy animal” is not even a real movie.
Inspired by the 1938 James Cagney film Angels with Dirty Faces, the otherwise convincing footage specially created for Home Alone. The fake movie was actually the first thing the crew filmed, and in just one day, and did not even have a proper title until it was written on the VHS tape's label on set, according to art director Dan Webster.
This family comedy looks a bit different when considering its behind-the-scenes history. From almost ending up in development hell to nearly leaving brave stuntmen in the hospital, we can safely call Home Alone a bonafide Christmas miracle that remains the peak of Macaulay Culkin’s career as well as a timeless holiday classic.