Though it was released decades after traditional holiday movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and
Miracle on 34th Street, the 1990 film Home Alone is already a holiday classic. Hitting many emotional sweet spots, the film evokes both 90s nostalgia and holiday magic while capturing
the wonder of childlike imagination.
Although it explores every kid’s fantasy of freedom without parental supervision, Home Alone is ultimately a celebration of family. The dysfunctional McCallister family makes your own relatives seem perfect by comparison, and every December, many let the McCallisters into their own homes to rewatch as they ditch their son on the way to the airport. There’s just something about the McCallisters’ chaos that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy during the holiday season.
If you haven’t seen Home Alone in a while, you’ll probably find that the movie is more violent than you remember it being. “There are plenty of articles about how, in real life, the robbers would've been dead or maimed from all the injuries,” actor Michael C. Maronna, who played Jeff McCallister, says. And it’s true: little Kevin McCallister dishes out some lethal tactics to beat up the bad guys like a miniature action hero, taking out his frustration on two bumbling, house-invading burglars (portrayed by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) after enduring relentless abuse from his siblings and cousins.
But at its core, Home Alone’s message is about empowering the helpless and innocent, flipping the inherent power imbalance between children and adults with bad intentions. And despite the comical violence, Home Alone is a kid-centric movie; many of the film’s supporting actors were children, and the bulk of the screen time belongs to ten-year-old Macaulay Culkin.
Following the massive success of Home Alone and the 1992 sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Macaulay Culkin was one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars. But since the mid-90s, he’s mostly lived his life away from the spotlight, and even though Culkin’s claimed that he’s “essentially retired,” an air of intrigue continues to follow the star of the highest-grossing comedy of the 90s.
We spoke with members of the McCallister family about their impressions of castmate
Macaulay Culkin, Michael Jackson’s visit to set, and their favorite memories portraying the filmic family.
Senta Moses Mikan (Actor, Tracy McCallister): What makes Home Alone so special is that it's about family. It has a lot of heart, outside of all the hijinks that [Kevin] pulls in the house. It's about wanting to be with family and realizing how important it is to have family around you.
Terrie Snell (Actor, Aunt Leslie): There was a fun, family atmosphere on set. The kids were everywhere, and it was so delightful because you could watch them all building their relationships with each other and becoming close.
Diana Rein (Actor, Sondra McCallister): I remember the cast having dinner one night, and I was joking around with the kids and John Heard [who portrayed Peter McCallister]. I had the brilliant idea to stick an ice cube down the back of his shirt. He was wearing a silk shirt, and wardrobe got so mad at me. I turned bright red, but John came to my defense.
Mikan: We hung out a lot in our downtime and after shooting. We were such a tight unit, and that's what comes across onscreen.
Jedidiah Cohen (Actor, Rod McCallister): In addition to working together, the kids were all effectively in school together. In between scenes, we'd be working with tutors on school assignments. We shared an experience during our formative years, and that will always be a bond between us.
Kristin Minter (Actor, Heather McCallister): I was a little older [than the other kids] and my parents weren't there, so I was on my own. All the kids would watch movies in my room and order pizza.
Rein: We even planned a couple of group trips on the weekends we weren't working, just to hang out and have fun together.
Mikan: I feel sorry for the Assistant Director, because there were a lot of us and we had a lot of energy.
Minter: I think the movie did so well because the joy comes across. Also, every kid's fantasy is to be left home alone and have a good time—I mean, not for the robbers to come. But every little kid wants to spend some time without their family, without discipline, doing whatever they want to do.
Maronna: Home Alone really helped us conquer a lot of our fears. What could be more of a nightmare than a kid’s parents being out of town and two burglars breaking into the house? Somehow, it works out all really nicely.
Snell: Home Alone came at a time when empowerment of young people was something
that hadn't really been investigated. This was one of the first movies in our era that showed
that a child could empower himself and take care of things.
Maronna: Director Chris Columbus knew how to make a hit movie out of child empowerment. The Goonies, which he wrote, was all about that—kids marooned without adult protection, defeating menacing creeps. He definitely knew how to make the movie the right way.
Rein: The film had the advantage of being a holiday movie, but my family laughed so hard the first time we saw it. The physical comedy was definitely a winner, and the premise that a little boy could outsmart some burglars really touched the audience.
Maronna: It’s kind of like watching Tom and Jerry—the compelling contrast of this angelic, sweet-faced kid doing these dastardly things.
Minter: Mac[aulay] was so adorable. He was just a totally normal kid. Here's this kid who's the star of this movie with Catherine O'Hara and Joe Pesci, and he's just ten years old!
Snell: Macaulay was hysterical as a little kid. The family had a swear jar, and there were some slips of the tongue on set. Macaulay had a brown paper bag that he would go around with, and every time somebody swore, he made them put a quarter in the brown paper bag.
Mikan: Mac was a cool kid. He was, obviously, very precocious for his age. We had fun together on set. It wasn't like he was treated any different than us. He was part of the family. Despite what happened with him and his career—becoming this huge star because of the movie—he was just Mac. A goofy little ten-year-old kid.
Minter: Imagine the pressure Macaulay had as a ten-year-old—he's the whole movie. He talks to himself in half of it. I can understand why he stepped away from the spotlight. I think that he was under a tremendous amount of pressure.
Snell: Mac was such a sweet kid in the beginning—a kid doing something that he thought was fun. By the time we made the second movie, there was a lot more sophistication to him, because he’d done other things.
Rein: One time, we had a rehearsal in front of the Evanston house on a weekend, and all of a sudden we see Macaulay arriving with Michael Jackson. We were all so surprised and excited. He hung out with us for a bit and took pictures with us. He was pretty shy, but kind.
Mikan: It actually happened during the second movie. I have a photo of it. We were outside the McCallister house when a white van with no windows pulled up, and Michael Jackson got out. He came to visit Mac, and he spent the whole day on set with us, which was completely surreal.
Cohen: While I don't generally introduce myself by telling people I was in Home Alone, it’s of universal interest. Invariably, mutual friends bring it up within a few minutes, and people are a mix of amazed, amused, and interested. It's a conversation piece that I include on my resumé, and it’s come up in every job interview I've ever been on.
Maronna: The movie’s presence in my life now is mostly limited to this time of year—getting text messages and calls like, “I'm here with my family and your face comes on the screen. How are you?” That type of stuff. But it's helped finance my lifestyle for the last 25 years as well.
Rein: Being on the Home Alone set made me fall in love with filmmaking, and it was terribly sad to say goodbye to my movie family. It also created an addict out of me, in the sense that I was always looking for my next “fix” to book something. It sent me on a 20-year journey that I gave everything to, without getting much in return. It messed with my sense of self-worth. I was always looking outside of myself for validation. It wasn't easy.
During my adult years, I went through a phase where I resented the movie. It wasn't until a few years ago, when my son was old enough to see it for the first time, that I fully embraced it again and was proud of the fact that I was a part of something special and unique.