If you were to put together a list of the most classic Christmas movies ever made, 1990’s Home Alone would be up there. It turns 30 years old this week, and for three decades it has been delighting generations. The antics of the young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) accidentally left behind when his family goes on vacation still make kids laugh, his booby-trapping of his entire house to fend off the would-be bullies Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) still holds up.
Written and produced by the legendary John Hughes, and directed by Chris Columbus, no one at the time was certain it would be a success. Certainly not the enormous success and instant classic it was. For those wanting to relive their youth, indulge in nostalgia, or introduce their kids to Kevin’s world, you’re in luck: Disney+ now has all three Home Alone movies streaming in time for the holidays.
In honor of its new home with Disney and to celebrate its 30th anniversary, here are 30 fun facts and bits of trivia you might not have known about the beloved holiday movie.
1. Joe Pesci messed with Macaulay Culkin on set.
While on set, Joe Pesci deliberately avoided interacting with Macaulay Culkin because he wanted the young Culkin to think he was mean and add to their dynamic.
2. The photo of Buzz’s girlfriend is actually a boy.
There’s a bit in the movie in which Kevin, looking through his cousin Buzz’s things, sees a picture of Buzz’s girlfriend and quickly flips the picture down in disgust. But it wasn’t a girl at all in the photo, but a boy in a wig dressed up to look like a girl. Turns out, director Chris Columbus thought it would be too cruel to mock a teenage girl like that. Instead, they used a picture of art director Dan Webster’s son.
3. Macaulay Culkin still calls Catherine O’Hara “Mom.”
To this day, Culkin still affectionately refers to his on-screen mother as “Mom.” Adorable.
4. One of the most memorable lines wasn’t even in the script.
When Kevin calls out to the beat-up burglars, he taunts them with the line “You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?” Turns out that line was never in the script: Culkin improvised it on the spot.
5. In fact, a lot of the lines were improvised.
John Candy, who had a supporting role in the film as Gus Polinski, a polka musician who gives Kate a ride back to Chicago, improvised every single one of his lines. It was a trademark filming technique from writer and producer John Hughes, who often asked that his actors feel free to improvise. In fact, in his classic film The Breakfast Club, the scene in which the five students tell each other why they got detention was completely improvised.
6. Joe Pesci’s and Daniel Stern’s performances were due to them not taking the movie’s potential seriously.
Neither Pesci and Stern, who played burglars Harry and Marv, thought much of the movie at the time they were filming and doubted it would be successful. As a result, they both intentionally gave over-the-top, hammy performances, never dreaming the movie would be the enormous hit it became.
7. It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The joke was on them, however. Home Alone was so successful it actually made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for “Highest Box-Office Gross – Comedy.” It ended up grossing $477 million worldwide or a whopping $950 million today, the same as today’s wildly successful superhero blockbusters.
8. The camera angles changed as the movie progressed.
At the beginning of the movie, Macaulay Culkin was shot from above, making him look small and helpless and highlighting how little power he had in his family hierarchy. By the end of the movie, the camera angle had transitioned to shooting him from below, making him look more big and powerful as he conquered the burglars.
9. The glass ornaments Marv steps on in his bare feet were actually candy.
They were made of finely spun sugar, a commonly-used Hollywood trick when a scene requires glass breaking. When someone is thrown through a plate glass window or crashes into a glass-topped coffee table, the glass is made of sugar glass, also known as breakaway glass, sheets of brittle, transparent sugar that look just like real glass but don’t cause any injury when breaking.
10. Daniel Stern wore rubber feet.
Still, just because they were sugar glass doesn’t mean he might not have been cut. In general, walking around a movie set in bare feet is a bad idea. To protect himself from actually being damaged, Stern wore fake rubber feet for those scenes, a common trick used in movie productions when an actor is required to be barefoot and moving around.
11. The ornaments near the Christmas tree change.
Pay close attention to those ornaments Kevin places on the ground under the window near the Christmas tree, too. Their positions change numerous times throughout the movie.
12. The stained glass windows in the church don’t match.
The interior and exterior shots of the church don’t line up. The exterior shots outside the church show the stained glass windows as having four panels while the interior shots inside the church show it as having seven panels.
13. Kevin’s clothes miraculously dry.
More continuity error fun! In the scene in which Kevin runs to his neighbor’s house, when he goes up the stairs, his clothes are soaked as he’s just slogged through his flooded basement. However, in the very next shot where he opens the door to be confronted by Harry and Marv, his clothes are completely dry.
14. The old black-and-white movie Kevin watches isn’t a real movie.
It’s a fake movie that was created for the production and created in the style of James Cagney’s old gangster films from the 30s. In fact, the title of the fake movie is Angels with Filthy Souls, a nod to Cagney’s real 1938 movie Angels with Dirty Faces.
15. Macaulay Culkin’s stunt double was a very short 30-year-old man.
His name was Larry Nicholas and he was uncredited in the film.
16. Joe Pesci accidentally bit Macaulay Culkin for real.
During one of the takes where Harry tries to bite off Kevin’s finger, Pesci accidentally bit Culkin for real, leaving a small scar from his teeth.
17. John Hughes’ greatest story worry was that moms would never believe a family would forget one of their kids.
According to director Chris Columbus, Hughes understood the entire premise of the movie would fall apart if audiences didn’t believe this could really happen. So he filled in every single logical gap in the script and the result was that audiences bought into a willing suspension of disbelief.
18. And he may have been helped by a real-life goof on set.
During the scene in which Kevin’s cousin, Heather (Kristin Minter), is doing a headcount in the van, she needed to count 11 people. Her counting order went like this: Fuller (1), Tracy (2), herself (3), Jeff (4), Sondra (5) – at this point, she goes to count Linnie but Buzz (Devin Ratray) is screwing up her counting by throwing out random numbers and Heather snaps, “Buzz don’t be a moron!” – Buzz (6), Brooke (7), Megan (8), Murphy kid (9), Rod (10), herself again (11). Linnie never actually got counted and Minter counted herself twice. But the theory is that Minter genuinely got thrown off in her counting by Ratray and, knowing she needed to get to a count of 11, assumed she forgot to count herself and so accidentally counts herself twice. The happy accident helped reinforce the notion that the morning was chaotic and it would have been easy for the family not to notice Kevin was missing.
19. The idea was inspired a scene in John Hughes’ Uncle Buck.
In that movie, there was a scene in Hughes’ 1989 movie Uncle Buck in which Culkin, who plays the younger brother of three siblings who get babysat by their irresponsible bachelor uncle, interrogates would-be babysitters through the mail slot in the front door. Later, Hughes was thinking of a list of things he didn’t want to forget while on vacation and had the thought, “What would my 10-year-old son do if I left him home alone?” That thought combined with the scene from Uncle Buck spawned the idea, eventually growing into the script for Home Alone.
20. John Williams wasn’t originally supposed to compose the score.
At the time of filming, Bruce Broughton was originally meant to compose the film. However, he backed out and the legendary John Williams stepped in. Initially, the producers hadn’t even approached Williams as they thought they’d never get him. But Williams saw a rough cut of the movie and was so enchanted that he agreed to do it.
21. That was a real tarantula that crawled around on Daniel Stern’s face.
In the scene in which Kevin looses Buzz’s pet tarantula and it crawls across Marv’s face, Daniel Stern lets out one of the all-time great movie screams. His shriek was very real and likely helped, in no small part, due to the fact that during rehearsal, they used a replica tarantula made by the prop department but ended up switching it out with a real one. Stern was then informed that the poison glands hadn’t been removed as that would have killed the tarantula, so he was understandably nervous about shrieking at top volume and angering the tarantula on his face. However, the animal wranglers assured him tarantulas don’t have ears so Stern went for it, capturing his iconic shriek with the help of his real-life eight-legged scene partner.
22. The first scene shot was the one where Kevin is buying a toothbrush.
The last scene shot was the one in which he’s running through the water-filled basement.
23. The pages of the Playboy magazine were taped together.
At the time of filming, Macaulay Culkin was only nine years old. So the crew taped the pages of Buzz’s Playboy magazine Kevin flips through together so the young Culkin wouldn’t see any nudity.
24. Chris Columbus has the sled from the movie.
The prop sled Kevin uses to sled down the stairs was signed by the entire cast and now hangs in director Chris Columbus’s office.
25. It’s the most popular Christmas movie in Poland.
A Polish holiday movie tradition, Home Alone has aired on primetime TV during the Christmas season every year since its release in 1990. In 2011, over 5 million people watched it when it aired, making it the most popular Christmas movie in Poland.
26. There were supposed to be more scenes of the family in France.
There were originally more scenes of the family in Paris in order to establish more of an emotional connection and explain further how they forgot Kevin. However, they were cut after test audiences indicated they wanted to get back to what was happening with Kevin and his antics.
27. John Candy’s character was based on a real-life person.
Candy’s Gus Polinski, the so-called “Polka King of the Midwest,” was based on an actual person, Jan “Polka King” Lewan. Lewan, born Jan Lewandowski, was born in Poland but later moved to the United States. He lived in Pennsylvania and he really did have a polka band that traveled all around the world. Interestingly, Lewan’s life has been the focus of two documentaries and one comedy feature starring Jack Black as Lewan.
28. John Candy appeared in the movie as a favor to Hughes.
Candy agreed to do the role of Gus as a favor for his good friend, Hughes. The favor was that, as one of the biggest comedy actors of the era, Candy was paid scale (Screen Actors Guild minimum wage) for the role. Candy shot all of his scenes in one marathon 23-hour day.
29. The scene where Kevin is almost hit by the van used a clever trick to achieve.
The scene early in the movie in which Harry and Marv are driving down the driveway in the van and slam on the brakes just in time to avoid hitting a dejected Kevin walking past could have been dangerous. There was no way to have a 9-year-old kid do a stunt like that, and his stunt double would have been too obvious. So they came up with a solution: Macaulay Culkin actually walked backward and the van was driven in reverse away from him. Then they showed the film backward so it looked like it was happening in forward motion.
30. The iconic image of Kevin screaming with his hands to his face happened by accident.
The most famous shot of the movie – the close-up of Kevin screaming with his hands to his face that ended up on the movie poster and all the home video art – was never supposed to happen. He was supposed to clap his hands to his face, remove them after a beat, then scream. But Macaulay Culkin forgot to pull his hands away as he screamed and it ended up working so well that’s the take they used.
What’s your favorite Home Alone scene?