Monday 19 February 2018

Here’s how Home Alone became the most successful Christmas film of all time

The most profitable Christmas film of all time is coming back to cinemas for its 25th anniversary.

Household names: Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci co-starred in 'Home Alone'
Household names: Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci co-starred in 'Home Alone'

Jessica Barrett

When does your Christmas really start? For some people, it's the minute that Starbucks get the red cups in - perhaps a little premature - while for others, it's once they've heard Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas blaring out at the work do. But for many, the season only starts when they hear the first notes of John Williams' soundtrack to Home Alone.

Since it was released in 1990, director-turned writer/producer John Hughes' film about a boy left behind while his family fly to Paris has achieved a unique status. It's officially the most successful Christmas film of all time, with a total box-office taking of $530m internationally, not to mention the gargantuan subsequent VHS and DVD sales.

The film's success inspired a film industry colloquialism: to be 'Home Aloned' - when a film dominates the box office, destroying its rivals.

In Poland it's aired on public television every year without fail, and drew in the country's biggest ever TV audience on record when five million people tuned in four years ago. And it made a nine-year-old Macaulay Culkin one of the most famous actors in the world.

At the film's point of conception, a few years had passed since the success of Hughes' Brat Pack hits The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Beuller's Day Off, which had made Mollie Ringwald, Matthew Broderick and their co-stars some of the most coveted actors in America.

But, tiring of Los Angeles and what he considered to be a soulless lifestyle, Hughes had already decided to take a step back from Hollywood life (that's when he stopped directing) and returned with his family to rural Illinois, where he would develop projects that could be filmed closer to home such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck.

In fact Home Alone grew out of a scene in 1989's Uncle Buck, in which Culkin interrogates a would-be babysitter through the letterbox of his family home.

The part of Kevin McAllister, who's accidentally left behind to fight a couple of idiotically persistent burglars, was always written by Hughes for Culkin, though director Chris Columbus admits that they still auditioned hundreds of boys to make sure they had the right one for the part.

Culkin was eight when filming started. Catherine O'Hara, who plays his mother Kate in the film, says that she knew he was special straight away.

"Macaulay was the first child leading actor I ever worked with. He was a dear little boy with a beautiful face and a funny, 1940s-style straight delivery," she remembers, adding that they still feel a bond today.

He was taken out of school before filming and never returned. "I was a kid. So it was kind of weird for me. But you know, I almost didn't know anything else," he said.

"I mean, I realised that I was leading a very unique life and I was doing things other kids my age weren't doing, but at the same time, it was just crazy."

Crazy is an understatement for the chain of events that Culkin's fame sparked. At the time of filming, he was getting close to Michael Jackson, who was said to have visited the set. His explosion into the mega-fame that Home Alone and his friendship with Jackson brought was juxtaposed with the breakdown of his relationship with his parents, but particularly his father Christopher, who Culkin "divorced" at the age of 15.

"He was very controlling... he played games with you, just to make sure you were still in your place," Culkin told Larry King in a rare interview in 2004.

"I remember, you know, when I was making God knows how much money and I didn't have a bed. I didn't even have a room. I was sleeping on the couch. Me and my brother were sleeping on the couch."

Culkin and his father are not thought to have spoken again since, though he does see his mother.

In 1994 Culkin made Richie Rich, but didn't work again for a decade, never made another hit film - and never again worked with Hughes, who died from a sudden heart attack in 2009. Hughes had shared incredibly close bonds with his actors - and none more so than John Candy, who lived nearby. When Candy could only offer a day's work for his Home Alone cameo - as a band leader - O'Hara remembers they worked for 21 hours straight, improvising their lines for the scene when his character plus band give her a lift home in the back of a lorry.

She says: "John Hughes wasn't on the set a lot - I'm sure he was busy writing his next big hit - but I remember him being with us for every hour on the day that John Candy and I shot with the polka band. John Hughes was so in love with John Candy and he and Chris offered more and more ideas to keep us improvising in the truck. We had John [Candy] for 24 hours and John [Hughes] had us playing for almost all of them."

But Candy's wasn't the only memorable appearance. Daniel Stern, who played Marv, one of the Wet Bandit burglars alongside Joe Pesci, says that he still gets lines from the film shouted at him wherever he goes, even on a trip to Baghdad to visit soldiers in 2003.

"I was surrounded by kids going, 'Marv! Marv!' Like 16 Iraqi kids in the middle of a war zone... That movie is everywhere."

Of course, none of the cast or crew had any idea what a mammoth success they had on their hands at first; rumours from the set at the time suggested that John Heard, who plays Kevin's father, and Joe Pesci, both believed the film would flop. But they were eating their words by the following year when Hughes and Columbus began work on the sequel Lost in New York.

"No one needed persuading," says O'Hara.

It was only when everyone gathered for the first-ever public screening that they realised they had created a smash. Columbus describes the first screening of the film in Hughes' beloved Chicago. "John and I kept looking across at each other. That's when we knew we had something special."

Irish Independent

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