20 Things to Look for the Next Time You're Watching Home Alone
Home Alone, the 1990 classic that instantly made Macaulay Culkin an A-list star, is one of those Christmas movies that naysayers will try to tell you isn’t a Christmas movie. It’s not primarily about Christmas, but the backdrop of the holidays is present everywhere you look—from the stockings little Kevin McCallister (Culkin) hangs for his transcontinental family and the poinsettias that seem to decorate every set to the warm-and-fuzzy lesson about bringing loved ones together. Nevertheless, there are many things you’ve probably missed in McCallister’s saga dealing with burglars. During your ritual viewing of Home Alone around this time, here are some goofs and interesting facts to watch out for.
1. Home Alone is a John Hughes movie through and through, even though it isn’t.
The master behind 1980s teen classics including Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off wrote Home Alone, though he did not direct it as he did those other films. He also served as producer, and it feels like his baby. It’s set in Hughes’s home turf, the Chicago area, and reunites him with John Candy and Culkin, who both starred in Hughes’s 1989 Uncle Buck. The surprisingly dark, adult content (guns, self-defense, family abandonment) lightened with wholesome humor are Hughes trademarks.
2. Home Alone set up director Chris Columbus’s career.
Columbus had only directed two feature films before he took the reins on Home Alone, which would become a template for his major work in the future. He’s become known for family-friendly material with plenty of gags. He partnered again with composer John Williams on the first two Harry Potter movies, in which the music is as unbelievably catchy as it is here.
3. The home in Home Alone is a star in its own right.
A large part of the mass appeal of Home Alone was its image of a large family living in the suburbs of Middle America. They might seem ordinary in their traditional, red-brick, Georgian house, but their life would’ve been a fantasy for most Americans. The actual house shot for the film is in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Winnetka. In 2017, Bloomberg reported that the neighborhood is the 10th richest in all of the United States. The McCallisters' house sold for $1.585 million in 2012 and looks much the same as it did in 1990, preserving one of movie history’s most famous exteriors.
4. Kevin’s family is scarily mean to him.
It’s not hard to fathom why Home Alone was scarring to some young kids (it was to this writer growing up, anyway). In the beginning, we see why Kevin might be happier without his family around. But they aren’t just harsh; their bullying of an eight-year-old verges on sadistic. His sister Linnie calls him incompetent (in French!), his brother Buzz calls him a “phlegm-wad” and suggests that he eat regurgitated cheese pizza, and his uncle calls him a “little jerk” for a minor accidental spill. When they realize in France that they’ve left little Kevin to fend for himself, none of the family members seems particularly worried except his mom. It’s enough to wonder if the McCallisters aren’t the true villains of Home Alone.
5. The McCallisters are a little too fast.
When the McCallisters are late getting out of the house for their flight to France, Uncle Frank says they have only 45 minutes until the plane departs. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Winnetka to the closest major airport, O’Hare (where scenes were shot), according to Google Maps. Even if they shaved off 10 minutes in their rush, that gives them 25 minutes from arriving at the airport until departure. Airlines typically close gates 15 minutes before departure, so the McCallisters checked in, got through security, and raced to the gate in 10 minutes (or even faster). That’s either some kind of record or sloppy writing.
6. Don’t ever trust Heather in math class.
Hughes came up with a fun plot device to leave Kevin in the dust: While Heather is counting up the number of kids before they leave for the airport, the neighboring Murphy kid is busy in one of the vans, leading her to mistakenly include Kevin. But Kristin Minter, the actress who played Heather, may have gotten thrown off in real life when Buzz interrupts her counting, because if you watch closely, she actually counts herself twice and forgets Linnie in the tally.
7. Home Alone is an advertiser’s dream.
Hollywood was not shy about product placement in its movies during the 1990s, but even so, the sheer number of brands that appear in Home Alone is mind-boggling. We see (and hear) Pepsi multiple times, along with American Airlines, Playboy, Junior Mints, Crunch Tators (an ‘80s Frito Lays snack), Tide, Tropicana, Tic Tacs, Kraft—and those are just the most obvious examples.
8. The BB gun is not true-to-life.
Kevin makes use of Buzz’s Daisy BB gun throughout the movie, whether it’s for target practice on toys or to ward off Joe Pesci. But the model shown, while used as a pump-action gun, is actually lever-action.
9. No, that isn’t a real ‘30s gangster movie Kevin is watching.
The Home Alone filmmakers created a fake gangster movie for Kevin to watch and get inspiration from, called Angels with Filthy Souls. It’s certainly a reference to the actual 1938 picture Angels with Dirty Faces. The footage for the movie-within-a-movie lasts one minute and 20 seconds, and you can watch every filthy second of it here. It feels surprisingly authentic for a parody clip, and clearly had the desired effect: a sequel even appears in Home Alone 2.
10. The movie (mostly) gets Chicago right.
While the ride to the airport may have been way too quick, those from the Chicagoland area will notice that the filmmakers put great care into making its setting in the area feel real, including doing exterior shots on location. That’s not surprising given Hughes’s love affair with Chicago in his movies. The Metra commuter train (not to be confused with the L) that reaches the suburbs of the city even gets a shoutout with a passing train.
11. But it definitely doesn’t get France right.
When most of the McCallister clan makes it to Paris, they’re actually being shown in another part of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Based on when they left, it should be nighttime in France, but is instead daylight. Catherine O’Hara’s Kate leaps to the closest payphone, somewhat rudely kicking off a Frenchwoman in order to find out about her son. The problem is she’s using a BT payphone that wouldn’t have existed in Paris, and while she’s asked to insert coins, French payphones at the time required telephone cards.
12. Home Alone is not an endorsement of the police.
When Kate gets through to local police about her son being home alone, she gets them to agree to send someone to check up on him. They do, but only with the barest amount of effort. An officer shows up at the front door and knocks. Kevin, being scared, doesn’t answer and hides in the bedroom. Despite the fact that the house lights are on and Kevin’s mom told police that her son is there, the officer is apparently satisfied with his detective work and radios back to the department about Kate, “Tell her to count her kids again."
13. Little Nero’s pizza existed, but only for a day.
Who wouldn’t want to grab a slice of Little Nero’s Pizza like Kevin, with its affable delivery boy, charmingly amateur logo, and unforgettable motto (“No Fiddlin’ Around!”)? Sadly, the restaurant is fictional, an apparent nod to Little Caesars. But love for Home Alone and its cult pizza joint is so strong that distributor 20th Century Fox and UberEATS partnered in 2015 to serve customers in select cities pizzas (which actually came from local establishments) in Little Nero’s boxes.
14. The grocery store needs to fix its register.
Kevin goes under the radar of many adults, who don’t seem sufficiently suspicious of an eight-year-old fending for himself outside. He makes a shopping trip to a grocery store and does his best adult impression, chatting with the sales clerk and even bringing along a coupon for an item. But when the sales clerk rings up his groceries, her register does not identify any products or transactions, and her scanner doesn’t light up or make any sound.
15. John Candy was really, really good at his job.
Late comedy legend Candy makes quite an impression with just a little screen time toward the end of Home Alone, as a polka musician helping Kate get back to her son. It’s even more stunning when you discover that he did all his scenes in one day of shooting, though to be fair it was a 23-hour day. He also completely improvised perhaps the funniest bit in the entire film, when he attempts to comfort Kate by telling her that he once left his son in a funeral home.
16. Kevin actually isn’t very good at protecting his home.
One of the more significant errors in the movie involves Kevin running home from church in the evening to prepare for the robbers he knows are planning to swing by at 9 p.m. For someone who’s awfully meticulous about his DIY security methods, Kevin makes a serious lapse: We watch him open the front door without a key, meaning he left it unlocked the entire time he was gone, despite literally knowing that thieves were on their way.
17. The phone lines don’t work, until they do.
Another plot convenience to keep Kevin out of touch with his family is that the phone lines in the McCallisters’ neighborhood, as we learn early on, are down. Yet somehow Kate reaches the police presumably in the same neighborhood, Kevin orders a pizza to his home, and he calls the police toward the end of the film to alert them about the robbers. Through the entire runtime, however, the rest of the family is incapable of reaching Kevin.
18. Marv’s faceprint isn’t so convincing.
Makeup in a 1990 family comedy could only do so much. Daniel Stern’s bumbling sidekick to Harry, Marv, takes an iron in the face while intruding on the McCallister home. But in the closeup that immediately follows, it’s obvious that the faceprint is a sticker.
19. The movie also doesn’t get Harry’s door burn right.
Joe Pesci does an excellent job acting angry at being subverted by a rosy-cheeked eight-year-old. At one point, his Harry attempts to simply open the front door, but Kevin has put a hot iron on the other side of the doorknob. Harry gets a bad burn in the shape of the “M” on the doorknob, but given the angle at which he put his hand on the knob, the burn should look different.
20. Harry loses more than a tooth.
In the process of battling Kevin’s tricks, Harry loses a gold tooth that makes an appearance later. But the wedding ring we saw him wearing in earlier scenes also disappears, following the scene in which Marv attacks the spider on him, without any explanation. If Pesci ever signs up for another Home Alone sequel, maybe that mystery can finally be solved.
This story has been updated for 2020.