20 Things to Look for While Watching Home Alone Over the Holidays

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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. IT SET UP DIRECTOR CHRIS COLUMBUS’S CAREER.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

    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.


    20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

      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.


      20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

        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. 


        20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

        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.


        20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

        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.


        20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

          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.


          20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

            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.


            20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

              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.


              20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                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.


                20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                  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.


                  20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                    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.


                    20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                      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.


                      20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                        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.


                        20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                          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.


                          20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                            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.


                            20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                            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.


                            20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                            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.


                            20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

                            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.

                            8 Facts About Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

                            Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon
                            Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon

                            Longtime Harry Potter fans who feel like first-years at heart may find it hard to believe, but the books have been around for decades. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, which follows Harry as he faces Dementors, investigates the mysterious Sirius Black, and gets through his third year at Hogwarts.

                            From Rowling’s writing process to how it changed The New York Times Best Sellers list, here are some facts you should know about the wildly popular book.

                            1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was J.K. Rowling’s "best writing experience."

                            In a 2004 interview with USA Today, Rowling described the creation of Prisoner of Azkaban as “the best writing experience I ever had.” This had more to do with where Rowling was at in her professional life than the content of the actual story. By book three, she was successful enough where she didn’t have to worry about finances, but not yet so famous that the she felt the stress of being in the public eye.

                            2. The Dementors represent depression.

                            Readers who live with depression may see something familiar in Prisoner of Azkaban’s soul-sucking Dementors. According to the book, “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself ... soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

                            Rowling has stated that she based the Dementor’s effects on her own experiences with depression. "[Depression] is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again," she told The Times in 2000. "The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."

                            3. Rowling regretted giving Harry the Marauder’s Map.

                            In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is introduced as a way for Harry to track Sirius Black and learn of the survival of Peter Pettigrew. But this plot device proved problematic for Rowling later on this series. In Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, she wrote, “The Marauder’s Map subsequently became something of a bane to its true originator (me), because it allowed Harry a little too much freedom of information.” She went on to say that she sometimes wished she had made Harry lose the map for good in the later books.

                            4. Rowling was excited to introduce Remus Lupin.

                            One of the aspects Rowling most enjoyed about writing Prisoner of Azkaban was introducing Remus Lupin. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and secret werewolf is one of the author's favorite characters in the series, and as she told Barnes & Noble in 1999, “I was looking forward to writing the third book from the start of the first because that's when Professor Lupin appears.”

                            5. Crookshanks is based on a real cat.

                            Harry had Hedwig the owl, Ron had his pet rat Scabbers, and in book three, Hermione got a pet of her own: an intelligent half-Kneazle cat named Crookshanks. J.K. Rowling is allergic to cats, and she admits on her website that she prefers dogs, but she does have fond memories of a cat that roamed the London neighborhood where she worked in the 1980s. When writing Crookshanks, she gave him that cat’s haughty attitude and smushed-face appearance.

                            6. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book Americans had to wait for.

                            Harry Potter fans based in America will no doubt remember waiting months after a book’s initial release in England to buy it from their local bookstore. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book with a staggered publication date: Beginning with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the rest of the books in the series were published in both markets on the same date.

                            7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke sales records.

                            Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sold 68,000 copies in the UK within three days of its release, making it the fastest-selling British book of all time in 1999. The book has since gone on to sell more than 65 million copies worldwide and helped make Harry Potter the bestselling book series ever.

                            8. It changed The New York Times Best Sellers List.

                            For part of 1999, the first three Harry Potter books—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which is known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone pretty much everywhere besides America), Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban—occupied the top three slots on The New York Times Best Sellers list. It didn’t stay that way for long, though: Prisoner of Azkaban was the book that pushed the paper to create a separate list just for children’s literature, leaving more room on the original list for books aimed at adults. That’s why Harry Potter is missing from the famous bestsellers roundup during the 2000s, despite dominating book sales at this time.

                            Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke Turned Down the Lead in 50 Shades of Grey

                            Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images
                            Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

                            Though Emilia Clarke is undoubtedly best known for her starring role on Game of Thrones, she has landed some other plum parts over the past several years, including Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys, the role of Qi'ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the lead in Phillip Noyce's upcoming Above Suspicion opposite Jack Huston. But there's one major role Clarke passed on, and has no regrets about it: Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades of Grey franchise.

                            The movies, based on E. L. James's erotic book series, trace the sadomasochistic/romantic relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and millionaire businessman Christian Grey. Both the books and the movies have garnered a lot of criticism for their graphic nudity and sex scenes. While Clarke is no stranger to appearing nude on film for her role as Daenerys Targaryen, she said that 50 Shades of Grey would have taken her too far out of her comfort zone.

                            “There is a huge amount of nudity in the film,” the British actress told The Sun of her reasons for not wanting to get involved with the film series. “I thought I might get stuck in a pigeonhole that I would have struggled to get out of.”

                            Even without 50 Shades of Grey on her resume, Clarke says she has dealt with a lot of negative backlash because of the nudity in Game of Thrones. “I get a lot of crap for nude and sex scenes,” the 32-year-old star said. “Women hating on women. It’s so anti-feminist.”

                            When we last left Daenerys, she seemed to be getting serious about Jon Snow—who, unbeknownst to the two of them, is her nephew. We'll see how that unpleasant discovery plays out when Game of Thrones returns on April 14, 2019.

                            SECTIONS

                            arrow
                            LIVE SMARTER