What Makes HOME ALONE a Christmas Classic?

It’s impossible to overstate how popular Home Alone was when it arrived in November 1990. The film sat at the number one spot for 12 straight weeks. Kevin McCallister spent nine months in theaters, and Home Alone became the highest grossing live-action comedy ever (a title it held until 2011). It’s not hard to see why. The movie is perfectly paced and has a wonderful cast anchored by one of the best child actor performances ever. Plus it’s is both hilarious and touching. Home Alone has something for everyone of all ages.

Let’s dig in like a nail through a bare foot, and figure out all the elements that make Home Alone a perfect Christmas movie.

Does Santa appear? Is he real? 

Kevin visits Santa on Christmas Eve to ask for his family back. Even though the workshop is closed “Santa” still lends an ear. Ever precocious, Kevin knows how “helpers” work and that’s why this Santa can still relay Kevin’s message to the real one. In a movie where an absurd number of people are awful and mean, this unconvincing-looking Santa is genuinely fantastic. He just got a parking ticket on the day his job ended, he’s tired, and he wants to go meet his friends for some holiday libations. Yet he still patiently listens to Kevin, plays along, and even gives him some Tic Tacs because his elf took the last candy cane for her boyfriend. What a great Santa.

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20th Century Studios

Do any magical creatures talk?

Not a single one. The closest we get is Daniel Stern’s Marv, who is impossibly stupid but somehow manages not to go off a cliff every day like Wile. E. Coyote.

Are there any religious components?

One of the best, most touching scenes takes place in a church on Christmas Eve. This is where Kevin’s creepy neighbor Old Man Marley goes to listen to his estranged granddaughter sing in the choir. He introduces himself to Kevin and tell him all the stories about him aren’t true. He explains how he’s alone because he and his son no longer speak after they had a big fight years ago. It’s a wonderful scene, and though it’s not overtly religious, the setting adds to the effect.

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20th Century Studios

How lovable is the main character?

In fairness to Kevin’s terrible family, he’s really annoying at the start of this movie. It’s probably not his fault for reasons we’ll get to in the next question, but of the 11 kids who were supposed to go to France he was the one you’d most want to leave behind. Fortunately Kevin gets a lot more lovable as the film goes along. He goes from learning how to do things for himself, to (inexplicably) being an amazing tactician and engineer who turns his house into a giant Mouse Trap game to save it from would-be robbers, to recognizing his own flaws. It also helps that young Macaulay Culkin gives a fantastic performance. By the time he reunites with his mom he’s completely won us over.

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20th Century Studios

How evil is the villain?

Which one? Because this movie has about 20 of them. Kevin is a pain-in-the-neck to start, almost all of his family is awful,  and Marv and Harry are terrible. Marv and Harry are the main villains, and they are fairly detestable even for criminals. They steal at Christmas time, but to make things far worse for their victims they ruin their homes by flooding them.

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20th Century Studios

And yet, Marv and Harry are downright precocious compared to the movie’s most vile character, Kevin’s brother Buzz. Why did he need to eat the whole cheese pizza? Why was Kevin the only one who got punished over that? And why didn’t his parents speak up when Kevin’s cheap horrible uncle called him a little jerk? Why is everyone in this family so mean to a kid? Why doesn’t Buzz care his little brother is all alone! What kind of horrible parents forget one of their kids when they fly to Europe for Christmas? And how can the local police be so inept and uncaring!?

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20th Century Studios

Like I said, so many villains.

How sincere or cynical is the movie about Christmas?

The film mostly uses Christmas as its setting, but it would be a dramatically different story any other time of the year (and not nearly as good). It ends with two very touching family reunions on Christmas morning. But then again, it also features a lot of awful people. So maybe the best way to answer this is to say it is sincere about the wonder and power of Christmas, but it is cynical about humanity. Sounds about right.

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20th Century Studios

Does anyone sing? Or is there a big group sing along?

Kevin lip syncs “White Christmas” in the mirror, and the church choir sings a beautiful rendition of “O Holy Night,” but there’s no big family singalong. They would probably have ruined it anyway by screaming at each other for being off-key.

What are the biggest Christmas themes?

Family. Kevin’s family treats him poorly, which leads to the events that end up with him home alone. He also wishes they would disappear before realizing he truly loves them and asks Santa to bring them back. And Old Man Marley reunites with his estranged son after Kevin convinces him to reach out to him.

Most memorable quote?

Does Kevin’s scream count? If it does, the most famous one is when he applies aftershave.

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20th Century Studios

If not it’s either “You guys give up, or you thirsty for more?” or “Keep the change, you filthy animal.”

Best scene?

Even 27 years later, the entire sequence when Harry and Marv run into Kevin’s absurd traps is still one of the funniest scenes in any movie ever. It’s probably a much shorter part of the movie than you remember, but that’s only because it’s amazing and lands so well. Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci basically turn into the Three Stooges here, and that’s the highest compliment you can give physical comedy.

Most emotional moment?

Even better than the hug between Kevin and his mom, which is admittedly a tearjerker, is when Kevin sees Old Man Marley reunite with his son and granddaughter on Christmas morning. No child should be alone on Christmas, but we always knew Kevin’s mom was coming back eventually. That’s why getting to see a lonely old man hug his granddaughter is the moment that turns us into a total mess.

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20th Century Studios

Making us laugh like crazy before making us cry? That’s why we always return to Home Alone.

Featured: 20th Century Studios

Originally published December 8, 2017.

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