‘Home Alone’ 25th Anniversary — How One Star’s Attitude Led to Chris Columbus Directing A Christmas Classic

Home Alone is 25-years-old. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Feeling old yet?

It’s hard to imagine Christmas, or the holiday season, without Chris Columbus’ Yuletide action adventure, a film that turned Macaulay Culkin into a megastar and became the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever — a record still held in the Guinness Book of Records. This week, celebrations for the film are under way, with 25th-anniversary showings in multiple cinemas around the world and articles celebrating the success of the ultimate sleeper hit Christmas movie. However, in one of these articles, director Chris Columbus has revealed that the reason he directed the movie is because a certain film star drove him away from another potential blockbuster.

How, you say? Well, Chris Columbus recently took part in a reunion interview of sorts for Chicago Magazine, which hosted a very detailed article about Home Alone, featuring interviews with many cast members, producers, the director, and even John Hughes’ son himself, James Hughes. As any viewer of the film will know, the film production took place in Chicago, mainly around the city’s North Shore neighborhood. Before Home Alone was offered to Columbus, John Hughes sent him a script for Christmas Vacation — another Chicago-based Christmas movie — with the hope that he would direct. Columbus reveals that the negative actions of one Chevy Chase, during a meeting over dinner, spurred him on to direct Home Alone.

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First, dinner didn’t go smoothly. Columbus wasn’t happy with Chase’s attitude, quoting the following.

“To be completely honest, Chevy treated me like dirt. But I stuck it out and even went as far as to shoot second unit [collecting establishing shots and special sequences, usually without principal actors]. Some of my shots of downtown Chicago are still in the movie.”

Columbus kept his personal, detailed feelings to himself — saying he was treated like dirt is as honest and blunt as can be — but it seems the two weren’t on the same page, creatively or personally. Eventually, Chris Columbus didn’t go on to direct Christmas Vacation, but his efforts on the second unit provided some glorious shots of Chicago, which added some atmosphere and elegance to the movie itself. After all, who doesn’t like awe-inspiring shots of a city at Christmas? This work would soon lead to a second ill-fated meeting with Chase. Again, things didn’t go well.

“Then I had another meeting with Chevy, and it was worse. I called John [who was producing the film] and said, ‘There’s no way I can do this movie. I know I need to work, but I can’t do it with this guy.’ John was very understanding. About two weeks later, I got two scripts at my in-laws’ house in River Forest. One was Home Alone, with a note from John asking if I wanted to direct. I thought, Wow, this guy is really supporting me when no one else in Hollywood was going to. John was my savior.”

Chris Columbus clearly knew John Hughes would support him in a career that was just finding its trajectory to major success. Home Alone would cement this legacy, and Columbus would go on a very lucrative directing career, which included the sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom, and two entries in the box-office shattering Harry Potter franchise. John Hughes certainly spotted that talent early, and because of him, the last 25 years have provided us with Home Alone, a staple of the Christmas movie calendar.

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But what if Home Alone hadn’t come to fruition or, worse, it had been directed by someone else? Home Alone is brimming with Chris Columbus’ unique style and verve, and his familiar and honest humor is what made the film so endearing to the hearts of millions. It’s a cult classic. The story of an 8-year-old boy left home alone, only to defend his house from two would-be burglars, has never been more charming, hilarious and — if truth be told — incredibly violent for a PG-13 movie. Twentieth Century Fox is very aware of the popularity of the movie and is getting into the celebratory mood. This week, according to Cinema Blend, they brought Little Nero’s Pizza to life in order to cross-promote the 25th anniversary. Let’s hear it now: “A lovely cheese pizza just for me.”

But why was the film so successful? Columbus didn’t reveal one reason, but he had this to say after a particularly successful screening back in 1990.

“When we previewed the movie for the first time in Chicago, it was amazing. You’re in a situation where the audience was literally running from their seats to go to the bathroom or to get popcorn, and they were running back to their seats. It was like a rock concert. John [Hughes] and I kept looking at each other. That’s when we knew we had something special.”

There is one main reason the film was so successful. Home Alone has heart and verve, and in typical John Hughes fashion, the movie strikes home because we can all relate — the characters are realistic, the family drama all too familiar, and the comedy explosive and funny. The biggest but most subtle theme is loneliness — who wants to be alone at Christmas? No one, as it’s a time for family and love and sharing, and Home Alone takes this theme and turns it into an enjoyable, feel-good movie, making it one of the best Christmas movies of all time.

Home Alone is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

[Image via 20th Century Fox]