Culkin was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Musical or Comedy. After its release, Home Alone became the highest-grossing live action comedy film of all time in the United States, and also held the record worldwide until it was overtaken by The Hangover Part II in 2011. It is the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time at the North American box office (when adjusted for inflation). Home Alone has spawned a successful film franchise with four sequels, including the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, the only Home Alone sequel to have the original cast reprising their roles.
The McCallister family is preparing to spend Christmas in Paris, gathering at Peter and Kate's home outside of Chicago on the night before their departure. Peter and Kate's youngest son, eight-year-old Kevin, is being ridiculed by his siblings and cousins. A fight with his older brother, Buzz, results in Kevin getting sent to the third floor of the house for punishment, where he wishes that his family would disappear. During the night, heavy winds cause damage to power lines, which causes a temporary power outage and resets the alarm clocks, causing the entire family to oversleep. In the confusion and rush to get to the airport, Kevin is accidentally left behind.
Kevin wakes up to find the house empty and, thinking his wish has come true, is overjoyed with his new-found freedom. However, Kevin soon becomes frightened by his next door neighbor, "Old Man" Marley, who is rumored to have murdered his family with a snow shovel in 1958; as well as the "Wet Bandits", Harry and Marv, a pair of burglars who have been breaking into other vacant houses in the neighborhood and have targeted the McCallisters' house. Kevin tricks the pair into thinking his entire family is home, forcing them to put their plans on hold.
Kate discovers mid-flight that Kevin is missing and, upon arrival in Paris, the family discovers that all flights for the next two days are booked. Peter and the rest of the family go to his brother Rob's apartment in the city while Kate manages to get a flight back to the United States only to get as far as Scranton, Pennsylvania. She attempts to book a flight to Chicago but again, everything is booked. Unable to accept this, Kate is overheard by Gus Polinski, the lead member of a traveling polka band, who offers to let her travel with them to Chicago on their way to Milwaukee in a moving van, which she graciously accepts.
Meanwhile, Harry and Marv realize that Kevin is home alone, and on Christmas Eve, Kevin overhears them discussing plans to break into his house that night. Kevin goes to church and watches a choir perform. He meets Old Man Marley, who sits with Kevin and they briefly speak; he learns that Marley is actually a nice man and that the rumors about him are false. He tells Kevin he is watching the choir because his granddaughter is singing, but he never gets to see her because he and his son are estranged and have not been on speaking terms for some time; Kevin suggests that he try to reconcile with his son.
Kevin returns home and rigs the house with numerous booby traps. Harry and Marv break in, springing the traps and suffering various injuries. While the duo pursues Kevin around the house, he calls the police and flees the house, luring the duo into a neighboring vacant home. Harry and Marv manage to catch him and discuss how they will get their revenge, but Marley sneaks in and knocks them unconscious with his snow shovel before they can do anything to Kevin. The police arrive and arrest Harry and Marv, having identified all the houses they burgled due to the latter's habit of flooding them.
On Christmas Day, Kevin is disappointed to find that his family is still gone. He then hears Kate enter the house and call for him; they reconcile and are soon joined by the rest of the McCallisters, who waited in Paris until they could get a direct flight to Chicago. Kevin keeps silent about his encounter with Harry and Marv, although Peter finds Harry's missing gold tooth. Kevin then observes Marley reuniting with his son and his family. Marley notices Kevin and the pair wave to each other before Marley and his family go inside his house. Buzz suddenly calls out, "Kevin, what did you do to my room?!" at which point Kevin runs off.
Home Alone was initially a Warner Bros. production; when 20th Century Fox took over the project, the budget grew from $14 to $17 million. Columbus' work with Home Alone began several years earlier when Hughes helped him secure the directing job for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. That project ended poorly when a personality clash between Columbus and Chevy Chase led to Columbus leaving the movie. Hughes then gave him the script to Home Alone, which he accepted.
Hughes suggested to Columbus that they cast Macaulay Culkin in the main role because of his experience with the child actor while shooting Uncle Buck. Columbus met with other actors for the part, by his count "hundreds and hundreds", as he felt it was his "directorial responsibility". Columbus finally met with Culkin and agreed he was the right choice for the role. Due to Culkin's age, he could only work until 10 PM which created shooting problems for the crew because of the movie's many night-time scenes. The film's stunts also created tension for the crew during shooting. Columbus said, "Every time the stunt guys did one of those stunts it wasn’t funny. We’d watch it, and I would just pray that the guys were alive." Stunts were originally prepared with safety harnesses, but because of their visibility on camera, the film's final stunts were performed without them.
Some scenes were shot in a three-story single-family house located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in the village of Winnetka. The kitchen in the film was shot in the house, along with the main staircase, basement, attic and most of the first floor landing. The house's dining room, and all the downstairs rooms (excluding the kitchen) were duplicated on a sound stage to allow more room for equipment and crew. The house was built in 1920 and features five bedrooms, a fully converted attic, a detached double garage and a greenhouse. The tree house in the back yard was built specifically for the film and dismantled after filming ended.
The scenes inside of the church were shot at Grace Episcopal Church, Oak Park, Illinois.
For the film within a film, Angels with Filthy Souls, shooting took only one day. To create the illusion that the film was a 1940s gangster film, the scene was filmed with black-and-white negative film and Johnny's office used authentic items from that era.
In May 2011, the house was listed for sale at $2.4 million; it sold in March 2012 for $1.585 million. The house is promoted as a tourist attraction and cited as an example of "How to Get Your Home in the Movies."
Initially Columbus hoped to have Bruce Broughton score the films, and early posters listed him as the composer. However, Broughton was busy with The Rescuers Down Under and he had to cancel at the last minute. From there Columbus was able to get in touch with Steven Spielberg who helped him contact John Williams to produce the final score. Christmas songs, such as "O Holy Night" and "Carol of the Bells", are featured prominently in the film, as well as the film's theme song "Somewhere in My Memory". The soundtrack was released by Sony Classical in cassette on December 4, 1990 and in CD on May 27, 2015.
Home Alone grossed $285.8 million in the United States and Canada and $190.9 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $476.7 million, against a production budget of $18 million.
In its opening weekend, Home Alone grossed $17 million from 1,202 theaters, averaging $14,211 per site and just 6% of the final total and added screens over the next six weeks, with a peak screen count of 2,174 during its eighth weekend at the start of January 1991. Home Alone proved so popular that it stayed in theaters well past the Christmas season. It was the No. 1 film at the box office for 12 straight weeks, from its release weekend of November 16–18, 1990 through the weekend of February 1–3, 1991. It was finally dethroned from the top spot when Sleeping with the Enemy opened with $13 million. It nevertheless remained a top ten draw at the box office until the weekend of April 26 that year, which was well past Easter weekend. It made two more appearances in the top ten (the weekend of May 31–June 2 and the weekend of June 14–16) before finally falling out of the top ten. After over nine months into its run, the film had earned 16x its debut weekend and ended up making a final gross of $285,761,243, the top-grossing film of its year in North America. The film is listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever.
By the time it had run its course in theaters, Home Alone was the third-highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, as well as in the United States and Canada behind only Star Wars ($322 million at the time) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ($399 million at that time), according to the home video box. In total, its cinema run grossed $477,561,243 worldwide. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 67.7 million tickets in the US.
According to William Goldman, the film's success prompted the creation of a Hollywood verb: "to be Home Aloned", meaning to have a film's box office reduced by the impact of Home Alone.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Home Alone holds an approval rating of 56% based on 43 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Home Alone is frequently funny and led by a terrific starring turn from Macaulay Culkin, but an uneven script and a premise stretched unreasonably thin make it hard to wholeheartedly recommend." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating, it has a score of 63 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Variety magazine praised the film for its cast. Jeanne Cooper of The Washington Post praised the film for its comedic approach. Hal Hinson, also of The Washington Post, praised Chris Columbus's direction and Culkin's acting. Although Caryn James of The New York Times complained that the film's first half is "flat and unsurprising as its cute little premise suggests", she praised the second half for its slapstick humor. She also praised the conversation between Kevin and Marley, as well as the film's final scenes.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a 2 1⁄2 out of 4-star rating. He compared the elaborate booby-traps in the film to Rube Goldberg machines, writing "they're the kinds of traps that any 8-year-old could devise, if he had a budget of tens of thousands of dollars and the assistance of a crew of movie special effects people" and criticized the plot as "so implausible that it makes it hard for [him] to really care about the plight of the kid [Kevin]". However, he praised Culkin's performance. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly magazine gave the film a "D" grade, criticizing the film for its "sadistic festival of adult-bashing". Gleiberman said that "[John] Hughes is pulling our strings as though he'd never learn to do anything else".
Home Alone has become a holiday classic among audiences and is often ranked as one of the best Christmas films of all time.
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Original Score, which was written by John Williams, and the other for Best Original Song for "Somewhere in My Memory", music by Williams and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.American Film Institute lists
AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
Harry Lime & Marv Merchants – Nominated Villains
The film was followed by a commercially successful sequel in 1992, Lost in New York, which brings back the first film's cast. The film within a film, Angels with Filthy Souls, had a sequel in Home Alone 2, Angels with Even Filthier Souls. Both Angels meta-films featured character actor Ralph Foody as stereotypical 1930s mobster Johnny.
Home Alone 3, released in 1997, has completely different actors, and a different storyline with Hughes writing the screenplay.
A fourth made-for-TV film followed in 2002, Home Alone 4. This entry features some of the same characters who were in the first two films, but with a new cast and a storyline that does not fall into the same continuity. Hughes did not write the screenplay for the TV film.
On November 25, 2012, a fifth film, The Holiday Heist premiered during ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas programming event.
In December 2015, Culkin reprised his role as an adult Kevin McCallister in the inaugural episode of the Jack Dishel web series, "DRYVRS", where a visibly disturbed Kevin recounts his experience of being left home alone by his family. In response to Culkin's video, Daniel Stern appeared in a short video reprising his role as Marv, released in conjunction with Stern's Reddit AMA, where he pleads for Harry to return to help protect him against Kevin's cunning traps.
Home Alone (ISBN 0-590-55066-7) was novelized by Todd Strasser and published by Scholastic in 1990 to coincide with the film.
Among the differences from the film the McCallisters live in Oak Park, Illinois, the Wet Bandits are named as Harry Lyme and Marv Murchens and Buzz's tarantula is named as Axl.
On October 6, 2015, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movie, an illustrated book by Kim Smith and Quirk Books was released.