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You can keep Die Hard, Elf and Love Actually – even 28 years after its release there’s no denying it; Home Alone is the greatest Christmas movie of all time.
Just to clarify, I’m talking about the first Home Alone. The second is probably up there with the greats, but let’s not even talk about the other three movies in the franchise.
The thing is, nothing says Christmas quite like watching Kevin McCallister be abandoned by his entire family and left to fend for himself against two crafty criminals.
Okay, while it might not be the classic Hallmark Christmas storyline, the hilarious situations Kevin finds himself in combined with the family drama make it the ultimate Christmas movie.
The brilliant, if slightly absurd, storyline of the 8-year-old’s family completely forgetting about him provides the light hearted entertainment always welcome on Christmas Day, and perfectly sets up Kevin’s mission to protect his home.
With the forgotten child’s excessive inventions and clever schemes to catch the burglars threatening to invade his home, the movie remains hilarious for older viewers while sprinkling in the perfect amount of childish wonder and imagination which accompanies Christmas time.
UNILAD spoke to Nicholas Sammond, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Toronto, about his thoughts on why Home Alone appeals to viewers of every age.
I like the film a lot. It works as a children’s film because it operates as a live cartoon. The things Kevin does to the burglars could happen in a Road Runner cartoon… or pretty much any Looney Tune.
It’s probably entertaining for adults because the dialogue is snappy and it’s well directed, and because it speaks to parental anxiety about neglecting your child.
Kevin takes care of himself *and* he sees the scary old man for who he is, so he’s actually not just vicious, he’s good.
Although there’s too many underage children in the movie for there to be a realistic amount of alcohol involved, the McCallisters basically embody everything families go through around Christmas time – apart from abandoning one of your children, of course (hopefully).
The festive season is a time when all the relatives you might not have even spoken to for the past 12 months get back together to catch up, have a bit too much to drink, and more often than not find themselves in a heated debate – or, let’s be honest, an argument.
There always seems to be too many people for the space you’re in (like in the McCallister household), a stressed host desperately attempting to organise everyone (Kevin’s mum), and one member of the family who’s just wishing for everyone to leave already (Kevin).
Watching Kevin and his family’s antics is entertaining for viewers of every age as they either recognise their family in the McCallister shambles, or feel assured that at least they’re not as bad as them.
YouTuber Jack Wickham, who reviews movies on his channel, told UNILAD why Home Alone is his ultimate Christmas film.
Every time I hear the main theme “Somewhere in My Memory” it just fills me with Christmas joy and it instantly takes me back to watching Home Alone when I was younger. It’s one of those things that I instantly associate with Christmas.
Christmas is a season to be celebrated and enjoyed with your loved ones, and Home Alone conveys that message perfectly.
Kevin wishes his family gone but soon comes to realise how much he loves and misses them, and in the process it teaches us to feel the same – especially around Christmas time.
All of this wrapped in a Christmassy bow makes Home Alone a quintessential Christmas film in my eyes.
Jack added how Home Alone’s family-friendly fun appeals to both younger and older viewers, saying:
I think it appeals to kids because it allows them to witness something they might have fantasised about; having the house all to themselves so they can do whatever they want. For them it would be liberating to see someone their age do what they would love to do, and it allows them to live vicariously through Kevin McCallister.
Follow that with the hilarious slapstick of Kevin outsmarting The Wet Bandits and you’ve practically guaranteed kid’s entertainment.
As for adults, I don’t know how many can relate to leaving a child behind, but I guess for them it’s solid and undemanding family entertainment. It’s not one of those “family movies” where it’s really meant for the kids and parents are left cringing. So everybody wins!
In a past interview with Entertainment Weekly, Home Alone director Chris Columbus explained why he felt the story of a child with free reign away from his family worked well within the festive season.
Christmas is a time when people are at their happiest or at their most emotionally low place in their lives, and I thought that this is a great backdrop for a kid who’s left home alone on Christmas.
Of course, there are films like Elf and Love Actually which provide all the emotion and warmth necessary to give you that content Christmastime feeling, but Home Alone adds that extra element of action to the story by being packed to the brim with slapstick comedy- not to mention the fact it won’t make you feel too lonely if you’re spending the festive season by yourself.
Obviously the moral of the story is not to wish your family away, but just look at all the fun Kevin has while he’s alone! You have free reign if you’re by yourself. Who needs Christmas dinner when you could have 17 scoops of ice cream in front of the TV?
I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who are thinking ‘well, if you want an action-filled Christmas movie, then obviously Die Hard is the answer’.
Now, I won’t get into the whole debate, but it has been questioned whether Die Hard actually is a Christmas movie, and if you can’t be sure, then I think it’s out of the running.
Kevin’s delightful childish mind sees his house not only as somewhere to live, but as a playground where every item has a whole range of uses you probably wouldn’t have realised before seeing them in action in Home Alone.
The stairs become a toboggan run, a movie becomes the perfect way to communicate with the pizza guy, and string has never seemed so useful.
I mean, it manipulates the entire room into a party scene, triggers an explosion of feathers and is used to swing a can of paint right into the face of a threatening home invader. You have to admit that’s some impressive handiwork for an eight-year-old.
The entire premise is inspiring and endearing, reminding viewers of the heightened imaginations of young children and the magic they experience at Christmas time.
Film buff and Flickering Myth writer Helen Murdoch told UNILAD why she thinks Home Alone is such a classic Christmas movie, explaining:
Home Alone sums up Christmas for me completely.
It ticks all of the boxes for a Christmas staple including Christmas music, a cute kid, sentimental family drama and comedic hi-jinx (although the fact that Kevin would in reality kill the burglars is something I ignore).
As you get older you get a lot more of the jokes and there’s plenty for everyone to enjoy. Home Alone doesn’t feel dated either; the themes of family and togetherness are just as relevant now as they were on its original release.
The movie has remained popular ever since its release in 1990, where it blew audiences away for the entirety of the Christmas season and beyond.
According to Forbes, Home Alone remained in the number one spot in the North American box office for a staggering 12 weekends in a row and held its place in American theatres from November 1990 until June 1991, raking in a whopping $285,761,343 as it did so – an unprecedented amount at the time for a film of Home Alone’s genre.
Though the storyline of Home Alone is arguably not very Christmas-focused, there is the underlying theme of the holiday running throughout the movie.
As well as having many scenes dressed in Christmas decorations, the movie makes a point of emphasising the importance of family, no matter how annoying they are.
In between setting up traps to catch the two robbers, Kevin learns not to take his family for granted and even asks Santa for the return of the McCallister clan instead of Christmas presents – which is pretty big, coming from an eight-year-old.
The film also gives a nod to the religious roots of the holiday as Kevin encounters the intimidating Old Man Marley in a church on Christmas eve, where the young protagonist imparts some moral wisdom about facing your fears and reconciling with family, ‘especially around the holidays’.
Kevin’s regret for wishing his family away injects the perfect amount of emotion into the chaotic movie, and when both Kevin and Old Man Marley are reunited with their families, the film provides the feel good factor necessary for some quintessential cosy Christmas viewing.
Home Alone ticks all the boxes for an entertaining festive film with a moral, and its simple brilliance will no doubt continue to entertain audiences for many Christmases to come.
If you have a Christmas story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.