Home Alone (1990)
Succeeded by: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Hollywood had been yearning for a new child star since at least Ron Howard when prodigy Macaulay Culkin was launched into superstardom through this bubbling and vivacious film by director Chris Colombus and writer/producer John Hughes. In retrospect, it's difficult not to attribute the film's mega-success to several factors clicking into place at once: One is the clever concept of abandonment of a child, which is every child's combined fear and dream as well as every parent's nightmare. The basic concept was easily identifiable for all members of the family. Another is the film's not insignificant mean-streak; there's a sweet guilty pleasure watching our little hero sticking it to the bad guys. The mind-over-muscle showdown reciprocates Hughes' earlier works, only here it's executed by a kid rather than the nerd or outcast. The satisfaction is largely the same. And the third (and perhaps most important) point is young Culkin's charm and star-power. He didn't have the naturalness of Ricky Schroder or the depth of Elijah Wood, but he had the confidence and force to carry the film seemingly indefatigably on his shoulders. No wonder everyone – both young and old – fell in love with him.
Home Alone still retains its effect today because its best qualities are largely timeless. That goes for John Williams' score, it goes for the well-balanced level of sentimentality, and it goes for the Christmas theme. In addition to that, the film had the perfect combination of warmth and spite (which unfortunately went askew in the follow-up film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York). If ever there was a modern day It's a Wonderful Life, this is it.