The Netflix documentary The Movies That Made Us is the first season of The Nacelle Company’s docuseries that explores treasured ’80s films. It examines the histories of four classic movies that garnered the attention of the masses and timelessly shaped their cultures. One of the pictures analyzed is Home Alone (1990), the low budget family comedy written and produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus. The story about a nine-year old boy who must defend his house from burglars ended up becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time that makes the holiday of Christmas come to life in several countries around the world. This fact is bizarre and shocking considering the information that’s revealed about the making of Home Alone and how the production almost got shut down. But the script was too good for every studio to take a pass on, even if one studio threatened to put an end to the film since it was going slightly over budget.
Writer and Producer John Hughes was a genius that shelled out feature length screenplays in less than a week. The number of projects he created and pushed in Hollywood were so great that he needed to hand off the directing reigns to his fellow colleagues in order to juggle all the films. John Hughes is one of the very few masterminds that contributed to several films solely as its writer and producer, and not director. His most successful was Home Alone, but many other classics are inadvertently neglected as his original creative work, such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Pretty in Pink (1986), Career Opportunities (1991), Dennis the Menace (1993), Beethoven (1992), and 101 Dalmations (1996) – all films written and produced by John Hughes. There is a select few of movies John Hughes chose to direct, which are in a separate category, holding their own as popular classics like Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) and Uncle Buck (1989) which starred John Candy opposite of Macaulay Culkin. John Hughes is one of the major driving forces behind the ’80s contemporary teen classics and the fact that Home Alone was directed by Chris Columbus results in a solid one-two punch, considering Columbus’ contribution to ‘80s cinema.
Chris Columbus was the mastermind behind the fantasy/horror film Gremlins (1984) and the adventure/comedy The Goonies (1985), two iconic films from the ‘80s. In addition, he directed the underrated comedy/crime film Adventures in Babysitting (1987) starring Elizabeth Shue and Keith Coogan, and the popular hit Mrs. Doubtfire (1995) with Robin Williams. Considering all the aforementioned films by Columbus and Hughes, none amount to the success of Home Alone – the gem of both of their filmographies combined. “I’m just obsessed with Christmas.” Says Columbus, in reference to National Lampoons Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase, and how it had a profound affect upon his directing style in Home Alone, which went through auditioning over 100 kids for the character of Kevin McCallister, before finally casting Macaulay Culkin based upon his performance one year prior in John Hughes’ Uncle Buck.
The documentary emphasizes on the fact that, aside from Columbus and Hughes, the filmmaking crew on Home Alone were a team of rookies. The cinematographer Julio Macat (Wedding Crashers, Daddy’s Home) had one second unit photography credit to his name on Tango & Cash (1989) – the Sylvester Stallone/Kurt Russell action picture. The film editor, Raja Gosnel (Never Been Kissed, Big Mommas House) had worked on Teen Wolf Too (1987) with Jason Bateman in addition to a few other B-movies. The experimentation of filmmakers translated onto the set of Home Alone with the fascinating transformation of New Trier High School of Chicago turned into a movie studio. Aside from the exteriors, Chris Columbus and his crew shot the majority of the film inside of an abandoned school gymnasium. They turned the high school into their own studio. They built the sets inside the gym and classrooms, literally turning it into a backlot.
The documentary delves into the eye-popping story of how there was a complication with the budget which was going over the agreed upon $13.5 million marker between the studio and the production company. Warner Bros. Studios shut Home Alone down, calling an end to the production. “The picture was done. I was depressed. I called my wife and told her its over.” Columbus said. Tom Jacobson, former executive with Twentieth Century Fox, quoted Joe Roth, the head of Fox at the time, “Well I’d make that movie at that price, because it’s a great story.” Even though Warner Bros. called a stop to the production, Fox sneakily took over the production immediately upon its cancellation from Warner Bros, taking a gamble on what they believed would be a successful film. The making of Home Alone transitioned from one payroll to another; a smooth and sly shift from one studio to the next. In addition to this, Daniel Stern, who famously portrayed the character of Marv – one of the ‘Wet Bandits’ – explains how he left the project due to financial constraints. But, luckily for him, and the entire world, Columbus and Hughes called him back, and the magical duo of Marv and Harry (Joe Pesci) would blossom. “The hardest thing for Joe Pesci was not swearing. Joe said to me that the only way he can memorize a script, is by saying ‘fuck’ every three words.” Chris Columbus shared. James Giovanetti, the 2nd Assistant Director in charge of the cast of Home Alone also added, “Pesci and I banged heads. Joe takes me by the collar because he didn’t want to meet the call time at 7am, so he would come in at 9am instead.” Juilo Macat, the cinematographer added, “Macaulay Culkin was better behaved on set than Joe Pesci.” But Chris Columbus added, “I was a huge Raging Bull fan.” Referring to the Martin Scorsese classic, “As relentlessly depressing as that movie is, I always wanted to work with Joe Pesci.”
The Movies That Made Us takes you behind-the-scenes of how Home Alone was made in conjunction with contemporary interviews from members of the cast and crew. Although, the pacing of the documentary is frantic and rapid. The multiple interviews share too many stories at a rapid rate that keeps information flowing so fast its practically impossible to ingest all of it coherently. It’s as if the creators were attempting to cram what should have been its own 90-minute documentary into a segment of 45 minutes, so that they could squeeze three more films into it. Nonetheless, it’s a great piece that discusses many facts gone unnoticed or neglected, like how Home Alone was released on Thanksgiving weekend in 1990 and went up against John G. Avildsen’s Rocky V starring Sylvester Stallone. Even though Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert (the prominent critics at the time who could make or break a film) called it a “Dopey new comedy”, Home Alone beat Rocky V and became the number one movie for over a dozen weeks throughout the holiday season in 1990. “We thought it was a pretty good movie, but we had no idea that it was going to have this affect on the audience.” Chris Columbus said, explaining how he recently went to San Francisco and introduced the movie being played behind a live orchestra in concert performing the musical score by John Williams, making it a timeless film. Home Alone, a low budget movie, starring a kid, literally made its mark on the world for multiple generations.
Season 1 of The Movies That Made Us can be streamed on Netflix.