What is the most iconic family movie of the 90’s? I’ll give you a hint… take both hands, slap one on each side of your face, widen your eyes, and yell “AAAAHHHH!”

If you guessed Home Alone give yourself a pat on the cheeks.

It’s hard to remember the 90’s without thinking of a 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin starring in the classic holiday film. Amidst the grunge rock, “flattop” hairdos, and sex scandals of the decade arose a child star who seemed to reach the peak of stardom when most kids his age were still playing with pogs and yo-yo’s.

Home Alone was released on November 16, 1990 and rode the wave of success with a sequel (Home Alone 2, Lost in New York) following in 1992. Three more movies were made in the Home Alone franchise, but did not star Culkin. At this point, the young megastar was showing his acting depth and versatility while starring in the 1993 film, The Good Son, acting alongside Elijah Wood in a thrilling role where he played a child with murderous and psychopathic behavior. Next came the box-office hit Richie Rich in 1994, a tale which taught us that true friendship is worth more than all the money in the world. Among these, he also starred in such notable films as My Girl, Getting Even with Dad, and The Pagemaster, all released prior to 1994.

By the mid-90’s, Culkin had done 14 films in 6 years and had achieved a level of success most renowned actors could ever dream of.

As we’ve since grown accustomed to seeing, however, fame and the scrutiny of being a child star in the media can be a recipe for unraveling.

In January of 2018, a grown up Culkin gave some insight into how this pressure affected him and his family when speaking to Marc Maron on his podcast, WTF. He speaks of the mental and physical abuse he received from his father Kit, who had also been a child actor. “Everything he tried to do in life, I excelled at before I was 10 years old,” Culkin explains. When his parents divorced in 1994, he left the entertainment industry completely, and the following year, at the age of 15, sued his parents for over $17 million, removing them as his legal guardians.

The young star attempted to live a more normal life and sought the comfort of friends like Michael Jackson and his daughter Paris, whom Culkin is godfather. (To this day, even after the backlash following the damning documentary Leaving Neverland, he still claims Jackson never touched him inappropriately.)

As the 90’s aged and adapted to fit the new millennium, so did he. He spent this hiatus searching to find himself and taking time to actually grow up — outside of the spotlight. 

The media wasn’t going to let him get away so easy though, and stayed curious as to what America’s favorite child star was up to long after he had left the industry. After he was caught with marijuana and prescription pills in 2004, news outlets painted a picture of Culkin with a drug problem. He told Larry King on CNN’s Larry King Live later that year: “Everything that I do becomes this big crazy thing, even though any normal person does it. Like, yes I’m a kid, I had a beer, I smoked a joint. Big deal,” he said.

A master at reinventing himself, Culkin has constantly evolved in style and persona, while staying true to himself and being who he wants to be — not who anyone else is expecting him to be.

The early 2000’s saw him return to the big screen with the 2003 film Party Monster, where he played a role of a party promoter and drug addict. He also acted on Will and Grace, had a supporting role in the 2004 film Saved, and even appeared on a music video for legendary punk-rock band Sonic Youth. In 2013 he started a pizza-themed cover band called the Pizza Underground, who saw their best publicity when Ryan Gosling was photographed wearing one of their band shirts which featured Culkin’s face on it. In typical Culkin fashion, he then wore a shirt of Gosling wearing a shirt of him, and subsequently gave Twitter yet another heaven-sent Culkin meme.

It’s that sense of humor that America still loves about Macaulay Culkin. Whether it’s that cute 10-year-old face cradled by tiny hands screaming into the mirror in feigned horror, or, 20 years later, looking at ourselves in jest, not being afraid to make changes or step back out of the limelight to really focus on us, we can all take a cue from Culkin… home alone or not.

Everett DeLong is a writer (and self-proclaimed Macaulay expert) based in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Illustration credit: Juliet Romano.

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