Thursday, May 23, 2024

The battle in “Home Alone” between 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) and two burglars known as the Wet Bandits has unfolded on screens around the world every Christmas since the film premiered in 1990.And each year, for some viewers, the McCallisters’ grand home and lifestyle inspires its own tradition: wondering just how rich this family was.

The New York Times turned to economists and people involved with the film to find the answer.The McCallisters are the 1 Percent.Early in the film, one of the burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci), tells his fellow Wet Bandit, Marv (Daniel Stern), that the McCallister home is their top target in a wealthy neighborhood.“That’s the one, Marv, that’s the silver tuna,” Harry says, before speculating that the house contains a lot of “top-flight goods,” including VCRs, stereos, very fine jewelry and “odd marketable securities.”

The home is the best clue as to how much money the McCallisters have.The silver tuna, or its exterior anyway, is a real-world, house at 671 Lincoln Avenue in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the United States, according to It appears to have enough space for Kevin and his four siblings to each have their own rooms, but also can accommodate an army of visitors.In 1990, the house was affordable only for the top 1 percent of Chicago household incomes, and that would still be the case today, according to economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

The economists — Max Gillet, a senior research analyst; Cindy Hull, an assistant vice president and interim head of the financial markets group; and Thomas Walstrum, a senior business economist — made this determination after looking at data including household incomes in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area for 1990 and 2022, the house’s property value, prevailing mortgage rates at the time, and typical taxes and insurance.Working with the assumption that the McCallisters did not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, the economists also determined the home would have been affordable to a household with an income of $305,000 in 1990 (about $665,000 in 2022).In the middle of 2022, a similar house would cost about $2.4 million, based on the Zillow estimate for the “Home Alone” house. A home of that value would be affordable to a household with income of $730,000, which would be in the top 1 percent of Chicago-area households, the economists said.

How are they so rich?“Home Alone” never explains what the parents do for work.

On the internet, where this question regularly pops up, some people have suggested Kate McCallister is a fashion designer, because the house has several mannequins inside, which later feature in one of Kevin’s attempts to trick the burglars into thinking he is not, in fact, home alone.Todd Strasser, who wrote the official novelizations of “Home Alone” and two of its sequels, said in an interview that he was not closely supervised by the filmmakers. The guidance, he said, was essentially: “Here’s the script, do whatever you want.”So in the book, he made Kevin’s mom a fashion designer, because of the mannequins, and Kevin’s dad a businessman, because it was “a safe bet,” he said.He said it never occurred to him to explain in detail how the McCallisters had come by their money; he thought they were “upper middle class” but not “super rich.”

The family has other trappings of significant-but-not-stratospheric wealth: They wear nice clothes and hire multiple vans to take them to the airport, yes, but when Kate is trying to bribe an elderly couple to give up their tickets from Paris so she can get home, she offers jewelry and cash, but hints that her Rolex might be fake.“I don’t know how much the McCallisters made, but it sure did a lot for my bank account,” Strasser said.

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