John Hughes is well-known for his iconic ‘80s teen comedies like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, but he is also the mind behind some of the most famous holiday classics. Here are John Hughes’ six holiday classics ranked, including every holiday-themed movie he had a hand in writing or directing.
6. Home Alone 3
Home Alone 3, the third movie in the beloved franchise and the final one written by John Hughes, makes some of the right choices. It borrows big themes, the familiar score, feeling, and of course, concept from its source material. It also makes smaller references, incorporating bugs, bullying older brothers, and the famous scream from the bathroom. Yet, it luckily doesn’t put poor Kevin McAllister through yet another increasingly unbelievable childhood trauma. The film makes a clear attempt at a bigger scope than Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, doing away with the original’s two bumbling petty thieves for a team of four international criminals. Another major change from its two predecessors is that, unlike Kevin, Alex Pruitt (Alex D. Linz) doesn’t get accidentally separated from his family during a holiday vacation; he’s just home with the chickenpox. While it adds a bit of relief not to see him unintentionally abandoned, it does, in turn, cause the film to lose some of the urgency, subplot, and ultimate heartwarming family bonding of the others.
Some of the tonal changes work against Home Alone 3’s potential to become a classic. With over-the-top silliness, the movie seems more geared for kids instead of just family-friendly. It also makes some attempts at action and suspense that don’t scream “holiday classic.” Linz is cute and decently watchable, but he fails to fill Macaulay Culkin’s enormous (yet kid-sized) shoes, lacking his impeccable timing in both comedic and dramatic moments. Overall, this movie is in a different league than Hughes’ other holiday classics.
5. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The only Thanksgiving movie to make the list (and one of the few true Thanksgiving movies to stand the test of time), Planes, Trains and Automobiles follows Neal Page (Steve Martin) on his trip home to Chicago for the holiday. The movie quickly blossoms into a buddy comedy when fate forces a stranger, Del Griffith (John Candy), onto Neal as his unwanted travel companion. The movie uniquely captures the feeling of a relatable holiday reality: the hecticness and anxiety of traveling during the busiest travel season of the year. While this is a familiar tradition for many, the anxiety-inducing effect of the film’s portrayal works a little too well. There are times when the chaos and urgency of the movie’s race against the clock ventures into unpleasantness. While disorganization and busyness are often holiday realities, they don’t exactly capture the holiday spirit viewers often seek in comfort movies.
Even so, Steve Martin and John Candy are charismatic and lovable, and their chemistry and balance make for a satisfying buddy comedy. The ending delivers a surprise and gives some sympathetic backstory to Del, the butt of most of the movie’s jokes. This successfully drives home a classic holiday lesson: to extend generous doses of empathy to all and keep in mind that everyone has something difficult to handle or recover from. The bittersweet ending leaves viewers feeling holiday spirit and imagining a sweet new friendship between the main characters that will remain long after the credits roll. It’s worth a Thanksgiving watch.
4. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Home Alone 2 is neither Hughes’ best nor worst contribution to the Home Alone franchise. The movie copies the formula of the original almost to a T, making only minor changes. While the concept of bringing back beloved characters and an A+ formula is always appealing, it’s hard not to wonder, “How can parents accidentally abandon their child twice?!” While Kevin isn’t exactly left home alone again, he takes the wrong flight and ends up “lost in New York.” The wet bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) are back (though now they’ve rebranded as the sticky bandits), and Kevin once again outsmarts them.
Despite the similarities, there are welcome additions to the original cast and plot, like the New York City setting, which makes for new gags and extra Christmas magic, and Tim Curry who, as always, is a funny and welcome addition to any scene he graces. The Pigeon Lady (Brenda Fricker) is a good stand-in for Old Man Marley from Home Alone. But, she’s just that – a stand-in to give viewers a similar plot point and message. Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is a fun film, and no fan of Home Alone should miss it, but doesn’t stray far enough from its source material to make a big impact as a stand-alone movie. A double feature of the two is highly recommended.
3. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
A surprising departure from the tone of Hughes’ already tonally wide-ranging writing credits, the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street is a cozy, sweet standout among his sillier takes on the holiday. This movie takes Christmas lore much more seriously, trading in wacky slapstick for nostalgic charm and a holiday spirit-laden message. The film doesn’t differ too much from the 1947 original; it follows Susan Walker (Mara Wilson) as her journey takes her from grappling with faith and the reality of Santa Claus to ultimately proving in court that the real Santa Claus (Richard Attenborough) is, in fact, real. With the help of Wilson’s skill, Hughes’ famous ability to write a precocious child who’s entertainingly wise beyond her years shines. While this movie lacks some magical, mysterious details of the original, this remake is grounded in reality in a way that allows the beloved story to be told anew. It’s not as consistently entertaining or humorous as some of the others on the list, but for anyone looking to add a romantically cuddly classic to their holiday watchlist, this is a great pick for kids and adults alike.
2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
There’s something to be said for a movie with jokes that viewers keep wanting to quote and repeat. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of those movies. The Vacation franchise can often leave a bit to be desired in the way of highbrow comedy or tact, but this movie manages to walk the line between silly and heartfelt. Chevy Chase is at his best as Clark Griswold, the ultimate enthusiastic, hands-on dad, and the ideal spokesperson for Christmas spirit. Clark is finally hosting the “big old-fashioned family Christmas” he’s always dreamed of. Against all odds, he pulls it off, but not without the many stresses of the holiday getting to him in the interim.
It’s hard to believe that a movie with jokes about exploding cats and a man in a silly hat and underwear emptying his RV toilet in the street can also have any worthwhile emotional depth, but it volleys between some strongly differing tones with surprising ease. These harmonious tonal shifts can be attributed to Hughes’ mastery of both comedy and depth that just gets a little more silly than usual. This movie has enough funny moments, smart relatability, and heart to make it a must-watch for the holiday season.
1. Home Alone
Home Alone is one of the most beloved Christmas classics for a reason. It has a way of capturing a feeling of nostalgia even for those who didn’t spend their childhoods watching this film every December. It has a little something for everyone: comedy, heartfeltness, suspense, and even a little spookiness.
The movie follows Kevin McAllister when he’s accidentally left home alone while his family goes to France to celebrate Christmas. For a movie that mostly follows the story of a young boy trying to get by in a big house on his own, Home Alone is never boring. Much of this is due to Macaulay Culkin who achieves a herculean child acting feat – carrying a movie with many scenes being led by him without any scene partners. At only 10 years old, Culkin gives Kevin McAllister charm, charisma, and comedic timing that most adult actors would envy. Culkin is joined by Catherine O’Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Roberts Blossom, John Candy, and even his real-life brother Kieran Culkin, all of whom add to the comedy and joy in roles big and small.
Home Alone has slapstick-iness without silliness and heartfelt moments without cheesiness with a satisfyingly emotional and heartwarming ending about appreciating the ones you love and embracing the spirit of the holiday season. Whatever type of holiday movie a viewer is looking for, Home Alone is almost sure to get viewers in the holiday spirit and elicit a smile.
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About The Author
Lauren Waters (4 Articles Published)
Lauren Waters is a TV and Movie Feature Writer for Collider. When she’s not writing about her favorite shows, she is the Beauty Editor and a columnist at Fizzy Mag. She is also a playwright, focusing on comedies and musicals. She is a lover of many things but only considers herself a true “expert” in stop motion holiday specials.