What happened to Macaulay Culkin?

During the holiday season, there are many traditions that have stood the test of time in American culture, from rushing around on Black Friday to staying home and watching old Christmas movies. This December, most people will likely venture out to theaters to see Spider Man: No Way Home, the most highly anticipated movie of the year. Yet even though fans will be focusing on Tom Holland’s third outing as everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, there’s another movie many people are guaranteed to watch just like they do every other year: John Hughes’ Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin.

To this day, Home Alone and its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, are holiday staples for all generations. Watching a young Culkin construct traps from everyday household items to deter Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s Sticky Bandits from breaking into his home at Christmastime has become an iconic and hilarious tradition that not only warms the heart, but is still genuinely funny enough to make you chuckle.

Newcomer Archie Yates was chosen to carry on Culkin’s legacy in the latest addition to the series, Home Sweet Home Alone, but that’s easier said than done. Culkin was a different breed of actor, one whose blond hair, blue eyes, and mischievous smirks made him a cinematic stand-out, even as a child. He was so good that Hollywood once projected that we’d see great things from him on the big screen when he became an adult. 

Alas, that never happened. After Home Alone and a few other hit movies, Culkin seemed to disappear from the spotlight. What happened to him? And what has he been doing since his days as a child star? Let’s start at the beginning.

Who is Macaulay Culkin?

Culkin was born on Aug. 26, 1980 to Christopher Cornelius “Kit” Culkin, a former child star on Broadway, and Patricia Brentrup. The fourth child of eight, Culkin began acting in television and film at the age of four in projects like The Midnight Hour, The Equalizer, Rocket Gibraltar, and See You in the Morning. It wasn’t until he landed the role of Miles Russell opposite the late John Candy in Uncle Buck that he began to hit it big.

Director John Hughes loved Culkin’s performance so much that Culkin became the inspiration for Hughes’ next blockbuster comedy, Home Alone. It’s reported that Hughes wrote the screenplay with Culkin in mind and always knew that the young star was going to play Kevin McCallister. Culkin’s portrayal of Kevin was so good that Home Alone broke box office records, turning Culkin into a big-name star overnight.

The transition was a lot for young Culkin, who received a $110,000 paycheck for the film. Riding off of that success, he starred in an animated TV series called Wish Kid in 1991, which ran for almost a whole year on NBC before its finale in 1992. He then returned to star in the Home Alone sequel, Lost in New York, to the tune of $4.5 million. The film was a success despite its mixed reviews and went on to become the third highest-grossing film of 1992.

The peak and decline of Macaulay Culkin’s career

Twice proving that he could carry a film, Culkin returned to the screen in the thriller The Good Son. The film did okay, but wasn’t able to carry Culkin to the same heights as the Home Alone films. After that, he continued to try making a name for himself while his stardom was still relevant, snagging leading roles in films like Getting Even with Dad, The Pagemaster, and Richie Rich, all of which were released in 1994 and performed horribly at the box office. After that, Culkin grew tired of acting and decided that he would retire for a while. 

“I was tired of it, to be honest. I did like 14 movies in six years or something like that,” Culkin said in a 2018 interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “I was away from home a lot. I was away from school. I needed something else… It was the smartest thing I could have possibly done, was to take eight years off.” 

Culkin wasn’t able to fully enjoy his downtime, however, as drastic changes in his family life began to occupy most of his time. According to Culkin himself, his father was abusive and often violent during his childhood. He was also in total control of Culkin’s finances. Culkin attributed his father’s need to be a dominant presence in his career to Kit’s jealousy of his own son. “Everything he tried to do in his life, I excelled at before I was 10 years old,” Culkin once explained in an interview.

After Culkin decided to retire from acting, he began to mistrust his parents’ “good intentions” to watch over his money and eventually took them to court to block them from controlling his trust fund, which at the time was reported to be between $15 and $20 million. The media ran wild with the story, claiming that Culkin had divorced or emancipated himself from his parents, which would have made him the first teen actor to publicly do so. Years later, Culkin elaborated on the rumors, denying that he ever got emancipated. Instead, he explained that he had simply removed his parents’ name from his trust fund and filed an executor to manage his money for him. His reason? 

“Just in case anyone wanted to stick their f***ing pinky in the pie,” he explained in a 2020 interview with Esquire. “But the next thing you know, the story was that I divorced my parents. I just thought I was doing it cleanly — taking my father’s name off, taking my mum’s name off.”

It was reported at the time that his parents, Kit and Patricia, were pocketing 15 percent of his paychecks.

Culkin’s return to acting

After almost nine years away from Hollywood, Culkin began his long-awaited return to acting with a guest appearance on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace as Karen Walker’s deceptively immature divorce lawyer in 2003. He returned to the big screen with the film Party Monster, in which he played the role of a drug-using murderer and party promoter. The next year, he was cast in a supporting role in the 2004 religious satirical comedy Saved! as a cynical non-Christian student in a conservative high school alongside America’s sweetheart at the time, Mandy Moore.

Around that same time, Culkin was arrested for marijuana possession and prescription pills, to which he eventually pleaded guilty. The news was not necessarily a shock to fans who already knew of his alleged substance abuse thanks to the tabloids, and though it added to his somewhat “bad boy” image, the bad press also put a damper on his resurgence. 

Between 2004 and 2006, Culkin signed on to various projects, including voiceover work in Seth Green’s Robot Chicken and a leading role in the dark comedy Sex and Breakfast. About two years later, Culkin once again returned to television to play the role of Andrew Cross in the 13-episode NBC television series Kings. After a few appearances in TV ads for insurance and a return to his role as Kevin McCallister in an advertisement for the Google Assistant in 2018, Culkin once again disappeared into obscurity.

What is Macaulay Culkin doing now?

After 2018, Culkin decided to take advantage of the new social media age by launching his first comedy website and podcast called Bunny Ears. In 2019, he snagged himself a supporting role in a film made by his friend Seth Green alongside fellow child star Brenda Song. It’s ironic that the film was called Changeland, because during production, Culkin’s life changed forever.

He began dating Song during filming, and the two have been together ever since. In mid-2021, Song gave birth to the couple’s first son, Dakota Song Culkin, named after Macaulay’s late sister, Dakota. Though the two are not married, they are still together and show no signs of separating.

“People don’t realize how incredibly kind and loyal and sweet and smart he is,” Song gushed about her boyfriend to Esquire. “Truly what makes Mack so special is that he is so unapologetically Mack. He knows who he is, and he’s 100 percent okay with that. And that to me is an incredibly sexy quality. He’s worked really hard to be the person he is.”

Culkin recently returned to the acting circuit in the tenth season of American Horror Story: Double Feature in 2021. His role in the show was critically praised, so there may be hope yet that the former child actor will finally make a full resurgence in his later adult years. Hey, if Alyssa Milano can do it twice after her time as a child star, then there’s definitely a chance Macaulay Culkin can, too.