Macaulay Culkin and child stardom in the 1990s

Holly Chard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Macaulay Culkin was one of the most famous and highly paid child stars in the history of Hollywood cinema. He secured global fame through his leading role in Home Alone (1990), one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time. A major beneficiary of U.S. film industry’s increased investment in family entertainment during the early 1990s, Culkin was the first child star to be paid a million dollars for one movie. The major Hollywood studios and various other non-media companies, including Coca-Cola, used Culkin’s image and performances, as both “objectified” and “embodied” capital, to sell a variety of products to children. Moreover, through the narratives of his movies, product endorsements and various off-screen activities, Culkin became a “idol of consumption” for nineties pre-teens. While the child star can exercise some agency through their performances, they have limited power over the formation and circulation of their identity and image in a wider context. Drawing on an array of previously unexamined primary materials, I explore the ways in which Culkin, his father and the U.S. media industry tried to regulate and exploit his star image. Through consideration of press coverage of his career, I demonstrate that the selling of Culkin as “brand” was inseparable from a discussion of childhood and, also, of his peculiar status as child star. In particular, I discuss how representations of, and reactions to, Culkin’s star image drew attention to issues of innocence and knowingness. The chapter concludes with an examination of the rapid decline of Culkin’s Hollywood career, evaluating how his transition into adolescence distanced him from his established image and, thus, eroded his brand value.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChildhood and celebrity
EditorsJane O'Connor, John Mercer
Place of PublicationAbingdon
ISBN (Electronic)9781315720432
ISBN (Print)9781138855298
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2017


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