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The Real Reason Macaulay Culkin Disappeared From Hollywood

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If you're a child of the 1990s, there are some things you'll undoubtedly remember as mainstays of the decade: Michael Jordan, Beanie Babies, the Power Rangers, the Backstreet Boys ...the list goes go on and on. And as far as child stars of the '90s go, one reigned supreme above all others — Macaulay Culkin. After getting his feet wet during the late '80s in films like Uncle Buck, Culkin hit the big time with his breakthrough performance in the 1990 holiday classic, Home Alone. Directed by Chris Columbus, Home Alone was far and away the highest-grossing film of the year, and his performance as Kevin McCallister earned Culkin both a Golden Globe nomination and a Young Artist Award, shooting him into immediate stardom.

But what happened to the kid with the most famous face on earth? What does an actor do when their most successful role, the one that will define their career, comes at the age of ten? Well, slap on some aftershave and rig your house with booby traps, because we're about to discover the real reason Macauly Culkin disappeared from Hollywood.

Macaulay Culkin's movie troubles

In the years following Home Alone's release, Culkin stayed very busy in Hollywood. The year 1991 cemented his stardom as Culkin starred in Saturday morning cartoon series Wish Kid, hosted Saturday Night Live, appeared in Michael Jackson's "Black or White" music video, and acted in the successful film My Girl. But after reprising the role of Kevin McCallister in 1992's Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and playing a villain in 1993 thriller The Good Son, Culkin's career took a major downturn. 

In 1994, Culkin starred in Getting Even with Dad with Ted Danson, live action-animation hybrid The Pagemaster, and family film Richie Rich. That year was meant to be the year of Macaulay Culkin, but all three films bombed at the box office, severely dampening the actors career outlook at the ripe age of 14. An outrageously famous actor at such a young age, Culkin's star already seemed to be burning out.

Culkin takes a break

After that string of less-than-hits, Culkin stopped acting altogether, opting out of the insane world of child stardom in order to try and live a somewhat normal life ... well, as normal a life you can have when the majority of America knows who you are. According to People, Culkin "couldn't walk down the street" because "people stared at him in a way they wouldn't have with an adult." This unexpected exit from the industry came at a difficult time in his personal life as, in 1995, his parents decided to separate, resulting in an absolutely vicious custody battle over Culkin and his six brothers and sisters. Culkin's mother, Patricia, filed for full custody of the children, and Culkin has reportedly been estranged from his father ever since.

During an interview with Ellen Degeneres, Culkin also mentioned what it was like to turn 18 and have an absolute windfall of money come his way from his successful child-acting days. As he put it, "I felt like some kid worked really, really hard, and I inherited all of his money. It allows me to treat everything like a hobby. I do nothing for my dinner nowadays." While all of that Home Alone money has set Culkin up for life, he's also found how hard it is to break back into Hollywood after you leave.

He returns to acting with disastrous results

Following a guest appearance as an immature divorce lawyer on NBC's popular sitcom Will & Grace, Culkin returned to the big screen in 2003's biographical drama Party Monster. The film tells the story of rise and fall of Michael Alig, founder and ringleader of the Club Kids, a group of young New York City club-goers that became a cultural phenomenon during the late '80s and early '90s. Alig would eventually serve almost 17 years in prison for manslaughter. Talk about a departure from the family fare of Culkin's Hollywood youth.

Critics lambasted the picture, with the film accruing a dismal 29 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Michael O' Sullivan of The Washington Post had a particularly brutal take on the film, saying, "The psychologizing in Party Monster never goes deeper than what you might get out of Dr. Phil on a bad day." Hollywood hardly cares about critical troubles if the film is money-maker, alas, Party Monster struggled to earn just $740,000. However, Macaulay Culkin wouldn't be down and out for long.

Macaulay Culkin gets Saved!

Looking to move on quickly from the disappointment of Party Monster, Culkin booked a supporting part in Saved! as a wheelchair-bound, non-Christian student in a conservative Christian high school. The controversial film's follows a teenage girl, played by Jena Malone, who sleeps with her boyfriend and loses her virginity in an attempt to "cure" him of being gay. As a result of her misguided attempt at homeopathic medicine, she becomes pregnant and is soon made an outcast at her school.

By any Hollywood box office measurement standard, Saved! can only be heralded as a modest success, though nearly doubling the production budget is nothing to scoff at. More importantly for Culkin, his performance received positive reviews. Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club said Culkin gave "his paraplegic doubter an acerbic edge," and Culkin seemed primed to parlay his acting talent and predilection for picking interesting roles into a diverse career ... but this would never come to fruition. 

Culkin's book comes and goes

It's clear to see from his roles in Party Monster and Saved! that Culkin was never going to take a predictable route back into the public eye. And sure, writing a straight-forward autobiography of his days as America's brightest young star would've been a sure-fire way to get him interviews on programs like Today and The Oprah Winfrey Show. But Culkin most certainly did not write a straight-forward autobiography. No, Culkin's Junior is a collection of poems, letters, comics, and more.

According to the advertising copy for the book, "Everything in it is entirely true — except for the large portions that are completely fictional." Culkin's experimental style of writing could've worked to his benefit, as it could've helped the book stand out among the yearly glut of memoirs. However, according to reviewers, it just wasn't very good. Publisher's Weekly stated, "This self-indulgently infantile book is a novel in only the loosest sense: it looks and reads more like a book-length zine." Kirkus Reviews also took a shot, claiming that Culkin "managed to lower the already low bar set for celebrity fiction." Ouch.

His next movie is a major bomb

In the same year he would publish Junior, Culkin would star in the independent dark comedy film Sex and Breakfast. The plot of the movie follows a pair of young couples who experiment with anonymous group sex as a way to revitalize their troubled relationships. It's through the experience that they rethink the elements of a successful relationship: sex, love, and communication. 

Culkin's appearance in Sex and Breakfast follows his career trajectory at the time, which involved rebuking his original career success by booking roles in films that pushed him creatively and undermined his family-friendly name. Unfortunately for Culkin, Sex and Breakfast was utterly destroyed by critics, with John Anderson of Variety describing the film as "a tortured talkfest with a premise far less ripe than its title." Sex and Breakfast ended up bypassing theaters, going straight-to-DVD, and hurting Culkin's comeback even further.

Culkin starts the Pizza Underground

After struggling to find acting roles, Culkin continued to indulge his weird, artistic side with a musical-comedy project called the Pizza Underground. The Pizza Underground mainly parodied songs by the Velvet Underground, with Culkin adding pizza-themed song names and lyrics. It seems to go without saying that the group never really took themselves too seriously, with percussionist Deenah Vollmer stating in 2014, "We believe jokes are windows into truth, like pizza can literally create windows with grease."

The most notable moment of the band's career occurred in Nottingham in 2014, when they were booed off stage. Apparently, some members of the audience took offense to the Pizza Underground's "mockery" of "one of the greatest bands of all-time." It stands to reason these concert-goers didn't comprehend the fact that a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band was not meant to be taken all that seriously. In January 2018, Culkin mentioned to Marc Maron on his podcast, WTF, that the Pizza Underground had broken up as he "was a little tired of it."

Macaulay Culkin puts on Bunny Ears

Continuing his subversive comedy streak, Culkin launched his own comedy brand in 2018 known as Bunny Ears, complete with website and podcast. It's meant to parody celebrity lifestyle brands, like Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop. In an interview with Dazed around the time of the website's launch, Culkin mentioned, "There's a hole in the 'celebrity lifestyle' articles market, and we're filling it with fun, unique satire."  

Bunny Ears is filled with Onion-style satire of lifestyle websites, with articles like "Color of the Month: '90s Plaid" and "Finding the Perfect Vape Flavor to Pair with Your Glaring Personality Flaws." As is the case with the majority of satire, the results are hit-or-miss depending on the reader's style of humor, but Bunny Ears does seem to do a solid job of poking playful jabs at Culkin's Hollywood youth. For example, one of the earliest pieces on the website was "Exclusive: Macaulay Culkin Interviews the Swarm of Bees from My Girl" where, well ... you get the idea.

The child actor becomes an ad man

The majority of Culkin's latest appearances have seen him showing up as himself or parodying his Home Alone character, Kevin McCallister. In late 2018, three specific Home Alone-related appearances saw Culkin making light of his childhood superstardom. Culkin stopped by the studio of popular YouTube channel RedLetterMedia to review the forgotten sequel Home Alone 4, which unsurprisingly recast a younger actor as Kevin when it was released 12 years after the original. Around the same time, Culkin joined another popular internet personality, the Angry Video Game Nerd, to run through the history of abysmal Home Alone video games. Perhaps most famously, Culkin appeared in the Google Assistant advertisement that made many visual references to Home Alone, and had Culkin showing how much easier it would've been for Kevin to be left at home by himself if an internet-connected computerized assistant was there to help him. Culkin clearly has a good time reflecting on the film that made him a household name.

Culkin goes to Changeland

In 2019, Culkin returned to the big screen for the first time in years, appearing in good friend Seth Green's directorial debut, Changeland. The film follows Green's character, Brandon, and his somewhat-estranged best friend as they travel through Thailand after Brandon discovers that his wife has been unfaithful to him. During their travels, they meet two wacky tour guides, Culkin's Ian, and Pen who's played by Culkin's real-life girlfriend Brenda Song. The pair show them all that Thailand has to offer and repair the friends' relationship. 

Changeland was a small passion project that was moderately successful with critics, and it showcases the type of stuff Culkin is interested in making nowadays: a laid-back film that strikes him as worthwhile. Culkin seems to have little interest in mainstream Hollywood productions anymore, finding the creative control and small scale of his more recent movies to be way more rewarding.

Macaulay Culkin just lives his life

Honestly, Macaulay Culkin seems content to live his life mostly out of the spotlight, hanging out in Paris where he kind of does whatever strikes his fancy. In 2018, he said it's hard for him to live a normal life because he's recognized everywhere he goes, and fans on the street always want him to recreate his famous hands-on-face "scream" look from Home Alone. He continues to have fun lambasting his childhood fame, including changing his middle name from "Carson" to "Macaulay Culkin" in late 2018, as a result of an online poll on Bunny Ears. (Yes, he changed his name from Macaulay Carson Culkin to Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin because the internet thought it was funny.)

It's nice to see someone who hit the apex of fame so young sincerely enjoying a life outside of the Hollywood grind. In August 2018, Culkin told People that he and girlfriend, Brenda Song, "have a good life," which is all anybody can ask for.