Did Macaulay Culkin deserve to win an Academy Award?
Using intensive analysis, we find out the answer to one of life’s greatest mysteries.
Macaulay Culkin hasn’t received top-billing in a major motion picture since 1994. This is an American travesty, because he’s an American treasure. It’s also kind of weird, because there used to be a time when you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing his smiling (or screaming) face.
He was in movies, on television, in video games, in a Michael Jackson music video — he was everywhere, and it’s easy to see why. Compared to most other child actors, Culkin was able to convey more than just one or two emotions on screen. He was actually capable of, you know, acting. That doesn’t mean that he was always GOOD at acting — because there were times where he was clearly not good at it — but at least he always tried. And when he ruled the box office for a brief, but noticeable period of time, that was good enough for us.
While we know that he possessed acting talent in some degree, that still leaves a rather important question unanswered: Were any of his performances as a kid worthy of an Academy Award? It would be easy to say “no” because if they were, he’d have one by now. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. There are principles here.
Multiple catalysts and factors go into determining the true value of someone’s abilities when it comes to winning the highest honor in the film industry. Plus, the esteemed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is notorious for getting some of award decisions wrong (see: Crash wins Best Picture). If that’s the case, then they must be made aware of their grave injustices, and atone by airmailing Culkin his Oscar(s) right away.
What we’re going to do here is break down each of Culkin’s performances during his heyday (1989–1994) in terms of acting ability and how relatable he was in a specific role. We’ll also compare his work to that of whoever won the Best Actor Oscar for that year in film. By conducting this important research, we’ll soon have an answer to the question that has burned in the minds of several people (or, most likely, just me) for years.
We will soon know whether or not Macaulay Culkin deserved to win an Oscar.
1. Did Macaulay Culkin deserve an Oscar for ‘Uncle Buck’ (1989)?
Synopsis: Uncle Buck is about three kids who are left in the care of their lazy, irresponsible, yet fun-loving uncle while their parents are away dealing with a family emergency. At one point, Uncle Buck punches a drunk clown. It is quality.
Who does Culkin play?: Culkin plays Miles, one of the younger Russell children. He is precocious and charming, as a Culkin character tended to be.
Was his acting good?: Yeah, it was pretty good. There’s a scene near the beginning of the movie where Miles puts Uncle Buck in the hot seat, because he’s a kid and that’s his job. It’s cute, but it’s also a great showcase of his solid comedic timing.
Was he relatable?: Sure. Outside of the interrogation scene (I was a kid once, and never did I notice if someone had more nose hair than another. Why would anybody even WANT to know that?), Miles does a lot of normal, everyday kid things. Culkin, despite being very rich and famous at his age, captured the essence of being a normal kid with ease. Job well done.
Was he better than the Best Actor winner of that year?: Since John Candy was the true star of Uncle Buck, we’ll compare Culkin’s performance to the winner of Best Supporting Actor for 1989. Denzel Washington won for his role in the movie Glory, so… no, Macaulay Culkin’s performance was not better.
Why? Because Denzel Washington won. That’s like getting the Helen Keller card while playing Apples to Apples. An automatic trump.
RESULT: No, Macaulay Culkin did not deserve an Oscar for Uncle Buck. He was good, but not Denzel good.
2. Did Macaulay Culkin deserve an Oscar for ‘Home Alone’ (1990)?
Synopsis: An eight-year-old boy is accidentally left behind when his family leaves to spend Christmas in Paris. Meanwhile, when two burglars plan to rob his home, he decides to take matters into his own hands.
Who does Culkin play?: In arguably his most well-known role, Culkin plays Kevin, the boy left behind. While precocious and charming, Kevin is also highly resourceful and quick on his feet.
Was his acting good?: Yes, for multiple reasons. Home Alone is a comedy, and Culkin nails the comedic aspects of his performance very easily. However, there are also hints of drama peppered throughout the movie. It’s a pretty scary situation when you’re a child left on your own in a big house with a terrifying basement. Culkin nimbly switched from being happy, to being sad, to being terrified, to slightly sadistic (He really got a kick out of the pain and fear of others), to joyful when his family returns.
His shining moment was this conversation with Old Man Marley — a neighbor that Kevin spent 90 percent of the movie being afraid of, and for the right reasons. That dude looked like he’s hidden some bodies in his day. That’s another story for another time.
Was he relatable?: Yes and no. Kevin’s situation was obviously unusual, but Culkin was a natural fit for the role. He was very nuanced. Also, despite his family’s insistence that he’s the worst thing to ever happen to them — Seriously, they treat this kid like the antichrist — you can’t help but root for Kevin, and place yourself in his shoes. Again though, the sheer joy that he took from drinking the tears of others was a bit off-putting at times. Like, I don’t ever think I could ever see myself laughing after setting someone’s head on fire with an industrial blowtorch. I just don’t think I could do that.
Was he better than the Best Actor winner that year?: Jeremy Irons won Best Actor for portraying Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune. I don’t know anything else about that movie, because I have never seen it. I’ll assume its a very high-end prestige picture (which Home Alone is not) that is anchored by very high-end performances (which, again, is not Home Alone). All that being said, the answer is most likely no. Actually, it’s definitely no.
RESULT: No, Macaulay Culkin did not deserve an Oscar of Home Alone.
3. Did Macaulay Culkin deserve an Oscar for ‘My Girl’ (1991)?
Synopsis: My Girl is about a young girl who comes of age in the early 1970’s, alongside her dad, her teacher/crush, her dad’s new girlfriend, and her best friend/first kiss.
Who does Culkin play?: Culkin is Thomas J., the best friend in question. He’s honestly one of THE BEST friends in film history. He is also highly allergic to everything, and dies because a swarm of bees stung him to death. It is very sad, and probably the reason why I dislike bees.
Was is acting good?: It’s serviceable. Nothing spectacular or noteworthy, but serviceable.
Was he relatable?: Yeah. He and Anna Chlumsky (Vada, the girl in My Girl) are probably two of the most relatable pre-teens ever to appear on film. They’re arguably the reason the movie remains popular to this day, because if anyone else filled those roles, it’d be instantly forgotten. Why do you think no one cares about My Girl 2? Because Macaulay Culkin was murdered by bees is in the first one, and they replaced him with some lame, wannabe Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It just wasn’t the same.
Was he better than the Best Picture Oscar winner of that year?: Honestly, this was more Chlumsky’s movie than Culkin’s. I’d nominate him for a Golden Globe or a Kids Choice Award or something, but if anyone deserved Oscar consideration for My Girl, it’s her. Case in point:
It’s no contest. That is a POWERHOUSE performance. The catch here is that Jodie Foster won Best Actress that year for The Silence of the Lambs — which was well deserved. In this case, I think it’s okay to call it a tie.
RESULT: No, Macaulay Culkin did not deserve an Oscar for My Girl. Anna Chlumsky, however, did.
4. Did Macaulay Culkin deserve an Oscar for ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ (1992)?
Synopsis: Home Alone 2 is literally the same movie as Home Alone 1. Kevin gets separated from his family, except this time he’s in New York (duh). Harry and Marv are still burglars, and Kevin’s parents still aren’t in jail for child endangerment.
Who does Culkin play?: Kevin, who is the same as he was in the original, but a little older and with a better sense of fashion.
Was his acting good?: He did nothing different than he did the first time around, so yes.
Was he relatable?: He’s even more sadistic than the last time he faced off against Harry and Marv, but yes.
Was he better than the Best Actor Oscar winner of that year?: Al Pacino won for 1992’s Scent of a Woman. If you’ve ever seen Scent of a Woman, you probably know what an overrated piece of bait that was. Pacino was fun, but better than Denzel in Malcolm X? Better than Clint in Unforgiven? Better than Culkin throwing bricks at Daniel Stern (which would kill him if it weren’t a family film)? It’s debatable.
However, as much as I’d like to take the Oscar away from Al, there’s not enough supporting evidence to give it to Mac.
RESULT: No, Macaulay Culkin did not deserve an Oscar for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
5. Did Macaulay Culkin deserve an Oscar for ‘The Good Son’ (1993)?
Synopsis: Mark (Elijah Wood) is sent to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousins after the death of his mother. Everything’s cool until one of his cousins turns out to be a sociopathic hellspawn.
Who does Culkin play?: Henry, Mark’s cousin and titular “good son.”
Was his acting good?: This was the most against type performance of Culkin’s career as a child actor. Henry is cold, unforgiving, manipulative, and definitely a low-key murderer (It is hinted that he drowned his baby brother in the bathtub years before). He got all of the eccentricities and nuances of pre-teen Norman Bates down pat, but the problem here was that as the movie went on and the characters slowly start to learn about the truth about Henry, the suspense has long been spoiled.
Culkin’s performance is so over-the-top and sinister that you (as a viewer) know how evil he really is almost INSTANTLY. It’s frustrating, because Henry could have shown up wearing a goatee and a t-shirt that says “I’m Evil,” and everyone else would have probably said “Yo, but how do we know FOR SURE that he’s evil?” The performance just doesn’t match up with the plot’s natural progression.
Was he relatable?: If you related to this performance or character in any way, shape, or form, please seek help immediately.
Was he better than the Best Actor Oscar winner of that year?: Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia. The answer is a clear no. However, if there were such a thing as a Best Death in a Big Budget B-Movie Oscar, it’d be Culkin’s.
RESULT: No, Macaulay Culkin did not deserve an Oscar for The Good Son.
6. Did Macaulay Culkin deserve an Oscar for ‘Getting Even With Dad’/’The Pagemaster’/’Richie Rich’ (1994)?
Synopses: These three movies are the Culkin “puberty movies,” where he stopped being cute and stopped bringing in money at the box office. They are each relatively bland and forgettable in their own way, so we really won’t waste time on what they’re about.
Who does Culkin play?: I literally do not remember a single thing about Getting Even With Dad. We’ll just say that he plays a kid who wants to get even with his dad. The Pagemaster is about a kid who gets transported to a literary cartoon world. Richie Rich is about a kid who’s rich, but has no friends.
Was his acting good?: Culkin was nominated for Worst Actor at the Golden Raspberry Awards for all three of these movies. In other words, nope.
Was he relatable?: lol
Was he better than the Best Actor Oscar winner for that year?: It was Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump. No. Not even close.
RESULT: Macaulay Culkin did not deserve an Oscar for any of those movies.
FINAL VERDICT: No, Macaulay Culkin does not deserve an Academy Award.