Reel Thoughts: ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Home Alone’ showcase Evanston’s small-town charm


Illustration by Wendy Zhu

Writer John Hughes’ films ‘Home Alone’, ‘Sixteen Candles, and ‘Uncle Buck’ feature Evanston homes in their Chicagoland stories.

MJ Gudiño, Reporter

Angsty teens and mischievous kids have long found their home in Evanston. From love stories to thieving grown men to crime films set during the Great Depression, Evanston has provided a setting for filmmakers to tell the stories they love.

The 1984 film “Sixteen Candles,” written and directed by John Hughes, is one of the masterpieces set in Evanston. Molly Ringwald plays Samantha “Sam” Baker, on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday. This sweet sixteen, however, is overshadowed by her sister’s marriage –– which is set to take place the very next day. In the hustle and bustle, her parents forget her birthday altogether. To add to her teenage angst, Sam struggles with her feelings for a boy, Jake, played by Michael Schoeffling. While she believes he doesn’t like her, she must deal with unwanted attention from resident geek Ted, played by Anthony Michael Hall. 

In the end, her parents apologize, she ends up with the boy of her dreams, and Ted gets a girl, too. It’s hard to deny ’80s charm.

Most of the movie was filmed in Evanston, Skokie, and Highland Park, Illinois.

Writer and director John Hughes may not be from Illinois, but he loves Evanston. His creations, “Home Alone” 1, 2, and 3, all have scenes filmed in the Evanston area. They also feature a return of Haviland Morris –– who was also in “Sixteen Candles” –– as the mother of Macaulay Culkin’s resourceful and ingenious character, the 10-year-old Kevin.

In the first film, Kevin’s family travels to Paris for Christmas but inadvertently leaves him behind. All alone, Kevin must defend his house from a pair of robbers targeting empty homes during the holidays. Kevin succeeds with a series of inventive booby traps.

“Home Alone” 2 and 3 deal with similar themes. In the former, Kevin accidentally boards a plane to New York without his parents. In the latter, a boy named Alex falls ill with chickenpox and fends off internationally wanted criminal terrorists intent on stealing back a toy car with a missile-cloaking microchip.

These movies feature Chicago O’Hare International Airport as well as Evanston and Winnetka streets in the shots of the suburban neighborhood and their cozy family home.

The “Home Alone” franchise is well known for its joy and nostalgia during the holiday season. The movies are by far the most famous set of movies filmed partially in Evanston with the first installment grossing over $475 million worldwide. It was the highest grossing film of 1990.

Moving away from Hughes’ creations, the 2002 film “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks, Jude Law and Paul Newman, follows Hanks’ Michael Sullivan and his son during the Great Depression as they seek revenge against the people who murdered the rest of their family.

Much of the filming took place in the Chicago area, and Evanston’s Charles Gates Dawes House was featured in the film. Dawes won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.

Evanston serves as a lovely backdrop for an angsty teen’s hometown or a childhood comfort comedy. Its historic architecture showcases the region’s long history. Evanston is 160 years old, so once again as Sam blows out her sixteen candles, the town of Evanston will be blowing out 160.

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