"Home Alone" has been one of the biggest surprises in a movie season filled with them.

Most industry insiders expected a solid box office performance from director Chris Columbus' comedy about a child who is inadvertently left home when his parents go on vacation.But only the foolhardy or prescient would have predicted it would turn out to be the holiday season's major box office bonanza.

In the first 24 days after it opened on Nov. 16, "Home Alone" pulled in a staggering $84 million. Compare that, for instance with the year's box office leader "Ghost," which had only earned $69 million in its first full month.

Even more remarkable is that "Home Alone" has hardly lost any of its initial box office clout. It sold $17.1 million worth of tickets its first weekend. After four weeks, it had dropped less than 17 percent, to a still outstanding $14.2 million.

Twentieth-Century Fox, the film's distributor, took a dual approach to promoting the film.

A primary audience, of course, was children. What child wouldn't enjoy seeing a movie about an 8-year-old who takes on and conquers a pair of burglars trying to break into his house?

Indeed, one of Fox's key promotional tools were screenings held especially for the largely preteen membership of Fox's Kids' Clubs groups organized by Fox Broadcasting television affiliates throughout the country.

Even more important, perhaps, was convincing parents that the subject matter was appropriate comic fodder for their children.

After all, leaving a child behind in real life is hardly a laughing matter.

But according to the Hollywood Reporter, the agency that developed the advertising campaign for Fox created several television commercials with parents specifically in mind.

A 30-second commercial called "Desperate Mom," for example, cut between a shot of the boy's panicked mother and one of him having the time of his life back at home.

The goal was not to downplay the distress a parent would have in this situation, but at the same time, demonstrate the highly comic nature of the film.

The strategy has been a success, apparently, as early reports indicated that fully 32 percent of the audience was 25 or older.