Culkin began acting at the age of four. Early roles saw him appearing in a stage production of Bach Babies at the New York Philharmonic. He continued appearing in roles on stage, television, and films throughout the 1980s. He made a small appearance in the TV movie, The Midnight Hour (1985). In 1988, he appeared in an episode of the popular action television series, The Equalizer, in which he played a kidnapping victim, Paul Gephardt. He made his big-screen debut portraying the character of Cy Blue Black in the drama film, Rocket Gibraltar (1988).