The Last Blockbuster

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This is a really cool documentary on Netflix (ironic...as it's likely one of the things that dealt a major death blow) about the rise and fall of the Video Rental Store, the powerhouse that became Blockbuster Video, and the last remaining one in America. I figured this could make for a fun topic. I remember when this got media coverage, frankly I'd ALREADY thought they were gone. I didn't even know there was one left until a few years ago. I believe I first discovered it vicariously through James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd/Cinemasacre, and his nostalgic trip to go visit it. It was rather surprising to know, while on life support, they technically still exist.

I think a lot of folks my age have memories of more local rental stores first, out here in Pittsburgh I specifically recall Family Video and Hollywood Video. Or at least, I think those were just local...but come to think, perhaps they weren't. But Blockbusters REALLY came to dominate that market back in the day, truly monopolizing. Basically what Toys R Us did to its toy store competition like K.B. Toys and Children's Palace, it did to other video rental places. Odd they both shared a similar fate.

But I really do miss them. The best aspect I always found to be just having a place where you could nerd out over film. Every store always had at least one hardcore cinephile like me and we'd just get so caught up in conversation. In fact, once all the rental places were gone here and I was working at both Best Buy and as the electronics manager at our local TRU, it kind of became what it was like to just go into a rental place and BS with random people about movies. Like a spontaneous AV Club, people would literally come in specifically for me just to talk about and pick up the latest films and video games or even old classics and obscure cult stuff. This also makes me recall Suncoast Video, a place specifically devoted to selling films and film related memorabilia. So much of the rental culture revolved around word of mouth, back then it felt so much more you found a SECRET treasure. I think that was a LARGE appeal of video rental, face to face interaction, recommendations, etc. They also touched on something that was SO TRUE. Kids today will never know, renting a movie became like a CLASSIC date night technique. It was a surefire way to get someone IN your house, privately, and potentially create an intimate moment. "Hey ...or we could go rent a movie at Blockbuster and I'll make dinner!" If she liked the idea, BINGO! That was exciting because now who KNOWS what'll happen?

In my house, every Friday night was a rental night. Actually, largely, for my friends families too. In early middle school, I vividly recall the Friday night tradition of inviting friends over for a sleepover, playing video games, ordering pizza, and OF COURSE...renting a few movies. And of course, we'd always try to sneak in a few R-Rated horror titles under out parents noses to put on after they went to bed. Ah! Good times...so many fond memories of that place. In fact, so many fond memories of many places now gone without really even a modern day equivalent: Movie/Game Rental Stores, Toy Stores, I really have a gut feeling Gamestop is going to go under sooner than later than that'll be the last of the video game themes brick and mortar. We're inching closer and closer to just having the big conglomerate "come here for everything" physical stores left.
 
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We were one of the very first families we knew who had a VCR. There were a couple others, but the one family was kind of snobby and only had a huge old Beta machine, so we couldn't share tapes or anything. The other was a friend of mine who wasn't allowed to rent movies. He'd record stuff, which wasn't the same--at least at first. He later managed to be the first one to have all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. There was always an air of mystery around those tapes because he had them before they were ever on cable.

Anyway, being one of the early adopters meant we had exactly one rental store in town. They were actually a VCR repair shop with a very tiny selection of rentals behind the counter, and a huge room full of porn in back. You couldn't realistically buy movies back then--the cheap ones were around $100--and this was a tiny mom & pop shop, so all they had were some older Disney movies and a handful of big movies from a couple years earlier ('79-81 or so). Still, they were movies you couldn't see anywhere else, so we went in and rented exactly two per week. I believe they were $7.99 for one night, or 9.99 for three or four nights. We always paid the extra in case we couldn't get through both movies in a single night. It was actually a lot of money back then, although not much different than all of us going to see a single movie at the cheap theater.

We loved it a few years later when the bigger chains started showing up. Blockbuster arrived fairly late around here, so we had several local chains and Videotown. We had one local shop that started a subscription service somewhere around 1988-90, years and years before anyone else tried something similar. We paid something like $25 per month and could take out I think up to five movies at a time. There was no due date, but the sooner you brought them back, the more you could rent. If you canceled your membership (or stopped paying) they charged you the full price for whatever you hadn't returned. A friend of mine found out the hard way that rental tapes still cost an arm and a leg when he got hit with a $400 bill after letting his subscription lapse.

Our very last Videotown in town kind of restructured after the national company went under and turned into an extremely cool rental place. They had a huge selection of cult horror movies and they dropped their prices to 99 cents per rental. My friends and I would come out of there with a stack of movies and spend all weekend watching them. There were always a few we'd watch more than once, and we always made sure we got through them all. I've noticed you don't have that same urgency with streaming. There are tons of movies I want to watch on the various streaming services but never do because I assume they'll always be there. We watch far less now with all these various options than we did before we streamed.
 
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While I haven't watched it yet, and it does look like a good watch, it's kind of fitting they they went out of business after running all the mom and pops rental stores out of business.
 
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While I haven't watched it yet, and it does look like a good watch, it's kind of fitting they they went out of business after running all the mom and pops rental stores out of business.

It's kind of funny you say that because, which I did come to love Blockbuster...I most so just loved Video Rental Places as opposed to SPECIFICALLY them. So I too, at moments, thought...it's kind of karma.
 
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look, so did I. I mean their promise was "in stock" which meant you didn't have to worry about it being out, so how do you compete with that when you're small time? When I was a kid I can remember that we often had to wait weeks before we could watch a new release, and the "reserved list" was always full. So you pretty much had to get on the list a month prior to the actual release if you wanted to see it any time soon.

So when Blockbuster finally rolled into town it was nice to be able to rent a certain movie the day/week it was released.
I don't actively seek anyone's downturn or wish them bankruptcy, but like you say "karma" does eventually catch up with us all.
 
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I love movie rental places. I never went to Blockbuster much, I thought it was crappy. It was too corporate. I preferred the smaller-scale stores from the 80's and 90's i frequented.
 
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Thanks for the post. I just saw TLB Netflix doc. earlier this week, and it was very interesting, compelling, and nostalgic.

I admittedly wasn't much of a movie fan in the VHS days - so, was much more into renting after I got my first DVD player back in 2003; access to the plethora of movies & TV shows on DVD made me both a movie & big TV show fan - when I hadn't been much of one earlier. So, I rented the most between roughly 2003/2004 - 2010.

However - after a while, it didn't make sense to bother renting anymore due to streaming getting faster & more popular. Also, DVD prices got less expensive so it wasn't really that cost effective to rent - when you could pay a little more $ & own the Disk outright.

And, I will honestly say I do not miss renting from video rental stores & am very happy that streaming is so available & accessible these days.

Re: BB specifically, I especially don't miss:

1) BB late fees. I hated having to deal with rushing to return the video by midnight of a specific day so I wouldn't get dinged with the late fees.

2) Scratched Disks. There were numerous times the rental DVD's were scratched & either skip/froze during certain segments, or didn't work at all. I have bad memories of complaining to the store & trying to get a refund, but not being able to. I even offered to show the manager the place where the DVD skipped/froze, but they didn't care.

3) Extremely limited selection of older films/TV shows. Sure, they had hundreds of copies of newer films/shows, but their selection of older stuff was typically abysmal/poor.

I strongly preferred Hollywood Video to BB due to their having a better selection of older films, as well the fact that their Disks were typically in much better shape than BB's (probably due to less people renting/viewing them).

However, the issue I had with all video rental stores was:

4) The hassle/time involved in going to the store & renting the disks, and then having to go back to return them.

RE: the Netflix doc. - I fully appreciated the irony of watching a documentary about physical media & the Last standing Blockbuster video rental store....via a streaming service. And, I think most people who watch this doc. will probably appreciate the irony as well. ;)

That all being said, here's hoping the only Blockbuster left (Bend, Oregon) never closes. They obviously have a loyal customer base who will probably be renting for a many years to come.
 
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#4) unless you never go out then I don't see this as an issue, there was always a rental store on the street I travels to work and home so it easy as easy as stopping on the way. And at least they let you have the movie for 5 days for five Dollars, where as streaming only give you 24 hours for $6.

Although the one thing don't miss is the skipping disk issues.
 
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Jan's Video Voyage

I was from a very small town and that was the only place to get videos back in the day. Once I could drive there were options, but man that was cool. I remember a lot about going into those places and looking at pretty much every movie in there. I was introduced to a lot of Horror movies I'd never heard of that way. Renting videos was almost every weekend.

I watched the documentary you mentioned and it really brought back a lot of memories. The movie box art and movie posters used to be huge.
 
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