Movie Night At Blockbuster
It’s a Friday night in 2007 — My dad and I take a trip out to our local Blockbuster to pick out a movie to bring back to watch with my family. Walking through the plate glass doors, my eyes widened as they ran across aisles of shelves lined with DVDs. I walk down the aisle, eyes bouncing from cover to cover of each option that lay right at my fingertips.
We make our way quickly through the horror film section, my dad ushering me away from Jack Nicholson’s wide-eyed grin on the case of ‘The Shining’, and into the animated movies. My father lets me pick what movie to choose for tonight — as a seven-year-old boy, this is far too much power to handle. With so many options that all looked so fantastic: ‘The Incredibles’, ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’, ‘Chicken Little’, how was I expected to choose?
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Eventually landing on Brad Bird’s ‘The Iron Giant’, starring the voice talent of Jennifer Aniston, we made our way back up toward the checkout line. As my dad waited to checkout, chatting with a fellow patron about how “appropriate” ‘The Iron Giant’ would be for a boy my age, I snuck away to peruse more DVD covers. I walked down each aisle, trying to get a look at every DVD cover, reading the description of the plot of the film on the back of the case. I wanted to one day watch every movie in there even though I knew that was most likely an unachievable goal. Going to Blockbuster to pick out a new movie to check off the watchlist was one of my favorite experiences as a kid — fast forward a decade or so, that experience I cherished no longer exists. If you had told me at seven years old that my local Blockbuster would be an auto parts shop by my 13th birthday, I would not have been okay.
The Cinematic Dodo
For decades, Blockbuster Video acted as the premier movie rental spot. Nearly unrivaled, Blockbuster owned the market on finding a movie to watch beyond what was playing in theaters or on television. Whether it gained popularity because of the ability to choose what to watch for yourself rather than what was playing or for the experience of entering the Cinema-based rental store, Blockbuster enjoyed years of success after it was founded in 1985. However, despite its household name and iconic status, in the year 2021, there is only one Blockbuster remaining in the United States. With the rise of Netflix, which started as a service that shipped DVDs straight to your door, the streaming service craze was launched alongside platforms such as Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
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Blockbuster was unable to support their in-store business model as convenience eventually triumphed. Unable to adapt to the modern digital landscape, Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010 and saw stores nationwide go under. It is easily understandable as to why this happened — when confronted with the choice of spending the gas money to drive to one’s local Blockbuster and then pay to rent a film, at the risk of forgetting to return it and incurring late charges, versus paying a flat rate for a streaming service or renting it digitally from one’s own home, the choice for the casual film viewer was easily made.
The Blockbuster business model had left opportunities for some unwelcome hiccups — speaking from my own experience if I did not go to Blockbuster myself it was very unlikely the movie that I requested would be the one actually rented. What I imagined happened was that my father sometime between leaving the house and arriving at the store would forget the title of the movie I had asked for and then would describe the film to an employee. It is the only explanation as to how requests for ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and Ice Cube’s ‘Are We There Yet?’ yielded the results of ‘Corpse Bride’ and Vin Diesel’s ‘The Pacifier’ respectively.
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It was always in the ballpark, both ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘The Corpse’s Bride’ being stop-motion and Tim Burton produced, but not quite — bless my father’s heart because I know he tried his best. It’s also possible that the films were just not in stock which presented another disadvantage of Blockbusters in comparison to streaming services that had unlimited copies to digitally distribute. While change is inevitable and streaming services have no doubt made watching movies more accessible, the nostalgia in me can’t help but miss Blockbuster Video and ponder if progress is worth losing the experience.
The Tail-End Of An Era
I believe myself to be part of the last generation of kids that got to experience Blockbuster. Given that the company declared bankruptcy when I was 10, people more than a few years younger than me would have been too young to remember a trip to the video rental store — even my own memories have become hazy over the years. What I do remember, however, I remember quite fondly. Walking up and down the aisles looking at the cover art of DVDs was especially exciting — I felt like I had the history of movies, new and old, right at my fingertips and was eager to learn about them all.
I remember very specifically parsing through the superhero films, always wanting to rent ‘Superman/Batman: Public Enemies’, a DC animated film, but was unfortunately never allowed to as it was rated PG-13. I think the idea of a “cartoon” being rated PG-13 intrigued me and to this day, I still haven’t gotten around to seeing that film. However, the desire to see that movie, oddly enough, inspired my love for superheroes and comic book films.
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Since I couldn’t watch ‘Superman/Batman: Public Enemies’, I went looking for the Superman and Batman movies I could watch and quickly fell in love with the DC animated series ‘Justice League’. Fast-forward a few decades, and I still have that same love and enjoyment in superhero movies, Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ and Joe and Anthony Russo’s ‘Avengers: Endgame’ being two of my favorite movies of all time. Maybe my love for comic book films was unavoidable and that I would have found my way to enjoying films about the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel eventually, but as it stands today I owe the inspiration for that love to my stumbling upon ‘Superman/Batman: Public Enemies’ at my local Blockbuster.
The Digital World
Thinking back on my experiences at Blockbuster, I wonder if the modern generation of kids today are missing out — my conclusion: probably not. While I made my connection to movie genres such as superhero films at Blockbuster, I’m sure there are millions of kids around the world booting up their Disney+ right now and stumbling across the newest episode of ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’. That is going to be their Blockbuster — streaming services are both the present and the future. While Blockbuster was the place my love for movies grew, it won’t be for anyone else discovering their love for movies today — and that’s okay. Streaming services have made watching films and television more accessible and easy for everyone.
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Finding a way to expose the art of Cinema to more people is a good thing as some kids may have not had the ability to transport themselves or be transported to a Blockbuster store like I did. Now they won’t miss out and can be inspired by the films they watch from the comfort of their own home. While I miss being able to go out to a Blockbuster in person, the fact that it is now easier than ever to watch movies, puts me at ease because of the growth of the art form as well as the inspiration of new artists. In a world that is ever-changing and fluid, accepting that Blockbuster’s time has passed and embracing the new landscape of film is healthy — this way of thinking is ever-present in our current climate.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Covid-19 has accelerated the phasing out of the movie theater industry. Whether film fans and filmmakers like it or not, the experience of going to the movies is going to change. What form that change takes is yet to be determined. With major studios such as Warner Brothers now releasing their blockbuster films such as ‘Godzilla Vs Kong’ and ‘Mortal Kombat’ on HBO Max the same day as theaters, the same proposition has been posed to film fans and consumers that was posed at the death of Blockbuster. While I will be the first to defend the theatrical experience and contest that the only way I would want to watch a new movie is on the big screen, I have to be mindful that the world is changing and nothing lasts forever.
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What the future holds for movies I do not know, there is optimism to be had after Warner Brothers announced that their films would return to theater exclusives in 2022, but we will have to wait and see if that remains to be true. Change is often uncomfortable and daunting — if you’re like me and don’t want to see the movie theater experience lost the same way Blockbuster was, then, when it is safe to course, go out and support the theaters.
My plea to film fans and filmmakers is this, embrace change whatever form it takes. Whether we see our movies in the theaters or at home the important thing is that people are still watching, making, and being inspired by movies. Movies are what spawned my love for Blockbuster, theaters, etc. The movies themselves are what I truly cherished and as long as there are still new movies being made, I’ll be okay.
The Lone Blockbuster
The last remaining Blockbuster is located in Bend, Oregon. It continues its operations serving the locals of its town. Stream the documentary, ‘The Last Blockbuster’ on, ironically, Netflix that delves into the operations of the Bend Blockbuster location.
By Sean Aversa
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Sean Aversa is a writer for Hollywood Insider, writing film reviews and features. Knowing from a very early age his passion for the big screen, Sean quickly gravitated towards film writing. He is excited for the opportunity to write about films and filmmakers that share his passion for cinematic storytelling. His favorite films to watch, discuss, and write about are those that are striving to find creative and innovative ways to tell stories.