The Last Blockbuster

Last night I finally managed to watch The Last Blockbuster on Netflix. Of course, being the age I am, I have video store nostalgia. I won’t say that I was a huge fan of the Blockbuster company. I was more of a small video store person. When my family purchased our first VCR a friend of the family gave us a bootleg copy of Gremlins. That movie was watched so many times over and over – it’s probably one of my most watched movies that aren’t in the regular re-watch rotation. The other bootleg we had was Robocop, also watched many times, but not as many Gremlins.

Then a video store opened right near our house. A world of movies opened up. Now I know we went there regularly, but not being a family that spent tons of money there – I’m going to say it was about once or twice a month. However, there are a couple of specific experiences I remember with the store. The first was when my father allowed my 5-year-old brother (I would have been 10) to rent Rambo First Blood Part 2. That went down as a family legend of a story that managed to get brought up time and time again. There was however no blowback about me, a 10-year-old watching it (because of course my friends had all seen it). In the grand scheme, it was fairly amusing.

I do think this whole thing came around because when I was a teenager my father (who once again rented Rambo for a 5-year-old) had an issue with me (once again originally I was a 10-year-old during the Rambo incident) seeing R-rated movies. Down so far that even when I was 15 he had a major issue because I had seen People Under the Stairs at the movie theater, which in all fairness is a fairly soft R mid-budget horror movie. It was, however, the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater.

Back on topic though, video stores. The other cherished memory of the video store near our house was when I had chicken pox. The Friday or Saturday of going through infected my parents were going out on the town and my grandparents came over to watch us. As part of this, my parents rented us a couple of movies. While I don’t remember the second one – the first was Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. That movie has since become a constant companion in my life – and all thanks to that video store.

Now in Amherst on Leavitt Road there was another video store near my grandparent’s house. I refer to this as the “good video store”. While the one near me was the size of a cell phone store, this one was about 3-4 times as large. The best part about it – it had an updated printed pamphlet that listed all the videos in stock. 10 year old me always wondered why they never changed the typo and or why Flash Gordon was listed twice. Right there it is listed as Flash Gordon and beneath it Flesh Gordon, 10 year old me thought this should have been an easy thing to catch and correct. Whenever I managed to twist my parents to go to the good video store – I looked over that pamphlet on the whole drive over. While it was a much better selection, I had to make sure it wasn’t something I could have just gotten at the smaller store. I also had to have second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth choices planned out just in case movies were out of stock. That moment in Clerks where Randall goes to the good video store – that’s how 10-year-old me felt going to this one.

Then my family moved to Vermilion when I was 12. One of the new experiences was being able to take off on a bike all over the town. Which did mean I go to the local video store (called The Movie House) on my own. It was an interesting mixture. The selection fell more in line with the good video store from Amherst – but it was the size of the small video store where I lived in Elyria. The best part about the store was that they sold movie posters and cardboard stand-ups once they were done with them. My bedroom was plastered with movie posters from this place – some movies I hadn’t even seen like Circuit Man – the poster was just awesome. There were other places to rent in town, but this was the best place to go.

Then as the mid-90s occurred gone were the independent video stores. Chain video stores started creeping in. All those smaller chains mostly were taken over by Blockbuster by the early 00s. The good thing about independent stores was that if you had late fees you could balance them around between stores and decide if it was worth paying back fees to see some new movie. Sometimes you could have late fees at a dozen different stores, but that kind of financial teenage/early twenties juggling disappeared when there was only one business in town. So blockbuster and I played the late fee game and I only caved when I really wanted to watch something. I would pay my late fees and new rental fees – and start the cycle again.

I would say this type of financial irresponsibility lead me to prefer the independent stores, but I played the same game there. I just wasn’t a fan of the sterility and lack of personality that defined the chain stores. It was what it was. I had an easier time getting a copy of a movie – at the price of a soul (sorry Blockbuster, just how I feel). I was more likely to go in and buy a used VHS or DVD than I was to actually rent. They became retail outlets for me. I could rent it for 3.00 or own it for 6.00. Factoring in possible late fees, it was mostly cheaper to buy. I ended up owning hundreds of VHS tapes and DVDs.

Then along came Netflix, not the streaming Netflix – the DVD Netflix. We had the 3-movie plan where you could have 3 movies out at any given time. Now knowing that it took about 2 days to get there, I was good at returning them almost immediately after watching by dropping them in the mail. We had new movies 3-4 times a week in the house. Life was good and I paid around 15.00 a month. I was fairly done with renting from blockbuster anymore – though I still shopped there for used movies from time to time.

Of course, by the time Netflix started streaming, I was fairly done with purchasing movies. This was around the same time Blu-Ray arrived on the scene. I do have Blu-Ray movies, but my collection is only about 10% of what my VHS or DVD collections were at their peak. I pay my monthly streaming subscriptions – paying more a month than I paid for video rentals in the past – but less than half of what I paid for cable in 2006. For me renting was over (with the exception being the random rent to watch Amazon movies).

The documentary though, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it though more for the lost art for the lost mecca of the video store. Blockbuster itself doesn’t really hold a large nostalgia for me. The celebrity cameos and personal stories were fantastic. If you are looking for video store nostalgia or Blockbuster kicks – it is definitely worth watching. I think this will be the best of breed on the subject.

As the movie was winding down the end of it was finished in 2019. Over the last year of the pandemic and Covid, I had to google. Did the last Blockbuster, the most fragile of creatures, survive 2020? I’m pleased to announce they did. They also mention this during the end credit clips. One day though, it will close its doors for good. I know another video rental chain in Ohio, Family Video, recently went out of business. I’m guessing the Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon may actually end up being more than the last Blockbuster. It may end up being the last member of any video rental chain. It may actually survive long enough to be the last rental store on the planet.

Who knows – but as far as endangered creatures go – this one is beautiful with its blue and gold plumage.