Going to Blockbuster Video on a Friday or Saturday night used to be a thing. We all did it. All over the country. All over the world.
At one point there were over 9,000 Blockbuster stores worldwide.
When my wife and I were dating and for a couple years after we married, we were fans of The X-Files. I was in the Air Force stationed in Tokyo. We’d make a weekly trip to Blockbuster in the neighborhood near the base to get caught up on Fox Mulder and whatever else caught our eyes. The base had a video store. The nearest Blockbuster had about a million more titles available, and going there was fun, an experience. Years later we’d take our kid to Blockbuster to grab a few movies and games for the weekend. They stocked everything and even had a pretty strong Japanese movie and TV show collection at the stores we visited in the States.
Netflix’s documentary, The Last Blockbuster, does a great job capturing what that Blockbuster thing was. The doc won’t change your life but it’s a good watch.
You’ll learn a lot about Sandi, the general manager of the last Blockbuster store still in operation anywhere in the world. It’s in Bend, Oregon. She and her family seem like great folks.
The Blockbuster name is now owned by Dish Network. Go to Blockbuster.com, which was established years ago to fail to compete with Netflix’s streaming service, and you’ll see the Dish branding.
The Last Blockbuster brings Kevin Smith and other cinephiles, some you’ve heard of, most you probably haven’t, together to discuss how video stores first started — it was a Supreme Court case, actually — and the rise and fall of Blockbuster. Lauren Lapkus (The Big Bang Theory, Orange Is the New Black) narrates.
Yes, it deals with that moment when Blockbuster was worth billions, was still the most dominant video service on the planet, and had the opportunity to gobble up Netflix for a mere $50 million. That turned out to be the turning point for both companies, and for the corporate giants that owned Blockbuster then and have owned it since. Viacom lost billions in the aftermath.
Netflix and Amazon Prime rule a diverse streaming universe that includes Hulu, Disney+, Paramount, CBS All Access, and other streamers offering all the entertainment choices most could want without ever having to leave one’s couch. It’s very convenient but also a tactile and community loss. Blockbuster isn’t even an afterthought. It could have been a massive, maybe still dominant, player in the streaming space. But it’s down to one store, an outcome that’s down to some poor executive choices and a landscape that pulled the video world out from under Blockbuster’s feet. Redbox is still around but Blockbuster really isn’t.
Imagine if Blockbuster had lasted long enough to benefit from the COVID pandemic, as most of the other big streamers have.
But it didn’t. The brand itself is barely hanging on, its thousands of former stores closed and converted to something else. Blockbuster killed the mom-and-pop video store, and life killed Blockbuster.
It hit me as I’m watching The Last Blockbuster that it’s no accident it’s streaming exclusively on Netflix (DVD is available elsewhere). The documentary makes a convincing case that Netflix didn’t actually kill the Blockbuster beast. What did kill it is a bit surprising. But the very fact that the documentary about Blockbuster’s demise is airing on the service most closely associated with its death is just such a power move.
It’s in your face. Some say it’s downright mean.
It’s also hilarious if I’m being honest. It’s boss. Total baller move, Netflix. In a time when the woke-a-tron mob has everyone walking on eggshells, here’s Netflix pulling an old-school dance in the end zone. I have to admit, I love it just for that, and I liked Blockbuster.
The Last Blockbuster is a trip down memory lane for everyone who wanted to buy the VHS of Raiders of the Lost Ark when it first came out, but it cost $99 so you rented instead. And then you kept on renting, year after year, wearing out that little plastic Blockbuster card and doing everything you could to avoid late fees. Make sure to pick up some microwave popcorn.
No need to rewind.