I watched an interesting documentary recently on Netflix called The Last Blockbuster. The movie focuses on the only remaining Blockbuster on the planet. Who knew? Not I.
Like most people, I assumed Blockbuster died off years ago when the two outlets near our home closed. Apparently, though, some remained open longer than others until only one is still open today, located in the rural town of Bend, Oregon, southeast of Portland. The film zooms in on Sandi Harding, the woman who has managed this store for the last 15 years, and the film is definitely worth seeing if you remember having a Blockbuster in your community. As I watched, I couldn’t help but recall not only my personal memories of Blockbuster but also my recollections of renting movies both before and after.
Long before Blockbuster existed, I was excited to hear that a nearby department store had a small video rental section, and my two young daughters and I checked it out immediately. Not surprisingly, the store placed this small venue at the far corner of the building, so we had to walk through the entire store, including the toy section, before we reached the small video counter. I expected to see shelves of videos, much like the book displays at the library, but all we saw was one high-school student standing behind a dark counter, with a collection of printed sheets strewn about.
“How does this work?” I asked.
Handing me one of the stapled packets, he answered, “All the movies are listed in alphabetical order; just tell me what you want to rent, and I’ll go to the back room to get it for you.”
The packet had three pages of single-spaced entries, so I quickly looked to see if they had the one movie our girls really wanted to see: “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Sorry. No way. I know for sure that one is out.”
I glanced at the sheet again, and I saw a lot of old classics, but I really wanted something relatively new, something our girls would enjoy, and something my wife and I had not yet seen.
“Okay, how about –”
When I looked up, I realized the teenager had retreated to the back room to find a movie for another customer. I noticed, too, that this tiny space, about half the size of a one-car garage, was quickly filling up with other parents and children, all with the same quest in mind.
“Do you have The Indian in the Cupboard?” I asked when it was my turn again.
“Let me check. I’ll be right back.”
Preparing to be disappointed once more, I searched the list again, and found two possibilities for my next request: Beethoven and Beethoven’s 2nd.
Twenty minutes and six or seven rejections later and still with no movie in hand, I asked in frustration and desperation, “Do you have any family movies left in your collection?”
“I can give you an animated version of Swiss Family Robinson.”
“I’ll take it.”
Fortunately, the girls enjoyed both the film and the big bowl of buttered popcorn that we shared while we crowded together on the couch in our living room. What an ordeal to get to that point, though.
Consequently, when Blockbuster opened its first store near us, we were all amazed when we walked in for the first time. Their space was as big as the girls’ grade-school gymnasium, extremely bright, and the collection included numerous copies of all the recent releases. They, too, were arranged alphabetically with the “A’s” beginning at the wall on the far left and the others wrapped along the rest of that wall, the back wall, and the wall on the far right. And all the covers were facing outward, unlike the shelves of a library, so we didn’t have to tilt our heads to read them.
The center of the store seemed to have every old movie ever made, and these were broken down into categories such as drama, comedy, action, horror, classic, etc. Near the entrance and exit, four checkout lanes were available, and before we were actually ready to pay, we could also pick up packets of microwave popcorn, candy bars, and drinks, basically anything we might need for a movie night at home.
Typically, our visits to Blockbuster took even longer than the 20–30 minutes we needed at the old place, but the time was well spent: bumping into friends and neighbors, swapping reviews with the people we knew, and making new friends who also liked Clint Eastwood or Julia Roberts or the latest release from Pixar. Our daughter Katrina fondly recalls going to Blockbuster on a Friday or Saturday night with her friends, and collectively, they tried to agree on one or two movies to watch together. I think all the girls were especially excited, too, when they finally crossed over from the PG movies to the PG-13 category. Honestly, I cannot recall any negative experiences with Blockbuster.
Today, obviously, the streaming of movies has replaced the need for a hard-copy rental. With my Netflix subscription, I have access to thousands of movies, and I can watch them any time I want. I have over 100 films on “My List,” and I’m sure I will never watch all of them. Every week, I discover even more films I want to see. Without a doubt, I have watched more films in the last five years than I watched during the first 65 years of my life. My wife and I have streamed so many recent films that sometimes, we get halfway through what we think is a new movie before we realize we watched it three months earlier. In addition to an unbelievable selection, I can pause the film, rewind, fast forward, and also add the subtitles if the dialogue is faint or too fast. The technology is amazing, and I love it.
So, do I miss Blockbuster? Yes, in a nostalgic way. I have great memories of time spent browsing and socializing there, and I recall some favorite movies I rented, movies such as Freedom Writers, Pursuit of Happyness, and Into the Wild, among others. However, I don’t have a strong desire to go backwards, especially since our COVID 19 quarantine is still pretty much in effect.
Will I, like many people today, make a special trip out to Bend, Oregon to see the last Blockbuster and have my picture taken there? No, I don’t think so. I really enjoyed the documentary and the positive memories that accompanied it, but I cannot make that pilgrimage; I have too many other movies I want to see, and my microwave popcorn is ready and calling me.