As Blockbuster announced on Wednesday that it would be closing down its remaining 300 stores, we are brought to memories of our evenings strolling through those vaguely damp aisles, considering which backup VHS to rent because, somehow, they still haven't gotten that copy of *batteries not included back yet. Blockbuster was a special thing to many of us who grew up in the '90s, offering unique experiences and ushering us into new kinds of movies. Here are a few of our recollections...
I went on my first sleepover when I was in the fifth grade. My mother wasn’t a big fan of them – she claimed that it was because she never experienced one growing up, and therefore didn’t see the point, but I always suspected it was because she thought I would embarrass her if left to my own devices – and so it was a big deal for her to allow me to spend the night at my friend’s house. As we waited for the pizza to be delivered, we stopped at our local Blockbuster to pick out some movies to watch, and as we combed the aisles for something we could agree on, she came across the first Scary Movie.
My friend had older brothers who had seen and loved the film, and so she was determined to see it too. She picked it up, along with two or three other, more age appropriate films, and told me that her father would never notice when he went to check them out. It didn’t take much for her to convince me to go along with her plan, and she was proved right when her father wordlessly handed over the stack of movies to the clerk, along with his own picks. We waited until her parents went to bed to break out the film, which was filled with jokes we didn’t understand because we were far too young. But we had a great time anyway, feeling like rebels for eating candy and watching and R-rated movie at midnight. (I was a very uncool child.) However, my joy was short-lived because when I returned home, I promptly told my older brother all about the movie I had seen the night before in an attempt to show off. Of course, my mother eventually found out about my tiny act of rebellion, and promptly banned me from any more sleepovers, on the basis that she couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t do the same thing again. So, thank you Blockbuster, for teaching me to think twice before I brag about breaking the rules.
I remember going to Blockbuster with my dad every Friday to rent a movie for the weekend. I would venture down the endless rows of highly stacked video tapes looking for something to fill the weekend. That something almost always had and explosion and a PG-13 rating on the box. On one of these trips, I found a decrepit copy of Star Wars. I watched, and thoroughly enjoyed, but I noticed that a lot of things I knew about Star Wars were absent from the movie. Scenes like Darth Vader telling Luke, "I am your father," which I knew from their place in pop culture's central nervous system, curiously made no appearance. So, the next Friday, I went back to Blockbuster with my dad looking for answers, only to see that there was in fact a sequel: The Empire Strikes Back. I watched Empire and finally heard the iconic line my ears had been burning to hear... but noticed that the movie ends on a cliffhanger, and a sad one at that. "There must be more to this!" I thought. Finally, after one more torturous week of waiting, my dad and I made our way back to Blockbuster for one final tape, Return of the Jedi, and I finally finished the Star Wars saga. Blockbuster gave me my first memory of Star Wars, and taught me that researching a movie before making the trip is probably a good idea.
I'd like to say that my time with Blockbuster was filled with only good memories, but that would be a lie. Yes, there were more movies than I could have ever hoped for, but the problem was picking just one movie to watch, especially when you went in with a group of your friends. Attempting to pick a movie for a Friday night sleepover with a group of girls is pure insanity. There's no way that they're all going to like the same thing. One friend wants Charlie's Angels while another wants Bend it like Beckham while another wants the new documentary that has just come out (that one was me), which obviously no one wants for a sleepover. So how do you pick? One person doesn't just get to call the shots. The movie is the staple of the sleepover; it has to be a democratic decision.
Well, if you were in my group of friends you played a little game called "Elimination." Here are the rules: We have 20 minutes to run around the store and collect a total of five movies each. Then we all lay the movies on the ground so we can see our collection (I'm sure the Blockbuster employees loved us for that). Then we all "eliminate" the movies for various completely sane reasons: "I don't want to watch Charlie's Angels, Drew Barrymore's voice bothers me," "You can't put in Lord of the Rings every time," and "Casey, we're not watching a documentary tonight." Within an hour (if you're lucky), you should have a winner. Unfortunately, the game isn't fool proof. There is one infamous night that my friends like to bring up every now and then when this girl and I got into a yelling match over which movie should win. We were there for close to two hours, and no one left happy. So no, Blockbuster wasn't the best place for friendships to thrive, but it was quite the experience.
We were a Hollywood Video family.