An Extinct Pastime: The 90s Blockbuster Video Rental Experience [Opinion]

Extinct for a reason, there’s one Blockbuster video rental store left in the U.S., and that’s one too many.

One Blockbuster remains
Trebomb (CC BY-SA 2.0 Cropped and resized)

Extinct for a reason, there’s one Blockbuster video rental store left in the U.S., and that’s one too many.

Let’s set some ground rules before we start. I’m 33-years-old and I was born in 1985. In 1990, I was 5-years-old, 10 years later, in 2000, I was 15-years-old. Try and think about how much a person’s overall perspective is formed and solidified from age 5 to 15. That’s basically all of the childhood a person can remember and it’s when you really become you.

So I’m a ’90s kid, about as legit as one can be. The birth years 1984-1988 are your definitive ’90s kids. If you were born between 1982 and 1992, you can pretty much call yourself one.

If you were born in 1998, you’re not a ’90s kid. I’m sorry, but also, it’s fine. It’s not an insult. I’m not mad at you; no one is mad at you. But the ’90s just wasn’t really your decade. This isn’t gatekeeping, mind you, I’m not the guy who created the concept of decades and time, but I do understand the concepts and so do you. So, I’m a ’90s kid and also a millennial.

I didn’t mean to be, it’s just what happened.

My ’90s cred is as follows: My favorite bands are Nine Inch Nails, Wu-Tang Clan, and Radiohead. They were really popular in the ’90s and I still listen to them all the time.

I saw Terminator 2, Forest Gump, and Jackie Brown in theaters, but not Pulp Fiction, I waited for VHS.

I’m the only person I know who saw The Big Lebowski in theaters.

I owned a plethora of Jnco jeans, they were stupid and over-priced.

I saw the first Family Values Tour in 1998.

I could go on, but you get it.

If you’re wondering what I was doing watching T2 at 6-years-old, so am I. It’s a ’90s-and-before kind of thing. My mom didn’t really see a problem with taking me to see the new Arnold movie. Sure it’s violent and rated R, but so what? Her son knows the difference between fantasy and reality. Bedsides, he loves Arnold.

The ’90s was the last decade where nobody really cared what movies their kids were watching. And really, that mentality was well on its way out, even then. My mom was just old school and was too busy working two full-time jobs to fret over what movies I was watching. I’m fine, results may vary.

When I was a kid growing up in the ’90s, aside from riding my bike and setting things on fire, the best time of the week was when me, my mother, and my sister all hopped in the car and went to the video store to pick out a movie. Blockbuster Video. Wow, what a difference. It was amazing.

Except, it really wasn’t.

First and foremost, I’m extremely nostalgic about going to video stores, it was a wonderful feeling. However, as a 33-year-old man who now knows what my mom was dealing with in regard to renting movies, wow, Blockbuster was garbage. Let’s discuss three ways that Blockbuster was really not good.

I’m going in order of least-severe to most.

If this breaks your heart, you’ve romanticized the ’90s and forgotten the truth. This is a picture of stone cold justice. Shooting Steph / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Cropped and resized)

3. The new movie you wanted to see? Every copy is checked out.

If you didn’t get to Blockbuster at the moment of door-unlock-engagement, guess what? You are not getting your copy of Medicine Man, starring Sean Connery. Which is okay, because it’s really not very good, but you won’t know that for three weeks, minimum.

At one point, and I think this was post-90s, Blockbuster even had a deal where something was guaranteed in stock or it was free. Yeah, that didn’t matter, it was still never in stock. Yes, it was free, when a different, newer release you want comes out.

Granted I grew up in a small town, and results may vary, but for me, this was a pretty defeating feeling sometimes. Being excited about a new movie and arriving to the video store only to realize you can’t have it. My stomach always dropped.

2. They run out of shelf space and get rid of your favorite classic, forever.

Okay, yes, it sucks that Milk Money is all checked out, but you’ll get around to seeing a movie where Melanie Griffith exposes herself to children for a sack of quarters, eventually. Give it time.

Until then you can rent Cool World and see if you can make it all the way to the end — I never could.

What’s that? They don’t have Cool World? Well wait that movie isn’t a new release, it came out in 1992 and this is ’94 or ’95, there is no rush for Cool World. There was no rush for Cool World when it was brand new.

Where is Cool World?

Oh, Blockbuster got rid of Cool World because they’ve run out of shelf space. You might have to wait a month before watching Ed Harris fall in love with a woman who sexually abused his son in Milk Money — watch it if you think I’m kidding — but Cool World is gone forever. If you want to see it now, you have two options. Either buy Cool World to own, (which, by the way, do not do that) or you can hope it comes on television one day. And good luck with the latter, because no network in their right mind would air Cool World. It’s offensive, not because it’s dirty, but because it’s asinine. I still need to finish it someday. I’ve been trying since the ’90s. Just can’t do it. Regardless, there’s no Netflix, no Hulu, no Amazon Prime, none of that. You just have to hunt for the weird movie.

This is what the ’90s was like. Seriously. I absolutely love the aesthetic of a video store. I love the feel, the smell, the VHS artwork, especially for horror movies. I love picking up a box, reading the description, wrinkling my nose, putting it down, and moving on to the next prospective masterpiece.

It was a great experience, but only when I ignore all the bad that came with it.

1. Their business model was as such that the only way they could be profitable was to screw customers over.

Late fees. Yes, you signed a piece of paper. Yes you agreed to let them do that. Yes, it’s still a garbage, exploitative practice. Maybe you never got a late fee, maybe you were perfect, but most people forget and/or get busy and can’t get a video back in time. At least a couple of times in their life. Blockbuster counted on this, it’s how they made most of their money.

Eventually they started getting owned by Netflix, Redbox, and something called a “torrent,” which I know nothing about.

Blockbuster tried to adapt, but it was too late. No one was interested in letting Blockbuster adapt. A billion late-fees later and the public paid Blockbuster back in spades, saying thanks but no thanks to “Blockbhster Online” or “Blockbuster Movie Pass,” not to be confused with MoviePass.

It was a bad situation, they’d run over customers enough and customers were done. So there’s one Blockbuster left, and you know what?

I don’t want to go.