Yesterday, the undisputed king of home video Blockbuster announced it would close its last 300-or-so stores and discontinue its DVD-by-mail service. The announcement was rather anti-climactic — Blockbuster hasn’t factored into most people’s lives since roughly 2005. But as child, and on into my teens and early college, movie rental shops played a huge role in the formation of my tastes, and probably my personality even. (I even applied to work at a Blockbuster as a summer job between semesters in college. They never called me back).
Should we weep for Blockbuster? Netflix and its kin have rendered Blockbuster obsolete, so it’s just a matter of Darwinian disruption, right? And there’s even a bit of poetic justice here, considering all the mom-and-pop video stores Blockbuster drove out of business over the past two decades (though in an incredible feat, my favorite old haunt, Columbus’ North Campus Video, actually outlived the Blockbuster across the street).
Yet still it’s hard to not feel a twinge of sadness. To be honest, I’m probably projecting some other feelings here. Yes, video stores can be places for movie fans to commiserate and we lose some of that with the shuttering of Blockbuster. But independent rental shops were always far more communal than the sterile, mass-produced world that opened up beyond Blockbuster’s blue-and-yellow awnings. Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time when watching a movie at home meant cramming onto a couch with family and friends, with nothing to distract you but the smell of microwavable popcorn. Or maybe I’m just getting old, and I miss the days when achieving the perfect evening was as simple as picking up a stack of plastic movie encasements.
Whatever it is, it’s worth looking back on the era of Blockbuster as it coincides nicely with the glory days of home videos. So pour one out for the last boy scouts, the Billy Crystal love interests, and Jack Palance’s biceps, as we remember the rise and fall of Blockbuster, as told by some of the store’s most iconic titles:
1. Rookie of the Year
1985: Blockbuster founder David Cook opens the first Blockbuster store in Dallas, Texas.
2. Home Alone
1993: Blockbuster becomes a multi-billion dollar company and, after buying up various rivals, it sits alone at the top of the home video market.
1994: Viacom buys Blockbuster for 8.4 billion
1999: Blockbuster goes public
2000: Blockbuster turns down an offer to buy a one-year-old company called Netflix for $50 million. Today, Netflix’s market capitalization is $19.37 billion.
6. Blank Check
2004: Carl Icahn starts amassing 17 million shares of Blockbuster
2004: Four years after spurning an offer to buy Netflix, Blockbuster starts its own DVD-by-mail subscription service.
8. True Lies
2005: Blockbuster claims to bring an “end to late fees,” but all that means is that if you fail to bring the item back within 7 days, Blockbuster charges you the retail price of the item minus the rental fee.
9. Executive Decision
2007: CEO John F. Antioco leaves the company after a dispute with Icahn over compensation. Antioco with a $24.7 million severance package.
10. On Deadly Ground
2010: Blockbuster files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
11. Point of No Return
2011: Dish Network buys Blockbuster for $234 million
12. The Long Kiss Goodnight
2013: Blockbuster announces it will close its remaining 300-odd stores