The Last Blockbuster opens by zooming down an aisle to the coveted new releases wall, panning over classics like The Lion King and Caddyshack. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s Blockbuster’s pop culture influence was undoubtable, like The Lion King, now revered as a cult-classic, like Caddyshack, in the years since its demise.
Nickelodeon’s iconic The Amanda Show—when Nickelodeon was also at the height of its powers in the 90s—famously, at least to those raised on Nicktoons and the like, parodied the video store giant with its nonsensical parody “Blockblister”. Amanda Bynes and Drake Bell played video store clerks who also starred in homemade bootlegs of the original movies unsuspecting customers rented. When exasperated customers inevitably complained the ‘Blister crew offered an egg, clearly years ahead of Frank and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Who needs George of the Jungle when you could have George From the Jungle? It was better, “muuuch better.”
In recent years Blockbuster has continued to permeate pop culture, making a cameo in Captain Marvel. (No, it wasn’t shot at the last blockbuster. Apparently, Marvel hates good press more than it likes tax breaks.) It also made an appearance on Jeopardy, albeit for sadder reasons, with the titular last Blockbuster of Bend, Oregon, appearing as a Final Jeopardy clue.
But it hasn’t been all bleak. As headlines of the last standing store made way people began to flock to the store, as the doc shows, making pilgrimages from 15-hour drives from San Diego to international flights from Spain by a former employee who worked at Blockbuster for 9 years. “There’s this peace when you walk in. ‘The world is mine. I can accomplish anything right now,’” reminisced James Arnold Taylor, voice actor. “‘Everything is at my fingertips.’ I love it. I miss it like crazy.’” This is where the doc shines. In spotlighting the people who once roamed the store’s aisles and specific shared experiences, like the satisfying sound of a Blockbuster VHS tape snap shut, and the people still working to keep the last store afloat. Not the shiny talking heads of Kevin Smith or former employees like Adam Brody and Paul Scheer, also an “arbiter of taste”, and a slew of people whom you’ll fondly recall from VH1’s similarly nostalgic I Love the 80s and 90s series.
Like the store’s scrappy general manager Sandi Harding who joined Blockbuster in 2004 back when there were 9,000 stores and over 60,000 employees. Today she spends her days adding heartfelt personal touches to the store like knitting beanies in the store’s beloved blue and yellow colors when she’s not buying up new movies, including customer requests, to add to the store’s inventory or buying Airheads and other snacks by the boxload to sell for the store’s concessions.
Rallying behind the store are former patrons who donate money and old Blockbuster gift cards hoping to spread some movie magic on families. They also send fanmail and memorabilia the store proudly displays alongside the Russell Crowe memorabilia it inherited from the Anchorage, Alaska Blockbuster after John Oliver bought Crowe’s leather jock strap, among other things, to donate to the store in hopes it would drive business.
Sure, The Last Blockbuster has some astonishing information. Viewers, who didn’t live through it, find out the origins of the retail chain swallowing up small video stores by offering a bigger selection propelled by “rev share” where Blockbuster struck a deal with movie studios cutting them in on rental revenues instead of paying $100 to buy a movie from the studios. Blockbuster ballooned into a retail giant and was bought by Sumner Redstone in 1994 for $8.4 billion. The doc also addresses the fact Blockbuster had a chance to buy Netflix, where the doc is now being shown, but turned it down, as confirmed by a former Blockbuster CFO. He also confirmed Netflix didn’t kill Blockbuster, as many believe. (In part it was due to the removal of late fees, the very fees that spurned Reed Hastings to create Netflix.)
Unlike thousands of others less fortunate the Bend store holds strong amid the pandemic. It remained open and made headlines again last summer when it was listed on Airbnb for the bargain price of a movie rental. The store’s already been through the 2008 recession and bankruptcy, what’s a global pandemic?
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