Blockbuster, the video rental chain that's been pummeled by the rise of digital and on-demand entertainment, said it will close its 300 remaining U.S. stores by early January.
The Blockbuster By Mail service will end in mid-December.
If you are a child of the 80s, Blockbuster was likely a weekly stop to feed your jones for movies. You may even remember the rush on Tuesdays to eagerly grab one of the copies of the newest releases. By Friday afternoon, that copy of True Lies you wanted to snag for the weekend was not only not to be found on the shelf, there was probably already someone lurking around the front counter, impatiently waiting for the next copy to be checked back in.
If you were born in 1995, a time at which Blockbuster had grown a model pioneered by enterprising mom and pop stores into a national juggernaut with dreams of going global, your connection to the brand is tenuous at best. Putting it perspective, around the mid-1990's, Blockbuster announced they were going to open 300 Blockbuster Music stores, with a goal to open a total of 1000 in a few short years. Four years later, Napster was launched. Two years after that, Apple introduced the iPod.
I for one am very grateful for Blockbuster. Every weekend, alone and sometimes with as many of 30 my friends packed into a our tiny Buford Highway apartment, I devoured 10 to 15 movies in a weekend. It was a giant megachain, yet I discovered Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Fear of a Blackhat, Run Lola Run (which I watched 3 times through in one night) and John Fisher's super indie film How I Spent My Summer Vacation all on a whim.
It was 10 minutes into Vacation I saw familiar locations, and another 10 minutes when I realized I was right, it was shot in Atlanta! Watching that film as 25-year-old aspiring screenwriter was inspiring. As a comedy about a young black college student suffering through a major breakup, that was probably more true to life than it should have been, it hit me right where I lived. It was an independent film, shot in my hometown, written and directed by a guy a year younger than me, with folks that looked and sounded like my friends.
My film education started with Blockbuster. Folks complained that they had an awful thin selection (which was more about how quickly the hot new releases were out of stock than anything else). Yet, it still took me probably a good 10 years of multiple sojourns every week, before I began struggling to find something I hadn't watched or even wanted to see (other than pregnancy videos, did anyone ever rent any of the How to Videos?).
By the time I was in my early 20s, I was having to branch out--usually to Little 5 Points--and hunt for specialty stores that had the Criterion Collection, Hong Kong action, and cult films Blockbuster rarely bothered to stock. Although, that was for good reason. Excluding hits like Pulp Fiction, it was almost never hard to get a copy of the newest Miramax film even at 11:50pm on a Friday night. And a good number of foreign films we wanted to see, like Chow Yun-Fat's God of Gamblers, were only available as expensive imports. Expensive imports with Cantonese and Mandarin subtitles that pushed the English ones down to the edge of screen. Sometimes, the English subtitles weren't even visible.
The chain has been struggling to stay relevant as Netflix, Redbox, Amazon and iTunes have surpassed it. However, if it wasn't for Blockbuster and HBO, millions of kids across the country wouldn't have secretly watched the R movies their parents didn't want them to see. I'm not sure the cult of Joss Whedon would exist (no pop culture references and quotes, no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no audience who had also seen the same movies a dozen times). Nor could millions of sisters (and a few brothers) torture their families by watching Dirty Dancing for the millionth time.