A Eulogy for Blockbuster Video

As you no doubt have heard, Blockbuster video is calling it quits. There is no business model to support bricks-and-mortar stores that supply movie rentals. The delivery systems for media consumption have changed so radically over the last decade, and Blockbuster has failed to keep up.

The reasons for its demise are obvious. But still, it’s remarkable that it’s gone. Blockbuster was once so ubiquitous in America. It was the 800 pound gorilla gobbling up all the mom and pop rental stores around the country. It was unstoppable. Until it got stopped. And now it is no more. There has to be some kind of a life-lesson here—certainly a sermon illustration (but I digress).

In any case, I ran across a “eulogy” to Blockbuster today that fascinated me. It highlights the communal experience that Blockbuster once provided:

We shopped in video rental stores not just for the movie experience, but for the experience of the search. There was a sort of sense of community to the act itself.  And in this way, there was really a connecting thread between the shared communal experience of seeing movies in a theater, and the era of the video rental store. Just as theaters remain our temples for experiencing first-run films together as spectacle, as shared events, the video store was our place of worship for a different kind of movie experience together. We stopped by, we searched, we discussed, we chose, and we had only a limited window to watch the movie before it was time to make the trip back to the store and worship again.

Nobody enhanced that communal movie-shopping experience like Blockbuster. People like to dismiss chain establishments for their sameness, but the truth is that simple sameness is the appeal. It replicates the sense of the communal feeling even when you’re far from your own real community. This is important for our rituals, after all, and I suspect we appreciate the deception. Why resent Blockbuster for providing that sense of comforting familiarity to our movie ritual, when it’s a trick we want played on us, because it enhances the ritual experience?

I recognize what this writer is talking about. All of it is true. Part of the movie-watching experience was the visit to the store. What’s fascinating to me is how silently this familiar ritual both entered and left our lives. Everyone who’s old enough can remember the experience of regularly visiting a video store. But can anyone remember the last visit they made? Probably not. It was there, and then it was gone. And we hardly even noticed until our patronage of such stores was so small in the rearview mirror that we couldn’t even see it anymore.

It appears to be gone for good now. And no revamped business model can change that. So long Blockbuster.


  • Lauren

    I wonder how many used-to-be-a-regular-church-goers remembers their last visit to church? Will we one day look in our own rearview mirrors and wonder what happened to the church buildings we all visited? Will our grandchildren know the experience of shared worship? Yep…I see a sermon in this eulogy too.

  • Darius T

    There is at least one bricks and mortar video store that is still surviving, and, from what I hear, even thriving: Family Video (sometimes coupled with Marco’s Pizza). Their prices are more than competitive with Redbox, and they have many more options.

  • Ian Shaw

    Family Video in Michigan is thriving like crazy. New stores being built, great selection/prices. I’m still old school and actually enjoy going to the video store and renting a movie.

    Though for a brief moment in my life, myself and a good buddy of mine were convinced we should quit our jobs and enjoy our movie aficionado-ship by working at a Family Video store for our own life of ‘Clerks’ ala Dante and Randall.

  • James Bradshaw

    “Part of the movie-watching experience was the visit to the store”

    I thought I was the only one who missed video stores. Netflix is good but their streaming options are lacking (and sometimes you just don’t want to wait for the mail). Video stores also all had their own distinctive and somewhat reassuring aroma. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it was the multitude of plastic cases … or maybe it was the giant-sized bags of Twizzlers.

    • Matt Martin

      They were ahead of their time. In 2000, they signed up to deliver movies via the internet. Problem was, the contract was with Enron. Just how greed killed Enron, greed killed Blockbuster. Their late fees were enormous and it gave Netflix a place to sweep in and start nibbling away at Blockbuster.

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