Brow Beat

For a Video Store, Blockbuster Sure Made Some Terrible Videos

At the suggestion of a colleague, I’ve been watching a lot of old Blockbuster Video commercials over the last few days. They are incredibly delightful on several levels.  There’s the usual late ’80s/early ’90s video awfulness, reminiscent of the video-trash ephemera that the amazing site Everything Is Terrible traffics in.  There’s also the never-ending string of promotional gimmicks that were a hallmark of Blockbuster, giving one the impression of a slow, inevitable, decades-long collapse.  (My personal favorite: the quaint video of 50 trailers for upcoming Blockbuster releases, complete with a score card so you can track which ones you’ve rented.)

But seeing these actors exude ecstatic delight inside those video-lined walls also evokes some un-ironic fondness for the store. While I never liked the idea of a massive corporate video outlet putting all the delightfully snooty clerks at independent shops out on the streets, it was still comforting to know that no matter what friend’s house we ended up at on a Friday night, all the movies we could ever want were just a few blocks away.  And the relentless messaging in these ads—that Blockbuster MEANS entertainment, that it IS the definition of a good night (“make it a Blockbuster night!”)—actually resonates with a considerable portion of my adolescence. 

If you, too, at some point spent more time in a Blockbuster choosing a movie to watch than it would actually take to watch the movie, these ads will likely bring back fond memories and shudders in equal measure.

Elsewhere in Slate, Dana Stevens writes about the end of Blockbuster and the resilience of great independent video stores.