Imagine a world before streaming platforms dominated our lives, a time when the concept of binge-watching was not even a thing. A world where if you wanted to watch a movie, you had to get dressed, go down to the store, and pick it up.
Of course, you don’t need to imagine it. We lived it!
Blockbuster Video, is a name synonymous with movie nights and nostalgic memories we will never be able to relive. While most of us are familiar with the demise of the largest video rental chain to ever exist, few know about its origins. Let’s take a look at the history of Blockbuster.
Who Founded Blockbuster?
Founded by David Cook in 1985, Blockbuster changed how people enjoyed movies and video games. It gave unique access to all the new releases and quickly grew into one of the biggest video store chains in the United States.
Blockbuster was on the top for a long time before many problems started to arise, ultimately leading to it shutting down permanently. Today we are going to look at the rise and fall of this iconic store that left a big mark on the history of movies and pop culture in general. So, let’s start at the beginning.
Blockbuster’s First Store
In 1985, a programmer named David Cook opened the first Blockbuster store in Dallas and revolutionized the movie-renting business forever (well at least for the time).
While there were many video rental companies around, Blockbuster stood out with its much larger catalog. Compared to the few hundred options in a normal store, Blockbuster offered more than 8,000 VHS tapes of the latest hits or the good old classics. All sorted by genre, allowing its customers to easily pick their movie of the day.
Blockbuster’s Quick Sucess
Blockbuster had a service like no other and it was something people in the 80s needed. Naturally, things were going great, and Blockbuster quickly grew into a huge company, opening around 130 stores only two years after starting.
This was only the beginning of a new world-dominant name in the movie business. Blockbuster’s growth continued in the late 90s, becoming well-known both internationally and especially across the States.
Why Was Blockbuster Popular?
Apart from the enormous number of movies they offered, Blockbuster had unique membership programs, a special type of VHS tape, a strict late fees policy, as well as a convenient store layout.
To simplify the organization process and improve the users’ experience, Blockbuster Entertainment introduced a membership card. With this card, the store could easily keep track of every customer’s rentals and also give them recommendations based on what they like.
For a time Blockbuster also offered many no-rewind VHS rentals, making the movie-watching experience much more enjoyable.
To ensure that all of their movies were available and accounted for, the store had a late fees policy that required the customers to pay additional fees if they returned the movies later than the initial due date.
And lastly, the Blockbuster stores organization was on a different level. Every movie and video game was organized by genre and release date. There was a special area for new releases, ensuring that the people were up to date with the latest releases.
The Modernization of Blockbuster
With VHS players becoming a thing of the past, Blockbuster had to update their services and introduce their customers to the new digital world. To make this transition possible, Blockbuster Entertainment was acquired by Viacom in a deal worth $8.4 billion, expanding its catalog and reaching a total number of more than 6,000 stores around the globe.
As the DVDs were released, people were eager to let go of their VHS players and enjoy the next big media trend. However, DVDs weren’t as popular in the late ‘90s as they were in the early ‘00s and thus, they were much rarer. Luckily, there was one amazing store for everyone who wanted a DVD movie – Blockbuster.
Blockbuster video chains were among the first rental stores to start renting DVDs, well before it was a popular method of watching movies at home. They started that business early, knowing that it would eventually be extremely worth it. And they were right!
In the early ‘00s, there was a need to look for a new modern way of renting movies. And they found it – the internet. In 2004, Blockbuster started online renting, allowing their customers to receive the movies in their homes.
Netflix vs Blockbuster
With new technology advancements releasing faster than ever before, only the quickest and most innovative companies were the ones who could succeed. And this is where Blockbuster made one of their biggest mistakes that would eventually cost them their business.
With movie streaming becoming a thing many people started to use and enjoy, some companies tried to capitalize on this trend. Netflix, a company founded in 1997, took the lead in this business and quickly transitioned to a streaming service in the early 00s, becoming the most popular movie site in the world.
And you know the worst part? In 2000, Blockbuster refused to acquire Netflix in a deal worth around $50 million.
While people still rented movies during that time, it was evident that the practice of renting DVD movies was slowly but surely coming to an end. Instead of acting on it and starting a streaming service, Blockbuster continued with their old movie-renting business, not worrying about the modernized future.
However, more and more people transitioned to movie streaming, and by the time Blockbuster realized, it was too late to compete with Netflix.
By refusing to fully utilize the internet and continuing to focus heavily on physical rentals, Blockbuster was overshadowed by Netflix’s easily accessible movie library and user-friendly site. And that’s when the new king of movie renting was crowned.
The Fall of Blockbuster
With Netflix’s enormous popularity and Blockbuster’s short-sighted business decisions, things started getting worse and worse.
By 2010, Blockbuster was nowhere near its dominant state as before. They lost many customers, went into huge debt, closed many stores, and laid off a lot of their employees.
Ultimately, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, marking the end of a once-great company. Their stores continued operations until 2014 when all of the corporate-owned stores were officially closed.
A few Blockbuster stores persisted in their efforts to preserve this brand’s legacy, but by 2019, all of them had closed their doors, leaving only the single last Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon. This last-standing Blockbuster place now functions more as a museum than a functioning retail store, reminding people of one of the most loved and missed pop-culture phenomenons ever.