You Miss Video Stores (Even If You Won't Admit It)
Lost in the void of dead '90s hallmarks like AOL disks, ludicrously sized jeans, and weird-tasting sodas with shit floating in them, we also have Blockbuster Video. Last year, 20th Century Fox recreated an entire Blockbuster store solely to promote Deadpool 2. And the last legitimate Blockbuster remaining in the U.S. has become a celebrated landmark. The location in Bend, Oregon is the subject of an upcoming documentary (which doubled its goal on Kickstarter), and even inspired its own craft beer (presumably best paired with stale Milk Duds and a worn-out VHS copy of Tombstone).
But absurd late fees and creepy curtained-off porn section aside, are people regretting the death of the video store? A little bit. And it's not difficult to see why. When Netflix hit the scene, it seemed poised to overtake rental stores, first with its DVD mailing model, and then the video streaming service. After all, why would anyone choose to put on pants like an asshole to trek outside when a few bucks a month provides a virtual video store in your own home?
That was over ten years ago. Since then, Netflix has shifted its attention toward producing original content. In 2018, 85 percent of Netflix's spending went to its "originals." Which isn't at all how a video store operates. Imagine popping by a Blockbuster and finding a "New Releases" wall full of copies of Jeff the Assistant Manager's passion project. ("It's a remake of an anime, BUT LIVE-ACTION!") Netflix streaming began in 2007, but the company didn't produce an original series until 2012. And even then, it was some middling mob show starring Bruce Springsteen's Sopranos buddy that no one remembers (if they even knew it existed to begin with). Now Netflix has essentially become HBO on steroids, not an alternative to a video store.
According to Kate Hagen of The Blacklist, Netflix's current catalog is around 3,686 films, whereas in its heyday, the average Blockbuster had "in the neighborhood of 10,000 titles." Amazon Prime has more, with over 14,000 movies to stream and more than 20,000 available to rent. But even those numbers pale in comparison to what some of the independent video stores still in existence can offer. L.A.'s Vidiots has more than 50,000 titles available to rent, while Seattle's Scarecrow Video has over 131,000. Though just how many of those films concern royal Christmas romances isn't specified.
They may not be as convenient as Netflix, but they're way ahead on the "Able to rent a LaserDisc player" front.
Netflix still has its DVD mailing service, which has 93,000 titles as of 2015, but a lot of people have forgotten it exists because it's only available in the U.S. and "doesn't even have a marketing budget." Netflix so aggressively doesn't give a shit about its DVD branch that in 2011, they tried to rebrand it as "Qwikster" -- a move so half-assed that they failed to claim the "Qwikster" Twitter handle, which embarrassingly belonged to a teenage pothead.
Most frustratingly, a lot of movies that are available on physical media are nowhere to be found in the digital realm. Screenwriter and podcaster John August looked into this, discovering that of the top 200 highest-grossing movies between 1999 and now, around 120 weren't available online. Which, unless you're really jonesin' to watch Basic Instinct 2, isn't too bad. But the further back in time you go, the worse things get. Looking at the top titles beginning in the 1970s, there was a "growing mountain of missing movies."
Part of the problem is that while physical media sits around unchanged (unless it's sneakily burgled by George Lucas), streaming services are subject to licensing agreements. Meaning that, as was famously the case with iTunes, even a movie you buy digitally might mysteriously disappear one day.
Plus, Netflix's success means that now everyone wants to be Netflix, forcing them to keep pouring money into original content because studios like Disney are pulling titles in order to launch their own streaming services. Warner Bros. is getting into the streaming game too -- which, to the chagrin of movie nerds everywhere, led to the death of the classic movie streaming platform FilmStruck. Celebrities like Guillermo del Toro and Leonardo DiCaprio rallied to save the site, to no avail. Which begs the question: Why not throw some support behind video stores, guys?
Remember how we said video stores had gone the way of the dinosaur? That's not exactly true -- unless you're thinking of those dinosaurs that continue to exist in theme parks or who solve crimes alongside Whoopi Goldberg. Hagen put together a map of all the video stores still in operation. And guess what? There's still a shitload of them!
So could we be at the beginning of a video store resurgence? Recently, beloved theater chain Alamo Drafthouse started installing old-school video stores inside certain locations. And if you need further proof that video stores were a valuable, enriching experience, just last year, Netflix launched a virtual reality video store, so you can access movies just like you used to, albeit with worse selection and a creepy Polar Express-like vibe.
So if you live near one of these existing video stores, why not pop by? And don't just go to line your pockets with complimentary popcorn. Actually rent something, goddammit.
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