Which Top VHS Rentals of 1996 Should You Watch Today?

Power ranking the top rentals from Blockbuster's final year, pre-Netflix
Which Top VHS Rentals of 1996 Should You Watch Today?

In 1997, Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings started a mail-based movie rental service in Scotts Valley, California that would change the world of home entertainment forever – so here are the best-of Blockbuster rentals from their final year pre-Netflix.

Flash back to 1996 – the Bayside Boys’ remix of “Macarena” dominates the airwaves. President Bill Clinton is well on his way to defeating Simpsons punchline Bob Dole and securing a second term in the Oval Office to the delight of the White House interns. Michael Jordan is back on the Chicago Bulls, and he’s ready to start his second three-peat. And, in video rental stores across the country, business is booming, and no Blockbuster clerk or customer has any clue that, in ten years’ time, the videocassette tape itself would cease production and the beloved blue-boxed rental company would begin uttering its death throes – well, besides Randolph and Hastings, presumably.

Today, the phrase “VHS rental” sounds about as antiquated as “gramophone charter” would have to a person in 1996 – but, within the list of the Top 10 tape rentals of 1996 as surveyed by Billboard, there are contained some timeless classics that hold up better than the rapidly degrading magnetic tape contained in the artifacts themselves. Here are the best video rentals from 1996 as they would play to modern audiences, starting with…

Primal Fear

An Edward Norton-led legal mystery thriller centered around a sex pest priest could have been a massive hit in any year post-Spotlight, but Primal Fear was early to the party on crimes involving powerful Catholic pedophiles. Primal Fear earned Norton his first of three Academy Awards nominations, and it did nothing to distract from the deluge of gerbil jokes at Richard Gere’s expense that were so popular at the time.

James and the Giant Peach

A claymation movie adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s many orphan stories, James and the Giant Peach remains one of the most weird, watchable and wantonly creepy children’s movies in media. It’s only fair that, following in the footsteps of the mid-to-elder millennials, each new generation of kids gets to experience nightmares of pirate shipwrecks and centipedes with human faces – not to be confused with the Human Centipede.

The Birdcage

Back in 1996, this Robin Williams and Nathan Lane-led masterpiece was shockingly progressive in terms of its portrayal of the LGBT community – and, sadly, it’s still pretty radical in that respect. Despite the fact that the VHS of this movie would probably earn a library in Tennessee a couple dozen bomb threats should it ever be found on the shelves, The Birdcage marked a major step forward for satire in film as it expanded the list of topics that mainstream audiences were ready to laugh about.


Oh yah, this one’s still pretty popular, dontcha know? Obviously, the Coen Brothers’ smash hit dark comedy about a podunk, snowed-in kidnapping, murdering, criminal conspiracy still holds up considering the TV adaptation continues to be a critical darling with its fifth season wrapping up just last month. But as good as the FX show may be, nothing beats William H. Macy, Francis McDormand and Steve Buscemi scuttling around in the snow. Real good, then.

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