Review | Film: The Last Blockbuster

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

“From 9,000 locations… Down to just one.”

The Corsicana store, once located at 614 W. Seventh Avenue, was one of those 9,000.

Corsicana’s Blockbuster Video, circa 2009. – Photo by Guy Chapman

When Blockbuster #48157 arrived in town, it was the first corporate owned video store to be established here, at a time when Movieland, Ron’s Movie Palace, and The Movie Store were the reigning champions of our weekend evenings. Blockbuster came to town sometime in the spring of 1992, though to be honest, I’ve never found the exact date when it opened. People have asked why I would want to know such a thing, which to that I respond: “You just answered my question.”

Because I want to remember.

The Last Blockbuster is a documentary about, as the title suggests, the very last of these video stores. Yes, in 2020, there is still a Blockbuster Video out there in Bend, Oregon. Managed by “Blockbuster Mom” Sandi Harding, the store still has the bright yellow walls, and the blue carpeting and trim. Harding goes out almost every morning to her local Target to buy the latest new releases for her store, and orders harder to find titles online. And yes, it’s still busy on a Friday night.

The film covers the history of Blockbuster Video, a Dallas-born chain of video stores that worked with the studios to release dozens, if not hundreds, of copies of the newest movies to line the “New Release” wall. It’s said that a new Blockbuster opened up somewhere every 17 hours, and it was the bane of every independent “Mom and Pop” and independent video rental place out there.

The irony is not lost that Blockbuster Video is now one of those “Mom and Pop” stores, becoming the very thing it once put on the endangered species list.

The Last Blockbuster, from PopMotion Pictures, covers the era of that mania, a video chain that once grew so big, it added Blockbuster Music and Game Rush stores to the market. At another point in time, there were talks of a Blockbuster theme park just outside of Miami, Florida.

So what happened?

Blockbuster was mismanaged by a series of bad corporate decisions, none so bad as the opportunity to outright buy Netflix, but turning that offer down. The recession of 2008 was the “Finishing Move” that sealed the company’s fate.

Outside of Oregon, Alaska was one of the last holding grounds for the remaining stores, but in the end, Bend is now the only one that still has open doors.

Seeing the Bend store in the film made me more nostalgic than I expected. I worked at the Seventh Ave. store in 1994, and yes, I still remember some of you asking if we had any copies of Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump behind the counter (and if we had a “back room,” you naughty rascals). The Bend store still uses the exact same “Point of Sale” system from my era, cobbled together from ancient computers that still use floppy disks.

The film’s shift from Blockbuster’s corporate history to the last store presented a well constructed timeline of events. The filmmakers spent an extended period of time with Harding and her family, and how she essentially gave jobs to all the local teenagers in the area for years, those kids eventually becoming part of her extended family.

There are a variety of other interviews throughout the documentary from celebrities whose “first jobs” were at Blockbuster, film historians, various members of Blockbuster corporate, and Kevin Smith (who featured his cult classic film Clerks prominently in a video store) providing commentary.

It’s easy to dismiss physical media these days when streaming is so much more convenient, but video stores were never about dully scrolling through a series of thumbnails on a screen. It was about going somewhere and having conversations with people about your favorite movies, planning for an in-home date night, and the thrill of the hunt.

I remember the five game/movie a week combo employees got as one of their benefits. Considering the bulk of my friends worked with me, we could rack up a good twenty selections a week, from personal favorites to the wild blue yonder of picking a movie based just off a cover.

And yes, I laughed when a former employee described hiding in the giant movie drop-off bin where customers would drop movies off, and would be met with a hand popping out of the bin like a monster to snatch the movie from them.

I, uh, I may have done that as well. To be fair, the screams made it worth it, and I apparently upheld a previously unknown company tradition.

Teenage pranks aside, the movie is a sentimental journey for those who looked forward to those weekend outings. It’s an era-rich reminder of our collective film watching history, and of the great social gatherings of coming together to talk about something exciting and fun.

As of 2020, the Bend, Oregon store is still going strong. Even after COVID-19, the business has used the shutdown time to improvise, and introduced an Air BNB experience where guests can sleep in the store and truly make it a Blockbuster night. “Wow, what a difference” indeed.

The Last Blockbuster is recommended if you enjoy a trip down memory lane, and if the above photo sparked memories of younger days and simpler times.

I saw the film early as I backed the project on Kickstarter, but the film comes to streaming services Dec. 15. And yes, you can order a physical copy to hold in your hands, even in VHS format.

On the Net:

The Last Blockbuster official site