What’s going on with Blockbuster? The video rental giant was believed to be dead after it ceased most of its operations and shut down its website in 2014. In recent weeks, however, fans discovered that its forgotten website is waking up again.
The new landing page, which has been active since November 2022, is accompanied by a cryptic message: “We are working on rewinding your movie.” Loading the site often results in an error message, but when fans discovered it they took it as a comeback teaser.
Is it really possible that Blockbuster could return, and, if so, what does that mean for the current streaming industry?
The Fall of Blockbuster
For context, it’s important to know how Blockbuster’s downfall came about. The movie rental franchise went from being ubiquitous in the 1990s and 2000s — with around 9,000 global locations at its peak — to shutting all but one of its stores in a few short years. Its fall from grace came from a series of poor management decisions that crippled the company, along with a failure to change with the times.
In 1997, Blockbuster was offered a lucrative exclusive DVD rental deal by Warner Bros. that would have split revenue 60/40 to the studio. Blockbuster rejected the offer, which resulted in Warner Bros. lowering its DVD prices to spite the rental industry.
In 2000, Blockbuster made a decision it’s surely still kicking itself for: turning down the opportunity to purchase up-and-coming mail-order DVD rental company Netflix. It’s probably for the best. Had Netflix suffered from the same mismanagement, it probably never would have become what it is today.
The final nail in Blockbuster’s coffin also came in 2000, with its decision to partner with Enron. A corporate giant with its finger in every pie, Enron’s business was rife with fraud and corruption. Within a few years of the deal, Enron was sitting before the Supreme Court for financial fraud and finally filed for bankruptcy in November 2004.
In the following years, Blockbuster valiantly held on while customers dwindled and its franchises shut their doors one by one. By the time the company was bought by Dish Network in 2011, it was clear that Blockbuster as we knew it was over.
Is a Comeback Possible?
Blockbuster’s cryptic message is by no means confirmation of the company’s return, but it raises the question: Is a return possible?
It certainly doesn’t seem likely to compete with major streaming services. In its old format of franchised stores, the costs of locations, employees, and hard-copy media would be astronomically high compared to an e-commerce company. If it were to become a streaming service, could it really offer something different from major competitors?
If Blockbuster comes back, it should be something entirely its own. The main thing Blockbuster can trade on is its name and all the nostalgic feelings fans have attached to it. If Blockbuster can recapture the feeling of Friday night pizza and a movie with friends in simpler times, it can take my money.
Polygon writer Maddy Myers suggested the rental house could potentially become a guardian of hard-copy media. The gaming industry has not yet fully shifted to a subscription format. New games have very high price tags, and old games and the consoles to play them are no longer distributed. Plenty of movies and TV shows aren’t available to stream, especially older ones. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could go to Blockbuster and rent a PlayStation 1 and the disc for Final Fantasy VII? While you’re there, maybe you want to pick up a Blink-182 CD and the box set of “The Real World” season one.
There are plenty of people who would love to see Blockbuster fully embrace the ’90s revival. The final Blockbuster location, in Bend, Oregon, has become a tourist attraction. In clothing and other products, the decade is certainly selling. We’ve seen an upsurge in modern shows trying to recapture the episodic, more wholesome feel of ’90s TV. So why not physical media rentals?
Maybe we’re all just looking for a way to get off the internet for a little while to have Friday night pizza and a movie.