In the 1980s up to the early 2000s the video rental industry was huge. With the rise of streaming the industry has died out for the most part outside of a few outliers that have defied the odds. At the height of video rentals Blockbuster was by far the largest in the industry. I personally never had much experience with the franchise as the company never really made it to my part of the country. Locally we mostly had Hollywood Videos and Family Videos. The real irony is that the first Blockbuster opened up in my area just a few years before the entire business went bankrupt. Growing up in the 1990s I fondly remember rental stores as my family would regularly visit them. For this reason I was really interested in watching the movie that I am checking out today, The Last Blockbuster. The Last Blockbuster is a compelling story about the rise and fall of the video rental industry and the one little store that defied the odds to remain open while the rest of the industry collapsed around it.
If it wasn’t already clear to you, The Last Blockbuster is a documentary about Blockbuster and the video rental industry in general. For the most part I would say that the film is comprised of three major elements.
Most of the beginning of The Last Blockbuster is about the rise and fall of the movie rental industry. This part of the movie delves into the industries’ beginnings as small mom and pop stores sensing a business opportunity capitalizing on the obscene initial cost of home videos, until its eventual collapse due to the rise of streaming and other ways of watching movies. Much of this is told through the rise and fall of Blockbuster which went from the industry leader to a company that went bankrupt around decade ago. This discussion features interviews with former executives as well as former franchisees of Blockbuster.
Growing up when video rental stores were in their heyday I will say that there are elements of this that I was already pretty familiar with. The movie does a good job mixing in some facts that I was unaware of though. I wouldn’t say that the movie goes into an exhaustive history of the industry, but it focuses on the main elements of the rise and fall. Along with the history lesson, this element of the movie also reminiscences on what people enjoyed most about this era of movies. Film buffs that have fond memories of the era of going to physical stories to rent movies should really appreciate this aspect of the movie. In general I enjoyed this element of the movie as it does a good job paying homage to a bygone era in movie history.
A majority of the second half of The Last Blockbuster comes from the title itself. After going bankrupt around a decade ago, Blockbuster stores across the United States as well as the world have started going out of business. Many people probably already thought Blockbusters no longer existed. Well it turns out that they didn’t all go out of business. The last remaining Blockbuster in the entire world is located in Bend, Oregon. The second half of the movie mostly goes into how this lone Blockbuster has survived for so many years. A lot of this is shown in how Sandi Harding, the manager for more than a decade, runs the store despite no corporate structure being in place to rely on.
In many ways this element of the movie feels like a story of defeating the odds. When all of the other Blockbusters in the world went out of business, this one Blockbuster has continued to survive despite everything being stacked against it. This can all be attributed to how hard Sandi Harding has worked to try and keep the store in business despite all of the obstacles. I honestly thought this was the documentaries greatest strength. I found the story of this one little Blockbuster to be really compelling. This is where the documentary draws most of its heart from. If the premise of the movie intrigues you at all, you will likely love this aspect of The Last Blockbuster.
The final element of The Last Blockbuster features interviews with various celebrities about their experiences with Blockbuster and video rental stores in general. These elements are interspersed throughout the movie to emphasize other elements of the story. I honestly thought this was the weakest part of the entire documentary. I will say that some of the celebrities actually add value as they had first hand knowledge of working in these type of stores and had some funny stories to add. Others felt entirely pointless and didn’t really add anything meaningful to the movie. I personally would have cut some of the celebrities out of the movie entirely. These interviews aren’t horrible, but I think the movie would have benefited from spending more time on either of the other two elements.
I honestly really enjoyed The Last Blockbuster. The various celebrity sections can be quite hit and miss as some feel like a waste of the time. Outside of those sections though the documentary is a loving tribute to a bygone era in the history of movies. The film does a good job telling the story of the rise and fall of video rentals. It is more than just a history lesson though as it also does a good job recreating the feeling of renting a movie from a store like Blockbuster. This is combined with a story about the survival of the last Blockbuster store despite the entire industry collapsing around it. There is heart to this element including a community supporting its local store and a manager that has a real dedication to keeping the store in business.
As The Last Blockbuster is a documentary, your opinion of it will likely depend pretty heavily on your interest in the movie’s premise. If you don’t have fond memories of video rental stores and could care less about Blockbuster, the movie likely won’t appeal to you. Those that are intrigued by the premise though or have fond memories of that era should really enjoy their time with The Last Blockbuster.
We would like to thank 1091 Pictures for the screener which was used to write this review.
The Last Blockbuster releases on Digital, and VOD on December 15th, 2020.
Recommended For: Those who have fond memories of video rental stores or are interested in the tale of a little rental store overcoming the odds.
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Movie Completionist is our never-ending movie review journal where the ultimate goal is to watch, write about, and curate as many movies (both new and old) as humanly possible. For more information on this post series and a list of shows already covered, see this post.