Marissa Anwar remembers her childhood weekend ritual: Excitedly walking seven minutes with her brother to the local Blockbuster store in Waterloo, Canada, to pick out one VHS tape.
“Blockbuster was a Friday night and Saturday night institution and habit,” the 34-year-old tech consultant said. “You would go with friends and family, and especially when you’re 14 or 15, there’s not a lot of activities for you on Friday and Saturday nights except to go pick out movies together.”
The movie rental franchise, which first opened in 1985 and at its peak had more than 9,000 stores worldwide, has all but disappeared after it filed for bankruptcy in 2010. (A lone Blockbuster-branded store remains in Bend, Ore.) But nostalgia for it was triggered this week when some internet users realized its website, Blockbuster.com, had been revived with the words: “We are working on rewinding your movie.”
The celebrity news blogger Perez Hilton shared that the site was live earlier this week, and news outlets such as the Daily Mail and MarketWatch added to the buzz.
It is not clear what Blockbuster has planned, or indeed, if there is anything in the works. A search on the Wayback Machine web archive indicates that the text is months old, and Dish Network — which acquired the brand in 2011 — did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Blockbuster’s collapse is often taught as a cautionary tale about the failure to evolve, and is the subject of books, research papers and even throwback memes. Some scholars have pointed out the company’s possibly fatal decision to pass on acquiring Netflix for a reported $50 million in 2000, as well as its refusal to stop charging late fees when competitors had already done so, as reasons for its demise.
Yet for all its missteps, some think its brand still has cultural cachet. Listings from eBay show a Blockbuster shopping basket advertised for nearly $350, or “vintage,” 2000s-era Blockbuster rewards cards going for nearly $18.
Even an old, crinkled plastic bag with the Blockbuster logo is listed for $11.90.
“Blockbuster is infused with nostalgia. There used to be a real social ritual in going to Blockbuster and browsing titles,” said Tama Leaver, a professor of internet studies at Australia’s Curtin University. “Even though we know the brand has died a horrible, slow death, I think there’s an affection people have and Blockbuster has become an icon about everything that was great in the VHS era.”
Both Anwar and Leaver remember picking out films to be a social event that required compromise. Now, the average American household has between four and five streaming services, according to the consulting company Kantar.
“We’re all spoiled for choice,” Anwar said. “So, if you don’t have overlapping interests — you don’t watch the same things — you can realistically grab a laptop and go into another room.”
“I can’t remember the last time I got all four of my kids to sit down together and watch the same thing,” Leaver said. “They’re not having the same experience. I think Blockbuster was the same experience.”