Netflix vs. Blockbuster: An Argument for Brick and Mortar Rentals in the 21st Century


I push the squeaky metal glass door open to the store known as Blockbuster. I’m here to return one B-movie for another one to feed my copious addiction to way-too-cool-for-its-own-good genre fiction.

I drop the movie off and get a half-assed “hello” from one of the cashiers. I take one look around and the place is dead. I can’t even remember what I came here for. I start browsing. All I can hear is the static of the old TVs playing what is probably “Schindler’s List,” but the poor quality of the sets make it look like an Ed Wood movie and the cashiers talking about what level they are in “Skyrim.” I grab my movie and head to the counter.

The college-age, bearded cashier scans my movie without much thought. Clearly, he probably wants to be somewhere else … and maybe I do, too. He’s nice enough, and I even hear the other cashier explain the plot of the movie “Super 8” to a customer over the phone which is impressive in this day and age of the too-ironic-to-be-good-at my-minimum-wage-job attitude. I leave the store to hop in my gas-guzzling truck to head home to the cool tune of about $10 in gas ( I live two miles away – an over exaggeration, but not by much, sadly).

If I still had Netflix, my movie viewing night would have gone a little something like this: I pop open my laptop, pick the genre I want and start watching whatever I want and, if I get bored, I just stop the movie and start a new one. Hmm. Easy as pie. And we know how we all love pie! Because we are American! Hoo-ah (except meat pie — is that even real!?).

Considering you probably watch your movies through Netflix and your movie watching life is just as easy, if not more easy than what I just wrote, you’re probably laughing at my one of many Blockbuster experiences and wondering why the hell I don’t just wake up … oh, but I have. It’s time to wake you up, sirs and ma’ams.

In 2009, there was this mostly forgotten Bruce Willis starring sci-fi flick entitled “Surrogates” – forgotten by most, except me. The film was about a world where people live vicariously through robot surrogates that make them stronger, faster, etc., all done from the comfort of their own home. Meanwhile, there is a small fraction of society that prefers the real deal to what the surrogates provide (these people can be seen as an obvious reference to the Tea Party). And Bruce Willis is the guy caught in between everything. I had Netflix when the movie came out. Then I deleted it. Why would I do such a thing?

The movie reminded me of something. Film lovers will agree when I say that films provide more than just a passionate look into another world for us and a reflection of our own. Films go hand in hand with experiences that enrich us as people, storytellers, etc. Where would movies be if storytellers simply sat at home watching everything on a computer, never bothering to experience what the world and the movie viewing world has to offer, good or bad? Movies would suck. Well, movies already do suck, but there are some good ones, I declare! And we wouldn’t have those gems without the experiences of the artists behind it.

On one occasion, I was searching for “The Boondock Saints: All Saints Day” so I could introduce the right-wing vigilante brothers to a couple buddies of mine. While searching, I ran into a man gazing at the first film. He had the famous line “In nomine patris” tattooed on his right arm. When he saw me reach for the sequel to the beloved cult classic, we struck up an interesting conversation. He asked how I knew about the films. We must’ve talked for at least fifteen minutes. We talked about the journey of the film’s director, Troy Duffy, and what our thoughts were on vigilantes in general and what our favorite films and books were that dealt with the subject.

When I go to rent a movie, I have something to come home and write about — not just the movie but the whole experience. I run the risk of picking something bad, I run the risk of spending too much money, but so what? I also run the risk of meeting new people, encountering obstacles I may hate. I’m experiencing something intimate between me, these four walls and whatever B-grade schlock I choose to indulge on.

Why do you think filmmakers like Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino and movie critic Stephen Hunter all preferred the grindhouse theaters to the more convenient upper class theaters? Because the whole experience gave in to their wild movie watching imaginations. There is no imagination involved in sitting at a computer browsing randomly through film after film. The grindhouse feature houses were to regular movie theaters what Blockbuster is to Netflix, in a way. They provide a hand in hand experience for us.

There’s always been this fight of trying to eliminate consequences from everyday life, mistakes, but what if those are what define us as human beings? Those consequences and those mistakes are certainly what is the backdrop to most of our beloved films. So stick with your Netflix and your laptop. It’s fine. Me? Call me a dinosaur, call me a Nazi, but I think I’m going to stick to the zit-faced bearded kid behind the counter and the bad TVs and the candy and sodas and the old couple browsing through the horror section stupefied because they think this is supposed to be the comedy section. I’ll stick with all that because that’s my grindhouse. That’s my experience.


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