The Last Blockbuster is a documentary film that celebrates the institution that was the video store, albeit through the lens of a mom-and-pop shop busting corporate entity.
It's also a decent love letter to video stores.
There's a scene in the 2019 movie Captain Marvel where Carol Danvers crash lands into a Blockbuster. Being that this movie takes place in the 90's, it is set up in a way that is supposed to be nostalgic, much like films set in the 80's often feature indoor shopping malls. When I first watched this scene in a movie theater it became clear to me that video stores had become a defining symbol of 1990's culture… and then I felt old.
The Last Blockbuster is a documentary film that celebrates the institution that was the video store, albeit through the lens of a mom-and-pop shop busting corporate entity. To be fair, it does highlight the ways Blockbuster gobbled up its competition, but mostly applies a rosy filter of fond nostalgia over it all.
Which is ironic because, as the movie points out, they once had the opportunity to buy a little company called “Netflix” but passed on it. We all know how that turned out. Capitalism, like time itself, is a flat circle.
Now there exists just one remaining Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon which is run by the so-called “Blockbuster Mom” Sandi Harding. The film highlights both Sandi's journey in managing the last surviving Blockbuster, still standing as a result of being an independent franchise, and the downward spiral of what was once a corporate giant.
You'll mostly see a series of talking heads in this doc including people both related to Blockbuster- its former CEO, owners of now-defunct Blockbuster franchises- as well as various comedians and actors who wax on about fond memories of picking movies every Friday night.
Featured heavily throughout the commentary is Kevin Smith, who I imagine is now on standby for any nerd culture documentaries like Batman is to the Bat Signal.
The documentary provides a fairly interesting look into the rise and fall of Blockbuster. The doc makes the case that the video store chain wasn't totally killed by Netflix but rather a combination of factors. They cite the 2008 global recession, Blockbuster's inability to attract financing through a difficult time period, and customer's dissatisfaction at their late fee policies.
Ordinarily I might believe this was a carefully crafted narrative from Netflix's legal team, but apparently this movie was completely in the can before Netflix signed on as a distributer. You can believe whatever you want about the fall of Blockbuster and the video store market in general, but it's hard to look past the impact that streaming services (as well as kiosks like Redbox) had on standalone brick-and-mortar stores.
The information portrayed in this film isn't particularly revelatory. You could find the same details through five minutes on Wikipedia. Personally I think the film works better as a nostalgic trip down memory lane than a thesis on Blockbuster's demise or even the staying power of Bend, Oregon's last store.
For film buffs looking for a nostalgic voyage, though, the documentary should prove entertaining enough.
Where to watch: Netflix, ironic as it is
Best for: Cinephiles, 90's kids, fans of Kevin Smith
Shall I stream it? Perhaps.