For many of us, Friday nights in the ‘90s meant spending time with friends, devouring pizza, sipping soda, and debating about which movie you were going to rent. Would it be Die Hard or Lethal Weapon 2? Then, you’d hope something decent would still be waiting for you at Blockbuster.
Walking in was a whole vibe. You’d always run into people you knew, and it was so easy to get lost amongst the shelves of movies along the wall. You could smell the popcorn popping as you’d make a beeline to the “New Releases” section, hoping to see a copy of the movie you wanted. Sometimes you’d divide and conquer with your friends if there was a second or third choice.
You had to act fast, too. There were a limited number of movies available, and seeing someone debating if they wanted a movie I desperately wanted too was torture. Of course, you never wanted to seem too needy or anxious because that only made the movie seem more appealing to them. If you did walk away with your first choice it felt like a victory.
Remember the little room in the corner with the half-wooden doors that hid all the X-rated movies? My friends and I would always dare one of us to browse that section but we were too scared to actually do it. And if you wanted to rent an R-rated movie, you’d have to beg your parents to come to the store, or hope that you knew the Blockbuster employee working behind the counter who would — fingers crossed — give you “I got you” eyes and let you check it out anyway.
And then there was deciding whose Blockbuster card to use; god forbid your parents forgot to give you theirs, or that someone had a giant late fee that we had no plans to pay off. Who could forget the large “Be Kind Please Rewind” sticker plastered on each one? If you didn’t rewind the movie, you felt like a huge jerk, because that meant the person who rented it after you had to do it. Try explaining that to a kid who’s grown up with streaming.
But what sticks with me the most is the magical feeling that bubbled in my chest while renting a movie. The kids of the ‘80s and ‘90s know what delayed gratification is — you had to wait until a movie came out for months, and there was such a thrill getting your hands on it first.
Browsing Blockbuster taught me a little something about relationships, too. Walking around trying to decide what to watch with my siblings, friends, or boyfriend was an entirely different experience than you can’t get from browsing Netflix on the sofa. You had to be engaged; you had to talk and compromise. Now, one person shuffles through pictures on the television while the other (usually me) is trying not to fall asleep.
Yes, streaming movies is convenient, and not having to pay a late fee is nice. But I miss going out on a Friday night, running into people I know, and the rush you got when you weren’t sure if what you wanted was going to be there or not.
In the end, you ended up watching what you got because it still felt special to be sitting with people you loved and actually watching a movie with no other distractions.
Katie lives in Maine with her three kids, two ducks, and a Goldendoodle. When she’s not writing, she’d reading, at the gym, redecorating her home, or spending too much money online.