Be kind and rewind: looking back on how we consumed movies from Blockbuster to today’s streaming services


Remember the good old days of going to the video store to rent movies?

Christopher Plummer, the director of Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Theatre and co-founder of the Rockland Shakespeare Company, sure does. 

The first ever VHS tape his mother bought him was “Back to the Future” (1985).

We were in the electronic store and I remember the guy saying to us, ‘Hey, would you like to buy the movie?’ We looked at each other like, ‘You can buy a movie?’” he said. 

The brand new VHS copy costed them $100.



Video stores, Plummer explained, started as “ma and pop shops.”

“It was an individual private business that would just rent a storefront and they would acquire these films, which would cost a lot of money to buy, and they would rent them out to try to recuperate the funds they put out to develop their small business,” he said. 

It  wasn’t long until the beloved Blockbuster was born in Dallas, Texas in 1985 by David Cook.

“When we first got a VCR, it was a big deal. The idea of renting films came about in the early 80s because people started to acquire them. In the beginning, they were kind of expensive,” Plummer said. 

When the VHS player was popularized in the U.S. in the mid 70s, the average cost was between $1,000 and $1,400.

In the 80s, it dropped to a range of $200 to $400. 

Plummer describes film as an “infant art form.”

“I mean we only started seeing films in the late 19th century, so it hasn’t been that long and look at how far it’s come in such a relatively short amount of time when you compare it to something like theater, which has thousands of years of a head start,” he said. 


Have streaming services negatively impacted the sense of community?


I think we’re at a phase where we’re adapting to a method of consumption of film that is still evolving.” – Christopher Plummer, director of Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Theatre


Two French brothers, Louis and Auguste Lumiere, are called the pioneers of the cinema with their invention of the camera-projector called the Cinématographe in 1895.

This led them to open the first ever cinemas in 1896.

Going to the theater is a shared experience that you can’t quite duplicate,” Plummer said. 

Some of his fondest childhood memories were going to the theater with his mother. 

She loved taking me to movies. That was our thing. Every weekend, she’d try to take me to see a movie.” he said. When I was a child, we didn’t have the proliferation of movies that we have now and we certainly didn’t have access to them. You had to literally go and buy a ticket, sit in a darkened theater and watch it. You couldn’t pull out your phone and watch ten movies at any moment in time.”

Though YouTube was the first official video-streaming site, which launched in 2005, Netflix was the very first popular video-on-demand system in 2007.

What started as a mail delivery DVD rental service in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph, Netflix was able to grow and evolve with the times, unlike the beloved Blockbuster. 

Though weekend trips to video rental stores will be well missed, it’s no doubt that many people turned to streaming service subscriptions with the pandemic.

According to a report by the Motion Picture Association, subscriptions to online video services in 2020 surpassed one billion.

In the U.S. alone, subscriptions reached 308.6 million, a 32% increase from 2019.

“I do think that [streaming services] interrupted this sense of community.” Plummer said. “However, all is not lost. I think we’re at a phase where we’re adapting to a method of consumption of film that is still evolving.” 



Are you team video rental store, movie theater or streaming?

The Rockland County Times wants to know.

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