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The Margin: Is Blockbuster really coming back?

Fans of throwback movie rental chain Blockbuster are keeping an eye out for some kind of remake after the company’s website returned from the dead in recent days.

A visit to now directs to a message reading, “We are working on rewinding your movie.” And on a mobile site: “Be kind while we rewind.”

The chain, crowded out first by mail movie rentals and then streaming, such as on Netflix

and Apple
went bust some 10 years ago. Some notable franchised Blockbuster stores, essentially community fixtures, remained open for a few years longer, including two on the Alaska frontier. One store, believed to be the U.S.’s very last, remains in Oregon.

At a price tag of $320 million, cable operator Dish Network Corp. bought Blockbuster and its brand out of bankruptcy in 2011 and closed all company-owned stores by 2013. Dish hasn’t done much with it since. 

Still, no spoilers in this drama yet from the ownership. Dish Network

didn’t immediately return MarketWatch’s request for confirmation that the revised website indicated rebirth of the Blockbuster brand.

Fondness for Blockbuster and the days of VHS tapes and their offspring, DVDs and Blu-rays, has increased in step with middle-age nostalgia and a Gen Z obsession for many things ’80s and ’90s.

In fact, last year, proving that irony isn’t dead, streaming giant Netflix released a now-canceled sitcom based on employees of Blockbuster’s last store.

The company’s single remaining real-life store, still operating as a Bend, Ore., franchise, has become a popular attraction, serving as a museum as much as a rental spot. It was even briefly an Airbnb listing.

An “official” Blockbuster Twitter account pokes fun at itself, even injecting its brand into news of the day from time to time. The account has given no indication of a revived business model.

Still, social media caught whiff of Blockbuster’s new message.

Some wondered if this was Dish and Blockbuster’s way of hinting they too will join an expanded market of streamers.

If so, most die-hards say it was the store experience, including staff picks and strict rewind policies, that shaped the Blockbuster that most recall.

Like in Alaska’s last two Blockbuster stores — community gathering spots and nostalgic tourist attractions that got a big plug from HBO’s John Oliver. They outlasted the others, but shuttered in 2018.

The franchises in Anchorage and Fairbanks were also once featured on the news magazine program CBS Sunday Morning in 2017. The program aired a feature on the significance of destination entertainment that these Blockbusters offered in Alaska, where movie nights and other social events supplemented rentals.

Their existence, long after the dinosaur retail chain was extinct in much of the U.S., was prolonged by relatively strong customer demand. That’s because the fast internet service needed for streaming entertainment comes at a hefty premium in Alaska compared with the lower 48.

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One niche aspect of home movie-viewing fandom that remains relatively healthy is the popularity for Blu-ray discs. The quality of these versions, often with supplemental material such as director’s notes and more, make them coveted by cinephiles especially.

The top-selling Blu-ray in the U.S. last year was “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” with nearly 1.3 million copies sold that year. Second and third in the ranking were “Dune” with around 681,000 Blu-rays sold in 2022, and “Jurassic World: Dominion” with about 619,000 copies sold.

Danny Chadwick, an editor at website Review Geek, wrote recently of his preference for Blu-ray and DVDs because of streaming’s cost and the reliability of audio and video. He also stresses the fact that when you buy a download you don’t really ‘own’ it, and of course all the special content features on discs.

“Let’s get real; sometimes streaming quality sucks. As a matter of fact, it sucks a lot of the time,” he wrote. “Even if you have the best internet connection on the block, you can’t control what happens on the server side of streaming content. Pixelation, slow loading, interruptions and more are common when streaming video content. And yet, we put up with it because we’ve convinced ourselves of the convenience of it all.”

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