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Family Video Beat Blockbuster Every Time

The modest video rental service is closing. Where am I supposed to rent ‘The Proposal’ on DVD now?

No, Family Video didn’t have every option, but its shitty B-movies were a portal (enclosed in a plastic DVD case) to a sweeping, adventurous night. 

Keith Hoogland, CEO of Highland Ventures (which owns Family Video), announced on Wednesday that the video-rental chain is going out of business. “The impact of COVID-19, not only in foot traffic but also in the lack of movie releases, pushed us to the end of an era,” he said in a statement.

The closure ought to be no surprise. DVD sales and video rental stores have been steadily declining in popularity. Frankly, it’s impressive Family Video lasted this long — it beat out both Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.

It’s a testament to the power of Family Video (and a sad reminder of the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking on the economy). The humble Midwestern entry into the video rental world was secretly the premier video rental service. (Sorry, Redbox.) 

Family Video, which at its peak operated more than 800 stores primarily in states like Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, wasn’t as flashy with its decor as Hollywood Video or as thorough in its movie collection as Blockbuster. Still, the chain never missed — especially if you wanted adult videos. The rumor they had a whole back area of X-rated videos? Turns out many stores actually had a hidden porn hub in the pre-Pornhub era.

It’s through Family Video that I fell in love with film. My dad set up a makeshift media console in our unfinished basement — an old bulky TV sitting atop a ramshackle table under which a DVD player resided on the ground. I loved every second down there watching Cameron Diaz’s oeuvre. Here’s where I discovered classics like Mamma Mia! and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. We saved the war flicks for the big flat-screen TV in the living room. 

Over the holidays in 2009, while my family watched Chicago Bears football games upstairs, I waded through that year’s Golden Globe nominees, circling around the less-intense comedy-category nominees like The Proposal, (500) Days of Summer and Up in the Air. This 12-year-old budding film critic thought Julie & Julia lacked sufficient food montages but loved seeing Fergie and Kate Hudson sing in Nine. What started as a task to occupy my time turned into a love for award season. 

Based on Twitter’s reaction to the news of Family Video closing, I’m not the only cinephile who grew up on the store’s collection of perfectly awful direct-to-DVD films.

Blockbuster simply wasn’t able to live up to its name. Like the Ocean’s movies you’d find in their bargain bin, the chain started strong only to falter as its ubiquity grew. Family Video, however, is like The Big Lebowski — a second-rate offering morphed into a cult classic.

While Family Video was bound to shutter at some point, I’ll still miss driving past its largely unassuming entryway in the suburbs. A simple illuminated glass tower lured you into the triangular-roofed establishment that had a movie for every occasion. Unlike Blockbuster, Family Video rarely sold out of new releases. Though this blessing came with a bite, as I was left with a big decision to make.

Do I rent 17 Again or Sherlock Holmes? Moreover, could I sneak a copy of John Tucker Must Die through checkout while my dad mulled over which box of candy to buy? He always chose Swedish Fish, and I always picked hot Zac Efron. (Sorry, Robert Downey Jr.)