It wasn’t exactly shocking news. It’s 2023, after all, not 2003. But it still hit me hard when Best Buy announced it will wind down sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, ending sales completely early in 2024. Physical movies will be sold in stores and online through the holidays, and video games aren’t affected by the change. Best Buy’s decision comes in the wake of Netflix closing down its DVD-by-mail business, and a move from DVDs into the streaming era.
“To state the obvious, the way we watch movies and TV shows is much different today than it was decades ago,” a Best Buy spokesperson told CNET in a statement. “Making this change gives us more space and opportunity to bring customers new and innovative tech for them to explore, discover and enjoy.”
I appreciate the statement acknowledging that it’s “stating the obvious.” It’s true that most — though sadly, not all — movies and shows are on streaming services now. But that means purchases feel less permanent. With videotapes and DVDs, as long as you owned your film and an appropriate player, you’d have the movie to watch. Now, if the streaming service shuts down or loses rights to a movie, you might lose your ability to watch it.
Streaming has its benefits for sure. Admittedly, it’s nice not to have the inevitable clutter that comes with storing the discs. And the freedom of being able to select, rent and watch the new Barbie movie without getting off my couch and going to a store is something we couldn’t have imagined back in the five-channel days I grew up in.
Buying DVDs allowed people to nerd out over their favorite moviemaker or genre, whether it was loading up on the works of your favorite director, or maintaining a shelf of nothing but James Bond films. But the weirdly specific streaming services available today let us nerd out in a different way. Horror fans can get their scare on with Shudder, anime lovers like my teen daughter can sink into the offerings from Crunchyroll and Anglophiles like me can sign up for BritBox or Acorn TV to watch cozy British mysteries or endless Royal Family documentaries.
Meanwhile, stores such as Target, Walmart and Amazon will continue to sell discs. But all that doesn’t mean I wasn’t surprised at how sad the Best Buy news made me.
Strolling down physical-media memory lane
I’m a Gen Xer, and this ain’t my first obsolescence rodeo. (Somewhere in my basement, I probably still have an 8-track or two.) I’ve co-written two books about the lost toys, tastes and trends of our past. Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? focuses on the lost items of the 1970s and 1980s, and The Totally Sweet ’90s looks at once-hot 1990s items that are fading away.
Maybe, like me, you can also remember the days when you either saw a movie in the theater, or you didn’t see it at all, until years and years later when it might show up on a random channel with the swear words cut out and commercials cut in. And then, that all changed in what seemed like an instant.
For my 12th birthday party, one of my older sisters went to that then-new venture called a video-rental store and rented not just a movie, but an entire VCR, because nobody owned one. She had to leave a $500 check in case we broke the machine — yes, a paper check, yet another once-common item I haven’t handled much lately.
And as far as TV shows go, back in the day, if you took an ill-timed bathroom break and missed that scene in The Six Million Dollar Man where Steve Austin fights Bionic Bigfoot, there was no rewinding.
So when VHS tapes and then DVDs became prevalent, I was in the right age group to understand what a joyous new thing this was and to indulge in it big time.
Browsing was as much fun as buying
Buying a movie or show was one thing, but I have outsized memories of the fun of simply wandering the aisles, whether at Best Buy, Comp USA or Blockbuster, trying to decide what to get. Pondering your choice was almost as much fun as watching the film, or even more so.
Did you want to laugh or be scared, or maybe to cry? Were you going to watch Caddyshack enough times to make it worth the purchase price? (Spoiler: You were. So, you got that going for you, which is nice.)
But the very fact that the choices were limited to what you saw in front of you on the shelves forced you to commit, something that streaming services, with their endless options, don’t do. I mean, maybe I’m the only one who’s spent an hour-plus watching trailers off Netflix or Max and never deciding on a full movie, but I don’t think I’m alone here.
Once we had our daughter in 2007, movie buying became even more of a necessity. Kids will watch things over and over and over again, so purchasing made sense. We bought everything from Frozen to The Smurfs to old Sesame Street episode collections.
Like most every parent we know, we stocked up on classic Disney films. (Remember when Walt would release only one or two a year, keeping the rest trapped in the infamous Disney vault?) When her first-ever home viewing of Sleeping Beauty ended, my toddler daughter jumped up, clapped her hands, and said, “Let’s watch it again!” So we did.
And I always assumed DVDs were all but indestructible, yet somehow, we managed to wear out a copy of the 2001 Studio Ghibli classic Spirited Away. (We bought another one, of course.)
Goodbye, and thanks for all the films
This all takes us to today, where I still have boxes of VHS tapes that I’m slowly trying to get rid of, plus smaller, thinner boxes of DVDs that are also on that path.
Endings flat-out suck, and change is hard. There’s a sentimental meme about how one day, you went out to play with your friends and didn’t know it was the last time. That statement 100% intends to put a lump in your throat, and it works. But the truth is that everything ends. We’re not still buying buggy whips and sunbonnets.
I remember in the late 1990s visiting a friend who had an exceptional collection of DVDs, comparable to a decent arthouse theater. He asked me to pick the movie we were all going to watch, and I almost panicked from the pressure, telling him I was worried I’d pick something he’d seen too recently.
“Don’t worry about that, we love all our movies,” he said graciously. “That’s why we bought them.”
The Best Buy news got me thinking about him, and all the people who so carefully curated and loved their physical movie collections. They’ll adjust, I know. I’ll adjust too. But I’m always going to be glad I lived through the time when buying home movies felt as novel as buying your own theater. I understand the need for change, but I’m still going to allow myself to mourn it.