I’ll Always Remember Redbox

2009, for me and my family, was the year of Redbox, and I remember Redbox as a savior when my life was otherwise in a pretty rough shape.

Right at the start of the year, my parents lost their house, quite suddenly after months of money problems I was only vaguely aware of. We moved all our stuff, as much as could fit, into my grandparents’ basement and now we started a brand-new life of living in a pretty nice house that was way too small for six people.

My parents became increasingly estranged. My grandparents became increasingly overbearing. I was going through one of the roughest bouts of puberty known to man. And my brother was annoying like all little brothers are.

But Redbox gave us solace. We couldn’t afford to go to the movies, or buy new games, or get nice clothes. But we could rent a couple movies from Redbox and spend $1 on each one.

Movies I missed in theaters became at-home hits. Iron Man, Dark Knight, Watchmen, Quantum of Solace. I half-paid attention to weird romcoms and found myself reluctantly absorbed by garbage superhero flicks. For some reason, I watched Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li TWICE, looking for differences in the R-rated and unrated versions in the single day I had it.

And, even if I didn’t watch whatever my family rented, Redbox at least meant everyone else went to another room. Peace and quiet for me to read fan fiction on the family computer.

I remember Redbox helped me explore a new love for film.

A bored university student with not enough friends meant a whole lot of time to just watch movies. And I devoured so, so many. Many bought as cheap DVDs. But that was older stuff. I got really well-versed on the 00s, and a little of the 90s. But newer films were a lot harder to come by.

Except, thanks to Redbox, I always got a chance. A couple times a semester, I’d go by the Redbox and rent a buttload of films all at once. In the fall, to catch up on summer blockbusters I missed. In the winter, to burn through all those Oscar bait awards films dominating the zeitgeist.

In a small college town with a single Carmike theater, I didn’t have much of any chance to see any “good movies” on the big screen. But with Redbox, I got to experience real great stuff. Snowpiercer, Sicario, John Wick, and Whiplash. The kind of films you watch when you’re 19 and your life changes forever. A lot of crappy biopics, too, but some films I remember forever.

If I remember Redbox for its power in 2009, then I remember Netflix for its even greater power in 2010. After Movie Gallery closed down, my family switched to the much less convenient Netflix for DVDs. A whole TV season would take weeks to get through. But then after a while with Netflix, we got an Xbox 360 that could use Xbox Live. Netflix on streaming, and back when Netflix on streaming meant access to some of the greatest TV and movies all wrapped up in one package.

And within a few months, I’d see my Dad on the couch, having fallen asleep to the same Heroes Season 3 episode for the third time in a row. I’m not sure he ever managed to finish that one.

My brother got really into anime. I watched the starts of so many sci-fi shows I never finished. Got addicted to browsing a queue and never actually decreasing it.

And, sure enough, Redbox became a special occasion movie night kind of thing, not a regular weekly purchase.

The main thing holding me back from Redbox in college wasn’t the money, but the sheer time it took to drop the DVDs back off. The only kiosk in the town was outside a Wal-Mart. Thanks to horrible urban planning, that Wal-Mart was a 15-minute drive away. Half an hour round-trip with annoying traffic, a mega parking lot, and the temptation to plunge into the Wal-Mart vortex for some groceries and come out two hours later with $40 worth of crap.

I mostly only rented Redbox movies after getting out of the nearby theater. Make it convenient and not make multiple annoying trips. And yet, the return trip was always such a bother.

Just imagine all I wasted on each return trip. Beyond just the carbon footprint and gas money, just the time it took to do something so simple as put some plastic holders in a slot and press OK. It was so much simpler, so much easier, just to pop on whatever show or film appeared on the front page of Hulu. It was certainly a lot simpler of a service than Blockbuster or Movie Gallery… But it also had a worse selection, shorter time limit, and just as much driving if you lived in the sticks.

Did Redbox actually need to exist, or was it just a symptom of car culture?

I’ll remember Redbox forever, and miss it too. My last time watching was a random day in September where I got Tag and A Ghost Story. Why those two? Well, they were cool movies and just there. And I only had to pay a dollar each.

When I moved to Japan, I had no internet in my home for the first four months. But their own rental store Tsutaya saved me from the pits of winter doldrums. Another happy routine of renting movies or TV shows almost every week.

But then, before long, my internet came on. And I just switched to Netflix and Youtube and all those other ways to watch a film. Then Tsutaya ended rentals in most of its stores in the five years since.

So, I’ll remember Redbox forever, but that doesn’t mean I was even actively using its closest Japanese equivalent. More like just the idea of it, its stark red presence outside pharmacies or in supermarkets. And when you get to that point, you know you’re in trouble.

Redbox isn’t even shutting down for lack of profit. It’s not that people aren’t actively using it, even with worse selection and degraded service. It’s mainly tha its parent company ran into huge debt and legal troubles and suddenly everything went poof. Crackle, the virgin to Tubi’s chad, is facing the same issue despite doing absolutely nothing wrong.

An end of an era, but not even one we got to see slowly fade away, like Blockbuster. This was just a poof and a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

Do you remember Redbox fondly? Let me know in the comments.

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