(NEXSTAR) – Twenty years ago, you may have found yourself at a Blockbuster hoping to find the perfect VHS for a movie night. Now, you can’t even find a Blockbuster unless you live in Bend, Oregon.
But thanks to one group and a number of “founders,” you can, in a way, relive the magic of picking out a movie. Known as Free Blockbuster, you may already be familiar with the group and its locations, which total over 340 across more than 30 states and three other countries.
It all started in the late 2010s, Free Blockbuster secretary and co-founder Brian Morrison told Nexstar. There were a few factors — a local newspaper abandoning its newspaper boxes, a friend moving, and another friend creating a short film about working at Blockbuster — that put the idea of creating little free movie libraries into motion.
Morrison says Little Free Libraries, which have been around since 2009 and can be found worldwide, “absolutely inspired” Free Blockbusters.
In 2019, a year after the Blockbuster franchise wound down to just one location (found in Bend, Oregon), the first Free Blockbuster was unveiled in Los Angeles. Later that year, the first Free Blockbuster box outside of California opened in Oklahoma City. Morrison credited a local influencer, commonly known as “VHS and Chill,” for opening the OKC location more than 1,330 miles away from the inaugural box.
Social media, especially Instagram, has been invaluable in Free Blockbuster’s growth. With users like VHS and Chill sharing images of the free movie libraries online, potential clients are able to see their nearest blue box — or whatever sort of receptacle is being used — and the titles they hold.
Slideshow: Examples of Free Blockbusters
Starting your own Free Blockbuster is as free as you want it to be. Morrison said that while the group sells boxes, stencils, and more to create a movie library, you could use any item and make your own designs to build your franchise.
Morrison explained that you also don’t need to copy the blue and yellow reused newspaper boxes like the original locations. He pointed to locations in Canada, for example, that don’t have newspaper boxes like many American cities do. Instead, franchises there rely on old pieces of furniture. In Australia, old milk crates are used while in Mexico, it’s old produce crates. Many of the locations throughout the U.S. also have different designs, like those overseen by VHS and Chill, which are red and black.
“Whatever is available in your community, put some movies in it and make it clear that they are free,” Morrison said. You may, however, want to add a sign that encourages “TAM LAM” – take a movie, leave a movie. “I did not have those words — take a movie, leave a movie — on the first few and I think some people thought it was kind of like a free box. Like, ‘Hey, take a bunch of whatever you want,’ rather than a little free library.”
When it comes to filling your Free Blockbuster, Morrison said the content should be family-friendly, with content you would expect to see at an original Blockbuster.
More details on how to start your own Free Blockbuster, and to have it added to the site’s map, can be found here.
While Morrison isn’t able to discuss much of the conversations they have had with Dish Network, which now owns the trademark on Blockbuster, the two continue to talk. In the meantime, Morrison said they hope to continue being able to use the trademarked material.
“We are in contact with them,” Morrison explained in regard to continuing to use Blockbuster’s branding. “We are still figuring out what this looks like in the long term, but they haven’t asked us to stop yet.”
He added that Free Blockbusters’ founders won’t be sued by Dish.
“Maintaining a relationship with Blockbuster in the future will require changing our logo to meet some design guidelines that we’ve been given,” Morrison explained. “We are looking into that, we’re exploring that now.”
Representatives from Dish did not respond to Nexstar’s multiple requests for comment.
Ultimately, while visiting a Free Blockbuster may be nostalgic for you, it’s not exactly what the group is hoping to cause.
“I think of it as a future project,” Morrison explained. “We’re building something that can exist for the next generation.”