Tired of Streaming? Free Blockbuster Libraries Offer an Alternative.

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The neighborhood lending libraries have popped up around North America, offering a nostalgic return to DVDs.

Streaming services have transformed the way we view film and television, leaving us isolated on our couches, subject to the suggestions of an algorithm. But a small group of film buffs with a fondness for physical media are hoping to lure people back into the real world — one abandoned newspaper box at a time.

The Free Blockbuster project began in 2019, when Brian Morrison, a film and television producer in Los Angeles, and a former Blockbuster employee, painted the company’s blue-and-yellow logo onto an old box and filled it with DVDs. For many, the brand evokes memories of the trip to the video store with friends or family to browse the shelves and to pick up a film and a bag of popcorn.

“There’s a nostalgia attached to it that is resonant for a whole generation,” he said of the nearly obsolete Blockbuster chain, which operated thousands of video rental stores worldwide at its peak in the early 2000s. “It means something to a lot of people.”

The Free Blockbuster movement slowly gained traction and eventually, more than 200 other community boxes had opened from Louisiana to Canada and even Britain — though it is unclear how many of them remain operational.

“We are social animals; we want to go out into the world and engage with each other,” said Mr. Morrison, who keeps a lending library outside his home. He often refills it with DVDs and VHS tapes including TV series, horror movies and, on occasion, signed independent films, and said that it had encouraged interaction with his neighbors.

Andrew Kevin Walker, a Los Angeles-based screenwriter said he had visited secondhand stores especially to seek out films to leave in the boxes — including two sealed James Bond box sets and a copy of “Cobra,” a 1986 film written by Sylvester Stallone. “It’s an opportunity for people to really share their love of cinema, whether it be their favorite guilty pleasure, or their favorite movie of all time,” he said.

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