The Blockbuster amusement park that never existed and we wanted to go to

Blockbuster Park Master Plan | Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners

Cinema and theme parks are very close. Both are shows to have fun and have fun. Disney has Disney World in the United States and Disneyland in Europe. Universal has its Universal Studios franchise in Hollywood, Florida, Japan and Singapore. And Warner Bros operates parks in Australia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. These are just three examples of the close relationship of the entertainment industry and how much cinema gives of itself. No wonder Blockbuster wanted their own amusement park.

Today Blockbuster is a memory of times past. Technically there is only one establishment under this name in Bend, a town in Oregon, United States. Establishment that continues to use the brand but is far from what was the great chain of video stores Blockbuster . This last redoubt is visited by curious and moviegoers every year and they even made a documentary about it titled The Last Blockbuster (2020) . But at the time, Blockbuster was synonymous with watching movies at home.

When the only way to see movies was through From movie theaters or on television, VHS arrived, a technology that allowed you to record a movie on cassette tape. Its acronym says it all: VHS, Video Home System . And the Home thing was so verbatim that VHS created an industry that consisted of renting movies to watch at home. Those of us who comb gray hair keep a pleasant memory of these establishments, either by renting VHS tapes, DVD, Blu-Ray or video games in these formats.

And in the United States, a name rose above the rest. In the United States and around the world. Blockbuster became the video store equivalent of McDonald’s in fast food or Coca Cola in sugary sodas. In 2004, it had more than 9,000 stores around the world. Your key to success? Offer a broader catalog than the competition and that was constantly renewed. That and that you could rent the titles for a longer time.

Entrance of the last Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon

Why not a theme park?

Blockbuster made a name for itself in the movie industry. More than anything because through the rental of video tapes, the sector discovered a vein with which to recoup part of its investments in films that perhaps had not performed well at the box office. There are cases of films that have even generated more money thanks to the rent than from their release in theaters. A curious example is Street Fighter (1994). Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the mythical Raul Julia, among others, this film continues to make money to Capcom thanks to its rental in video stores, television broadcasts and, in recent years, its availability on streaming platforms.

The point is that Blockbuster became part of the culture of the late 20th century. Renting movies at a Blockbuster came naturally to many. At a time, it should be remembered, when there was no Netflix or company. Either you bought the VHS on duty (later DVD and Blu-Ray) or you rented it. And for this you had to wait half a year from its premiere in theaters. Add to that the initial price tag for VHS was out of reach for most. Hence the success of the video store as such.

And if something makes money, in the United States they are experts in getting more out of it. Returning to the beginning of this article, the large film production companies have their business diversified beyond the making of films. And the theme park is one of its mainstays, with millions of visitors willing to ride its attractions and recreate moments and scenes from their favorite movies. Blockbuster wanted to get on that bandwagon.

Concept of what Blockbuster Park would be. Source: Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners

2,500 acres for Blockbuster Park

Briefly. Blockbuster was born in 1985. Its golden age will last until 1997. It is at that time that this chain of video stores became an icon of the culture of the late twentieth century. From there, the history of this franchise becomes somewhat erratic, its direction changes, bad decisions are made, the public ends up getting tired, Netflix emerges and, in addition, it goes passed from hand to hand after several acquisitions. Finally, Blockbuster disappears as such in 2015, leaving only one establishment standing that maintains the name but has nothing to do with the owners of the brand.

So let’s go back to the 90s. Blockbuster is a huge hit. In part, thanks to the entrepreneurial skills of Wayne Huizenga and his associate John Melk . Initially dedicated to waste management, he became interested in Blockbuster in 1987 when it had only 19 video stores. His entry into the franchise is part of his takeoff, buying competing establishments throughout the United States. Some say that at one point, he bought a new video store every day.

Well then. One of Huizenga’s ideas back in 1994 was to create a theme park under the Blockbuster brand. The complex was to have an amusement park, a water park and a sports stadium. All this on 2,500 acres on Interstate 75 in Florida, as an article from the time of Los Angeles Times explains. The idea was to create a theme park for tourists comparable to the successful Disney World .

But things did not go well. The more than 30 million dollars of the time invested by Wayne Huizenga in the project were useless. Money invested not only in the construction of the park but in obtaining the necessary permits to build in a natural area near the Everglades and that had against those who lived there. On paper, the park was going to feed 16,600 people and generate $ 64 million in taxes alone, but these promises did not change the bad press the theme park had among the local population.

They even baptized it with a derogatory name, Wayne’s World , in reference to its owner and making a pun with Disney World and the 1992 hilarious comedy of the same name.

Facilities of Blockbuster Golf & Games, the little brother of what was to be Blockbuster Park

A theme park that was not

We know that Blockbuster Park was never built. For the bad of some and the good of others. But what was this theme park dedicated to cinema going to be like? To movies and sports, actually, since to begin with I was going to have a baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins with about 45,000 seats. And a hockey stadium for the Florida Panthers with 20,000 seats. Not to mention golf and tennis facilities.

From there, the complex was going to have its own theme park dedicated to cinema, studios to shoot movies, television , record and broadcast music and radio, a virtual reality center, movie theaters, shops, restaurants, aquatic facilities, etc. A very ambitious plan, come on.

The reluctance of the local population influenced that the park was not finally built. The initial investment had already contributed to this. And we must add the technical and environmental complications of building in the Everglades during the government of Bill Clinton, aware of the protection of the environment. Returning to the article by Los Angeles Times that deals with the subject, those responsible for Blockbuster they expected that the relevant authorities would give them permission to start building in the next 14 months (the article was published in July 1994).

Finally, that permission was not necessary. That same year, Viacom bought Blockbuster at a price of $ 8.4 billion. Curiously, the previous year both companies had had contacts for a reverse purchase in a kind of merger that did not take place. With the acquisition, the project stalled and was eventually canceled.

Abandoned sign from an old Blockbuster in Dubuque, Iowa Credit: trebomb / Flickr

What happened to Blockbuster Golf & Games?

Blockbuster is a very well known brand. Less well known was this failed project to create a large thematic amusement park that exploited the brand of video stores to create sports facilities and other businesses near or far from the cinema. And, sometimes, the idea of ​​Blockbuster Park, which did not materialize, is often confused with Blockbuster Golf & Games , its little brother.

Blockbuster Golf & Games did come true. What’s more, those who were in it keep a pleasant memory. It is a reduced version of what Blockbuster Park wanted to be. It opened in 1994 and closed in 2001. Located in Sunrise, Florida, it is currently owned by the Swedish franchise IKEA . In its facilities you could find arcade machines with video games, batting cages for baseball fans and a golf practice range. What was said. A reduced version of what was to be Blockbuster Park.

Another similar idea that was not carried out was Blockbuster Block Party . It was about creating entertainment complexes but for adults, rather than for the whole family. Restaurants, game rooms, an installation of laser tag

This is basically the story of the Blockbuster theme park and other similar projects that wanted to expand and diversify the business of the most popular chain of video stores in the world. Who knows if if it had been successful it would have kept Blockbuster going. Of course, evolving to current trends with platforms such as Netflix . Precisely, it began by renting VHS and DVD movies by mail and today it is an online platform. Blockbuster tried in his later years but was late and wrong.