Probably my favourite teen film of the 1990s, Empire Records had a distinctly profound effect on me. Released in 1995, the film is a day in the life of the various teenage/young adult misfits working in the Empire Records music store, along with long-suffering manager Joe (played by Anthony LaPaglia). Boasting future stars such as Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler and Ethan Embry when they were young and fresh-faced, and also a terrific soundtrack, this film really captures the mid-90s grunge heyday era. It also really made me want to work in a music store when I got older!
Damn the Man – Save the Empire!
The 1980s had a lot of great teen movies. I loved John Hughes films, especially The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful, not to mention other classics such as Say Anything and Valley Girl. The 1980s were pretty much the pinnacle of teen movie output but the 1990s had some classics too and for me, Empire Records is right there at the top spot.
Back in the day when renting videos was the thing (seems so long ago now!) I can remember taking the video out of the Library (it had a video lending service too) so many times. It would have saved my parents money just buying the video for me to be honest but I wasn’t really in the habit of purchasing things to keep back then. It was more exciting renting videos for some reason.
Taking the Buzzfeed quiz ‘Which Empire Records Character Are You’ made me reflect back on this movie. I own both the Regular Edition DVD and the Special Fan Edition DVD which restored about 16 minutes of cut-footage. I watch the film every couple of years and I still really enjoy it though perhaps not as much as I did back then. It was critically panned when it was released but it gained something of a cult following when it was released on video (and later DVD).
My favourite character was Lucas (played by Rory Cochrane). He just seemed so cool to my 14 year-old self. I wanted to be him and date him (he was a very early movie crush for me). His anti-establishment and loner attitude really spoke to me when I was a teen.
I also really loved Debra (Robin Tunney), the girl who shaved her head in the bathroom after a bad night and hated nearly everybody. She also rode a Vespa to work – which I thought was really amazing at the time!
The plot is basic and simple. There are no arcs or situations to overcome (except for the potential closure of the store). It is just simply like being transplanted into the life of these characters for a day (and boy did I want to have that life!). The characters were quirky and endearing and great to spend time with. From rebellious Lucas, to crazy Mark, artistic A.J. to shoplifter Warren, these characters drew me into their lives and although we only really get a snapshot view of each of them on this particular day, I still cared for these characters and wanted them to defeat ‘The Man’ (Mitchell Beck – the owner of Empire Records who plans to sell the independent store to a music chain).
The various characters all had their own plots and felt real and relatable rather than actors playing a part; this is what really made the movie so accessible for me. It’s not a particularly deep film but it is fun and entertaining. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a fun piece of 90s nostalgia.
Fun quotes from the film:
“I don’t feel I have to explain my art to you, Warren.”
“In the immortal words of The Doors ‘the time to hesitate is through!'”
“What’s with you? Yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from the Karate Kid. What’s with you today?”
“The long arm of the law has embraced our dear friend Warren.”
Other similar films you may enjoy:
Pump Up the Volume
Dazed and Confused
Can’t Hardly Wait