When did VHS Tapes of movies become affordable to the masses?

The other day, I was trying to think of the time frame of mass ownership of commercial VHS tapes of popular movies and TV shows. I know that in the early and mid 1980s, most people just rented them from Blockbuster and the other video stores. At some point, they became affordable to the average person, and people began to amass their own movie collections on VHS. Did that start in the late 1980s?
Any info would be appreciated.

I seem to recall that you could buy Disney movies for around $24.95 in the mid-late '80s. If a movie happened to be a blockbuster you could also buy it on VHS for a reasonable price. I remember the Tim Burton “Batman” selling for about $15 at a local Walmart when it came out on home video.

Mid-late 1980s? Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Thanks!
I still have a bunch of VHS tapes stored in boxes. I probably have 200 or more of the commercial variety, and about the same amount of personal VHS tapes that I used to record television shows on. I bought most of the movies from the mid-1990s to early 2000s.

I remember rental clubs in the early 80s that cost over $100 to join. I worked at one in a mall that had membership fees up to $279 for highest level. I don’t remember too much more about that. We sold used tapes, but I don’t think they were very discounted. Maybe like 25% off the new prices which were often in the $89 to over $100 range.

Then, sometime by the late 80s/early 90s, things were all WAY cheaper.

No cites, all anecdotal.

To get kinda close, I remember that “Top Gun” came out on VHS and could be had for about $24.95, which was amazing, at the time.* The trick was, that you had to put up with the commercials at the beginning of the tape. That’s the one that started it, IIRC. When was that, '86?

*Something makes me think that there was also the $69.95 version without commercials. Could be hallucinating, tho.

Interesting! This is making feel a bit nostalgic…

Yeah, I still remember the Diet Coke commercial at the beginning of the Batman tape. They also had one with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for the Warner Brothers merchandise catalog.

ISTR VHS tapes of most movies being something like $40-50 bucks each up until the early 1990s, at which point they dropped, but to the comparatively high nadir of about $25 or so.

Considering that renting was under $5 for 2-3 days, and a movie ticket was only $6 or so, $25 for a movie was still astronomically high for most people, especially since (IIRC) movies came out on tape AFTER having been on cable first, and most people I knew just taped them from cable.

Movie collections in general didn’t become a “thing” until sometime in the late 1990s when DVDs came out and were priced similarly to VHS tapes, but with much higher quality and durability. Eventually they became much cheaper as well, and came out prior to being released on cable- that’s the big thing that made movie collections a big deal.


According to Wikipedia, the Wrath of Khan VHS and Betamax cassettes were released in 1983 and sold for $40 whereas most other movies would have sold for $80. But, yeah, newly released videos were priced to rent for a few years but they started to come down in price by the mid-1990s. I bought the Indiana Jones VHS three movie bundle around 1995 or 1996 and I can’t imagine I spent more than $60 for it.

I don’t know if it’s true but it looks like DVD was a real game changer for movies being priced to own rather than rent. I suspect whatever deal studios had with Blockbuster and their ilk did not apply to DVDs. Thus you could get a newly released movie on DVD for $20-30 rather than spending more on a VHS tape like you would have in 1995.

[Nostalgia Hijack] We got our first VHS player around 1984. Initially, the only thing we used it for was to records TV shows and movies off of broadcast TV (we didn’t even have cable back then). This was the principal use for VCRs at the time (I think video rental places were just starting to take off). In fact, we used to have a device that looked like the trigger to an explosive device you see in cheesy movies. It hooked into the VHS player, and you clicked it to pause the recording during commercials (and then clicked it again to resume recording after the commercial was over). Does everyone else remember doing this? Also, does anyone want to buy a collection of VHS tapes of movies recorded off the TV with no commercials? :slight_smile: [/Nostalgia Hijack]

Most films started out costing $100 or so; at one point, Entertainment Weekly magazine referred to this as “Priced for Rental” (i.e. only rental stores would actually buy the tapes, since they would make back the money in rentals). About three months later, when pretty much everybody who wanted to rent the movie had already done so, the prices would drop to $30 or so.

The exceptions tended to be (a) movies that the studios figured people would want to watch over and over again (usually animation or other titles aimed at children), and (b) boxed sets of TV shows; those started out at affordable prices.

In my opinion, the only reason the same thing wasn’t done with DVDs was, at first, there weren’t enough DVD players to make widespread DVD rental particularly profitable, so DVDs were priced to sell to the early adopters. When DVDs replaced VHS tapes as the media of choice, somebody noticed that they weren’t losing as much money as they thought when they released the DVDs at the lower price point, so they stayed that way.

I remember there being videos “priced to rent” even up until Pulp Fiction came out on VHS. Many of the movies would release at the higher prices and you’d have to wait for the used units to creep into sale bins rather than paying the $60+ prices.

IIRC the previous arrangement for video rentals was that the individual shops would buy a tape direct from the studio for a $100 or so and have the lifetime rights to that tape. What Blockbuster did differently was sign deals with the studios where they got the tapes (& later DVDs) for cheap or even free, but shared the revenue from rentals with the studios. Now everyone does that; even Netflix. Anecdotally I remember Blockbuster had two big differences from the mom-&-pop shops from when I was a kid; they actually kept the tapes on the shelf instead of just the empty boxes to take to the counter, and they had no backroom filled with adult videos. That must’ve saved a lot on space.

When we got our first VCR in 1981 the blank tapes were $25.00!

Studios tried several strategies to sell VHS tapes. The initial offerings were never intended for rental, and indeed lawsuits happened to try and prevent rentals. So the first answer to the OP is, “immediately.” That is, in the late 1970’s. I mean, $30 was a lot of money in 1979, but certainly “affordable” as far as entertainment goes.

Then they tried making them more expensive, to account for the loss of revenue to the rental stores. By 1983, some titles were $80 or more, while others remained “priced to own” (we called it “sell-through pricing”) around $20-30. Generally it was the more popular movies priced cheaper, while older and/or less popular titles (called “library” or “catalog” titles in the industry) stayed high. Those were intended for sale to collectors and to rental stores, people who were more willing to part with big bucks to have an older movie.

This stayed pretty much the same until Revenue Sharing was attempted in the late 90’s. With revenue sharing, the rental stores paid less per copy the more copies they bought. The catch was that the tape itself still belonged to the distributor - we couldn’t sell them as Previously Viewed Tapes, they had to be boxed up and shipped back to the distributor, who would remove our store labels and repackage the tapes for resale to discount stores. Revenue shared movies were the big titles, the new releases, and priced at rental, not sell-through prices (although as I said, the price per tape when down the more you ordered. But order just one, and it would be around $100.)

IIRC, sell-through prices came an average of 3 months after rental prices. So if you’d just be patient, you could get a (new, not pre-viewed) movie for $20 or less 3 months after it came out for rental, more often than not.

The last major theatrical release to be put out on VHS was A History of Violence, in 2006. Fitting in a way, I guess. :frowning:

Oh, look. Guess I could have just linked to this. That’s how I remember it as well. (Blockbuster Manager 1992-1999)

Thanks! I appreciate the info and the link.

This was one of the primary reasons I was a laserdisc collector. When discussing now why laserdisc was always a niche format, writers often point to the high cost of movies ($20-$50 for a standard one- or two-disc movie, $60 for Criterion), but in comparison to buying VHS, it was downright cheap. Often only blockbusters and children’s video were available at “sell-through” prices on VHS when first released. If you wanted anything else on VHS, you either paid $100, waited until the studios allowed used cassettes to be sold months later for $30, or prayed that the movie had enough legs to eventually go to sell-through prices. Niche movies, art-house, and catalogue titles on VHS often never went to sell through. I often owned LD movies months or years before friends could afford them on VHS, got them new instead of used, got better A/V and more features, yet spent less overall.

The first movie I remember being priced to buy was Batman. It also was the first one recall coming out less than a year after the movie came out.

The first movie I had was Hoosiers, which McDonald’s was selling for really cheap if you bought a meal there. It seemed like everyone had it on tape after that promotion.

In Australia I think it was the very early 90’s before VHS movies became cheap to buy. I ended up getting pretty much the whole disney collection for the kids. That was as smart as buying that set of encyclopedias in hindsight.

But blank tapes were always cheap, as far back as I can recall. I remember hooking two VCR’s together playing a borrowed movie in one of them and copying it onto a blank tape in the other.