The last VCR was produced in 2016 by Funai Electric in Osaka, Japan. But the VHS tape might be immortal. Today, a robust marketplace exists for it.
On Instagram, sellers tout videos for sale, like the 2003 Jerry Bruckheimer film "Kangaroo Jack," a comedy involving a beauty salon owner — played by Jerry O'Connell — and a kangaroo. Asking price, $190.
If $190 feels outrageous for a film about a kangaroo accidentally coming into money, consider the price of a limited-edition copy of the 1989 Disney film "The Little Mermaid," which is listed on Etsy for $45,000.
There is, it turns out, much demand for these old VHS tapes, price tags notwithstanding and despite post-2006 advancements in technology. Driving the passion is the belief that VHS offers something that other types of media cannot.
"The general perception that people can essentially order whatever movie they want from home is flat-out wrong," said Matthew Booth, the owner of Videodrome in Atlanta, which sells VHS tapes in addition to its Blu-ray and DVD rental business.
Streaming, Booth said, was "promised as a giant video store on the internet, where a customer was only one click away from the exact film they were looking for."
But the reality, he said, is that new releases are expensive, content varies among subscription services and movies operate in cycles, often disappearing before people have the chance to watch them. In that sense, the VHS tape offers something the current market cannot: a vast library of moving images that are unavailable anywhere else.
"Anything that you can think of is on VHS tape," said Josh Schafer, 35, of Raleigh, N.C., a founder and the editor-in-chief of Lunchmeat Magazine and LunchmeatVHS.com, both of which are dedicated to the appreciation and preservation of VHS. "It was a way for everyone to capture something and then put it out there."
There is, Schafer said, "just so much culture packed into VHS," from reels depicting family gatherings to movies that never made the jump to DVD.
A reminder of what was
Michael Myerz, an experimental hip-hop artist in Atlanta who has a modest collection of VHS tapes, finds the medium inspirational. Some of what Myerz seeks in his work, he said, is to replicate the sounds from "some weird, obscure movie on VHS I would have seen at my friend's house late at night, after his parents were asleep."
For people like April Bleakney, the owner Ape Made, a fine art and screen-printing company in Cleveland, nostalgia plays a significant role in collecting. Bleakney, who has between 2,400 to 2,500 VHS tapes, views them as a byway connecting her with the past. She inherited some of them from her grandmother, a children's librarian with a vast collection.
Bleakney's VHS tapes are "huge nostalgia," she said, for a child of the 1980s. "I think we were the last to grow up without the internet, cellphones or social media," and clinging to the "old analog ways," she said, feels "very natural."
Many other VHS fans agree that nostalgia plays a major role.
"I think that people are nostalgic for the aura of the VHS era," said Thomas Allen Harris, a creator of the television series "Family Pictures USA" and a senior lecturer in African American studies and film and media studies at Yale University.
"So many cultural touch points are rooted there," Harris said of the 1980s. It was, he believes, "a time when, in some ways, Americans knew who we were."
Developed in Japan in 1976, the VHS tape brought all kinds of entertainment home.
"In its heyday, it was mass-produced and widely adopted," said Dave Rodriguez, a digital-repository librarian at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "So if anyone — a movie studio, an independent filmmaker, a parent shooting their kid's first steps, etc. — wanted a way to make moving images cheaply, easily, and show them to the world, VHS had you covered."
Some who are rooted in the world of VHS hope that what is currently an underground culture will become mainstream again. Record players have enjoyed a surge in popularity, and it's possible that the same thing could happen with the VCR.
But whether or not the VCR makes a complete comeback, VHS enthusiasts agree that these tapes occupy an irreplaceable place in culture.
"It's like a time capsule," Myerz said. "The medium is like no other."