Empire Records has one of the unlikely cult fanbases in all of filmdom. More or less disavowed by the studio, it hit a mere 87 theaters instead of the planned 1250 when it opened in September 1995, without benefit of an ad campaign or Hollywood premiere. (Director Allan Moyle feuded over final cut with Regency, the film’s production company and Warner Bros., its distributor). It grossed just $273,188 in its entire run (that’s $526,900 adjusted for inflation!), and was mostly trampled by critics. In his one-star review, which is so full of lazy summary that he almost seemed annoyed to be writing it, Roger Ebert said “If the movie is a lost cause, it may at least showcase actors who have better things ahead of them.”
Empire Records has all the ingredients of a DVD bargain-bin curio. Yet every April, I receive a flood of emails alerting me to the impending arrival of “Rex Manning Day,” the fake holiday from Empire Records, on a date that isn’t even mentioned in the film (it shows up on a flyer). Every April 8th, “Rex Manning Day” inevitably becomes a Facebook and Twitter trending topic.
Which brings us to the obvious question: People obsess over this movie? Over this movie? I could barely remember Empire Records, which blurred together with Mallrats (which came out a month later) and a handful of similar films. I’m obsessed with most dumb ’90s things, and yet this one completely passed me by. 20 years after the fact, I wondered, could I watch it again and understand?