The Blockbuster Video branch that turned away Tom Cruise

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When Tom Cruise was shooting Eyes Wide Shut in the UK, he popped into his local Blockbuster to try and sign up – but hit a snag.

Whilst there’s only one left operating in the world now (that’s going to the subject of an incoming documentary movie, that you can read about here), for a while in the 1990s Blockbuster Video was often the place you went to rent your home movies. Sure, it struggled with the move from VHS to DVD, and eventually the business would fold. But for a while? It was huge.

One particularly busy branch was located in Bushey Heath, in the Hertfordshire area of England. It wasn’t the biggest, but like all Blockbusters, it made up for that with being well-stocked with new releases. And presumably that sickly popcorn that Blockbuster tended to stock, too.

Come 1998, one individual happened to be spending a lot of time in the area. Tom Cruise was in the midst of a two-year stay in England, whilst he and Nicole Kidman shot what would turn out to be Stanley Kubrick’s final movie, Eyes Wide Shut. And presumably at a loose end one evening, Cruise duly moseyed on down to the aforementioned branch, with the aim of securing some evening viewing.

A member of staff, as you would, duly recognised the star, who was arguably at the peak of his powers, thanks to the twin hits of Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire, that had recently arrived back to back. The latter earning him an Oscar nomination for his trouble. Cruise, though, hit problems when he enquired about renting a film or two out. The reason? Blockbuster had very strict rules about membership, and it wasn’t for bending them.

At the time, the chain required all potential customers to come along with two different forms of identification. Generally a utility bill would suffice, along with perhaps a driving licence or credit card. The problem was that Cruise had neither on him. And in spite of being the biggest movie star in the world at that point, and that he was pulling in around $20m a film give or take, Cruise was not allowed membership. That the employee serving him was adamant the rules had to be followed, and thus Cruise had to leave empty-handed.

This was a story picked up by many outlets including BBC News at the time, and its report can still be found on its website, here.

There was a conflicting version of events, it should be noted. The alternative version suggested that Cruise simply popped his head around the door to enquire just what was required for membership, and promptly departed. But Blockbuster was happy to bask in the publicity created by the original telling of the tale.

“We’re delighted that Tom Cruise wants to become a member”, chirped a spokesman at the time. “But for security and mailing purposes, we need to know where our customers are. There is no special dispensation – even if you are a household name”.

The branch in question meanwhile recorded an uptick in visitors in the aftermath of the story landing, and as it told Empire back in January 1999, it ordered in extra copies of Far And Way, The Firm, Jerry Maguire and Mission: Impossible to cope with the fresh demand.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be much use to Cruise, not least because there’s a fair bet he’d already have access to copies of those. No report ever surfaced of him paying a return visit to Bushey Heath Blockbuster.

The chain ultimately closed down in the UK in 2013, when the British side of the operation fell into administration. And on the site of the former Bushey Heath store is now a waffle house. No word on whether Tom Cruise has paid it a visit, though.

Lead image: BigStock

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