Damn The Man, Save The Empire: Why Empire Records Will Never Go Out Of Style

For cinema and pop culture fans, a number of dates hold significance throughout the year. According to Miss Rhode Island in "Miss Congeniality," April 25 is the perfect date because "it's not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket." In "Back to the Future," November 5, 1955 is the day when Doc Brown invented the Flux Capacitor. And February 14, 2016 was when the world was supposed to end based on Dr. Peter Venkman's sources in "Ghostbusters II." But on April 8 every year, we mustn't dwell. No, not today. We can't. Not on Rex Manning Day! 

In honor of Rex Manning Day 2022 earlier this week (why didn't this article go up on Rex Manning Day? Because we lost it at the craps table in Atlantic City until it recirculated back to us), we're celebrating the cult classic film "Empire Records." The 1995 movie from Allan Moyle follows a group of record store employees who learn that their beloved musical sanctuary is in danger of being sold to a big chain store. In a day that already includes a visit from a former pop idol, a thwarted robbery, a Harvard acceptance, a grand declaration of love, and the fallout from an attempted suicide, among other things, the gang must also band together to find a way to save their beloved independently-owned east coast music retailer.

Though it debuted in theaters to a less than stellar reaction in the mid-1990s, this slice-of-life "teen" movie finally found its audience a generation later thanks to nostalgic enthusiasts on the internet spreading the gospel of night manager Lucas, who asks the question "Do you think a bold and courageous act can change the course of history?" Now that it has become appreciated the way it should have been in the first place, there are a bunch of reasons to revisit "Empire Records," even outside the annual celebration of Rex Manning Day. 

Whether you track down a physical copy or stream it on Showtime Anywhere, here are a few of the reasons why "Empire Records" is still a must-see movie, 27 years later.

Protect endangered music

Many people make music a big part of their lives, especially when you're around the age of the "Empire Records" gang. In fact, music defines life for many people, both socially and spiritually. As pizza boy/vinyl guru Eddie says, "This music is the glue of the world. It holds it all together. Without this, life would be meaningless." 

On that same note, music is also the glue that holds "Empire Records" together. It may be because the events of the film take place almost entirely at a record store and all its characters are deeply connected to music, but its pitch-perfect soundtrack really is one of the biggest reasons behind this movie's enduring appeal.

Featuring the likes of Gin Blossoms, Jimi Hendrix, Better Than Ezra, Suicidal Tendencies, AC/DC, and more, the "Empire Records" soundtrack is filled with incredible non-mainstream jams. Years before filmmaker James Gunn became known for integrating songs into the DNA of his scripts and characters, the alternative staples in this movie were just as important to telling the stories as the words on the page. The two come together in a perfect marriage during the climax when Renée Zellweger's Gina steps out of her comfort zone and joins Berko's band on the marquee to sing "Sugar High." Without the music, the scenes in "Empire Records" would just feel fundamentally different. 

I frequently find myself spinning the vinyl version of this soundtrack as I'm working. (Yes, obviously I'm listening to it now.) But when people say that I should just stream it because it doesn't make a difference, I say that it's the difference that makes it.

Beautiful tattooed gum chewing freaks

Speaking of Renée Zellweger, how about this cast? While they all play their parts very well in "Empire Records," a number of cast members went on from here to have storied careers in Hollywood. (In fact, even some of the people almost involved in it continued in a similar fashion.) 

Liv Tyler was the it girl for a while and had a string of hits including "Armageddon" and Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Ethan Embry starred in other fan favorites like "That Thing You Do!," "Vegas Vacation," and "Can't Hardly Wait." Rory Cochrane and Debi Mazar became TV staples thanks to "CSI: Miami" and "Entourage" respectively. Anthony LaPaglia won an Emmy for his recurring role as Simon Moon on "Frasier." Maxwell Caulfield has had hits all over stage and screen (though my personal favorite will always be "Grease 2"). And, of course, Zelleweger has earned countless accolades for her many acclaimed roles, including two Academy Awards. Meanwhile, nearly every other lead actor or actress that I didn't mention is steadily booking gigs all over town. 

But before any of that, they all walked through the doors of Empire Records as overachieving Corey, Mark with a k (not to be confused with his band Marc, which has a c), well-intentioned Lucas, Jane with a new ease on life, family patriarch Joe, washed up Rex Manning, and unrestricted Gina. There really aren't that many films in general out there with this level of sustained talent, let alone cult classics, so kudos to Moyle and company for assembling such a talented bunch.





Nobody really has it together

The most heartwarming thing about "Empire Records" is its depiction of community and found family. While some people may label the employees and their store as the island of misfit toys, Joe and the gang love each other. Even when Deb, Corey, and Gina are at each other's throats and throwing verbal jabs at each other throughout the day, they come together and show love for one another when it really counts.

Clearly, the town loves Empire Records too since they're all willing to show up at midnight with very little notice to contribute their hard-earned dollars to Joe so he could save the store from Mitchell Beck and Music Town. And then there's Warren. Though he definitely went about it the complete wrong way, the adolescent offender just wanted to be a part of their tight knit group.

No matter how old you are, finding and surrounding yourself with your tribe of people is very important. It definitely doesn't hurt if you can find a family that would hold a funeral for you so you can actually hear all the nice things they have to say about you before you're gone, or that would cover for you when you gamble away the store's profits in an effort to save it. Finding that kind of connection in real life is very rare, so it's nice to see that it's possible, even if it is in a movie. Especially when you're growing up and aimless, it's wonderful to get that hope and reassurance that things get better. 

What's with today today?

Finally, the last reason why "Empire Records" holds up so well is because although it presents a perfect snapshot of the youth of the time (and, to a certain degree, of the place), everything in this movie is evergreen. Growing up on the east coast of the United States a few years after this takes place, I had a very similar adolescent experience as AJ, Corey, Lucas, and the gang. My friends and I also fancied ourselves music-savvy youths and we've definitely been on our fair share of last minute excursions to Atlantic City. But if I show this movie to my presently teenage niece, who grew up in the midwestern suburbs down the road from cornfields but still with adequate wifi, I know that she and her friends would find their own things to relate to in this story.

That's because there will always be young people marching to the beat of different drums as they find themselves and their communities as they grow up. Trends, particularly in music, come and go and come back again. Love continues to be a glorious and confusing thing no matter how old you are. Small businesses will forever need your support. Depression and other mental health issues will try to get the better of you, but things get better. And just because you're technically an adult like Joe or Jane, that doesn't mean that you'll have everything magically figured out when you hit a certain age.

Despite the story taking place in the 1990s, these themes all existed well before and will continue to exist well after this movie. They won't always be presented in an extremely convenient short-ass movie with it's own holiday, but they won't have to be. Thankfully, in this life, there are nothing but possibilities. And one of those possibilities is to find comfort by watching "Empire Records" on Rex Manning Day, the day after, or any other day of the year.