Netflix vs. Redbox vs. Blockbuster: What’s the Best Movie Rental Deal?

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I’m a fan of Netflix. The DVDs arrive in a timely fashion. When something goes wrong, like a movie goes missing in the mail or is too scratched to work, the company takes responsibility and fixes it quickly. And any business that voluntarily lowers customer fees—Netflix did this a couple years back, dropping my family’s monthly bill by a dollar—leaves me way impressed. I’m also intrigued with Redbox, which rents DVDs for $1 a night through kiosks in grocery stores and other locations. Then there’s Blockbuster, the dinosaur rental outfit with brick and mortar stores as well as Netflix-like mail services. So which is the best value? The answer is: None of the above.

Of the three businesses, Redbox is the fastest-growing, as the AP recently reported. There are more than 15,000 Redbox kiosks in the U.S. I pass two regularly, at the grocery store and the pharmacy, and yes, my wife and I have been known to bribe a child to behave at the supermarket with the promise of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” For a buck, it’s money well spent.

Redbox is cheap and fast, and with its growing number of locations—it already has more kiosks than there are traditional video stores left in the country—it’s super convenient as well. Too bad the usual Redbox kiosk only has a dozen or so movies to choose from. Netflix, on the other hand, has an enormous selection, along with great customer service—nothing to sniff at in today’s outsource-everything-point-the-finger-at-someone-else day and age. Blockbuster has the most options: You can rent at the store, have movies mailed to you, and swap movies via mail or in-person at a store—plus Blockbuster guarantees certain new movies will always be in stock. Anyone who has ever waited three weeks to get a popular new rental via Netflix knows why that’s so important.

But for the best value, you shouldn’t whip out your Blockbuster card, but your library card. Just about every local library has hundreds of DVDs and VHS tapes—yes, they still exist, and work just fine—to pick from. The selection may not be as up to date as Netflix or its competitors, but you can’t beat the price. Your tax money is what allows libraries to loan books and movies for free, so you might as well take advantage. Libraries are particular great for children’s movies—kids don’t care if a film was released seven years ago—and for classics you’ve been meaning to see for years. I took out “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” from our library just a couple days ago. It, and the rental price, was awesome.