Happy birthday to Empire Records! The cult-classic movie turns 20 this year, which is a huge deal for fans — despite mediocre-to-bad critic reviews (24% on Rotten Tomatoes as of January 2015), the film is fiercly beloved by a niche group of viewers (after all, the Rotten Tomatoes “audience score” is nearly three times higher than the critic score at a whopping 84%). For those not in that niche, however, the movie is worth noting: Released in 1995, it featured, emotional, angsty, and, at times, philosophical performances by many soon-to-be big (and some a little less big) names including Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger, Ethan Embry, Rory Cochrane, and more; great style; an inspiring semi-anarchist plot; and of course, a killer soundtrack.
Considering I fall firmly into the fan category, this 20th anniversary is a big deal for me. So, as I prepared to celebrate with a re-watch, I got to thinking... what would this movie look like if it were made today?
(Let it be known that I’m not encouraging an actual remake of this gem of a film. You hear me, Hollywood wheelers-and-dealers? Don’t do it!)
But, that being said, I’m still curious. What kind of difference would 20 years make on a small but darling movie that encouraged us all to “damn the man”? Join me as I imagine what Empire Records would look like set in 2015, from the small changes to the big:
Save the Empire
Let’s address the elephant in the room first: to preserve the very soul of the movie, I feel we have to keep the core the same — it still needs to be set at a music store, though, sure, that’s pushing the boundaries or credibility for 2015. If you want to get really real, imagine Empire Records is Empire Bookstore and, boom, the setting is now 2015-ized.
But honestly, the music store setting is so key to the plot, the characters, the soundtrack (obviously), and the whole essence of the movie that I simply must retain it for this re-imagining. So we’re still at Empire Records. Only they’re probably dealing with the threat of becoming an Apple store or an Amazon retail site instead of a Music Town.
Now that we’ve settled that, please turn your attention to the pop culture references peppered throughout the film. Obviously, they would be vastly different in 2015 from 1995.
Warren, the teenaged shoplifter with an attitude problem, wouldn’t give “Warren Beatty” as his (fake) name once caught stealing. No, this little punk would be “George Clooney,” “Johnny Depp,” or even “Ryan Gosling.”
Almost all of the music would be different, but one song stands out in particular as needing to change for the 2015 version — Gina wouldn’t play The Flying Lizards’ “Money” over the speaker system as her tribute to Lucas’ Atlantic City antics. Instead, of course, she’d play Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire,” or Biggie’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
Speaking of music, sure the store would still sell CDs and records, but each employee would probably have a playlist on a communal iPod that they’d get to play/veto when appropriate. And Eddie would make a Milktape (or maybe, maybe, maybe a mix CD, for the nostalgia factor) for Mark, rather than a cassette mix.
Rex Manning, oh boy, Rex Manning. Rex wouldn’t be the same over coiffed, over spray-tanned blowhard he is in the 1995 version of Empire Records.
No, in the 2015 alternate universe edition, he’s still an over everything-ed, aging star wearing too much purple satin, trying to get back his superstardom — but not by releasing a new record. Rex Manning 2015 has reinvented and rebranded himself with a new YouTube channel in which he autotunes himself singing old and new songs and films cheesy music videos in front of a cheap green screen using his iPhone that look suspiciously like Saul Goodman commercials.
Corey, Her Crush, and Her Pills
Would Corey still try to hook up with Rex? Certainly. But, she’d have prefaced the encounter by obsessively following his social media efforts for years, constantly commenting on his Instagram posts and replying to him on Twitter. We all know she has the time to do so, since “there are 24 usable hours in every day.”
Additionally, Corey would still have a pill problem, but she’d be abusing her sneakily-obtained Adderall subscription instead of popping straight up speed.
Rumors & Gossip
The dissemination of information between the Empire Records characters would be one of the biggest differences in this imaginary 2015 version. Lucas would find out about the impending Apple or Amazon buy-out by snooping through Joe’s email, not his desk drawers. Instead of waiting for his co-workers to show up one-by-one and informing them of the Lucas situation that way, A.J. would text the group on WhatsApp — using emoji to convey the message, of course, because he’s an artist )and no one would understand a word he's saying, of course).
He’d also use Google to figure how to tell a girl you love her, instead of asking Joe for advice — actually speaking when you can just Google it is so passé, you know?
Social media would play a big role in the 2015 Empire Records gang’s world. Everyone would already know about Debra’s suicide attempt/cry for help from Facebook, and her buttons would have various emoji printed on them.
Perhaps most important, Mark might still usurp the news broadcast to spread the word about the “Save Empire” party, but that wouldn’t be how most people would hear about it — not even close. He’d take to Twitter and Facebook to get the invite out, and #SaveEmpire and #DamnTheMan would be trending on Twitter by midnight.
Also, the Empire Records gang would have to set up a Kickstarter page to raise continuing funds for the store. (And It would have worked.)
Clothes, Shoes, and More
Funnily enough, the clothing, hair, and accessories style would be largely the same, even if the movie were made and set in 2015. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a bit of a '90s fashion resurgence at the moment. Would I wear half the things those characters wear? Without a doubt. Have I seen people around New York wearing those things? Absolutely. Do I have a slightly modernized pair of Corey’s boots? You bet. The one stylistic change I could envision is Debra’s hair — instead of shaving it all off, she’d probably only shave half of it off, to do that half-buzzed, half-bob thing that Natalie Dormer is pulling off so well. Otherwise, the movie’s aesthetics would look very much the same.
Images: Warner Bros; Giphy