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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Allan Moyle|
|Written by||Carol Heikkinen|
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Edited by||Michael Chandler|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$303,841 (United States)|
Empire Records is a 1995 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a group of record store employees over the course of one exceptional day. The employees try to stop the store from being sold to a large chain, and learn about each other along the way. The film was directed by Allan Moyle and stars Anthony LaPaglia, Robin Tunney, Rory Cochrane, Renée Zellweger, Ethan Embry, Johnny Whitworth and Liv Tyler. The film generated largely negative reviews and losses at the domestic US box office at its release but later went on to become a cult hit, helping to launch the careers of several of its stars.
Empire Records is an independent record shop managed by Joe (Anthony LaPaglia). The store is located in a fictional city in Delaware, and, like its employees, is eclectic and unique. The staff is very much a surrogate family, with Joe as the reluctant and perpetually exasperated but lovable father figure. When his young staff experience problems in their personal lives, he routinely reminds them they can seek him out for advice.
The film opens with store manager Joe allowing employee Lucas (Rory Cochrane) his first opportunity to close the store, an opportunity Lucas regards as an honor. While counting the day's receipts in Joe's office, Lucas snoops and discovers that Empire Records is about to be bought and converted into a branch of Music Town, a large national music store with many franchises. In an effort to keep the store independent, Lucas takes the day's cash receipts totaling $9,000 to a casino in Atlantic City in an attempt to quadruple it via gambling. Lucas believes this act will create enough money to allow Joe to save Empire Records. Though initially doubling the money, Lucas soon loses the entire amount in one bet on a dice table. Instead of going home he sleeps on his motorcycle outside the store, where he is found the following morning by opening manager A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) and fellow employee Mark (Ethan Embry). He confides in the pair about the previous night's events before riding away, seemingly for good. Joe arrives to help open the store and quickly receives phone calls from both the bank and the store owner, Mitchell Beck (Ben Bodé), regarding the previous night's missing deposit.
Joe is distracted from immediately dealing with this crisis due to a scheduled store event: Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), a former 80's pop idol, is due to arrive at the store for an autograph session to promote his new album. The staff is unenthused by "Rex Manning Day", and ultimately many of the fans showing up to meet him are either older women or gay men. The employees secretly tease Rex behind his back about his fading career, and even his assistant Jane (Debi Mazar) later reveals her distaste for Rex's music.
Lucas returns after the store opens and Joe confronts him about the missing deposit. After telling him of his short misadventure, Lucas is asked to stay in the store until a plan is devised to recoup the lost $9,000. Joe explains that he had intended to use the money to invest and become part-owner of the store, which would allow him the opportunity of saving it from becoming a Music Town franchise. Next to arrive are cashiers Corey (Liv Tyler), an overachieving high school student, and her uninhibited best friend and co-worker Gina (Renée Zellweger), both of whom are informed of the situation. Soon thereafter arrives hostile employee Deb (Robin Tunney), who is in a particularly bad state of mind; she has survived an apparent suicide attempt and immediately shaves her head in the bathroom upon arriving at work. Deb's boyfriend Berko (Coyote Shivers) soon arrives as well.
The afternoon continues in a downward spiral. A young belligerent shoplifter who identifies himself only as "Warren Beatty" (Brendan Sexton III) is apprehended by Lucas and subsequently arrested, promising to return for revenge. Encouraged by Gina, Corey's school-girl crush on Rex is pushed to its limits—much to the horror of her friends, including A.J., who is infatuated with her. After arguing with Corey, Gina has sex with Rex Manning, causing the rift between the two friends to intensify and Rex to get kicked out of the store by Joe. This leads to the revelation that Corey is secretly using Amphetamines. Deb takes Corey aside and advises her on the questionable choices she is making, choices which may have dire consequences on her bright future. In return, Corey holds a mock funeral for Deb and the whole store attends. Gina then apologizes to Corey. The pugnacious "Warren Beatty" keeps his word and returns to the store with a gun (loaded with blanks) to seek revenge. Lucas reveals that he was once a troubled youth much like "Warren" until he was taken in by Joe, who gave him a home and a job and helped him turn his life around. The staff surmises that "Warren" just needs a similar chance. Joe subsequently offers him a job at the store.
After the police leave, Lucas admits defeat, and suggests calling Mitchell. However, the employees, Joe, and Jane — who has since quit working for Rex — pool their resources to replace the missing money. Despite their best efforts, they are thousands short. Suddenly inspired, Mark runs out of the store, jumps in front of a news crew covering the holdup, and announces a late night benefit party to "Save the Empire". The store opens its doors and collects donations while selling food, drinks, and merchandise to raise the remaining money. They manage to raise just enough, which they offer to store owner Mitchell. Mitchell in turn offers to sell the store to Joe, admitting that Joe has always loved the place while he himself has always hated it. Joe agrees to become the new owner. Corey meets up with a dejected A.J. on the roof and confesses that she does love him. He tells her he has decided to attend art school in Boston so he can be near her when she goes to Harvard. They then kiss.
In celebration of maintaining Empire Records' independence and their victory against "the man", the staff ends the long and eventful day with a dance party on the store's roof.
- Anthony LaPaglia as Joe Reaves
- Rory Cochrane as Lucas
- Johnny Whitworth as A.J.
- Liv Tyler as Corey Mason
- Renée Zellweger as Gina
- Robin Tunney as Debra
- Ethan Embry as Mark (As Ethan Randall)
- Coyote Shivers as Berko
- James 'Kimo' Wills as Eddie
- Brendan Sexton III as Warren (As Brendan Sexton)
- Maxwell Caulfield as Rex Manning
- Debi Mazar as Jane
- Ben Bode as Mitchell Beck
The film was severely edited in post-production, removing three significant characters and up to 40 minutes of film. The story was also condensed from occurring over two days to a single day.
Exteriors were filmed at 15 South Front Street in Wilmington, North Carolina in a bar that had a few feet of space converted into a replica of the store set which was located at Carolco (now Screen Gems) studios, and finished with a large picture of the rest of the store. This allowed the actors to enter the exterior location doors and walk a couple of feet before the scene would cut to the interior set on Soundstage 4 at the studio. The large mural of Gloria Estefan which Mark kisses early in the film was visible for many years on the separate building, on South Water Street, that stood in for the back of the store.
The Rex Manning music video "Say No More, Mon Amour" was shot prior to principal photography, and was shot on Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina in one day. It was only intended to be a 17-second dance move piece for the main actors to make fun of in the film. However, the director of the music video shot for the entire day and gave the producers an entire 4:30 music video.
The film did poorly at the box office and received almost universally negative reviews upon its 1995 release. TV Guide gave the film 2 stars out of 5, calling it a "lame comedy" that appeared to be little more than "an elaborate excuse to package and peddle a soundtrack CD."
Variety called Empire Records a "soundtrack in search of a movie", describing the film as "one teen-music effort that never finds a groove" before adding that "as far as chart action goes, it could use a bullet -- to put it out of its B.O. misery."
Roger Ebert called the film a "lost cause," but presciently wrote that some of the actors might have a future in other, better films; LaPaglia, Cochrane, Zellweger, Tyler, Embry and Tunney all went on to varying levels of greater success in the years following Empire Records.
As of 2017, Empire Records has only a 26% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews with the consensus: "Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy."
The soundtrack album for Empire Records was originally attached to Atlantic Records—an affiliate of Warner Bros. at the time—because Warner Bros. had a distribution pact with the film's producers, Regency Enterprises. However, the soundtrack album was given to A&M Records in order to obtain the participation of A&M artists the Gin Blossoms, whose track "Til I Hear It from You" was issued as the lead single. Besides the Gin Blossoms, four other A&M acts had new tracks released on the soundtrack album, namely Ape Hangers, Drill, Innocence Mission, and Lustre.
The album also introduced tracks by Better Than Ezra, Cracker, the Cranberries, Evan Dando (whose cover of Big Star's "The Ballad of El Goodo" featured Empire Records female lead Liv Tyler on background vocals), and Toad The Wet Sprocket, and by unsigned acts the Martinis, Please, and Coyote Shivers. The Martinis—featuring former Pixies members Joey Santiago and Dave Lovering—were recommended by Hits magazine president Karen Glauber who was musical consultant for Empire Records, while the film's line music supervisor Bob Knickman discovered Please by searching the internet for unsigned talent suitable for the film's soundtrack. Coyote Shivers, who played aspiring-musician-turned-store-clerk Berko in the film, became involved in the project by virtue of being the stepfather of Liv Tyler (Shivers being married to Tyler's mother, Bebe Buell, at the time).
Two previously released tracks were also included on the original release of the Empire Records soundtrack album, namely "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins and "Ready, Steady, Go" by the Meices  (the latter's frontman Joe Reineke subsequently led Alien Crime Syndicate). "The Honeymoon Is Over" by the Cruel Sea, a track heard in the film but not featured on the US release of the soundtrack album, was included on the German and Australian releases.
The Gin Blossoms' "Til I Hear It From You" charted as high as #9, affording the band their first Top 20 hit. Two other tracks from the album had a single release: Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You," which charted at #32, and the Ape Hangers' "I Don't Want to Live Today".
The Empire Records soundtrack peaked at #63 on the album chart.
Gin Blossoms frontman Robin Wilson would say of Empire Records, "[It's] a classic film that only a handful of people really saw, but it definitely made an impact on that generation. It was really cool to have been a part of that".
- "Til I Hear It from You" by Gin Blossoms
- "Liar" by The Cranberries
- "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins
- "Free" by The Martinis
- "Crazy Life" by Toad the Wet Sprocket
- "Bright As Yellow" by The Innocence Mission
- "Circle of Friends" by Better Than Ezra
- "I Don't Want to Live Today" by Ape Hangers
- "Whole Lotta Trouble" by Cracker
- "Ready, Steady, Go" by The Meices
- "What You Are" by Drill
- "Nice Overalls" by Lustre
- "Here It Comes Again" by Please
- "The Ballad of El Goodo" by Evan Dando
- "Sugarhigh" by Coyote Shivers
- "The Honeymoon Is Over" by The Cruel Sea (Australian and German edition)
Songs in the film not listed on soundtrack
- "Can't Stop Losing Myself" by Dirt Clods
- "Hey Joe" by Body Count
- "Dark and Brooding" by Noah Stone
- "Thorn in My Side" by Quicksand
- "Little Bastard" by Ass Ponys (as Ass Ponies)
- "I Don't Know Why" by Sacrilicious
- "Real" by Real
- "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)" by AC/DC
- "Counting Blue Cars" by Dishwalla
- "Snakeface" by Throwing Muses
- "Candy" by Full Tilt Gonzo
- "How" by The Cranberries
- "Hardlight" by Pegboy
- "Chew Toy" by Fig Dish
- "Power Shack" by Fitz of Depression
- "Saddam A Go-Go" by Gwar
- "Backdown Blues" by Loose Diamonds
- "Tomorrow" by Mouth Music
- "Plowed" by Sponge
- "Surround You" by Billy White Trio
- "L.A. Girl" by Adolescents
- "Vinyl Advice" by Dead Hot Workshop
- "This Is the Day" by The The
- "Say No More (Mon Amour)" by Maxwell Caulfield as Rex Manning (written for the film)
- "She Walks" by Poster Children
- "Sorry" by Sybil Vane
- "Infinity" by Mouth Music
- "Money (That's What I Want)" by Flying Lizards
- "Sugar High (ft. Renee Zellweger)" by Coyote Shivers
- "Seems" by Queen Sarah Saturday
- "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits
- "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles
- "I Shot the Devil" by Suicidal Tendencies
- "Smooth up in ya" by Bulletboys
- "Rock 'n' Roll/EGA" by Daniel Johnston
The version of the song "Sugarhigh" that appears in the movie differs significantly from the one included on the soundtrack. The main differences are that the movie version has additional lyrics and chorus vocals provided by Renée Zellweger and it is musically one semitone lower than the CD version. Francis "Coyote" Shivers, the artist who released the song, played the lead singer of the song in the movie.
The movie was written by a former employee of Tower Records store #166 (Christown Mall) in Phoenix, Arizona. When the film was released and for a long time afterward, a number of her former coworkers still working cited anecdotes and other elements of the film that related to the store. This store closed in early 2005, ten years after the film's release.
Remix: Special Fan Edition DVD
On June 3, 2003 Warner Bros. released the Remix: Special Fan Edition DVD of Empire Records. The unrated version includes four extra scenes and 16 minutes of additional footage (107 total). The Fan edition also includes the popular music video Rex Manning 'Say No More, Mon Amour' directed for the film by Jordan Dawes.
For the 2015 Blu-ray release from the film's new owner 20th Century Fox, only the theatrical cut has been included, with the extras ported over from the 2003 "Remix! Special Fan Edition" DVD.
An Internet meme among the film's fans celebrates "Rex Manning Day" on April 8, the date Rex appears at Empire Records in the film. #RexManningDay is a recurring trending hashtag on Twitter. GIFs commemorating the event show Embry's character bounding down the stairs from the store's loft, declaring "Not on Rex Manning Day!!"
Empire Records is the subject of a "movies by minute" podcast. Each episode is dedicated to reviewing and dissecting a single minute of the film.
- "Empire Records - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 2011-07-24.
- Empire Records. boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- Empire Records. buzzfeed.com. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
- Empire Records. deadline.com. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
- Empire Records. rollingstone.com. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-09. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- Empire Records. TV Guide. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
- Review: ‘Empire Records’. Variety. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
- (1995-09-22). Empire Records :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- Empire Records Movie Reviews, Pictures. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- "A&M soundtrack plants hopes with the Gin Blossoms". Billboard. 107 (31): 1. 1995.
- "From No Chocolate Cake to a Reckoning: Conversations with Gin Blossoms, Luke Doucet, & Tony Lunn". HuffingtonPost.com. 2010-09-24. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
- Stampler, Laura. "It’s Rex Manning Day! (Here’s What That Actually Means)." Time.com. 2015-04-08. Retrieved 2015-10-16.
- #RexManningDay on Twitter. Retrieved 2015-04-08.
- "Empire Records Minute". empirerecordsminute.libsyn.com. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
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