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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Allan Moyle|
|Written by||Carol Heikkinen|
|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 directed by Allan Moyle, starring Anthony LaPaglia, Maxwell Caulfield, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, and Liv Tyler. The film 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 generated largely negative reviews and major 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.
At an independent record store in Delaware named Empire Records, employee Lucas has been tasked by store manager Joe with closing the store for the first time. While counting the day's receipts in Joe's office, Lucas discovers that Empire Records is about to be sold and converted into a branch of Music Town, a large national chain. Determined to keep the store independent, Lucas hatches a plan and takes the day's cash receipts of approximately $9,000 to a casino in Atlantic City and quadruple it playing roulette. Though he successfully doubles the money on his first roll, he loses everything on the second.
Lucas is found the following morning by fellow Empire employees A.J. and Mark. He confides in the pair about the previous night's events, just before riding off on his motorcycle. Joe arrives and quickly receives frantic phone calls about the missing deposit from both the bank and the store's owner, Mitchell Beck.
Other employees arrive for work, including overachieving high school student Corey and her uninhibited best friend Gina. Hostile employee Deb, who has survived an apparent suicide attempt, also arrives. When Lucas arrives, Joe confronts him about the missing deposit, and Lucas confirms the money was lost. Joe explains his anti-Music Town plan to the employees – he had saved enough money to invest and become part-owner of the store to save it, but will now be $9,000 short when he covers for the missing money with Mitchell.
Joe is distracted from dealing with the crisis due to a major store event: Rex Manning Day. Manning is a washed-up 1980s pop idol who will be performing an autograph session at the store for fans. The staff is unenthused and reacts by mocking both Manning and the event, and ultimately many of the fans showing up to meet him are either older women or gay men. Shoplifter "Warren" is taken away by police but vows to return seeking revenge.
Though detained by Joe in his office, Lucas nonetheless apprehends a belligerent young shoplifter who identifies himself only as "Warren Beatty". Encouraged by Gina, Corey indulges her schoolgirl crush on Manning by attempting to seduce him, but winds up humiliated and dejected; A.J. then chooses this inopportune time to confess his love to Corey, which she rejects. After Gina and Corey argue about their respective bad reputations, Gina has sex with Manning. When this is discovered by the staff, A.J. attacks Manning, Gina reveals Corey's addiction to amphetamines, Corey hysterically trashes the store, and Joe asks Manning to leave the store.
Deb reacts uncharacteristically to Corey's dilemma by attempting to cheer her up, and in return Corey holds a mock funeral for Deb which the whole staff attends. The belligerent young shoplifter "Warren" returns to the store with a gun (ultimately loaded with blanks), and Lucas defuses the situation by revealing that he himself was a troubled youth until he was taken in and saved by Joe. Joe in turn offers "Warren" a job at the store.
After the police leave, Lucas admits defeat, and suggests confessing the truth about the missing money to store owner Mitchell. However, the staff try to replace the missing money but can only raise $3000. Suddenly inspired, Mark runs in front of the store to a news crew covering the holdup, and announces on live TV a late-night benefit party at the store to "Save the Empire". The store opens its doors and collects donations during an impromptu concert on the roof by Gina and another employee named Berko. Joe hands the money raised to Mitchell, who confesses that he hates the store and offers to sell it to Joe.
Corey finally finds a dejected A.J. on the roof fixing the Empire Records sign, and confesses that she loves him too. A.J. decides to attend art school in Boston so he can be near her while she attends Harvard. They kiss, and the staff ends the long day with a dance party on the roof.
- Anthony LaPaglia as Joe Reaves
- Rory Cochrane as Lucas
- Ethan Randall as Mark
- Johnny Whitworth as A.J.
- Robin Tunney as Debra
- Renee Zellweger as Gina
- Liv Tyler as Corey Mason
- Coyote Shivers as Berko
- Brendan Sexton as Warren
- Maxwell Caulfield as Rex Manning
- Debi Mazar as Jane
- James 'Kimo' Wills as Eddie
- Ben Bode as Mitchell Beck
Two days after Regency Enterprises executive Michael Nathanson gave approval to proceed with making Empire Records, he was approached with the script for Clueless. As he already had a "teen movie" in hand, he turned down the eventual $57 million box office hit, and proceeded with production of the eventual box-office bomb of Empire Records.
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 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 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 success in the years following Empire Records.
As of March 2019, Empire Records has a 29% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 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: 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: "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 No. 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 Dirt Clods
- "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
- "Back Down 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
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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.
A high definition version of the fan edition would eventually see a release but only in digital format via online retailers such as Vudu.
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!!"
It was announced on April 6, 2018 that a musical adaptation of the movie is aiming for Broadway in 2020. The show will be produced by Bill Weiner; music and lyrics by Zoe Sarnak and book by Carol Heikkinen.
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- Empire Records. boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- Empire Records. buzzfeed.com. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
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- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 9, 2013. Retrieved December 4, 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- 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. September 24, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
- "Coyote Shivers Revisits Empire Records 20 Years Later". Consequence of Sound. September 12, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
- 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.
- Blistein, Jon (April 6, 2018). "'Empire Records' Broadway Musical in the Works". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
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