Happy Rex Manning Day—here’s what ‘Empire Records’ taught us

Twenty years ago, the quirky, beloved Empire Records came out. The whole film is set on April 8, 1995, or, as fan’s came to know it, Rex Manning Day. When it hit theaters, the over-the-top movie about high schoolers was a flop, but in the two decades after its release its reached ’90s cult classic status. The 20th anniversary milestone is a huge one for fans all over the world, including me.

I first saw Empire Records circa 1999 when I was around 13 years old. My best friend had it on VHS (oh, the memories!) and, during a sleepover, we popped it into the player and my life was forever changed. From the very first viewing, I was completely hooked. I had to watch it again. And again. And again. There were days when I watched it two or three times. I’ve lost count at this point how many times I’ve seen it in total. And, not just one version of it. No, both versions – the original and the Remix! Special Fan Edition. I have them both on DVD.

This movie has had such an unexpected impact on my life. It has seen me through some of the hardest times. It has introduced me to friends I would not otherwise have ever met, and I have turned other friends on to the movie. It’s sort of a friend initiation process with me. It has lifted my mood in ways no other movie can. And it’s taught me a lot. Here are some of the life lessons that I learned from the crew of Empire Records 

Taking risks is worth it, even if things don’t pan out 

The movie opens with nighttime manager Lucas getting to close the store at the end of the day for the first time. He counts the final totals for the day when he happens upon documents for corporate chain MusicTown agreeing to buy out Empire Records. In a “bold and courageous act,” Lucas decides to take the cash, all $9,104.00, to Atlantic City and tries to double the money on the craps table in an effort to help Joe, his mentor and manager, obtain the money needed to buy the store before it gets sold off to a chain. While it doesn’t quite work out how Lucas has planned, he ultimately changes the “course of history” for the record store, his coworkers, and, most importantly, Joe.

While he took a big risk that would probably land him in prison in real life, Lucas taught me to take a leap of faith when major stakes are on the line. Reckless and misguided, sure, but he stole the money because he cared deeply that Joe see his dream of owning his own store come true and to save the jobs of his coworkers and friends. Lucas’s story also teaches us that things don’t always work out how we’d hope them to. The only way to deal is to learn from the consequences.

You gotta take care of yourself

In the beginning of the movie, Corey announced her intention to lose her virginity to Rex Manning. She goes to some great lengths in preparation: trades bras with Gina, insists she’s taking lunch to Rex, sets up a spread, and proceeds to seduce Rex in the break room. Rex, initially hesitant, gives in. In that moment, Corey realizes she’s making a mistake, picks up her clothes, and escapes to the roof.

Lesson learned? You don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t owe anyone anything, especially someone as offensive as Rex, even if it’s a last minute change of heart.

During a very dramatic scene, we discover that Corey has been taking Speed in order to stay up all night studying. It’s great to be focused on your goals but not at the cost of your health and sanity. We also know that Corey is studying that hard to please her father. While it’s fine to want to make our parents (and others) proud, we can’t lose sight of reality. We can’t please others at the risk of harming ourselves.

Don’t forget your roots

Rex Manning, the big shot rock star, has a wildly anticipated arrival to Empire Records. But as soon as he steps out of his town car, accompanied by his manager, Jane, He immediately starts to complain about the store, and Jane reminds him that “Middle America” buys his music. For the majority of the day, everyone swarms around Rex, making sure he is treated like royalty. Finally, after a rendezvous with Gina in the break room and a subsequent scuffle with AJ, the crew tells Rex how they really feel about him and his new record (hint: its’ not good things).

Letting yourself get caught up in your own self-importance is a bad strategy. No matter the successes you accomplish in your lifetime, never forget where you came from and the people who helped you get there. Stay humble.

Follow your dreams no matter how scary they seem

For most of the movie, Gina is hard to like or even relate to (for me anyway). She’s not especially nice, even to her best friend, Corey, and her ethics and morals are questionable at best. During the tribute to Deb, Gina reveals something that gives the audience (and her coworkers) a glimpse into who Gina really is – she doesn’t want to turn into her mother, who peaked in high school. She wants to become somebody and do something with her life. Her dream is to sing in a band, but she is too afraid to audition. By the end of the movie, Gina faces her fears and sings along with Berko’s band who is playing for the crowd during the “Save the Empire!” party. She even takes lead vocals after a brief moment of swallowing her nerves.

Your family isn’t just the people you’re related to

At the end of the day, the Empire Records crew are friends and, more importantly, a family. A close one at that. They hang out at work even when it’s not their shift. They watch out for each other and stand up for one another. They take care of each other in the moments that matter the most. They encourage each other to be the best people they can be. And like a family, they know how to fight for what’s important together.

Don’t squander second chances

We meet Warren when he comes into the store to shoplift CDs. Foiled by Lucas, he spends time detained in the back room with various members of the crew (and Rex) until the police come to collect him. Later on, during Deb’s “funeral,” he returns to the store, more aggressively this time – with a gun. Deb boldly confronts him, proving he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he just wants to find his place in the world. Joe offers him a job, and Warren begins to forge relationships with his new coworkers (before being taken away by the police again). By the end of the movie, he is officially part of the Empire Records staff.

Sometimes life gives you second chances, and you should take advantage of them. You can overcome past mistakes and stupid decisions. Oh, and don’t shoplift. Even if it’s “for your girlfriend.”

Kristin Carnes is an interior designer by day and a crazy cat lady by night.  She was born, raised, and currently resides in West Virginia (not to be confused with western Virginia).  She is a total wanderlust, always daydreaming about her next adventure, and a self-proclaimed Anglophile with a penchant for the proper cup of tea.

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