Break away from algorithms choosing your movies, and head off to the local charity shop with a few quid instead.

Edward Boff (@EdSigma

Variety, goes the cliché, is the spice of life. Some of our favourite film experiences often come from stepping outside our routine viewings, trying something altogether new. However, the way we do so has shifted over the years. Back with video rentals, we’d just look at the shelves, and pick whatever caught the eye. Whilst streaming services offer similar selections, it’s not quite the same without physical boxes, when you’re not able to do that thing of weighing them in your hands as though that somehow lets you know the quality of the film within. Besides, many services often group their suggestions via algorithms based on what you’ve been watching, rather breaking the whole element of going outside the comfort zone.

Charity Shop Roulette

There is another way to spice up your viewing habits, though. And that’s with a healthy dose of ‘random on a budget’. The one requirement is that you have access to some well-stocked charity shops. With new generations of recording technology coming in waves, people will deposit their old collections there as they upgrade to the new standard. It happened as DVD swept the world, with VHS tapes filling the shelves, to the point where many shops just had to stop accepting them. With many now going with HD formats, and/or going for streaming services, the same is happening to DVD too, which can be a golden opportunity for those looking to try something a bit different.

Charity shop hunting allows you a low-cost, low-risk method of finding new things. You can’t be certain of new releases, or of any particular new trends being pushed, it’s all down to the eclectic batches of things dropped off there. That being said, you can trust for certain sorts of titles to be there: boxsets for long-running TV shows and franchises often show up as new ‘ultimate collections’ get released. For example, there are so many copies of the Twilight saga in the shops around north London that you could for not an unreasonable amount have enough to make a small fort out of them.

These can be an excellent way of trying out different series. If you find the first few Fast & Furious films, for instance, you can spend a quid or two to give those a try and get a feel if the series is right for you, rather than shelling out for the entire Blu-ray set immediately. Another good reason is purely that it is all for charity. If you’ve watched something from streaming that wasn’t fun, you just lost an hour and a half. If you chose poorly at Blockbuster back in the day, you may have felt a bit cheated from the cash you paid for it. With something you bought from an RSPCA shop, though, even if you’re watching something terrible, you can feel a bit better knowing that something good has come of it. You had a substandard evening’s viewing, but at least a quid or two has gone towards a good cause, which can definitely soften the blow. At least that’s what I started telling myself 20 minutes into the copy of Caligula I found in my local Oxfam…

What’s more, if you got lucky and found something good from there, you can feel even better about the experience: everybody won! I myself have made some great random finds, with stuff in just the last few months including a complete Rocky Blu-ray set, Blus of the recent trio of Planet Of The Apes films, a nice steelbook of underrated horror gem The Woman, even some classic Godzilla films not usually available in the UK. On that note, some fun you can have is in finding the odd European and foreign editions of familiar fare, so you can get to see how other cultures market them. A perfect example was when I found a Swedish set double bill of Alien Vs. Predator and Moulin Rouge. Quite what mashed those two under the same umbrella is unclear.

The Flipside

That does bring up the main risk, though, with this particular method: the fact that you are buying these items effectively recycled. Many people may have treated their discs with care over the years, but there will be other times where you find the playing surface looking like it was gone over with a brillo pad. There will be other cases of discs missing, miscatalogued, or just plain wrong. I once found a Jack Ryan film boxset where, instead of the expected films, the contents were 27 Dresses, 13 Going On 30, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, and Underworld Evolution! An intriguing bit of programming, but not exactly the contents as advertised. Finally, the odd Region 1 discs turn up in there too from time to time: be very wary of this if you don’t have a multi-region player as yet. Do keep in mind that you may need to do some additional quality inspection of your own.

Still, the charity shop is a great way to try some new things, pick up the odd film you may have missed on first release, and just grab some stuff for a drunken video and pizza night, whilst still being able to bring some good into the world. It’s way more fun than picking things from a streaming menu, it helps the community, and it can broaden your film horizons. If you have a few such stores in your neck of the woods, give it a go, you may get lucky and find some new favourites that way. And when you next have to Marie Kondo your DVD shelves, consider giving a few old gems of yours to the shops yourself, and let someone else discover those titles in the same way.