Do you remember the wonder of being a child and walking into an overly themed store? In ’90s London, the Warner Bros. shop was legendary for the Gremlins awaiting visitors on the escalators. Thanks to its massive floor plan and detailed princess theming, the neighboring Disney shop used to feel like a strange ethereal place blurring the lines between the real world and the films that you loved. Both of those locations are long gone. Now the few Disney Stores that do remain are more akin to Apple Stores. But until 2021 that magic of unexpectedly wandering into a space that becomes something more than just a place to spend money was still alive thanks to the Bay Area chain Fry’s Electronics. And their now defunct UFO-themed Burbank location recently played a key role in Jordan Peele’s newest sci-fi horror masterpiece Nope.
Fry’s Electronics began life in Sunnyvale California in 1985. But it wouldn’t be until a decade later that the big box store opened arguably its most extravagant and highly themed store yet. The Burbank Fry’s opened its doors in 1995 with a bombastic alien invasion theme. And it went far beyond the eye-catching crashed spaceship that crowned its entrance. When I first visited Fry’s in 2018, I was blown away by the strange experience of shopping there. Giant ants and alien sculptures adorned the ceiling and floor. Unexpected surprises and robots awaited at every corner. And there was a full service diner that featured Buicks to eat in while looking over a large drive-in style screen. It was absolutely the most fun you could have while trying to buy a broadcast antenna for your TV. There was always a certain magic in its hallowed halls.
At its peak, the Fry’s chain had over 30 stores. I made sure to visit all the ones I could after experiencing the majesty of Burbank’s. They could never quite live up to the weird ambition and Americana of that location. They did their best, however, with themes such as ancient Roman ruins in Fountain Valley, Steampunk in City of Industry, and the closest—so most regularly visited—Fry’s for me, the Tahiti-themed store in Manhattan Beach. But the vintage B-movie theming of the Burbank Fry’s tops them all. And though it might seem like a niche local nod, it actually plays perfectly into the larger themes of Jordan Peele’s sci-fi summer blockbuster.
Nope is a movie about spectacle, about stories, about tragedy, and about scope. It leans into ideas about Americana and science fiction, B-movie sensibilities translated to the real world—just like Fry’s. In the most simple narrative sense, Nope is about something shocking and strange happening against the mundane of the day to day. That was the experience of shopping in Fry’s. Searching for a coax cable as you bump into Darth Vader. Or browsing discount DVDs only to find an alien invader looming over you ominously. In that way, Fry’s Burbank is the perfect location for Angel (Brandon Perea) to work. Not only is it an iconic LA County location, but it fits with the surreal world of the film and its bigger ideas about alien invasion.
Sadly, Fry’s in Burbank—along with all the other stores—closed in 2021 due to COVID. Nope filmed in the defunct location post its closure, allowing it to live on. And while new shoppers will never be able to wander through its oddly fantastical aisles, thanks to Jordan Peele the store has gotten a new lease of life, becoming part of Hollywood legend, which is all very fitting.
Featured Image: Bryce Edwards/Flickr Creative Commons (cropped)