Several months back, we ran a story about Thriller being one of the first sell through video that brought VHS prices down to earth.
However, my friend Raymond Lee Christian dropped me a line begging to differ. Christian worked behind the scenes on a number of DVD reissues, and covers revival screenings in L.A., and he informed me that the first two sell through videos were actually Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Trek II.
Star Trek II came out in November 1982 on home video for a list price of $39.95, which was very low for the time. As a report in Billboard stated, the low price was "being made to encourage video dealers to stress sales over rentals, and to inhibit tape pirates." Piracy was especially a concern when the home video market first came in, and Hollywood was scared the VCR would destroy the industry, but instead it saved it by creating a gigantic new revenue stream.
Billboard also reported that by this time, the first Star Trek movie sold 50,000 copies, so one had to figure at the time that Star Trek II, an infinitely better movie, would have sold even more copies once it hit the stores. At the time of the Trek and Raiders home video releases, the top selling home videos of the time were Jane Fonda's Workout tape, and Flashdance, which both sold about 200,000 copies each at the time.
As reported by Time, in February 1983 Paramount released their hit, An Officer and a Gentleman for $39.95, far lower than the usual $59.95 to $79.95 prices of the time. (I actually recall seeing movies in video stores going for $89.95.)
An Officer and a Gentleman sold 80,000 copies, when a video selling 25,000 copies at the time was a big sale. Raiders had an advance sale of 420,000, a record for the time, at $39.95. And perhaps with all things Michael Jackson selling through the roof, Thriller reportedly sold nine million copies even though it was on TV every ten seconds, the critical mass of Raiders, Star Trek II, and Thriller finally cemented sell through video for good.