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The untold truth of Demolition Man

It's possible to go too far when trying to create a better world. 

That's one of the messages you inevitably come away with after watching 1993's sci-fi action flick Demolition Man. Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan — a cop known for leaving collateral damage in his wake while pursuing crooks — and his adversary is the deadly Simon Phoenix, played by Wesley Snipes. Both cop and robber are cryogenically frozen in 1996 and reawakened in 2032 to find a changed world. The only guns left are in museums, using profanity is punished by an automated fining system, and most people are so afraid of germs that touching others — even to shake hands — has become taboo.

Whether or not you've seen Demolition Man, there's a lot you may not know about what's arguably the most unique Stallone film you're likely to find, from the casting to the different versions of the movie to legal battles decades after its release. Plus, while Denis Leary isn't eating rat-burgers in the sewers and you can still say curse words without nearby walls spitting out fines, years after the film's release, there have been some uncanny examples of life imitating art. 

For more specifics, keep reading for the untold truth of Demolition Man.

Different cuisine for different audiences

One of the more memorable and bizarre aspects of Demolition Man's worldbuilding is the only restaurant chain left standing in 2032. Early in the film when Dr. Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne) pretends to be grateful for Spartan "saving" him from Simon Phoenix — when in fact, we learn it was Cocteau who arranged for Phoenix to be released from his cryogenic prison — he offers to show his gratitude by taking Spartan to Taco Bell. Spartan is predictably confused by this, until Officer Huxley (Sandra Bullock) explains to him that now every restaurant is Taco Bell. And as we see when the pair finally arrive, this particular Taco Bell looks like the kind of restaurant that only the wealthy can afford to patronize.

However, a lot of that is only accurate if you watch the American version of Demolition Man. In European versions of the film, Taco Bell was replaced with Pizza Hut. In 1993, Taco Bell wasn't a well-known chain across the pond, so it was decided Pizza Hut would be a better choice. Logos on containers and set locations were altered in post-production, and dialogue was dubbed to replace chain names. 

The Taco Bell of 2032 became a real place

In 2018, Taco Bell and the San Diego Comic-Con commemorated the 25th anniversary of Demolition Man by briefly transporting one of the movie's locations to the real world. 

For the convention, Taco Bell set up a pop-up location unlike any fast food restaurant you've ever seen outside the 1993 movie. Hostesses told customers "be well and Taco Bell" while delivering the customary no-touch hand greeting from the film. Unlike most Taco Bells, the location was made to appear as a fancy, expensive restaurant, complete with four-course meals served artfully on silver plates. The restaurant even hired a pianist/singer to entertain customers with classic commercial jingles — the pop hits of Demolition Man's vision of the future. And if you broke any of the restaurant's Demolition Man-style rules — like asking the pianist to play an actual pop song — you could be issued a Morality Violation notice.

The Arnold Amendment

Pretty much everything about the "brave new world" of 2032 shocks John Spartan, but one of his funnier responses comes when Officer Huxley is driving him around San Angeles. At one point, she mentions the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Huxley explains that Schwarzenegger was so popular he was elected president in spite of the Constitutional requirement that an American presidential candidate be a native-born citizen. It's made that much funnier when you remember that in 1993, as the two biggest action stars of the time, Schwarzenegger and Stallone were intense rivals often competing for the same projects.

But while the mention is little more than a joke, a decade after the release of Demolition Man, some lawmakers tried to make the punchline a reality. In 2003, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah unveiled an amendment he wanted to add to the U.S. Constitution called the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment, though it would soon earn the nickname "the Arnold Amendment." It would do away with the native-born requirement as long as the candidate had "been for 20 years a citizen of the United States." Since Hatch was a known supporter of Schwarzenegger's California gubernatorial bid and September 2003 marked Schwarzenegger's 20th anniversary as a U.S. citizen, many assumed Hatch had the action star very much in mind.

However, the amendment never got out of committee, so until that changes, it looks like the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library will have to wait a bit longer.

The origin of Demolition Man's three seashells

Perhaps the most memorable of all of the strange and funny worldbuilding elements in Demolition Man are the mysterious three seashells. After awakening from cryo-freeze and being inducted into the San Angeles Police, John Spartan goes to the restroom but soon returns to report to his fellow officers they're out of toilet paper. All he could find were three seashells. Officer Erwin (Rob Schneider) laughs at the realization that "he doesn't know how to use the three seashells!" We don't know if Spartan ever manages to learn how to use them, only that in this particular scene, he lets loose a long list of profanities so he can use the inevitable paper fines that spit out of a slot in the wall to take care of business. 

For years, fans have wondered exactly what was going on with those three seashells, and in 2014, screenwriter Daniel Waters spilled the beans on their origin. At a Q&A following a Hollywood screening of 1990's The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Waters said he was having trouble coming up with something futuristic Spartan would find in a restroom. He called a friend who was also a screenwriter looking for ideas, and as it happened, Waters' friend was using the restroom at that very moment. So the friend looked around his bathroom and reportedly said, "I have a bag of seashells on my toilet as a decoration?" Waters replied, "Okay, I'll make something out of that."

Tank Girl almost starred in Demolition Man

Demolition Man proved to be one of Sandra Bullock's earliest big roles. The following year, things really took off for the actress when she was cast opposite Keanu Reeves in the action thriller Speed. But originally, it was a very different actress cast to play Officer Huxley. 

It was Lori Petty, the future star of the strangely watchable box office bomb Tank Girl. Fresh from her role in the successful A League of Their Own, Petty was cast as John Spartan's love interest in Demolition Man, but in spite of it taking six months to select Petty for the role, she was fired after only two days of filming. The official reason given was "creative differences," though in a 1995 issue of Spy (via Pop Cult Master), Petty said she was fired because she didn't get along with Stallone, describing their chemistry as "oil and water."  

Officer Huxley wants her swag

While doing press for the 2018 heist comedy Ocean's 8, Sandra Bullock told Yahoo Movies that she didn't get everything she was owed for appearing in Demolition Man. According to the actress, Warner Bros. doesn't owe her any profits for the film or a writing credit ... but they do owe her a pinball machine. 

When Bullock and Ocean's 8 co-star Cate Blanchett got on the subject of action figures, Bullock brought up the pinball machine, saying that her Demolition Man co-stars Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Benjamin Bratt were all given Demolition Man-themed pinball machines for working on the movie. "I'm on the pinball machine," Bullock said. "All the men in the film got one, and I'm the only one that didn't get one. ... I literally shout out to Warner Bros. that I want a vintage Demolition Man pinball machine."

As if to add insult to injury, later the same year, Demolition Man director Marco Brambilla told Syfy that he was yet another recipient of the pinball machine. "I have a wonderful Demolition Man pinball machine," he said, "a complete set of Demolition Man toys, and a small-scale collection of the vehicles." Then, as if Bullock were nearby and he just wanted to rub it in, Brambilla added, "But the pinball machine is my favorite."

John Spartan, father of ... Meryl Streep?

One part of John Spartan's story that's left dangling in Demolition Man is the status of his daughter. He mentions that he had a young daughter before he was frozen, and Huxley offers to find out what she can, but he tells her not to bother, reasoning that wherever she is, there's no way he could fit into her life.

In April 2020, screenwriter Daniel Waters told Vulture that there actually was a scene filmed with Spartan reuniting with his daughter, who was played by Elizabeth Ruscio. Waters explained, "It's a tender scene, [and it] just stopped the movie dead. So, [Joel Silver's] like, 'Cut it. Just cut it.' And so we cut the scene out." But that wasn't going to be the end of the story of John Spartan's daughter. Waters said he and Silver discussed the possibility of a sequel to Demolition Man, and he also revealed that Silver had someone very specific in mind to play Spartan's offspring.

Waters said that Silver told him Meryl Streep was the obvious choice to play the daughter, reasoning that she needed to get a big action movie under belt. Waters claimed he doubted she would do it, and to date, he doesn't think anyone ever approached her about it. 

An author claims Demolition Man was stolen from him

There's a long history of science fiction writers and Hollywood clashing over the subject of plagiarism. One often cited example is the case of the late writer Harlan Ellison claiming James Cameron stole the idea for the Terminator franchise from an episode of Outer Limits that Ellison wrote called "Soldier," which itself was an adaptation of Ellison's short story "Soldier Out of Time." 

According to Hungarian sci-fi author István Nemere, Demolition Man is another example of plagiarism. In a 2010 interview, the novelist said that much of the film was lifted from his book Fight of the Dead, in which a terrorist and the man hunting him both hibernate for 173 years, eventually waking in the 22nd century to learn that violence is no longer a part of society. 

Whether or not Nemere is correct, it doesn't look like he or the filmmakers will ever get their day in court. Nemere said he looked into the possibility of a lawsuit, but that the legal costs of pursuing the matter were simply more than he could manage.

Spartan wanted what he was owed

One of the things you notice about John Spartan fairly early in Demolition Man — even before he's put in deep freeze — is that he doesn't work and play well with the people in charge. Years after Demolition Man's release, it turned out Sylvester Stallone sometimes had that in common with his character. 

In April 2017, Stallone filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros, claiming the studio owed him millions for Demolition Man. According to the suit, Stallone was owed 15% of all gross profits from the film and that Warner Bros had stopped payments in 1997. Stallone said he finally complained to the studio in 2014, leading to a payout of $2.8 million, but that it still didn't cover what he was owed. In 2018, Stallone amended the suit, claiming there were three more films — 1986's Cobra, 1989's Tango & Cash, and 1994's The Specialist — that Warner Bros had shorted him on. 

In 2019, news surfaced that an agreement was reached between Stallone and Warner Bros. No details were revealed, but lawyers from both sides told Variety that the suit was settled, allowing everyone involved to — as the people of 2032 might put it — enhance their calm.

Simon Phoenix was almost played by a different star

Wesley Snipes' Simon Phoenix is a fun, vibrant, and memorably over-the-top villain who proved to be an inspiration to basketball star and famous eccentric Dennis Rodman. But apparently, Snipes wasn't the first pick for the bad guy. 

Instead, Stallone campaigned for the famous martial artist and actor Jackie Chan to play the time-crossed bad guy. Chan turned the role down, reportedly because he didn't want to play a villain. In retrospect, it's pretty tough to imagine someone like Chan — whose known for relatively family-friendly portrayals of heroes — playing someone as sadistic as Simon Phoenix. 

There may have been other things influencing Chan's decision, as well. As Cinema Blend pointed out in 2014, while covering the reasons Chan chose to stay out of the action-star-heavy Expendables franchise, Chan has had a lot of issues working on American-made films like Rush Hour, including "the quality of the roles and the inadequacy of the American stunt teams," as well as the language barrier and the "very big commitment for him to leave home." 

Of course, there is a bright side. Chan lost the opportunity to appear in Demolition Man, but that means no matter what else you can accuse him of, no one can ever blame him for Dennis Rodman.

In the midst of a pandemic, Demolition Man seems to be prophetic

While speaking to Vulture in April 2020, screenwriter Daniel Waters said he never meant for Demolition Man to be prophetic, but at the same time, he couldn't deny some uncanny parallels between his story and the America of the 21st century. 

A lot of those parallels were related to the COVID-19 pandemic, most obviously because of social distancing. In Demolition Man, Officer Huxley specifically calls out a series of deadly pandemics as the reason why people no longer shake hands in 2032 or even have sex. Speaking of Huxley's retelling of the fictional history, Waters said, "That speech, it seems so reasonable now."

For many Americans, COVID-19 led to the necessity of working remotely, and in particular, workers often communicate over the videoconferencing Zoom app, just as one of Demolition Man's villains — Dr. Cocteau — teleconferences in front of a table populated with screens that turn and follow him as if the actual people were there. And of course, the beginning of the real world pandemic found Americans panic-buying toilet paper, which made it quickly disappear from the shelves, just as toilet paper no longer exists in Demolition Man.

Other parallels come up, like the mention in the movie of Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming president. Of course that hasn't happened, but ten years after Demolition Man, Schwarzenegger became governor of California, and in 2020, the U.S. president was known for being the star of a reality show.  

Demolition Man 2 is in the works

In May 2020, Sylvester Stallone dropped news that's sure to excite fans of Demolition Man. In a video on his Instagram, Stallone said Demolition Man 2 is on the way. "We're working on it right now with Warner Brothers," Stallone said about the sequel. "It's looking fantastic. So, that should come out, that's going to happen.

Of course that just leads to a small army of questions. Will Daniel Waters be writing it? Will director Marco Brambilla return? How about the cast? Much of the cast — e.g., Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Rob Schneider, and Denis Leary — are still around and fairly active in the industry. Being frozen solid and smashed into thousands of pieces, Wesley Snipes' character had a fairly conclusive ending to his story, but in Hollywood, never say never. And of course, there's the question of whether or not Joel Silver's idea of Meryl Streep playing John Spartan's daughter could come to fruition. If nothing else, the advancements in CGI over the past few decades should certainly open up whole new possibilities for a Demolition Man sequel. 

Of course, no project in Hollywood is guaranteed until it's in the theater. Rest assured, we'll be on the lookout for any word about Demolition Man 2. So feel free to enhance your calm.