The kind of film that could only have existed in the 1990s, Demolition Man is a bizarre and brilliant sci-fi action movie with heavy comedic elements, and which unites movie legends Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes.
Below are some things you might not have realised about this fun 1993 film!
20. One writer has accused the film of stealing the plot of his 1986 novel
It’s not uncommon for little-known writers to come forward and accuse major Hollywood movies of plagiarising their work. In some instances, these writers have taken the studios to court – and, in rare instances, have won large settlements. This didn’t happen in the case of Demolition Man, although one writer has accused the film and its makers of ripping him off. Hungarian science fiction author Nemere István has claimed that most of Demolition Man was based on his novel Holtak Harca (Fight of the Dead).
Published in 1986, Fight of the Dead has an almost identical premise to Demolition Man: a terrorist and his law enforcement arch-enemy are cryogenically frozen, only to awaken in a future in which the world is non-violent. István did not file a lawsuit, as he could not afford to hire a lawyer and did not want to try and fight ‘major Hollywood forces in the United States’.
19. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal were offered the lead role before Stallone
We don’t know about you, but personally we can’t imagine any actors other than Stallone and Snipes starring in Demolition Man. However, neither actor was the first choice for either the role of hero John Spartan or villain Simon Phoenix. The first actors courted for the movie’s lead roles were Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal – but both men turned it down, as neither wanted to play the bad guy. It’s also known that neither of the action stars had much respect for one another.
As surprising as this might be now, both Van Damme and Seagal were rising stars at the time, off the back of hits like Van Damme’s Universal Soldier and Seagal’s Under Siege. Stallone, meanwhile, hadn’t had a hit for a while – although 1993 turned out to be a good year for the seasoned star, as he had two major hits in Demolition Man and Cliffhanger. Even so, Stallone and Snipes also took a bit of persuasion to appear in the film, with both actors initially turning it down.
18. Stallone wanted Jackie Chan to play Simon Phoenix, but Chan said no
When Stallone accepted the role of Demolition Man’s hero John Spartan, he had one person in mind to star opposite him as Simon Phoenix. Stallone offered the role to Jackie Chan, a good friend of his who was the number one action star in Asia at the time. Chan had appeared in a number of American films – notably The Cannonball Run and its sequel – but had yet to really crack the West. Ultimately Chan turned Demolition Man down, due to concerns that the Asian audience would react badly to him playing a villain.
It wouldn’t be until Chan starred alongside Chris Tucker in 1998’s Rush Hour that he really became a big Hollywood star. Demolition Man still squeezes in a nod to the martial arts legend, however, as Huxley mentions that she learned to fight from watching Jackie Chan movies.
17. Lori Petty was cast as Lenina Huxley but replaced by Sandra Bullock after filming began
Now and then, films start shooting with a cast that differs from the one we end up seeing in the final film, as occasionally actors get fired along the way. This was the case with Demolition Man, and the key supporting role of SAPD Lieutenant Lenina Huxley. The role was originally given to Lori Petty, best known for starring in Point Break, A League of Their Own and Tank Girl, and who has more recently appeared in TV’s Orange is the New Black.
Petty was replaced after two days of filming, however, for what producer Joel Silver described as “creative differences.” For her part, Petty claims she and Stallone did not get along, saying that the two of them were “like oil and water.” Petty’s eleventh-hour replacement was, of course, Sandra Bullock – and it proved to be a major breakthrough role for the future superstar.
16. Taco Bell was changed to Pizza Hut in some territories
One of the biggest recurring jokes in Demolition Man is also a pretty bald-faced example of movie product placement. In Demolition Man’s future, there is now only one restaurant chain in the entire world, and it’s Taco Bell. We’re told by Bullock’s Huxley that the Mexican fast food company was the sole survivor of the ‘franchise wars.’ However, there were concerns that this gag wouldn’t translate everywhere, as Taco Bell had not gone global in 1993.
Because of this, in some territories Taco Bell was changed in the film to Pizza Hut, in order to avoid any confusion. Curiously, this change was not made in Great Britain, despite the fact that Taco Bell restaurants didn’t open there until 2017.
15. Sandra Bullock described Stallone as being like a brother on-set
Sandra Bullock was still a fairly new face in Hollywood when she landed the role of Demolition Man’s Lenina Huxley. It was one of the actress’ first major roles, and she came to it late in the day replacing the fired Lori Petty, at the time a better-known actor than Bullock. With all that considered, things might understandably have been a bit nerve-wracking for Bullock on the Demolition Man set.
Happily, Bullock has since said that the Demolition Man shoot was actually a very happy experience for her. Unlike with Petty and Stallone, Bullock and Stallone got along very well, to the point that Bullock came to see the elder actor as an on-set big brother figure. Following Demolition Man, Bullock took a role in another action hit, Speed – and from there she quickly became a major leading lady.
14. It predicted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s move into politics
For much of his career, Demolition Man leading man Sylvester Stallone has enjoyed a long and (for the most part) friendly rivalry with fellow action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. Demolition Man continued this with a brief mention that, whilst Stallone’s Spartan was frozen, Schwarzenegger became President of the United States. In the early 90s, Schwarzenegger made no secret of his political ambitions, and roughly ten years later he did indeed take office as Governor of California.
In reality, however, Schwarzenegger is unable to run for President due to having been born outside the USA. In Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock’s Huxley states that Schwarzenegger’s popularity prompted an amendment to the US constitution allowing citizens born outside the US to run. This wasn’t the last time Stallone poked fun at Schwarzenegger’s presidential aspirations: it also got a mention the first time the men appeared on film together, in 2010’s The Expendables.
13. Several other accurate predictions of the future are made in the film
Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoying a successful political career wasn’t the only prediction of the future that Demolition Man got right. A big part of why the 1993 film still enjoys such a strong cult status is the sense that it made a lot of accurate claims about where the future was headed. Happily, cryogenic prisons aren’t a reality, nor have San Francisco and Los Angeles been merged into one city following a monstrous earthquake.
However, many viewers feel that the world as depicted in Demolition Man – with its extreme focus on sensitivity, safety and health-consciousness – isn’t too far removed from how things really are in the early 21st century. Technologically, the movie has also proved fairly accurate in predicting how the world would develop; some technology seen in the film was pure sci-fi at the time, but has become part of everyday life today. This includes the rise of video calling, self-driving cars, telephone conferences, biometric implants, tablets and online instructional videos.
12. The cast and writer have since explained how the three seashells work
For many Demolition Man fans, one of the most fascinating aspects of the film’s vision of the future is the three seashells. In case you’re unfamiliar or need reminding, we’re shown that in the future bathrooms come equipped with a trio of shells instead of toilet paper. Quite how this was meant to work has left viewers confused for years – and an explanation has since been offered. We should caution readers that this description might get a little graphic.
Writer Daniel Waters – who says he come up with the idea after seeing some shells in a friend’s bathroom – explained to Stallone that you would, in theory, “hold two seashells like chopsticks.” The user would then “pull gently” to remove the human waste, and “scrape what’s left with the third.” Quite how this would work in practice – not to mention how the shells would be sterilised afterwards – is another matter entirely.
11. The original cryo-prison finale saw Stallone fight Jesse Ventura
If there’s one thing about Demolition Man that’s bound to leave 80s action fans feeling really short-changed, it’s how the film squanders Jesse Ventura. The wrestler-turned-actor (and later politician) made a couple of unforgettable big screen appearances opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987’s Predator and The Running Man. One would have thought, then, that he’d be an equally large presence in Demolition Man – but sadly, most of his footage hit the cutting room floor.
As originally shot, the finale would have seen Stallone’s John Spartan battle his way through a slew of recently defrosted bad guys before getting to Wesley Snipes’ Simon Phoenix. This included a brawl between Stallone and Ventura’s unnamed character – but sadly, the fight with Ventura was trimmed at the studio’s behest. This was because the first cut of Demolition Man clocked in at over two and a half hours, which was considered far too long for an action movie at the time.
10. A subplot about Spartan’s daughter was removed
Another element of Demolition Man that didn’t survive the editor’s scissors involved the daughter of Stallone’s Spartan. While references to this character are still made, the film originally saw Spartan reunited with his now-adult child. Shots of the actress who played Spartan’s daughter remain in the final film: he finds her in the ‘Scraps’ underworld sequence.
However, it was decided the subplot was better off being completely excised when test audiences were confused by an early cut of the film. Some viewers felt the identity of the daughter hadn’t been made clear – and were under the impression that Sandra Bullock’s Huxley was actually Spartan’s child. Considering that the film also sees Spartan and Huxley have (virtual) sex, it’s not hard to see why the test audience was a bit alarmed by this.
9. Stallone was “terrified” filming the freezing sequence
The prologue sequence of Demolition Man shows how Stallone’s John Spartan was framed for a slew of killings, and sentenced to cryo-prison. As part of this, we see a nude Spartan lowered in a pod which is then flooded with liquid and frozen solid. If Stallone seems to be doing a great job looking frightened throughout this particular scene, that’s no accident.
Stallone has described that scene as “probably the worst five hours I’ve ever had on movie sets… I was terrified.” We can hardly blame him, given the mix of claustrophobia and the risk of drowning (not to mention the fact Stallone had to be naked in public for five hours). Four years later, this sequence was parodied by Mike Myers in spy spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
8. Snipes had to slow down his fight moves because he kept blurring on-camera
When Demolition Man went into production, Wesley Snipes had not long since become a major new action star thanks to Passenger 57. While Demolition Man cast him as the bad guy, the film further demonstrated Snipes’ chops as an action man. Being a genuine black-belt martial artist. the actor was extremely confident when performing the film’s fight sequences.
In fact, Snipes was deemed to be too good, as his moves were so fast they barely registered on camera. Because of this, Snipes had to be asked to slow down so his moves could be seen more clearly on-screen. Snipes would take further action roles in Drop Zone, Money Train, US Marshals and most famously the Blade trilogy, before reuniting with Stallone in The Expendables 3.
7. Snipes hated his Simon Phoenix look so much he shaved his head as soon as filming was over
Simon Phoenix sure has a rather distinctive – and some might even say iconic – look in Demolition Man. The film, and the character, had a major impact on one of the biggest names of the decade: NBA star Dennis Rodman. The basketball player became as famous in the 90s for his wild fashion sense as he was for his sporting prowess. Rodman is said to have taken a lot of inspiration from Snipes’ bleached hair and colourful costumes in Demolition Man.
However, one person who didn’t like the Simon Phoenix look one bit was Wesley Snipes himself. In fact, Snipes hated his blonde hair so much that he shaved his head as soon as filming ended.
6. Nigel Hawthorne only agreed to star in the film to get The Madness of King George made
It’s long since been a rite of passage for any respected British actor to earn their stripes in Hollywood by playing a bad guy in an action movie. Demolition Man was the turn of Sir Nigel Hawthorne, a respected veteran of stage and screen who was comparatively little known in the US at the time. However, Hawthorne was not overly-enamoured with the project or the role of Dr. Raymond Cocteau, and only agreed to star as a ‘quid pro quo.’
Hawthorne took the role to prove his screen presence to the backers of his pet project, an adaptation of Alan Bennett’s stage play The Madness of George III. This paid off, as in 1994 the film – released as The Madness of King George – was a critical hit and modest commercial success, earning Hawthorne a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Even so, by all accounts Hawthorne wasn’t much fun to be around on the set of Demolition Man, and didn’t get along with either Stallone or Snipes.
5. A competition winner got to set off the explosion that opens the film
The explosive opening of Demolition Man sees a large building spectacularly go up in flames. As this was 1993, such scenes were still usually done with practical effects rather than CGI. In this instance, a real building – the derelict Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company in Louisville, Kentucky – was blown up.
As a fun bit of promo for the movie, MTV held a tie-in contest that saw the winner visit the set for this stunt. Better yet, the winning contestant got to actually push the button that set off the explosives in the fiery opening scene. We’re sure that must have been a dream come true for the lucky action movie fan who got to have that experience!
4. Producer Joel Silver wanted to cast Meryl Streep in a sequel
With box office takings of almost $160 million worldwide, Demolition Man was a reasonable-sized hit for studio Warner Bros. Because of this, there were hopes early on that a sequel might be on the cards – and producer Joel Silver had some bold ideas for Demolition Man 2. As the subplot of Spartan’s grown daughter had been cut from the final film, this left a minor plot hole that a follow-up could easily have explored in the sequel.
Joel Silver’s idea, according to screenwriter Daniel Waters, was to team Stallone’s Spartan with his daughter in Demolition Man 2 – and he wanted none other than Meryl Streep to play Spartan’s daughter. Waters doesn’t think Streep was ever officially contacted about the role, although it’s hard to imagine the acclaimed multi-Oscar-winner would have been interested. That having been said, Streep did make a few mainstream-friendly blockbusters in the 90s, including the FX-driven Death Becomes Her and action thriller The River Wild – so who knows!
3. The futuristic cars were real – and worth $69 million
The futuristic cars featured in Demolition Man were genuine concept vehicles, provided by General Motors. These were GM’s Ultralite concept cars designed to run at 100 miles per gallon (although the movie makes it clear they no longer run on traditional gasoline). GM loaned several of these prototype vehicles – which had a combined value of $69 million – to studio Warner Bros for use in the movie.
Unsurprisingly, the Demolition Man crew also built several replicas, both to give them a greater number of vehicles and to give them something disposable to use in the explosive stunt sequences. Today, self-driving cars are getting closer to being an everyday reality, whilst more and more cars are run on electricity. The GM Ultralite was later used in the movie Bicentennial Man, as well as the TV series SeaQuest DSV.
2. The film’s Kuwaiti title was ‘Rambo the Destroyer’
A great many superstar actors are known for playing basically the same character over and over. As Demolition Man cast Sylvester Stallone in a gun-toting action role, comparisons with Rambo are not out of the question. Even so, it’s a bit of a stretch to pretend that the satirical sci-fi action comedy is in any other way related to the darker, harder-edged Rambo series. However, this didn’t stop Demolition Man from being officially released in Kuwait under the title ‘Rambo the Destroyer’.
The name change was a clear and blatant attempt to make more money by referring to Stallone’s already popular Rambo franchise. Stallone has said more than once that, despite the longevity of the Rocky franchise, Rambo is the character he’s most recognised for worldwide.
1. Stallone has plans for Demolition Man 2
Recent years have demonstrated that, despite his advancing years, Stallone has no qualms about rehashing his classic characters. Since 2006, Stallone has played Rocky Balboa three more times and John Rambo twice – and he’s already stated that further outings for both characters are possible. And it looks like we can add John Spartan to the list of characters that Sylvester Stallone is happy to play again years later.
The actor announced in May 2020 that the gears are in motion on a possible Demolition Man sequel, now in development at Warner Bros. Nothing more has been heard on the matter since, but the septuagenarian star assures us the follow-up film is “looking fantastic” and is “going to happen.” There’s no word on whether or not Meryl Streep is involved, however.