Is Taco Bell Embracing Demolition Man's Vision of Its Future?

Taco Bell
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In the (reasonably small) genre of future-predicting films, the 1993 action flick Demolition Man gets the short shrift when held against such classics as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Spielberg’s Minority Report, or Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. And rightly so. It’s a terrrrrible movie.

But it only takes one semi-accurate act of augury to cement celluloid immortality. And, believe it or not, Demolition Man may have just done that.

Envisioning the world in 2032, the Stallone/Snipes vehicle’s best remembered prediction is that, in the aftermath of the franchise wars, Taco Bell is the only restaurant left standing. Fortunately (or unfortunately), that hasn’t come to pass yet. But on Tuesday, the California-based fast-food company did release a rendering of its fancy new flagship Cantina store in Las Vegas (pictured above). Its futuristic, glass-and-metal design does bear some resemblance to the Taco Bell of Demolition Man where, to Stallone’s bemusement, he and his sidekick/love interest Sandra Bullock set off for a classy dinner. See for yourself:

Back in 2014, I addressed Taco Bell’s specific efforts to incorporate elements of the fast-casual industry, which are popular with Millennial consumers and from which this new kind of sit-down Taco Bell restaurant has sprung. This evolution started with apps that allow customization, but is now taking on physical form in a way not unlike Demolition Man.

“The two-story restaurant will feature an outdoor patio for al fresco dining experiences, digital displays and offerings unique to the Las Vegas experience,” reads the company press release about the new Vegas location. “Designed to set the stage for a social dining experience, the restaurant will serve alcohol, including beer and Twisted Freezes – a unique offering provided only in Taco Bell Cantina locations. Diners can pair their Twisted Freezes with one of the tapas-style menu items exclusive to Cantina restaurants – including nachos and rolled tacos – during designated hours each evening.”

Last month, I visited the Taco Bell Cantina in Chicago, one of the first of these prototypes. It might have been the brainfreeze, but it did feel a little bit like our delicious dystopian future.

A few other quick notes of possible prescience in Demolition Man: The movie takes place in San Angeles, a rump-state union of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara formed after a massive earthquake hits the area. In 2032, San Angeles is a health-obsessed society—no smoking or drinking or physical contact allowed—that also suffers from a surfeit of political correctness, heightened police surveillance, and no tolerance for guns or even micro-aggressions, which are fineable by law.

Were these groundbreaking calls in 1993? I’ll yield the last word to Vincent Canby, a voice from the past, who quipped in his review of the movie for the Times: “Demolition Man is a significant artifact of our time or, at least, of this week.”

Speaking of the future-predicting genre, do you have any favorite film scenes that contain futuristic things that went on to materialize in the real world? Drop us a note and we’ll post the best ones: