A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Demolition Man is a 1993 science fiction movie in which archenemies Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes live in a sanitized and helplessly pacifist society. The violence is constant and unrelenting: gun battles, fistfights, martial arts violence, car chases, building explosions, and in one scene, an eyeball removed from a prison warden's eye socket. The profanity is also nonstop: frequent use of "f--k" and its variations and many other curse words, as well as various euphemisms for sex. There is some brief nudity; female breasts are shown. Some iffy humor includes use of the word "f-g" and a joke referencing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. There's drug, alcohol, and cigarette use by characters. While the movie satirizes consumer culture, it also has quite a bit of product placement. While there's a somewhat satirical exploration of themes like free will, behavior conditioning, consumerism, and human nature, the excessive action movie mayhem and profanity drown it out.
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What's the story?
The year is 1996, and Los Angeles is a burning war zone in DEMOLITION MAN. Psychopathic criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) has taken 30 hostages inside an abandoned building, and LAPD Sgt. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), operating under the maxim "Send a maniac to catch one," jumps out of a police chopper onto the building in order to stop Phoenix. Instead, Phoenix detonates the building, presumably killing the hostages as a result, and while Phoenix is caught, Spartan is charged with manslaughter. They are sentenced to being cryogenically frozen while being exposed to subliminal messages intended to correct their violent tendencies. In 2032, Phoenix is unthawed long enough to have a parole hearing. During the hearing, Phoenix breaks out of the prison to find a world much different than the world he left. It's a society in which pacifism and docility is strictly enforced, so much so that the police now have zero experience with apprehending violent criminals. The only option for the police is to unthaw Spartan and promise him parole if he apprehends Phoenix. But the leader and mastermind of this sanitized society of forced civility, Dr. Raymond Cocteau, sees in Phoenix an opportunity to kill Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary), a leader of an underground resistance group who wants to bring back a world where it's OK to swear, eat meat, and have direct sexual intercourse. With Lieutenant Leina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), a contemporary cop with both a fascination and repulsion for the savagery of the 20th century as embodied by Spartan and Phoenix, Spartan must not only find a way to end Phoenix's reign of terror before it starts, but also find a way to balance the safety of contemporary society with the freedoms lost as a result.
Is it any good?
With its sci-fi satire of modern-day consumerism and forced civility at the cost of personal freedom, this movie had a message to convey. The humor of futuristic toilets, fines for cursing, and cops who don't know how to arrest anyone is clever, no matter what debts it might owe to Brave New World and the Hungarian sci-fi writer who claimed the movie plagiarized one of his novels. But these messages on behaviorism and social engineering don't get much space to breathe amongst the bombast and frenzy of two action-movie stars knocking each other around in a plethora of ways, the constant profanity, and the feeling that, shorn from its sci-fi dressing, it's really nothing new.
There's the cop who breaks the law to enforce the law. There's the maniac criminal who laughs a lot and makes twisted witticisms. Both played by big-name stars. Demolition Man tries to please the deep thinkers attracted to sci-fi while also trying to please the not-so-deep thinkers who just want escape in the form of the entertainment of loud bone-crushing violence. The fact that the latter wins out in a blockbuster movie should surprise no one, but by going for that lowest common denominator, a potentially great movie is instead just a slightly more thoughtful '90s action movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about science fiction movies. How does Demolition Man present both the near and distant future as a way to comment on the contemporary realities of when the movie was released (1993)?
The characters have last names like Huxley, Cocteau, Spartan, and Phoenix. How are these last names used as symbols, perhaps for the characters themselves and also for the overall movie themes?
Did the violence and profanity seem necessary for the story and characters, or did it seem forced and even distracting?
- In theaters: October 8, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: November 9, 2010
- Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock
- Director: Marco Brambilla
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Non-stop action violence, and for strong language.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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