Taco Bell Built Its Demolition Man Restaurant At Comic-Con, And It Was Amazing

The 1993 movie Demolition Man is a science-fiction masterpiece, if you ask the staff of GameSpot Universe. We discuss the inner-workings of John Spartan, Simon Phoenix, and the world of San Angeles way more than anyone in their right minds should. So when Taco Bell announced that it would have a pop-up restaurant at Comic-Con, recreating the Taco Bell scene from the movie, we had to go, and it was the best activation we’d ever participated in the history of the show.

As you may know, according to Demolition Man lore, Taco Bell was the sole survivor of the Franchise Wars. Companies engaged in corporate warfare and buyouts until Taco Bell was the only restaurant left. All restaurants in Demolition Man became Taco Bell. In the movie, John Spartan–who was recently unfrozen from his cyro-prison–visited Taco Bell with his partner Lenina Huxley to have dinner with Dr. Raymond Cocteau, the creator of the peaceful society San Angeles.

There are lots of notable things about the Taco Bell scene in Demolition Man alone, from the tiny portions of vegan food to MTV Sports’ Dan Cortese playing piano and singing the commercial for “Green Giant.” And at Comic-Con, Taco Bell created a restaurant that could have been one of the many Taco Bells around San Angeles.

Additionally, GameSpot spoke with Matt Prince, who works as public relations and brand management at Taco Bell about the insane activation and how it came to be.

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GameSpot: So how did this come about?

Matt Prince: Yeah, so this was an idea that the brand had for probably a good three years. You know, being around the brand in social media, listening, we see people bring up Demolition Man all the time. Even for a movie that’s 25 years old, any time we come out with a new brand initiative or an element to the experience for the customer or the restaurant, people always bring up Demolition Man. When we brought in weddings, people were like, “Oh my gosh, the future’s coming true, Demolition Man was a premonition, it’s true.” When we opened up the more cantina-style restaurant that was more upscale, alcohol was available at the restaurants, people were comparing it to the restaurant from the movie.

Prince: So we knew there was still a really strong desire to tie the brand to that movie, even 25 years later. Knowing the 25th anniversary was coming up, we thought, “If we’re gonna do it, now is the time.” And what better place to do it than the holy grail of science fiction in Comic-Con. So we’ve been working with Warner Bros. for the past eight months to put this all together. And so everything from the elements that you see from the movie, like the actual memorabilia and the wardrobes to the movie, we got from the archives, from Warner Bros.

Prince: It’s just been, from top to bottom, from the bathrooms to the entrance, there are touches of the movie, that if you saw the movie and you’re familiar with it, you’re gonna be blown away. Like, these little Easter eggs are really cool. But it also gives us our flexibility to talk about, “OK, well what if Taco Bell was in 2032? What if we were the only restaurant that survived the franchise wars? What would that look like?”

Prince: So that’s where we see some elements that you don’t get from the movie, like robots serving different dishes, you have some elements like hanging hydroponic plants that we could grow in restaurants someday, so you have the no silverware at the table. So there’s all these little predictions that we’re trying to make over the course of, you know, “What would 2032 Taco Bell look like?” So that kind of gives us a little bit of fun to have with it.

Did you guys partner with anybody else to design or flesh it out?

Prince: Yeah, so we work with an experiential agency called Cyrano Rox. We worked with them for many, many years on a lot of the pop-ups that we do, typically out in New York. But when we launched some products like the naked chicken chalupa, we did a really cool speakeasy in the heart of Manhattan. And so we’ve done different elements like that, but nothing to the scale of this and the buzz around Comic-Con and this kind of excitement.

These are great. We looked at these [menus] for eight or ten minutes.

Prince: It takes you a while for your brain to get it. But yeah, all sorts of people came together to really make this thing happen, which is really cool to see it come to life.

So you had the piano player upstairs. By chance, did you try to get Dan Cortese?

Prince: So we worked closely with Dan. So Dan came to our headquarters a few weeks ago to film some really neat elements for the line queue–you guys probably missed the line–but in the queue, there is a Dan that is welcoming everybody into the restaurant.

Cortese continued

Prince: He’s not Dan Cortese, he’s the minister of communications, so he basically welcomes everybody to the future of Taco Bell. So for us, it’s kind of that entertainment while you wait in line you get surrounded. It’s also that easter egg of Dan Cortese being the guy to do it. So before you leave, that video’s also playing above the bar. You might have to wait a few minutes to see it turn, but it’s amazing. He did a great job. It was really great. Yeah, he loved to be a part of it. We still get mentions from Dan Cortese all the time. That was a big thing that happened, like, we have to have Dan Cortese be a part of it in some way, shape, or form.

I have a question about the seashells. Everybody coming in was like, “Well, they better have the seashells. Like, they have them, right?” But having them be “out of order”–I thought about it for a second, and I think I realized that if you have the seashells out, people would probably try to wipe their a** with them or something. So what was the thinking behind the way that you did it?

Prince: [Laughing] Yeah, that was a strategic move for sure. One of the biggest things from the movie is the seashells obviously, and the question of how you use them is one of the biggest mysteries of all time. So we wanted to play within that space to kind of keep it going without making our own predictions. But, for sure, we wanted to make sure it wasn’t something that people would be, you know, from a sanitary perspective, be using, and things like that. So you can still get the element that it’s there. We add a nod to it without having any terrible things happening.

How can a seashell be out of order?

Prince: It’s probably because of how they’re used.

My favorite thing about it is that it adds to the canon. You guys worked with the studio, so we can assume that anything that happens here is canon, right? So now we’ve added a layer to the seashell lore. It’s beautiful, it’s one more piece of the puzzle.

I just wanted to also ask you about Taco Bell’s overall strategy of, like, I feel like you guys have really zeroed in and gotten in tune with your audience. I mean, nacho fries as a concept, I think, speak to a certain kind of person. And now we’re here, and you guys are doing a good job of this. Like, what is the overall strategy?

Prince: Yeah, if you look at the overall evolution of social media, it was around the same time as our brand really started picking up. Because for us, our consumers are really fanatical and they share that on social media. So it kind of opened our eyes to this culture and this fandom and this cult-like following that Taco Bell had. And so we really leaned into that. So everything from products that people wanted to come back to the way that our restaurants are built to the different things that we do, like this, is basically reflective of our consumer and our fan.

Prince: So once we really leaned into that, you kind of started this really shift in dynamic of, we truly do consider ourselves a lifestyle brand–more than just food, more than just a restaurant. How do we partner with Forever 21 on a really cool retail collaboration? How do we partner with Lyft on some technology innovations that have never been seen in the industry? So we’re looking at different ways to be in culture and ways that other brands within the industry aren’t doing and that’s what we really hang our hat on. Because you have moments like this where, going down the line and talking to people and, like, “What are you most excited to see?” They’re like, “Honestly, I just love Taco Bell, and this is amazing.”

Prince: I talked to one guy and was like, “Hey, are you a fan of Taco Bell?” He was like, “Yeah, do you wanna see my tattoo on my ass?” I’m like, “Of course I do!” And he had “Live mas” on his butt-cheek tattooed. And we got it on camera, so it was amazing.

Oh my god.

Prince: But to have that fandom, that level of fandom where people are tattooing slogans…

That’s wild. So you would have thought that you’d be calling his bluff and he’d say “Just kidding.”

Prince: I thought he was bluffing, I was like, “Okay, sure, I’ll see your tattoo,” but he actually had it.

I mean, personally I just love that you can replace any item on the menu, beans instead of meat, and make everything vegetarian, which is me, so I do that.

Prince: We’re the only restaurant in the industry to be certified by the American Vegetarian Association, which is amazing. We have the largest vegetarian menu with your substitutions with beans. With potatoes, we can make it meatless. It’s not certified vegetarian because we fry them in the same fryer some with some of the meat. But with potatoes, you can make anything meatless and amazing, so the options are fantastic for vegetarians. And a lot of places, the vegetarians are left with sides and these smaller, compromising dishes.

To have those options are great for people. And of course, in the movie Demolition Man, it’s all vegetarian. So if you look at the menu tonight, there was obviously one meat dish but everything else was vegetarian, so I don’t think they’re that far off from their prediction of the future, really leaning into a more plant-based, meatless world.

Thanks to Matt Prince for talking to GameSpot about the pop-up. Keep going for a look at the food the restaurant served, inspired by the movie.

Warning: The menu is really weird and doesn’t make sense until you see the actual food. Items with * next to it are outlawed items from the world of Demolition Man. However, because this was a special occasion, you could ingest them.

Course one: Joy Joy Hors D’oeuvre

Masa Geometrics / Corn4/ Legumes / Funghi / Tomato Aspic / Onion Soubise / Avocado / Cilantro & Capsicum

Course two: Crunchwrap Supreme Leader

Cheese & Masa Polygon / Seared Outlawed Aminos* / Green / Tomato Aspic / Nacho Cheese Crunch / Sour Cream Spheres

Course three: Franchise Freedom Fries

Nacho Cheese Potato Vessels w/ Bold Mexican Spices* / Cryo-Capsicum

Course four: Cinnamon Helix Confection

Oxygenated Twists / Cryo-Berry / 160 C Sugar

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