How Do The Three Seashells Actually Work?


  • Demolition Man’s futuristic world of 2032 features harmony and banned substances, but the mystery of the three seashells is its most iconic aspect.
  • The seashells, a replacement for toilet paper, have intrigued fans since the movie’s release, with Sylvester Stallone revealing their usage in a 2006 interview.
  • The concept of the three seashells, created by screenwriter Daniel Waters, was a simple addition to the script but has since become a popular meme and part of pop culture history.

Demolition Man presents an interesting look at the future of 2032, but it is the mystery of the three seashells that has become the most iconic aspect of the movie. In Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan, a tough, rule-breaking cop who is framed for a crime and cryogenically frozen for 40 years. Spartan is awakened in the year 2032 in San Angeles and tasked with stopping his old enemy Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) who wreaks havoc in the peaceful and crime-free utopia. However, he also has to contend with being a fish out of water in the new society with plenty of changes, including the three seashells method of using the bathroom.

The movie’s utopian version of 2032 reveals a world where everybody gets along and war is a thing of the past, while substances like cigarettes and alcohol have been banned. Another curious change is the total removal of toilet paper, which has been replaced with the Demolition Man seashells. Spartan understandably finds the concept utterly bemusing, which isn’t helped by the fact that no one successfully explains to him how the three seashells work. The sci-fi joke has taken on a new life since the movie was released with a devoted fan following seeking out the answer to how this new bathroom method works and even hoping for one in a potential Demolition Man 2.


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The Three Seashells Are A Gross World-Building Mechanism

Stallone Offered His Own Detailed Understanding Of Demolition Man’s Best-Kept Secret

In the years since the movie’s release, many have speculated as to how the seashells actually work. Much like Demolition Man‘s contactless high five, it was a bit of fun world-building that wasn’t fully explained. Though Demolition Man screenwriter Daniel Waters was protective of the truth behind the Demolition Man seashells, Stallone himself revealed how they work in a 2006 interview (via Ain’t It Cool News):

OK, this may be bordering on the grotesque, but the way it was explained to me by the writer is you hold two seashells like chopsticks, pull gently and scrape what’s left with the third. You asked for it…. Be careful what you ask for, sorry.

Stallone’s rather gross reveal behind the long-held mystery confirms that the movie made the right decision by keeping the truth about the three seashells hidden from the audience. Not only is it funnier that Spartan is never told how to properly use them, but the truth according to Stallone makes it questionable if that is a cleaner method compared to the supposedly barbaric use of toilet paper of the past.

Sandra Bullock Explained The Three Seashells

Bullock Joked About The Ongoing Demolition Man Mystery

Sandra Bullock wearing sunglasses in Demolition Man

Stallone wasn’t the only star of the movie to offer an explanation of Demolition Man‘s three seashells. Sandra Bullock was asked about the mystery behind the three seashells (via MTV), and she gave her own take on it. Bullock went into even more graphic detail while also jokingly mocking the interviewer for having to have this long-lasting movie mystery clarified:

“Well, think of a bidet, right? There’s several processes. You have number one, you have number two, and then the cleanup. You can use them as little maracas as well. See, it’s a musical instrument, and it’s a hygiene element. It was obvious. It was obvious to me when I read it. I thought you were an intelligent man, but obviously not.”

Why The Three Seashells Made It Into Demolition Man

Screenwriter Daniel Waters Shared The Simple Origins

The three seashells aren’t central to the plot of Demolition Man at all, but they’ve been one of the most widely discussed elements of the movie. It was created by screenwriter Daniel Waters as part of his original script for the movie. Though he didn’t reveal the secret behind the shells, he explained how he conceived of the idea, feeling that bathrooms of the future would have some kind of unique features. Despite the legacy of the concept, Waters admits that its creation came about in a very simple and fitting way for the silly idea (via Den of Geek):

“I’m trying to come up with futuristic things you’d find in there. I was having trouble, so I called my buddy, another screenwriter across town, asked him if he had any ideas. Ironically enough that guy was taking a dump when he answered the phone, looked around his bathroom and said ‘I have a bag of seashells on my toilet as a decoration?’ I said ‘Okay, I’ll make something out of that.’”

The fact that the three seashells are such a small joke in Demolition Man and that there was not a lot of thought put into it makes it even funnier how popular it has become. The fact that it also gained a new life decades after the movie came out also cements the brilliance of the idea to have it resonate with audiences in such a strong way.

How The Three Seashells Became A Meme

Real-World Connections Popularized The Idea Again

3 seashells meme

Like anything online in the current day and age, social media memes can take on a life of their own, and the Demolition Man three seashells meme was born in 2007. It regained popularity in 2020 when connections were drawn between the COVID-19 pandemic and the world presented in Demolition Man. Along with the contactless society of 2032, the surprising shortage of toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic suggested the ideas of the future that were seen in Demolition Man were smarter than they appeared.

To further cement the concept as part of pop culture history, on February 8th, 2008, Urban Dictionary listed an entry titled “Three Seashells,” further explaining the proper procedure. The Demolition Man three seashells method has now become the stuff of legend, bringing the movie sporadically back into the spotlight.

  • Demolition Man

    Release Date:

    Marco Brambilla

    Benjamin Bratt, Sandra Bullock, Wesley Snipes, Nigel Hawthorne, Sylvester Stallone


    115 minutes

    Thriller, Action, Sci-Fi

    Peter M. Lenkov, Robert Reneau, Daniel Waters

    In the 1993 action movie Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone stars as time-displaced police officer John Spartan, who struggles to adapt to the year 2032 after being cryogenically frozen for messing up a job. However, his old-school skills come in handy for innocent cop Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) and the futuristic city of San Angeles when the criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is thawed and the complacent authorities don’t know how to react.

    $57 million

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    Warner Bros. Pictures


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