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alt title(s): Nuke Ex Machina
"I threw a hand-held tactical nuclear weapon at the creature..."
Captain Kremmen

Kirk: Am I correct in assuming that a fusion explosion of 97 megatons will result if a starship impulse engine is overloaded?
Spock: No, sir. 97.835 megatons.
— "The Doomsday Machine", Star Trek The Original Series

a.k.a Nuke Ex Machina by those who don't know their Canis Latinicus.

This is a situation when nukes and only nukes will do. Something Very Bad has happened, and only an uncontrolled release of nuclear energy can fix it. Deus Ex Nukina is distinct from Nuke Em, because the application of a nuclear bomb solves a problem. Such applications are sometimes contrived and occasionally approach the arbitrariness of Green Rocks.

The most interesting dramatic element of Deus Ex Nukina is the requirement that the nuclear device must be delivered by hand. Robots and missiles can't be trusted; nukes are delivered by men. The delivery method is half the fun and often involves physical contact with the device. The bomb should often have a sleek, eroticized design. Frequently, the courier must also make the ultimate sacrifice and stay with the bomb to trigger it manually.

Anti-matter sometimes substitutes. Occasionally, nukes are used to fix problems created by nukes.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Zeruel, the Fourteenth Angel, has penetrated the Geofront and disabled Asuka. In a last-ditch effort to defend the Central Dogma headquarters, Rei goes out in Unit-0 (which is still missing an arm from its last battle) and charges the Angel with an N2 Bomb in hand. She successfully pushes it through Zeruel's AT Field... but the creature slams shut a barrier around its core and the N2 blows up in Rei's face instead.

Comics
  • In the issue of Fantastic Four where Namor first reappears, he attacks New York with a gigantic, whale-like creature. The Thing carries a nuke into the creature's stomach in an attempt to kill it. He escapes with seconds to spare.

Film
  • Earth's molten core has to be restarted in The Core, and someone has to Stay Behind. The problem started with earlier Bad Science involving nukes.
  • In Armageddon, an asteroid plummets toward Earth, and a spaceship is sent to deliver the nuke. One of the characters must Stay Behind to trigger the nuke manually.
  • Same goes for Deep Impact. This time, however, the nuke is delivered by a spaceship that slams against the asteroid.
  • Doubly subverted in Fail-Safe, when the only politically feasible solution to the accidental nuclear destruction of Moscow is for the President to order a US bomber to nuke New York City. The pilot drops the bomb and immediately commits suicide.
  • Humans construct a really big nuke in Sunshine, in a desperate bid to, ahem, re-ignite the sun. A giant spaceship carries the bomb into the sun. Turns out, a robot crew would have been the better choice.
    • Flaws of said idea pointed out in [1]
  • In the 1979 epic Meteor, US and Soviet orbital nuclear weapons that point Earthward are turned toward the incoming meteor. Special Effect Failure ensues.
  • Doubly subverted in Dr Strangelove, when the Soviet doomsday machine is unintentionally triggered by Major Kong's famous ride on The Bomb.
  • Subverted in Return Of The Living Dead, when a nuclear artillery round is deployed to sterilize the zombie outbreak, but instead only serves to spread The Virus widely.
  • Subverted in The Andromeda Strain, where the Wildfire team figures out, almost too late, that the tactical nuke meant to sterilize their lab in case of organism escape will actually cause Andromeda to mutate wildly and spread on the prevailing winds across the entire West Coast.
  • In Independence Day, a nuclear missile fired by a B-2 bomber fails to Nuke Em all, so Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith are sent to deliver a nuke into the alien mothership.
  • Hilariously parodied in Mars Attacks! where the nuke fired at the Martians is turned into helium and used to make fun of the president.
  • In Silent Running, Bruce Dern sends the last forest into deep space and remains behind to nuke his own spaceship.
  • In A Crack In The World, Bad Science causes a giant crack to start propagating through Earth's crust, with dire effects. Scientists use a nuke to blow a hole in the crust that's big enough to stop it.
  • Averted in Aliens when the uncontrolled nuclear reaction is accidentally triggered by the Space Marines shooting up the thermal regulators .
    • Not quite averted, since their initial plan was to nuke the colony from orbit, before discovering that it was going to go nuclear anyway in four hours.
  • Back in 1961, Admiral Harriman Nelson used a nuke to defeat Global Warming.
  • The Sci Fi Channel absolutely loves to use this as the solution to their natural disaster of the week films. The sun spewing deadly flares that will ignite the Earth's atmosphere's supply of methane and burn up all the oxygen on the planet? Stop the burn with a nuke in the atmosphere. Planet-wide tempest surging out of control because some doofus unleashed an ancient Sumerian storm god? Nuke the skies and cut off its power supply. The moon breaking up like a bad jawbreaker in a cataclysmic shower of meteors that will destroy the Earth? Take an A-bomb to its core and seal the cracks.
    • It's official: nuclear weapons are the new duct tape.
  • In the Starship Troopers film, the mobile infantry use rocket-propelled mini-nukes to kill giant orbital defense bugs, and to clear out extensive subterranean bug colonies. Near the end, Lt. Rico uses one in a Mexican Standoff between his fireteam and a group of bugs holding his love interest hostage. After the Blast Out, one trooper is mortally wounded and stays behind to keep the bugs at bay until the nuke detonates in his hand.
  • The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1966). The largest atomic test yet conducted by the United States at one pole is matched within a few days by the Soviets detonating their own Tsar Bomba at the other. This sets up a wobble in the Earth's rotation which eventually throws it out of orbit towards the Sun. The movie ends with the protagonists waiting the results of another large nuclear detonation in Siberia which scientists hope will reverse, or at least halt, their course. The last scene shows a newspaper print room with two possible next editions — one headlined WORLD SAVED, the other WORLD DOOMED.
  • Babylon A.D.. Russian mobster Gorsky is on the phone to the Evil Matriarch of the Neolite sect, who has just threatened his life.
    (Gorsky's security system indicates an incoming missile)
    Gorsky: "You bitch."

Literature
  • The Star Child's first act as a Sufficiently Advanced Alien is to detonate an orbiting nuclear warhead in the 2001 novel.
    • The same concept was used in the New Universe comic Star Brand when the newly born... Star Child... eliminates all weapons of any kind from Earth. Presumably he left pointed sticks.
  • The Prince Roger novel We Few by John Ringo and David Weber is famous in fandom for the first words being Imprimis, they nuked the spaceport.
    • The "stay behind" concept cropped up in another of Ringo's books. Notable because the person who did it is the Bad Ass star who survives the process.
      • He was in a truly hardcore Super Prototype suit of Power Armor. Nevertheless, it was pretty over the top. Notably, the incident spawns the "Starburst," a sort of Purple Heart exclusively for soldiers who've been nuked.
  • In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel Footfall, an alien invader is fought off using an Orion spaceship launched from near Tacoma, Washington. Project Orion was a proposed late 50's, early 60's military program. to propel a spaceship by detonating nuclear weapons under a large metal plate to push it.
  • The Tango Briefing (1973) by Adam Hall. British spy Quiller must use a small nuclear weapon (what we'd now call a backpack nuke, though it's a US commercial design for blasting wells) to destroy a shipment of lethal psychotropic nerve gas on a crashed aircraft (the cylinders have cracked and the gas has filled the plane, so they can't just be removed). Unfortunately the timing device is smashed when Quiller parachutes in so he's ordered to detonate the device by hand (local military helicopters are in the area doing a sweep search, so there's no time to parachute in another device). Fortunately Quiller is able to field-improvise a means of pushing down The Button.

Live Action TV
  • Useful even in the 23rd century, appearing at least three times in Star Trek The Original Series.
    • In the episode "The Doomsday Machine," Commodore Decker takes a shuttle and steers it down the throat of the planet killer — without an onboard nuke. But this gives Captain Kirk the idea to try Decker's plan with the USS Constellation rigged to self-destruct in a big antimatter explosion. Kirk manually pilots the Constellation into the maw.
    • In "Obsession," the vampire cloud, which has been freely munching on the crew, finally heads home to reproduce. Kirk beams down to the planet Where It All Began to deliver a chunk of antimatter. When it blows, it rips half the planet's atmosphere away.
    • In "The Immunity Syndrome," the Enterprise must deliver an anti-matter bomb to the nucleus of the giant space amoeba. In a twist, Mr. Spock volunteers for a separate suicide mission, to deliver the probe that enables Kirk to target the nucleus.
  • Apparently a favorite trope of Capt. Sheridan on Babylon 5, who solved his problems with nukes on multiple occasions;
    • In the prequel movie In The Beginning, Sheridan employs a nuclear minefield to destroy the Minbari flagship, the Black Star.
    • In the episode Z'ha'dum, Sheridan loads a White Star with two 500 megaton nukes and steers it into the Shadows' capitol city.
      • In fact, he had the ship wait in orbit and had it programmed to arm the nukes and home in to the signal of his communicator. Which was in his hand at that moment.
    • In the episode Into the Fire, Sheridan lures both major races into an area mined with hundreds of 500 megaton nukes to cause a decisive battle.
    • In the Non Serial Movie Babylon 5: Thirdspace, Sheridan delivers a nuke into an Artifact Of Doom that has opened a portal to a universe of the Cosmic Horror variety.
    • Bruce Boxleitner (who plays Sheridan) jokes about it in the DVD commentary: "Good ol' John Nuke Em Sheridan". Hee.
  • In a rare female example, Boomer delivers a nuke to a Cylon base star in Battlestar Galactica.
    • Another female example occurs in "Razor" by Kendra Shaw who has to stay behind and arm the warhead manually.
  • In the two-part miniseries 10.5, there is a scientific effort, led by our Hollywood Scientist lead, to use six nukes to stop the Big Earthquake. Five nukes get detonated by remote, but the sixth requires a Heroic Sacrifice. Subverted because the sixth wasn't actually detonated at the scientific place and time; it is uncertain, but this attempt might have worsened the problem.
  • Subverted in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Beachhead" in which nuking the Ori's energy field actually makes it grow, the opposite of what our heroes were intending for it to do. It later turns out the whole thing was a Xanatos Gambit set up by the Ori.
    • Years earlier, SG-1 used a shaped nuke to forcibly disconnect a wormhole that was being held open by the time dilation of a black hole on the other side. Bringing it full-circle, they would eventually block a supergate of the sort being created in "Beachhead" by connecting it to a gate within the time dilation effect of a black hole.
    • Played straight in Stargate Atlantis in "The Siege," when Sheppard flies a nuclear bomb into the bay of a Wraith Hive in order to destroy it. He gets beamed out right before detonation.
    • Stargate Atlantis really likes nukes. In "Hot Zone," Sheppard has to detonate a nuclear bomb over the city in order to create an EM field strong enough to kill the nanovirus infecting the entire city. In the season three premier, they nuke an encampment of Wraiths. Michael escapes. They also nuke some Genii at one point. Honestly? They just like nukes a LOT.
      • Don't forget the time they detonate a nuke over the city to make the Wraith think they blew themselves up. Or the time they nuked the Replicators.
      • Not to mention beaming nukes directly into Wraith hive ships (and the one time they just fired all their nukes at once since beaming wouldn't work)!
    • Ignoring a strict nuclear arsenal, Stargate Atlantis seems to love causing huge explosions and shrugging off the fallout, morally and statistically. Rodney McKay's 5/6 of an uninhabited star system is especially jarring.
    • The Movie ended with the Nuke blowing up Big Bad Ra's mothership showing it to work. Later uses included the first season attempting to use enhanced nukes to blow up two invading ships fail. Still later they'd mix Asgard beaming technology to deliver nukes on board ships. Finally they'd set up nuclear mines as protection from deep space.
    • And let's not forget the Atlantis episode First Strike
  • Played straight in the Season 1 finale of Sea Quest DSV, in which the sub's nuclear payload - still contained within the sub, mind you - was used to weld closed a massive magma-spewing crack in the Pacific Ocean off the Australian coast. Very nearly requires a Heroic Sacrifice on the part of Bridger, but he manages to escape at the last second.
  • An episode of The Six Million Dollar Man featured the threat of an imminent catastrophic earthquake in the San Andreas Fault, and the good guys planned to use a nuclear explosion to move the epicentre in order to reduce the damage. But The Hero was trapped in the shooting range...
  • Hyperdrive. After their disasterous First Contact with the Queppu, the crew seek to avoid future problems by covertly nuking the planet behind the captain's back while he's giving a Patrick Stewart Speech.

Video Games
  • In Mass Effect a nuke has to be prepped by hand. Easy enough, However, the pick up ship only has time to pick up one of your two human squadmates.
  • In Pathways Into Darkness, Hard Light projections of Precursors tell Bill Clinton and his cabinet there's an immortal Sealed Evil In A Can deep under the Yucat√°n crater in Mexico that's about to awaken in eight days, but that they won't reach Earth for two years. The solution? Send a commando team with an atomic bomb down to the bottom of the cavernous Genius Loci generated by the slumbering Cosmic Horror's dreams, and blast it back to somnolence.
  • In Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, the main character is eventually sent to capture the Big Bad Corrupt Corporate Executive from his hidden bunker. However, after discovering that the bunker buster airstrike has little to no effect on the massive door, he has to go and convince either the Americans or the Chinese to give him a nuclear bomb (!) in order to bust down the door.
  • The solution to contain the zombie outbreak in Raccoon City eventually becomes "nuke it from orbit."
  • Fallout. In the first game, the Big Bad can be nuked, or can be talked into nuking himself. Trying to kill him with guns results in the former. Fallout 3 adds a hand-held nuclear catapult, and giant monsters. So, yeah.
    • In an example of Truth In Television there is/was a "luggable" nuclear weapon called the Davy Crockett, which dumped rads in about a quarter mile radius. Unfortunately, it's just big enough to not be hand-held, unless you're Colonel Volgin or The Boss...
    • Fall Out 3 also featured a quest where the residents of an early town (aptly named Megaton) built around an unexploded nuclear bomb (there's even a religion dedicated to it). You're given the choice of either disarming the bomb or rigging it to go off. The rewards are roughly the same so it's entirely a question of your moral standing.
    • The GNR radio quest is the straight-played example, where both the problem (giant monster) and the solution (nuke) are introduced at the same time. It's possible to kill the Behemoth without the Fat Man, but it's undeniably convenient.
  • Starcraft has a sort of example, where the decommissioned science vessel Amerigo is demolished with a nuke. It counts, because the previous mission is about Zerg Kerrigan infesting the whole ship.
  • Ace Combat 5 and its prequel Ace Combat Zero have the "Seven Pillars," Belkan nuking of seven of their own cities, in the face of an allied invasion on June 6, 1995 leading to a formal ceasefire later that year and a wave of anti-war sentiment that would last all the way through the Circum-Pacific War of 2010.
  • Tales Of Vesperia makes use of this trope when a crazed monsters start attacking a developing village. The main character has to drop the nuke in the middle of the crowd of rampaging monsters, but it's not that dramatic since he's able to escape well before it goes off.
  • Subverted in Touhou: It's Kanako's plan to use nuclear power to gain power/popularity fast... by using it to generate clean energy. However, her underling who is the nuke decides that it's better to use this trope straightforwardly.
  • This troper is surprised that nobody has thought to mention Halo...

Western Animation
  • In the Futurama episode "War Is the H-Word", Bender is rigged with a planet-busting bomb and sent to "negotiate" with the Brain Balls of Spheron I.
  • Legion Of Superheroes Season 1 finale ended with the legion trying to deliver a nuke to a suneater that was guarded by kill bots and a nearly-impenetrable shield. One team went off to beat up the mastermind, another team went off to temporarily disable the shield and everyone else had to buy the bomb squad time and a path to deliver it. Ferro Lad had to set off the detonator manually.

Tabletop Games
  • Used in spirit, and with abandon, in Warhammer 40000, where application of planet-destroying cyclonic torpedoes is a regular and accepted solution to Tyranid invasions, major outbreaks of heresy, and other such problems.
    • Not just in spirit, according to some versions of the fluff. Cyclonic torpedoes are crust-penetrating cluster nukes which basically liquefy the planet. Of course, according to other versions they're something else entirely...