Sometimes, the unthinkable becomes a legitimate option. Other times it's downright commonplace.
Nuclear warheads are currently the most powerful weapon in humanity's arsenal. They are the most destructive thing we have the capacity to deploy, and as such are treated as a last resort, a final option when all other possibilities are exhausted. They are to be used only when the consequences of not
using them are worse than the consequences of using them. This has happened only twice in Real Life
; in fiction, however, this situation comes up a lot more often.
The Nuclear Option
is the well-considered and appropriate use of nuclear weaponry by a legitimate authority. Perhaps the enemy has already launched nukes at allied targets, or maybe Its The Only Way To Be Sure
. Maybe the target is Nigh Invulnerable
and a nuke is the only way to crack through its protections, or maybe some Cool Starships
are flinging nukes at each other in otherwise empty space. Maybe the situation is already so bad that the potential for massive collateral damage doesn't matter anymore
. In any case, the Nuclear Option
is, ultimately, a good idea
, or at least reasonable. Unlike an Empty Quiver
, the Nuclear Option
is ordered by a legitimate authority; unlike Nuke Em
, it's neither overkill nor likely to backfire; and unlike Deus Ex Nukina
, the nuke does something that actually makes sense.
Also applies to the use of Fantastic Nukes
and, if the Nuclear Weapons Taboo
is in effect, absolutely-not-a-nuke
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Anime and Manga
- Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Not only are the devices extremely effective in almost every time they're deployed, but the Zentradi are astounded that humans have the technology to make "Reaction Weapons".
- Used repeatedly in multiple Gundam series, notable for not only avoiding the Nuclear Weapons Taboo but portraying nukes as dangerous and powerful weapons, but not evil incarnate.
- The Universal Century timeline has prodigious use of nukes.
- The Back Story of the One Year War features the One Week Battle that opened the conflict, where nuclear weapons are used by The Federation in a partially-successful attempt to stop a Colony Drop, and then used by both sides during a major fleet battle not long after. The carnage resulting from both of these occasions causes both sides to sign the Antarctic Treaty, banning the use of WMDs of any kind.
- Mobile Suit Gundam has M'Quve attempt to launch nuclear weapons when it becomes clear that he's lost the battle, but Amuro in the Gundam manage to destroy the missiles before they can detonate.
- The08th MS Team includes a suspiciously powerful explosion attributed to a "fuel-air bomb"; whether this is the Nuclear Weapons Taboo temporarily reinstated or an in-universe attempt to circumvent the above-mentioned Antarctic Treaty is open to debate.
- The second half of Gundam 0080 revolves around trying to prevent a neutral colony from being nuked.
- Gundam 0083 prominently features a nuclear-equipped Gundam, though it's only part of the plan, and the effects seen when the nuke is eventually used are wildly unrealistic.
- Chars Counterattack has the good guys using nuclear missiles in space in an attempt to prevent a Colony Drop; they're portrayed quite accurately, in contrast to the previous example.
- The Cosmic Era timeline has more than its share of nukes as well.
- The conflict in Gundam Seed begins when a space colony is nuked, and late in the series a veritable swarm of nukes are deployed in an attempt to finish the job.
- Gundam Seed Destiny also features a (completely ineffective) mass nuke attack on the PLANT space colonies.
- Judge Dredd has used it a few times:
- "The Apocalypse War" storyline had Dredd defeat the Sov Block by nuking them. With their own nukes.
- During the "Judgement Day" arc, Dredd had several cities nuked that had been overrun by zombies.
- In Independence Day, the army tries conventional bullet weapons, missiles and (it is implied) any other standard weapon, but they are all repelled by the aliens' shields. Ultimately, after great tribulation over the matter, the painful decision of using nukes is taken. Only one strike is made (annihilating a large city) before it is realized even they are ineffective.
- Armageddon uses a nuke to split an asteroid in half. Falls under Nuclear Option rather than Nuke Ex Machina because they're using a nuke to provide what nukes actually provide — namely a very large explosion. Still a case of Did Not Do The Research, though, because a nuclear explosion wouldn't have been big enough to do what it did in the movie.
- In the Starship Troopers novel, certain soldiers are occasionally armed with tactical nuclear rockets. They're drilled extensively to "get their money's worth" out of their use.
- Dune has "atomics", though their use against human targets is frowned upon with threats of "planetary obliteration".
- The Empire From The Ashes trilogy has nukes at the midpoint of the destructive scale. More powerful than kinetic kill and high explosive warheads, but less powerful than antimatter and gravitonic weapons. The first book, featuring a more subdued conflict on a single planet, treats nukes with a healthy respect. The second flings them around like nobody's business, since the fighting took place entirely in open space.
- The aliens fought in the second book refer to nuclear weapons as the "lesser thunder" (antimatter being the "greater thunder").
Live Action TV
- The Stargate series loves the bomb, and uses it with increasing frequency as the series progresses. One was used in the movie, a few were used in Stargate SG-1, and nukes seem to be the primary weapon of Stargate Atlantis. Their starships use nukes as standard armament.
- Captain John "Nuke 'em" Sheridan from Babylon 5—so nicknamed by actor Bruce Boxleitner, who portrayed him. He uses nukes a lot.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Poison Sky", UNIT attempts to use the world's nuclear weapons to take out the Sontarans, but fails when the Sontaran mole (Clone Martha) sabotages their computer systems.
- Raccoon City is nuked in the Resident Evil series after most of the populace has been zombified, because Its The Only Way To Be Sure. Whether or not actual nukes were used, however, is the subject of much debate among fans.
- Degeneration, the spin-off CGI movie, confirms that nuclear missles were actually used.
- Halo has nukes as standard armament on human ships. They are one of the most effective weapons against the Covenant, due to the massive outpouring of energy. An entire Covenant colony is wiped out when ten nukes are crammed into a bomb the size of a minivan that is able to boost the yield a hundredfold. The resulting explosion annihilates a massive Covenant fleet, destroys the planet's MOON, and glasses a fourth of the world. What isn't glassed instantly is destroyed by the high winds created by the shockwave.
- The shockwave in space, mind.
- In the books, there are also nuclear grenades. They're basically just nuclear bombs the size a football that the Spartans can load onto a Covenant ship and destroy. There was also an interesting occurence where the Spartans use the missiles for cover, since the missiles have stronger metal and are effectively bulletproof (something about physics makes this a bigger explosion). A case where they did do the research, since it's specifically noted that shooting a missile will not detonate it. The alien Brutes didn't know that though, and thus were extra careful with them.
- The Metal Gear series is named after and revolves around Humongous Mecha that can launch nuclear missiles, and your job is to destroy them. It also features a use of the 'Davy Crockett' hand-held nuclear missile launcher at one point.