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[[quoteright:350:[[VideoGame/WorldInConflict http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/world_in_conflict_soviet_assault1.png]]]]

-> ''"I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."''
-->-- '''Unknown''', famously attributed to and [[http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/06/16/future-weapons/ repeated]] by '''UsefulNotes/AlbertEinstein'''

Some psychologists believe [[HumansAreWarriors humans]] are [[InYourNatureToDestroyYourselves naturally predisposed towards violence]]. For almost the entire twentieth century it seemed like humanity was teetering on the brink of self-destruction: both [[UsefulNotes/WorldWarI World]] [[UsefulNotes/WorldWarII Wars]], the UsefulNotes/ColdWar, and then the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and biological warfare - and all that ''after'' UsefulNotes/WorldWarI was going to be [[TheWarToEndAllWars "the war to end all wars."]] Luckily for humanity, World War III has been in DevelopmentHell for more than half a century now - and may it stay there (indeed, it's not a sequel anyone is looking forward to, we hope). So it's probably only natural that the next great global conflict is a popular subject in SpeculativeFiction.

[[WeaponOfMassDestruction Weapons of Mass Destruction]] are probably going to get used, [[NukeEm often recklessly]], causing massive casualties.[[note]]In fiction, anyway; in RealLife it's possible it might just be another very destructive conventional war, if it ever happens, due to the sheer suicidal nature of the usage of nuclear weapons. Then again, if a conventional war is actually fought, escalation to nuclear war is quite likely.[[/note]] A commonly-used GallowsHumor joke is about this war's ''length''; somewhere around an hour. If the destruction gets too out of hand it might result in TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt, causing an AfterTheEnd situation set on a ScavengerWorld. If not, the winner might set up a OneWorldOrder, in which our heroes fight against TheGovernment in a [[{{Dystopia}} dystopian]] CyberPunk type environment. Of course, it's entirely possible for the war to kill ''[[KillEmAll everybody]]'', and have it center on the attendees to HumanitysWake. If the show was made before 1989, [[RedScare Communists]] are involved, [[TheGreatPoliticsMessUp even if the war is supposedly set years after 1989.]] A more modern take on WWIII is that it begins somewhere in the Middle East; Israel, Iran, [[UsefulNotes/TheKashmirQuestion India and Pakistan]] may be involved. Other times, it involves a [[MakeTheBearAngryAgain resurgent Russia]] and more recently, North Korea. China also gets used when the work's creator isn't so worried about the [[BannedInChina consequences for that.]] Scenarios which have China, North Korea and/or Middle Eastern powers as the antagonists may actually involve [[RussiaIsWestern Russia joining the Western side]].

It's rare to find a piece of fiction set TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture that could resist the temptation to slap a global war into the middle of the twenty minutes. Wiping out a third of humanity must just be too much for writers to resist. (Though since the end of the UsefulNotes/ColdWar, this has lessened; writers wanting to do away with a third of humanity usually go for a [[DepopulationBomb plague]] or GlobalWarming-related chaos.) A common way to establish the [[OthernessTropes otherness]] of a future or AlternateHistory setting is to have a throwaway remark about World War III having occurred in the past.

For numbers ''greater'' than III, see WorldWarWhatever. For stories about stopping this from coming to pass, see PreventTheWar. Compare and contrast to AvoidingTheGreatWar.
!!'''UsefulNotes/{{NATO}} vs. UsefulNotes/WarsawPact'''

There are some associated sub-tropes with this setup in particular:

* '''Gorbachev Must Die:''' Any scenario written after c. 1987 must find some way to remove UsefulNotes/MikhailGorbachev from the Soviet leadership. The 1991 coup attempt succeeding is a popular choice for this.
* '''Hold Off on the Nukes:''' Nuclear weapons are not employed straight off for political reasons. Sometimes they're not used at all. This is based on NATO's assumptions about probable Warsaw Pact actions during the Cold War; while some sources asserted that the Soviets had a nuclear-first plan all along, they were misinterpretations of plans found in East German archives, where nuclear use was in reaction to NATO preparing to launch a nuclear strike. The highest Soviet imperative in any conventional scenario was to prevent the war from escalating to nukes.
* '''Backfire Raid:''' a large-scale attack on a U.S. carrier group with Tu-22M [[ReportingNames "Backfire"]] and Tu-16 "Badger" bombers armed with conventional missiles, resulting in the group having to shoot down over 100 incoming missiles. This is basically a battle of awesome, with supersonic bombers and cruise missile launching subs on one side versus F-14s and a rapid-fire SAM system on the other.
* '''The Soviets Start It:''' Most scenarios have the USSR kicking things off, [[{{Eagleland}} for]] [[DirtyCommies various]] [[HateSink reasons]].
** Even for the informed public and many governments, the byzantine internal politics of the USSR made it extremely hard for outside observers of the Soviet system and its policies to judge what they were thinking. This wasn't helped by the way policies by different government departments tended to clash - something of a holdover from the Imperial Russian system, these clashes were the inevitable product of the epic three-way struggle between the Party, the Military, and the KGB.
* '''Third Battle of the North Atlantic:''' Attacks on convoys bringing troops and supplies from the U.S. to Europe by Soviet submarines, ships and aircraft. It will often include a Backfire Raid.
* '''Battle of Germany:''' Most scenarios pre-1989 will feature the Soviets invading West Germany - quite realistic, as the Soviet Army's response to war (or NATO mobilisation for war) would be to execute its North German Plain Offensive Operation/Campaign to destroy as much of the 'forward' NATO forces as possible before NATO could fully mobilise.
** Alternatively, the Soviets may start the conventional war by invading West Germany, but NATO use tactical nuclear weapons against them to save a failing defense -- and it escalates from there. (That was the scenario in ''Film/TheDayAfter''). NATO initially intended on retaliating with nukes in the "Massive Retaliation" doctrine, but from the 1960s to the end of the Cold War "Flexible Response" dictated that nukes be used in case conventional defense failed. By the 1980s, NATO began to give their conventional options more viability by developing weapons to attack Warsaw Pact tank formations well before they were committed to battle in the Follow On Forces Attack (FOFA) plan.
** A once-classified [[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/poland/1504006/Moscows-blueprint-resembles-thrillers-plot.html Cold War-era wargame]] released by the Polish government in 2005 shows one nuclear-based contingency plan from the late 1970s, although it must be emphasized that the Soviets moved increasingly towards conventional warfare during the 1970s and '80s. For much of the Cold War the Fulda Gap, where the U.S. incorrectly expected this invasion would take place (swallowing a longtime Soviet ruse), was one of the most highly militarized places on Earth.
* '''Warsaw Pact Rebellion:''' Members of the Warsaw Pact (often Poland or East Germany) rebel against the Soviets. Explored by Hackett and a few other authors.
* ''' ''Status Quo Ante'' Peace Treaty: ''' In many Literary World War III stories, if it doesn't end in a total nuclear exchange, it ends in a rough draw, with millions dead, but no real political changes.

!!Classic Examples:


[[folder: Anime and Manga]]
* Apparently, L from ''Manga/DeathNote'' had stopped World War III, when he was just a little boy. Also, Mello threatens the POTUS with this, saying he'll write down the President's name in the Death Note and [[ANuclearError cause him to launch nukes and start a world war]] if the President fails to comply with Mello's demand to fund the Kira investigation. (It isn't known if Mello really meant it, or if he was just bluffing.)
* In ''Anime/HeatGuyJ'', humans appropriated the technology of the resident SuperiorSpecies [[NuclearWeaponsTaboo (which sounds an awful lot like nuclear power the way it's described)]]. Originally, they used it for peaceful purposes like energy production, but eventually started using it as a weapon of war. Although the war is long since over by the time the series begins, ''most'' of humanity has been obliterated, except for seven city-states (with a few small villages/towns clustered around them). Some people still mistrust the Celestials and their technology, and/or mistrust other people.
* Manga/RedEyes: The third world war is fought against the USA after they managed to effectively conquer the world. The war starts when the US KillSat network are set to only intercept ICBM's and unable to attack strategic targets like cities.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''ComicBook/BlakeAndMortimer : The Secret of The Swordfish'' starts off as a repeat of World War II: An Asian empire (the fictional Yellow Thibet, headed by Basam Damdu) launches a simultaneous raid on just about every world capital (and Pearl Harbor) including Washington and Moscow. Fortunately, the British have an ElaborateUndergroundBase from which they can launch nuclear powered superplanes (the titular swordfish), and as things get worse for Damdu [[TakingYouWithMe he decides to fire off all his nukes]] before an entire squadron of Swordfish blows them up before they can launch.
* ''ComicBook/WhenTheWindBlows'' features an elderly couple preparing for the war. They believe that it will be like UsefulNotes/WorldWarII (i.e. survivable). [[DownerEnding They are wrong.]] Also adapted for film and radio.
* The BigBad of ''ComicBook/{{Watchmen}}'' saw World War III coming and determined that the world would not survive. [[spoiler:He ended up stopping said war before it began by tricking NATO and the Warsaw Pact into thinking Earth was being scouted for an AlienInvasion.]]
* In ''ComicBook/{{Grendel}}'', World War III is ignited in 2120 when the US President and [[TheGreatPoliticsMessUp the Premier of the USSR]] are simultaneously assassinated at a summit. It ends up causing permanent damage to human civilisation.
* In ''ComicBook/{{Letter 44}}'', World War III resulted from the US President revealing the existence of the "Builders" that was kept secret by America.
* ''ComicBook/JourJ'':
** In "Texan Apocalypse", World War 3 happened when the Cuban Missile Crisis went nuclear. Unfortunately, the Soviets were unaware the US had something like ''three times'' as many nukes as them, so while parts of what's left of the U.S. are still inhabitable (if split into multiple autonomous regions), the U.S.S.R. is completely destroyed (and Japan isn't doing too well, what with receiving a lot of fallout), leaving France and the UK as the only nuclear powers left.
** Oddly enough, averted in "Red Dragon", where nuking the Vietnamese forces when they were still only fighting the French ''doesn't'' trigger a world war. That said, the U.S still gets its land war in Asia- against China this time.

* ''Film/RedDawn1984'' has World War III break out between a rudimentary alliance between America, Britain, and China vs. The Soviet Union, Nicaragua, and Cuba. By the time lines have stabilized, The Reds control Texas, a frontline covering an undefined portion of the Mississippi River, and most of the Rocky Mountains at least up to Denver, [[RussiaCalledTheyWantAlaskaBack as well as Alaska]] and possibly a part of western Canada. Additionally, it's mentioned that the Americans were unable to use nuclear retaliation as the Russians used tactical nuclear strikes to destroy their silos in the Dakotas and Wyoming. The only cities mentioned to have been nuked are Washington, Omaha, and Kansas City.[[note]]Washington is obvious, and Omaha makes sense because the Strategic Air Command headquarters was at nearby Offutt AFB. Kansas City is close to Whiteman AFB, which used to be a major SAC Base and is home to the B2 stealth bomber fleet, and Central-West and South-West Missouri are home to 165 old Minuteman II Silos.[[/note]] Its implied that areas of China were nuked as well after China allied with the U.S. and Britain.
-->'''Jed Eckert''': ...Well, who ''is'' on our side?
-->'''Col. Andy Tanner''': Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.
-->'''Darryl Bates''': Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
-->'''Col. Andy Tanner''': There ''were''. (Throws alcohol on the campfire)
* ''Film/{{Threads}}'' and ''Film/TheDayAfter'', and their predecessor, ''Film/TheWarGame'' - still considered horrific a quarter of a century later.
** ''Film/{{Threads}}'' is an interesting twist to the Soviets Started It scenario: the conflict kicks off when the USSR invades Iran in what was at the time an EvilVersusEvil scenario from the perspective of the US and NATO. Unwilling to lose access to Iranian oil supplies, and in keeping with the Truman Doctrine, the US intervenes (although most Americans at the time would have vastly preferred the Soviets to the Ayatollah Khomeini). The narrative is [[FogOfWar deliberately vague]] as to which side used nukes first (a Soviet base was destroyed by a US nuke and US carrier group in the Persian Gulf is destroyed by Soviet nuclear weapons), but the timing of the all-out attack in the wee hours of the morning Washington DC time (when the President will most likely be asleep and NATO response will be slowest) suggests that the Soviets launched their [=ICBMs=] first.
** ''Film/{{Testament}}'' is another example from the same era.
** The HBO movie ''[[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099197/ By Dawn's Early Light]]'' from TheNineties isn't exactly a cheerful story, either.
* Sebastian Shaw in the film ''Film/XMenFirstClass'' intended to provoke both superpowers into causing World War III via the Cuban Missile Crisis, in order to wipe out humanity and allow Mutants to reign supreme over the planet.
* Creator/AndreiTarkovsky's film ''Film/TheSacrifice'' features a small group of family and friends in Sweden awaiting their death by nuclear holocaust. But as par for the course with the director, all is [[MindScrew not as it appears]].
* The 1998 mockumentary ''[[Film/WorldWarThree World War III]]'', made by [[UsefulNotes/GermanTVStations German broadcaster ZDF]], recounts a classic Gorbachev Must Die scenario in which fictional hardliner General Soshkin seizes power in 1989 and the Soviet military brutally suppresses the Autumn of Nations, escalating into the eponymous military conflict when East German border troops fire on West Berliners across the Wall.
* ''Film/WarGames'' features WOPR, a highly-advanced missile control computer which cannot distinguish reality from simulation[[note]]David: Is this a game, or is it real? / "Joshua" (Professor Falken's name for the computer): What's the difference?[[/note]], leading to it [[AIIsACrapshoot attempt to cause]] World War III with a preemptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The climax of the movie shows WOPR [[spoiler: [[LogicBomb going crazy]] with nuclear attack pattern simulations running across the OminousMultipleScreens in Cheyenne mountain, all]] with the same result. [[ApocalypseHow WINNER: NONE]]
** An earlier scene refers to World War III directly. When [=McKittrick=] tells David what his playing with their computer nearly did, [=McKittrick=] mentions that if they hadn't caught him him, DEFCON 1 would have been declared.
-->'''[=McKittrick=]''': You know what that means, David?
-->'''David''': No, what does it mean?
-->'''[=McKittrick=]''': World War III.
** An even earlier scene has Paul Richter directly referring to the WOPR as "spend[ing] all of its time thinking about World War III.".

* ''Literature/SexDrugsAndViolenceInTheFuture'' is set in a world where North Korea launched nuclear missiles in 2013 at the peak of the international tension, triggering a World War that "officially" lasts until 2027.
* ''Literature/TheGiver'', ''Literature/GatheringBlue'', and ''The Messenger'' are set in some time set what is only known as The Ruin. Little is known about it, but ''Gathering'' implies it was a combination of warfare and environmental disasters.
* In David Wingrove's ''Literature/ChungKuo'' series, China conquers the world without use of [=WMDs=] after the West disintegrates. Many in the West actively support the Chinese in their efforts to restore order after years of economic and political instability. The war to do this is not gentle, but it does not involve global nuclear conflict.
* Several thrillers starting in the late 1970s had a hypothetical third world war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. All of them ended with either no or extremely limited nuclear exchanges, ending with a ''status quo ante'' peace treaty: few million people die, but not one border or significant political change happens, unlike every other major war of such scale in European history.
* Creator/TomClancy's ''Literature/RedStormRising'', albeit a more limited one than the more common portrayal. Nukes aren't used, nor chemical weapons after UsefulNotes/EastGermany makes their objections very clear, and for the most part the Pacific region doesn't get involved, but it's still more than a relatively local conflict, started when the Soviet Union suffers a major terrorist attack on its primary oil refinery that leaves them critically short of useful petroleum products.
* The 2015 novel ''Ghost Fleet'', features a Third World War with China starting it. The Chinese actually invade and occupy Hawaii at the start. It centers on different characters playing different roles in the war. From LaResistance in occupied Hawaii, to the conventional military, to hackers that have become cyber warriors. The title comes from the U.S. reactivated some of it's decommissioned naval ships it had mothballed, pitting them against the Chinese.
* ''Literature/TeamYankee'' The story is centered around an American tank platoon in the Battle for Germany. The Soviets Start It.
* ''Chieftains'' (Robert Forrest-Webb, 1982) is ''Team Yankee'' from the British perspective, focusing mainly on the adventures of a Chieftain tank crew near Hannover, though other characters include a US Abrams crew, an SAS stay-behind unit and a British colonel. The Soviets Start It. The author acknowledged that, like Team Yankee, it's inspired by Hackett's Third World War, but it does deviate from that book's plot [[spoiler: everyone dies in a nuclear strike on day 3 of the war; unlike Team Yankee, not one character is left standing by the end]]
* In Creator/PatFrank's ''Literature/AlasBabylon'', the Soviets Start It; according to the protagonist's brother, a Strategic Air Command officer, this was because of a perception that if they did so within a critical window, they could win, but that afterward they would lose and fall further and further behind. The SAC guy's opinion (which turned out to be justified) was that the Soviets had already missed the critical historical window within which they could have won such a war. He sent his family to his brother (who lived in Florida) because they stood a better chance of surviving than they did anywhere near SAC headquarters.
** It's fair to say that the USSR launched the first ''intentional'' strikes, but the U.S. actually started the war--''accidentally.'' A rookie airman unintentionally launched a missile at a USSR target. The Soviets assumed that this was an intentional strike, and let the missiles fly.
*** Well, it wasn't the airman's fault so much as the missile's guidance system going haywire: It was heat-seeking and flying toward a spy plane, which were fair game on both sides during the Cold War, but it wound up going haywire when the plane cut off its engines and eliminated its heat signature, which caused the missile to plummet into a Soviet ammo depot in Latakia, Syria. (Syria was a Soviet client state throughout the Cold War.)
* William Golding's ''Literature/LordOfTheFlies'' It is mentioned that Britain is at war with Russia and London is destroyed by an atomic bomb.
* General Sir John Hackett's ''Literature/TheThirdWorldWar: August 1985''. Birmingham (UK) is nuked, Minsk is nuked back and that leads to the collapse of the USSR in a very violent manner.
** This is a two-book series, written in a mock-history book style. The first was written in 1978, with the second in 1982 making additions and [[RetCon changes]] to the story to reflect RL developments (especially in Iran, where the Shah's regime had fallen in 1979).
** Set in the same scenario is Harold Coyle's ''Literature/TeamYankee'' from 1987, about a U.S. armor company in that war - it was made into a video game, a comic book (with the script by Creator/DavidDrake) and an Origins Award-winning board game.
* Creator/AndreNorton's ''Sea Siege'' (1957) is set on a small island in the Caribbean. They survive World War III (between UsefulNotes/{{NATO}} and the UsefulNotes/WarsawPact) at about the midpoint of the story, but have only sketchy information from radio broadcasts about what happened (mainly a list of major cities around the world that had been nuked early on). They eventually help rescue the survivors of a Soviet submarine because by then, both sets of survivors have bigger problems than worrying about who was responsible for the war.
* Creator/AndreNorton's ''Star Ka'at'' has the titular race of alien beings, who have been living among us disguised as pet cats, leave Earth because they predict World War III is imminent; and they take two orphaned human children with them. This book (for young readers!) may induce FridgeHorror, because the children (the point of view characters) pay very little attention to talk of war on the radio, and leave their unhappy homes without much regret -- so the implied destruction of the human race is quite casually dismissed (the Ka'ats certainly don't care about us).
* Creator/HBeamPiper's Terro-Human future stories presuppose that World War III destroyed civilization in the northern hemisphere in 1973. Few of the stories examine the war itself.
** The short story "The Answer", which may not be in Terro-Human future continuity: The Soviets Start It - but by destroying Auburn, New York, and then threw away any advantage gained by a first strike. The story opens years later in South America, when the scientist protagonists - an American and a Russian - briefly discuss the incident, and the Russian swears that the Soviets didn't do it. Ultimately subverted, as in fact, the Soviets ''Didn't'' Start It - [[spoiler:the incident was actually a ColonyDrop, and the effects of an antimatter meteor were mistaken for a first strike.]]
** The short story "The Edge of the Knife", which ''is'' in Terro-Human future continuity, is set just before World War III.
* ''The Zone'' series of action novels by James Rouch. After the initial conflict the war is (mostly) restricted by mutual agreement to an irradiated, chemical-poisoned strip of land across Western Europe to prevent escalation. This is politically and militarily convenient for the major powers - not so for the soldiers and refugees caught in The Zone itself.
* ''Literature/{{Warday}}'' (1984) by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka was somewhat unique in that it depicted the resulting world after a "limited" nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the USSR.
* The AlternateHistory novel ''Resurrection Day'' by Brendan [=DuBois=] had the Cuban missile crisis turn hot. The Soviet Union has been obliterated, while only a comparatively few nuclear detonations is enough to turn the United States into a third world country, dependent on aid from Britain and shunned by all other nations.
* ''The Survivalist'' series by Jerry Ahern, set in a United States occupied by Soviet forces.
* A short story by J. G. Ballard has World War III happen over the space of about five minutes, but the American people don't even ''notice'' because they're too busy watching President Reagan's vital signs on TV.
** Though it's a restricted kind of nuclear exchange: after a lot of saber-rattling, the U.S. bombs empty parts of Siberia and the USSR aims for somewhere in Alaska. This proves to other powers that they're not joking and shouldn't be messed with.
* The ''Wingman'' novels by Mack Maloney mostly take place after WWIII. In this continuity, the U.S. has an impenetrable missile shield, so WWIII involves a massive air and ground war in Europe involving "one man knifing another in a foxhole, satellites dueling in space, and everything in between." The conflict is ended with a U.S. victory, after which the Vice President murders the President, becomes President, and shuts down the Star Wars system, allowing a disarming first strike.
* Ralph Peters's ''Literature/RedArmy'' depicts World War III from the perspective of several Soviet soldiers and officers.
* Patrick Tilley's ''The Amtrak Wars'' features the "War of a Thousands Suns". A thousand years in the past, a global nuclear war initiated by the U.S. and its allies against the Soviet Union devastates the world.
* The "Wet Firecracker War" is alluded to in ''Literature/TheMoonIsAHarshMistress.'' Judging from the name, it wasn't quite as devastating as some other versions of WWIII, though it evidently went nuclear. ("Sovunion" used [[UsefulNotes/FromRussiaWithNukes megaton nukes]], but seems to have lost anyway; while America was hit badly and ended up becoming a "directorate" of the subsequent world government, of which "Great China" seems to be the hegemon, with India a close second.)
** Heinlein was fond of this scenario: ''Literature/SixthColumn'' was set in the United States conquered by the YellowPeril in the war (and we're actually treated to the radio announcing that the States couldn't fight any longer), while ''Literature/StarshipTroopers'' has the war happening in 1987 between the Chinese Hegemony and the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance, causing the collapse of the previous nations and paving the way to the Terran Federation to replace it.
** Part of ''Literature/BetweenPlanets'' takes place in New Chicago since Old Chicago was destroyed during a limited nuclear war.
* The Literature/SprawlTrilogy several times mentions "The War", which is implied to have been WWIII, although it was only a few weeks long.
* Edgar Pangborn's ''Still Persist in Wondering'' is set after a World War III, which lasted half an hour and (with the help of ThePlague) wiped out civilization.
* ''Literature/TheLastShip'' is set after a very brief World War III that consisted of nukes wiping out most of humanity.
* In William Prochnau's ''Trinity's Child'', features a limited nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States, with both sides trying to limit their strikes to each other's nuclear forces. A SuccessionCrisis in the U.S. sees an unknowingly illegitimate presidential successor trying to escalate the war, forcing the SAC Looking Glass plane to ram his to prevent a full scale, end-of-life-as-we-know-it exchange. Notably, the book takes into account the other nuclear states, with the Chinese striking Russia, India and Pakistan going at it, and the Isrealis nuking just about everyone else in the Middle East.
* Creaor/BrianAldiss' ''Moreau's Other Island'' has a shipwrecked soldier surviving on an island were a Dr. Moreau's copycat is repeating his experiments. World War III is in full with NATO and China fighting the USSR and its Middle Eastern allies.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* {{Defied|Trope}} {{Invo|kedTrope}}cation in the ''Series/StargateSG1'' episode "Full Alert." The [[BigBad Goa'uld]] manage to infiltrate elements of the Russian military and attempt to start a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. The SGC spends most of the episode scrambling to head it off, finally convincing the Russian president of the infiltration and restoring normal relations.
* ''{{Series/Delete}}'': The US plan risks this, since China says it will regard any nuclear blasts above them as an act of war.
* Maggie Becket's world in ''Series/{{Sliders}}'' is a dystopian nightmare were the Cold War get hot.

* Music/TomLehrer:
** "So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)", from ''Music/ThatWasTheYearThatWas'' is a parody of a jingoistic "soldier off to war" song from World War II, updated for changing circumstances and featuring the stinger "I'll look for you when the war is over ... an hour and a half from now".
--->'''Lehrer:''' I feel that if any songs are going come out of World War III, we'd better start writing them ''now!''
** "We Will All Go Together When We Go", from ''Music/AnEveningWastedWithTomLehrer'', offers the mock-optimistic consolation that if World War III wipes the entire human race out in one go, nobody will have to deal with grief or go to the trouble of rebuilding civilization.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* ''TabletopGame/{{Twilight 2000}}'' is set in the aftermath of a limited nuclear World War III between UsefulNotes/{{NATO}} and the Soviet Union. It started in 1995 with a war between the Soviets and China. When Soviet forces were transferred out of eastern Europe to support the Chinese war in '96 West Germany decided it was time to re-unify, opening the war in Europe. By '97 the Soviets started using tactical nukes, which escalated to using enough strategic strikes to destroy the world's infrastructure. The second edition written after TheGreatPoliticsMessUp changed this to something much less plausible; suffice it to say the action that triggered World War III was not dissimilar to UsefulNotes/WorldWarII.
* Several dozen variations of WW III invasion games were made by Creator/AvalonHill and [=SPI=] in the 1970s. One game, ''[=NATO=]'', had [[http://boardgamegeek.com/image/643562/nato this]] classic rule:
-->To simulate the battlefield use of strategic nuclear weapons, simply soak the map in lighter fluid and apply a flame.
* ''TabletopGame/CarWars'' has this in the background, too. ABM is a bit more successful here; the only actual cities hit in the U.S. were Poughkeepsie, New York and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (home of SteveJacksonGames' competitor Creator/{{TSR}}).
* In ''TabletopGame/{{Chrononauts}}'', you can alter the time line so that the Cuban Missile Crisis went hot, destroying all civilization. A couple of cards actually require this as part of a secret win condition.

* The UsefulNotes/ZXSpectrum TurnBasedStrategy wargame ''Theatre Europe'' (1985) begins with the Warsaw Pact invading West Germany and, at hardest difficulty level, usually ends with the nuclear destruction of human civilisation and the game [[{{Anvilicious}} telling you]] where your cyanide capsule is.
* While the opposing force in the backstory of ''VideoGame/{{Fallout}}'' was China, not the Soviet Union, the same principles apply. By all accounts, the war, known by its survivors as "The Great War", - started by a Chinese invasion of Alaska - lasted for ten years before nuclear weapons were exchanged, after which it lasted for about two hours. No one knew which of the sides fired the first warhead (one log you can find, in a place that means it won't be known to anyone else, says China shot first, but WordOfGod deems it non-canon), and at the end of the day no one really cared.
** From what history you can learn, the Americans took back Alaska and were pretty much on Beijing's doorstep. It's possible that the Chinese fired first, knowing that they were screwed and intending to [[TakingYouWithMe bring the Americans down with them.]]
** The ''Fallout'' series itself is set between [[VideoGame/{{Fallout 1}} 84]]-[[VideoGame/{{Fallout 4}} 210]] years after the nuclear exchange depending on which game you are playing. The post-war United States is a PollutedWasteland populated with [[RapePillageAndBurn roving gangs of raiders]], [[KillerRobot malfunctioning military robots]], [[NuclearNasty mutated animals]] and honest folk trying to get by scavenging for food and technology. Amazingly, if what the little insights you gain about the pre-war United States are true, the pre-war world was actually ''worse''. For example the United States forcibly conquered Canada to access better pathways to Alaska and engaged in a bloody war with every other country to secure the last oil field in the Pacific. The world itself was embroiled in the Resource Wars, a series of conflicts over shrinking oil fields that left Europe and the Middle East in ruin as the oil fields dried up and left the U.S., China, and Canada as the remaining powers.
* ''VideoGame/FrontlinesFuelOfWar'' takes place in [[TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture 2024]] and has the Western Coalition, composed of the NATO countries and a few nations taken into the European Union, against the Red Star Alliance, mostly composed of former Warsaw Pact members.
* The original ''VideoGame/{{Harpoon}}'' game and expansion packs focused on the naval theater of a NATO-Warsaw Pact war.
* ''VideoGame/ColdWaters'': Command a U.S. submarine during the Second Battle of the Atlantic.
* ''[[Literature/EndWar Tom Clancy's End War]]'' is based on World War III where the [[UsefulNotes/YanksWithTanks United]] [[TheFederation States]], [[UnitedEurope European]] [[TheAlliance Federation]], and [[UsefulNotes/RussiansWithRustingRockets Rus]][[TheEmpire sia]] go at each others' throats for what appears to be a European KillSat shooting down a US spacecraft carrying the final components for a US military space station without warning. This provokes the US into declaring war on the Federation, shortly followed by Russia declaring war on the Federation as well to "liberate the oppressed states of Eastern Europe"... only for the US to declare war on them as well in response to their sudden expansionism. What actually happened is that when the US and Europe jointly created an [[KillSat orbital missile shield]] that automatically eliminates any and all [=ICBMs=] in flight (thus making a nuclear war kinda problematic), Russia perceived it was only a matter of time until the two superpowers team up to get Russia's oil and natural gas supplies. Therefore, they hired a bunch of terrorists to attack all three factions and planted false evidence that the Federation did it. The US bought the bait alright and the last spark was provided by Spetznaz commandoes disguised as terrorists uploading a virus into the missile shield that made it mistake the US spacecraft as an ICBM targeting Paris. [[CycleOfRevenge The rest is history]] - and logically, neither side wanted to needlessly escalate the situation so the missile shield was left in place to make sure no one nukes the others. The whole game is fought with conventional warfare.
** [[RuleOfFun Obviously because, while just nuking everything would be instantly gratifying, it would get old fast.]]
*** Actually, we still get [=WMD=]s. It's just that they only become available 5 minutes before the end of a match, and they aren't actually nukes: the US gets a satellite-launched kinetic kill vehicle, Europe gets to fire one of the missile shield satellites' laser and Russia gets a [[{{BFB}} thermobaric warhead]].
* In ''VideoGame/WorldInConflict'', the setting is a conventional conflict in 1989. Missions largely take part in the US, where the Soviets have landed in Washington State. Some missions do take place in Europe though (Southern France and the Kola peninsula for NATO, and the capture of West Berlin for the Soviets).
* ''VideoGame/{{Wasteland}}'' features this as well. Nukes do fly, too. You're in a bit that didn't get worked over too much, although fallout radiation still hangs out in a few spots.
* ''Seawolf: SSN-21'' casts the player in the role of the Captain of the USS ''Seawolf'' fighting a naval campaign against Russia. Nuclear escalation doesn't occur until the final mission, and it occurs only if the player fails to destroy the enemy boomers.
* A variant occurred in ''VideoGame/ModernWarfare2''. The BigBad orchestrated a fake US-sponsored terrorist attack on a Russian airport, which led to Russia declaring war on the U.S. and managing to invade the East Coast. Russia isn't the USSR at the time in the game, but it ''is'' controlled by Ultranationalists, who are essentially militant Soviet supporters. However tie in materials state that this was ''not'' WWIII proper, but simply the Russo-America War, it didn't involve enough countries to truly count as a World War.
** The events of the Modern Warfare 3 (appropriately enough) put World War III into overdrive, with Ultranationalist maverick Vladimir Makarov taking over Russia in a coup and proceeding to launch a full-scale invasion of Europe, made possible by simultaneous chemical attacks on all major European capitals carried out by his terrorist cronies. Interestingly, it never becomes a full-blown nuclear war, most likely because all sides know that crossing that line would effectively end the world. Makarov ''wanted'' to get control of Russia's nuclear arsenal from the President, but was unable to extract it from him before he was rescued.
* ''Franchise/MetalGear'' series: [[VideoGame/MetalGearSolid3SnakeEater Volgin]], [[VideoGame/MetalGearSolidPortableOps Gene]], and [[VideoGame/MetalGearSolidPeaceWalker Coldman]] each nearly caused World War III to occur, with Coldman being the one who came the closest to succeeding in achieving it.
* ''VideoGame/WargameEuropeanEscalation'' has four different World War III scenarios from 1975 to 1985 depicted mainly at the conventional level.
** Although there is speculation that one of the four scenarios takes place in a [[AfterTheEnd post-nuclear exchange Europe]].
** The scenarios are based around real incidents (the defection of NVA soldier Werner Weinhold in 1975, Solidarity and Martial law in Poland, the Able Archer incident [[spoiler: and the last one, which does indeed feature a nuclear-ravaged wasteland and is obviously fictional.]]
** Now expanded to the Scandinavian front in Wargame: Airland Battle, and even further afield in the upcoming Wargame: Red Dragon. Scenarios hinted at are the Chinese military liberating Hong Kong in the 1980s, a Soviet invasion of Japan, a Sino-Soviet conflict in 1979 and a Second Korean war in the 1990s.
* ''VideoGame/MissileCommand'' was all about stopping [[FailureIsTheOnlyOption (and eventually failing)]] nuclear missiles from hitting your cities.
** An unofficial Japanese port of the game to the UsefulNotes/SharpX68000 computer was even subtitled ''The World War III.''
* Many of the ''VideoGame/SteelPanthers'' games typically include a number of scenarios revolving around NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact. Since they're tactical wargames, nukes almost never come into play, being outside of the games' scope.
* The early 80s Apple II/C64 game ''Raid Over Moscow'' involves the Soviets launching nukes at major American cities, and the U.S. sending orbital space planes to take out their control centres. The very limited scale of the nuclear strikes is HandWaved by a fictional treaty where both sides were supposed to have completely eliminated their nuclear arsenals, so the Soviets had to hide theirs.
* ''VideoGame/StarOceanTheLastHope'' kicks off with the clash between the World Republic Federation and its foes causing this. The conflict quickly resulted in [=WMDs=] launching and the eventual devastation leads to the search for a new home planet in space.
* ''VideoGame/{{Singularity}}'' is one where the USSR wins hands down, by dropping what amounts to a continent-buggering 'roided-up nuke on America, after assimilating all of Europe with the help of their [[AppliedPhlebotinum E-99 weapons]].
* The RTS ''Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath'', which is about a conventional war in the aftermath a nuclear exchange resulting from the [[TitleDrop Cuban Missile Crisis]]. A big part of gameplay is exploiting fallout zones (either by dodging them or cleaning them up).
* World War III breaking out in 1989 forms the backstory for the scenarios in ''VideoGame/FlashpointCampaigns''.

[[folder:Web Originals]]
* ''[[http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/nuclearwar1.html "The Effects of a Global Thermonuclear War"]]'' is a scenario researched and plotted out by Wm. Robert Johnston, originally in 1985 and revised twice before appearing on the web in 2003. The scenario, which involves an assassination of Gorbachev directly leading to an invasion of Europe and nuclear war, is an attempt at plotting out the absolute worst-case scenario as it takes place around the point that the amount of nuclear warheads were at their peak, and a nuclear war in August has the greatest impact on farming worldwide. Even then, Johnston notes that his scenario is uncertain, going on record saying that the number of American casualties could be as much as four times ''worse''.
* ''Literature/NineteenEightyThreeDoomsday'' [[http://althistory.wikia.com/wiki/1983:_Doomsday is located at the Alternate History Wiki]] and involves a world where a worldwide nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States happens on September 26th, 1983. The USA has been succeeded by a [[VestigialEmpire much smaller rump nation]] and [[DividedStatesofAmerica a host of small states]], the USSR is a [[VestigialEmpire rump state in Siberia]], the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand is the most influential nation on Earth and South America is an economic powerhouse. Most of Europe has had its population numbers knocked down to Dark Age levels and the only European nations that aren't [[BalkanizeMe broken up into collections of mini-nations]] (some little more then city states) and empty wasteland are the Nordic Union (all the Nordic Nations, plus a couple of others) and the Alpine Confederation (Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria), thanks to them having been neutral in 1983.
* ''Literature/ProtectAndSurviveATimeline'': A SpiritualSuccessor of sorts to ''Film/{{Threads}}''. Detailing the geopolitical effects of a nuclear war on the world.
* In ''Literature/NewDealCoalitionRetained'', the Cold War starts to heat back in the 80s after hardliners [[TheCoup seize control]] from reformers throughout the Warsaw Pact, straining relationships with the West, with both sides spreading alliance networks around most of the world. Finally, in 1988, a PretextForWar comes after a brief firefight on the inter-German border triggers a series of events that leads to the outbreak of war -- the Soviets and Warsaw Pact invade Western Europe, their Latin American allies tie up the US and their own allies in that part of the world, and pro- and anti-Communist nations in Africa and the Middle East begin invading each other. The only exemption is Asia, where Moscow's allies (like China and India) choose instead to declare neutrality.

!!Non-Classic / Undefined Examples:

The AfterTheEnd scenarios that aren't "Oh no, we accidentally invented a supervirus/[[Film/{{Godzilla 1954}} oxygen-destroying chemical]]/[[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking pie so delicious it kills you]]."

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* Tokyo was wiped out in 1988 as part of the backstory to ''Manga/{{Akira}}'', inciting World War III.
* ''Manga/{{Appleseed}}'' from the creator of ''Franchise/GhostInTheShell'' also features a World War III in its BackStory. Notably, it also includes a World War ''IV'', which was said to be conventional (after WWIII exchanged a number of cities for suspiciously round lakes).
* A nuclear war was what brought about the post-apocalyptic world of ''Manga/FistOfTheNorthStar''.
* In ''Anime/GhostInTheShellStandAloneComplex'', a nuclear war was fought... somewhere... [[TheTokyoFireball Tokyo was leveled again]], and [[DividedStatesOfAmerica America has split into at least two nations]], but the Japanese managed to save the world by inventing machines that could could remove radiation from the environment. The series also contained World War ''IV'' a series of several guerrilla conflicts and minor land wars six years before the start of the series around 2030. As in Nuclear World War III, World War II, but not World War I, Berlin was leveled over the course of the conflict, but has since been rebuilt.
* ''Anime/MazingerZ'': In the ''Manga/NewMazinger'' spin-off, the action begins one hundred fifty years after World War Three between USA and Soviet Union at the start of twenty-first century. Nuclear weapons and nuclear winter wiped out ninety percent of humankind turned the planet into a radioactive, barren wasteland, and the survivors realigned in northern and southern superpowers and kept fighting. One century and half later, they are ''still'' fighting over whatever is left of Earth.
* ''Anime/NeonGenesisEvangelion'' blends this with a conventional AfterTheEnd scenario for its {{backstory}}, with the combination of the Second Impact and a nuclear war killing half the world's population.
* The ''Manga/DeathNote'' tie in novel L: Change the World mentions that L's first solved case was that of the Winchester Bombings, the solving of which averted World War III. He solved it at 8 years old and met Watari shortly afterwards. The date is unclear, but is unarguably between 1987 and 1988.
* It's all but stated that a nuclear war happened in the not too distant past of ''Manga/FistOfTheNorthStar'' due to the presence of radiation and part of Toki's backstory involving saving people from a nuclear strike by closing them into a fallout shelter. It's never explicitly called a World War, but the implication is that the ''whole world'' is an AfterTheEnd-type ScavengerWorld wasteland as is seen during the show and manga, so if it wasn't a full blown World War, it's a civilization-ending nuclear war that manages to come pretty close.
* In ''Anime/FutureWar198X'', WorldWarIII starts after ANuclearError made by Americans.
* In ''LightNovel/ACertainMagicalIndex'', [[spoiler:Fiamma of the Right]] engineers World War III by getting [[spoiler:Russia]] to declare war against Academy City, leading to a twelve-day conflict between the [[MagicVersusScience magic and science factions]]. Strangely enough, it's not the conflict itself that matters ([[spoiler:other than [[ThePowerOfHate powering himself up with the malice of the combatants]]]]), he's just doing it so that he can draw out the people he needs, namely [[spoiler:Touma (or more specifically, his Imagine Breaker), Index, and Sasha Croitsef.]]
** Other nations involved were the Elizalina Alliance (a group of secessionist states from Russia, whom Russia was just dying to have an excuse to invade), England (AC side) and France (Catholic side), and it is briefly mentioned that China and India are supporting Academy City, though their armies never make a direct appearance. The only world power to sit the war out is, [[{{Eagleland}} ironically]], the United States.
* ''Anime/{{Macross}}'' has the "Unification Wars" (which we get to see a bit of in ''Anime/MacrossZero''), a series of conflicts between a [[EmpoweredUnitedNations strengthened, militarized United Nations]] and anybody who didn't want to join together with them to fight the coming [[AlienInvasion Zentraedi invasion]]. It's mostly settled by the time the aliens arrive in that version, though. The sides are not well-defined: it's known that the USA, Japan, most of Europe, and at least part of Russia were on the UN side, but the composition of the Anti-UN forces is mostly unknown (and the side material actively wonders just ''how'' the last remnant of the Anti-UN got their hands on cutting-edge Russian-made mecha, as the Russian government was on the UN side).
* In ''{{Anime/Robotech}}'', the Global Civil War is raging in the 1990s, basically a non-nuclear WW III, though everyone expects it to escalate, when the arrival of Zor's starship puts a sudden stop to it.
* In ''Anime/YuGiOh5Ds'' (dub version only), when Bommer summons his [[http://yugioh.wikia.com/wiki/Flying_Fortress_SKY_FIRE Flying Fortress SKY FIRE]], Crow quips, "That's not a monster, that's World War IV!", suggesting World War III has already happened by now.
* The "Thirteen Day War" happened in 2039 in ''Anime/LegendOfGalacticHeroes'', well over 1,000 years before the start of the series. However, its effects are still felt in the form of a very strong taboo against the use of nuclear weapons against planets.

* Franchise/TheDCU:
** World War III was a week-long war fought against a single person, ComicBook/BlackAdam.
** There was ''another'' World War III, in which the entire population of the Earth got superpowers to battle the ancient weapon of the Old Gods, Mageddon.
** ComicBook/WonderWoman was sent to Man's World to stop Ares, the God of War, from igniting a third World War.
* ''ComicBook/JudgeDredd'' had nuclear war in the {{backstory}}, which was essentially America vs everyone else. This had severe ramifications, including the abolition of democracy. Then there was the Apocalypse War between Mega City One and East Meg One (a Soviet Mega City) that was actually depicted in the comic. This has also been referred to as World War 4 on certain occasions, though the fighting only involved two Mega Cities--even the other American and Soviet city states were neutral.
* In ''ComicBook/NthManTheUltimateNinja'', World War III is waged by the United States and China against Russia after a powerful RealityWarper neutralizes the world's entire nuclear arsenal.
* ''ComicBook/Marvel2099'' didn't feature World War III, but did include the line "Minor disturbance? What's major, World War IV?", suggesting it had happened.

* World War III is the setup for the ''Franchise/{{Terminator}}'' series of films, in the form of a RobotWar.
** Though we discover in ''[[Film/Terminator2JudgmentDay Terminator 2]]'' that Skynet actually started the war itself--this was something of a {{Retcon}}, in response to the fact that [[TheGreatPoliticsMessUp the Soviet Union was in the process of breaking up]] between the first and second films, but it's canon nonetheless.
** It was Skynet that started the war in ''Film/TheTerminator'' also. Kyle Reese says that nobody even knew who'd started it (i.e. at the time the bombs began falling), then reveals that "the machines" were to blame.
-->"Nobody knew who started it. ... It was the machines, Sarah. Defense network computers. New. Powerful. Hooked into everything. Trusted to run it all. They say it got smart... a new order of intelligence. That it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. It decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination."
* Reversed in ''Franchise/TheMatrix'' movies, where it was the humans using nukes against the machines in an effort to stop them.
* Whether the ''Film/MadMax'' series takes place after World War III, and if so, what type of war it was, [[BroadStrokes depends on which movie in that series you're watching]].
* Lingers as a background threat in both ''Film/EscapeFromNewYork'', and ''Film/EscapeFromLA''. Notably, at the end of the latter film the AntiHero averts it [[spoiler: by EMP-bombing the entire world in a classic OmnicidalNeutral scene.]]
* The hyperspace-capable Earth of the movie ''Film/DarkPlanet'' is ''still'' trying to blow itself up. [[WorldWarWhatever They're on World War]] ''[[WorldWarWhatever VI]]'' [[WorldWarWhatever now]], but it'll be the last [[spoiler:because a chemical weapon from one side induced a mutation in a bioweapon from the other side.]]
* ''Film/TheBookOfEli'' is set in the aftermath of a nuclear war that, at the very least, brought about the collapse of the United States.
* ''Film/{{Pumzi}}'' is set 35 years after World War III, which started because of water conflicts.
* In ''Film/StarTrekFirstContact'', the ''Enterprise'' travels back in time to a period shortly after World War III. See the ''Franchise/StarTrek'' entry under the "Live-Action TV" tab for more information.

* In David Wingrove's ''Literature/ChungKuo'' series, this is how China conquered the world.
* World War III occurs a year before the setting of ''Literature/ZForZachariah'', causing a Class 2/borderline Class 3 ApocalypseHow.
* The Robert [=McCammon=] book ''Literature/SwanSong'' opens just before World War III causes Class 1 ApocalypseHow, thanks to [[UsefulNotes/NuclearWeapons lots of deadly mushrooms]].
* The Final War in the [[Literature/TheDraka Drakaverse]] is that setting's World War III. [[FromBadToWorse It goes badly for the good guys.]] [[RecycledInSpace It turns out later]] that the name is a [[TheWarHasJustBegun bit of a misnomer]].
* Joan Vinge's ''Fireships'' had as backstory that the big devastating nuclear war was fought between the Soviet Union and Red China. The United States stayed out of the matter completely. For some reason, many people from other countries seem to regard this as being ''unfair'', and call Americans "backstabbers" for not getting their society shattered and millions of their people killed along with the Russians and Chinese.
* ''Literature/{{Animorphs}}'' has the Yeerks attempt to start WWIII between the U.S. and China. They get pretty damn close before the Animorphs stop it.
* ''Literature/MortalEngines'' is set after WWIII...and IV...and V...[[RunningGag and VI...]] It is implied that the war that really destroyed civilization, however, occurred when an "American Empire" fought a thermonuclear war with "Greater China", and that most of the world except for Africa was involved.
* In ''Ape and Essence'' by Aldous Huxley, the great powers, acting on the fatal motives of Progress and Nationalism, obliterated each other's civilizations with not only atomic bombs but {{Synthetic Plague}}s and plant diseases of all kinds. Some areas of the world, including New Zealand and Equatorial Africa, survived due to being too remote to be of any strategic importance; elsewhere, the increasingly mutated survivors refer to the catastrophe only as "the Thing."
* ''Literature/TheBooksOfEmber'' are set 200 years after World Wars III, IV, V, and VI. If ''The Prophet of Yonwood'' is anything to go by, the first of "The 4 Wars" was between the USA and a group called the Phalanx Nations, and went nuclear pretty fast. These wars, combined with [[ThePlague The 3 Plagues]], are what knocked civilization back to pre-industrial levels.
* In the backstory to the ''Literature/StarCarrier'' series by Creator/IanDouglas, prior to the creation of the [[TheFederation Terran Confederation]], there were two Sino-Western Wars. It's not clear if nuclear weapons were employed. If there were, they were likely of the tactical variety, as most cities remain intact. However, at the end of the second war, a Chinese spaceship maneuvers three asteroids to ColonyDrop the Atlantic in order to devastate the coastal Western powers. Two of them are destroyed in Earth's orbit, but one (dubbed "[[Literature/TheBible Wormwood]]") splashes down in the Atlantic and devastates a number of American, European, and African coastal cities. China disavows ordering the attack, claiming the captain went rogue. However, they were never admitted to the Confederation, despite sending their ships to assist the Confederate SpaceNavy in a number of engagements against the Sh'daar Masters.
** In the fourth novel, another global conflict happens when the (European-controlled) Confederation attempts to force the [[ExpandedStatesOfAmerica United States of North America]] in line. However, the Confederate use of illegal weapons (and then, of course, disavowing giving any such orders) and the unprovoked destruction of the North American capital causes Russia and North India to secede from the Confederation and ally with the USNA. The Chinese Hegemony and the Islamic Theocracy (both non-members) offer to ally with the USNA if the latter supports their petition to join the Confederation after the war. At the same time, Mexico and Honduras secede from the USNA to ally with the Confederation.
* ''Literature/NineteenEightyFour''[='s=] unnamed ForeverWar between three mercilessly totalitarian and nuclear-armed [[SpaceFillingEmpire Space-Filling Empires]], oddly enough, seems to be waged mostly with conventional weapons similar to those used in UsefulNotes/WorldWarII, and conditions in London evoke that time with rationing, bombing raids, "Victory"-themed propaganda, and Russia (now Eurasia) suddenly becoming an ally instead of the enemy.
* The backstory of the ''Literature/{{Shannara}}'' series always alluded to "The Great Wars" which brought our civilization to an end and then the magic comes back and the high fantasy setting unfolded. After a RetCon and CanonWelding with Brooks' ''Word and Void'' series, this was shown to be World War III, taking place sometime in the early 22nd century. Although supernatural forces were pulling the strings, nuclear and chemical weapons, deployed in several steps, were responsible for wiping out the vast majority of humanity.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''[[Series/TwentyFour 24]]'' loves teasing the idea of World War III whenever Jack Bauer or The President has to make a decision or causes a situation that could threaten America's shaky relations with other countries such as Russia and China.
* ''Series/DoctorWho'':
** The episodes "World War Three" and "Dalek" allude to near-misses of WWIII, but not an actual conflict occurring.
** The Fourth Doctor mentions a World War ''Six'' at one point, so presumably this trope wasn't averted indefinitely in that Verse.
** Not to mention the Ninth Doctor talking about World War Five.
** Subverted in the episode "The Pyramid at the End of the World". An expected alien invasion begins in the [[{{Qurac}} fictional Central Asian country]] of "Turmezistan" where American, Russian, and Chinese forces are confronting each other, and it's assumed that the aliens are intending to take advantage of the imminent World War III to invade while human civilisation is being trashed. It's then revealed [[spoiler:that the location is a distraction, and the real threat to human civilisation that the aliens have forseen and want to take advantage of is the accidental creation and release of a SyntheticPlague.]]
* The ''Franchise/StarTrek'' franchise is infamous for frequently referencing a World War III, but giving very vague details about it. Here is what we do know about the World War III of the ''Trek'' Verse:
** ''Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries'' equated World War III with the Eugenics Wars, which supposedly took place during the 1990s. In ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration'', a RetCon moved the setting of World War III to sometime in the mid-21st century. ''Star Trek'' canon now recognizes the Eugenics Wars and World War III as separate conflicts, even though the Eugenics Wars apparently took place on a global scale.
** World War III was incredibly devastating, with a death toll higher than that of UsefulNotes/WorldWarII. Nuclear weapons were used and most governments did not survive the war, leading to an AfterTheEnd {{Dystopia}} described as "the post-atomic horror". In ''Film/StarTrekFirstContact'', the ''Enterprise'' crew travels back in time to this "post-atomic horror" period in order to ensure that humankind's FirstContact with aliens takes place. The movie explains that it was this first contact which caused the Earth to rise from the ashes of World War III and become a {{Utopia}}.
** The war featured genetic engineering and genocide on a massive scale. ''Series/StarTrekEnterprise'' establishes that Colonel Phillip Green was involved in this.
** Information about the factions involved is extremely scanty. From ''First Contact'', we know that something called the "Eastern Coalition" was an enemy of the United States, vaguely suggesting that the war was fought between the West and an alliance of Asian countries. (Early scripts for ''First Contact'' explicitly said "China", but later drafts [[HammerAndSickleRemovedForYourProtection replaced "China" with "Eastern Coalition"]].)
** According to the [[Franchise/StarTrekExpandedUniverse EU]] novel ''Literature/StarTrekFederation'', the war happened largely due to a [[ANaziByAnyOtherName fascist movement]] called the Optimum gaining control over much of the planet. Much of the novel was later {{Jossed}} by ''Film/StarTrekFirstContact'', however.
* Deadliest Warrior showed a highly likely 'what if scenario' of if North Korea and South Korea redeclare war in the episode US Rangers vs NKSOF. The allies of both nations would most likely assist them, causing a WW3. United States of America, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, France, Great Britian, and South Korea vs China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. And these are only the most likely ones to join the war, more nations could join most likely.
* ''Series/BabylonFive'' had a nuclear WW3 in its {{backstory}}, though not much is known about it other than that the UsefulNotes/UnitedNations was dissolved afterwards.
** The RPG gives more information. It started as a war between Pakistan and India, escalated when both sides' allies tried to break the stalemate, went nuclear when Pakistan nuked advancing Chinese troops, and became a World War after China's collapse and the invasion of Russia from some of the Chinese warlords, at which point US, NATO and the European Union stepped in to try and stop the fighting. Amazingly, widespread devastation was avoided: the US had in place Earthshield, a network of satellites equipped with lasers to shoot down missiles, so only tactical nukes were exchanged. At the end of the war the political situation had returned to pre-war status quo (except for a divided China occupying North Korea), and the US called for disbanding the United Nations and the creation of what would become Earth Alliance, including a military capable to enforce its decision (to which they pledged both Earthshield and the national military forces).
* In ''Series/{{Outcasts}}'' the colonisation project is to escape the destruction of Earth by World War III. Not much detail is given, but there is a reference to tension over Taiwan, suggesting that the war may have been primarily between the USA and China.
* ''Series/{{The 100}}'' has a nuclear war in its backstory to set up the AfterTheEnd situation, though who fought war and why is not delved into until the Season 2 finale, when an artificial intelligence called ALIE is implied have been involved. It is eventually revealed that ALIE was programmed to save humanity/the world, and decided the problem was "too many people". [[spoiler:[[AIIsACrapshoot Her solution was to launch nuclear missiles at everyone, triggering a counterattack to reduce the number of people on the planet.]]]]

* Music/TypeONegative frontman Peter Steele's earlier ThrashMetal band, Carnivore, had a song about World War III (and IV), even called World Wars III and IV.
* Music/FrontLineAssembly's ''Artificial Soldier'' and ''Fallout'' albums.
* Music/{{KMFDM}}'s appropriately named ''WWIII''.

* This is the theme of the "Ruiner" table in ''VideoGame/RuinerPinball;'' the player must raise the threat level to [[DefconFive DEFCON 1]] and start a nuclear war.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* The Fall in ''TabletopGame/EclipsePhase'' was a combination of this and RobotWar, resulting in the [[ApocalypseHow sterilization of Earth]].
* In 1968, a tongue-in-cheek game, ''Nuclear War'' was made, where missiles and bombers fly to nuke fictional countries (your fellow players), prompted an early [[MemeticMutation Memetic Phrase]]: "Have you got change for 25 million people?"
* The ''TabletopGame/{{Shadowrun}}'' universe has the planet on the brink of a nuclear war in the 2010s, but it is averted by the advent (or return) of magic. In the following decades, there is no direct World War, but we get the Eurowars in the 2030s, including an Islamic Jihad 32-37, so HistoryRepeats as the Turks once more stand before the gates of Vienna. Two cities get nuked: Damascus and Tripolis (if memory serves).
* ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'' might be set after World War III: the historical files are too messed up to really know, and you don't have clearance for them anyway.
** While the truth may not be known, the rulebook does give a "suggested" history that could be used, or at least subverted to surprise those people who already know it. Of course, the rulebook is ULTRAVIOLET clearance, so if you aren't ULTRAVIOLET clearance, don't highlight this spoiler: [[spoiler: After the end of World War III, the 'Polity' (a OneWorldOrder) was formed. Many Alpha Complexes were built in that time period, including one located in the city of San Francisco, controlled by The Computer. Everything was fine and dandy, until an asteroid the size of Sheboygan made its way to Earth, causing the Big Whoops. A Russian missile silo mistook the asteroid for a nuclear attack, and The Computer mistook that counter-nuclear attack as an attack by Communists (its information records were damaged, and it could only retrieve 1950's cold war propaganda at the time). The San Franciscan Computer challenged the Polity and the rest of the Alpha Complexes, declaring them all traitors working with the Communists...and the resulting confusion and chaos caused all the other Complexes to view themselves as the 'one true Complex' and every other Complex as being subverted by traitors. So, technically, PARANOIA takes place during World War IV...]]
* In ''TabletopGame/{{Rifts}}'', World War III started with nukes being hurled at each other. It ended shortly afterwards. Not because of the nukes themselves, but because they happened to land during a total summer eclipse, on a solstice, during a planetary alignment. The {{Ley Line}}s flared up and everything went to hell.
* ''TabletopGame/TwilightStruggle'' features World War III as a NonstandardGameOver: Trigger it, and your superpower loses immediately.
* ''TabletopGame/AllFleshMustBeEaten'', the zombie tabletop rpg system, features a splatbook so that you can set your campaign in the middle of WWIII (where zombies want to TakeOverTheWorld) as well as post-apocalyptic settings.

* ''VideoGame/{{DEFCON}}'' is basically a World War III simulator. Typical games last about two or three hours in real time.
* ''VideoGame/BattleTanx'' features a massive nuclear war which was actually precipitated by something more horrible, a plague which [[{{Gendercide}} wiped out 99.9% of the female population]], with the war being caused by the fight over the surviving women. Predictably, the majority of the surviving women were killed in the conventional/nuclear conflicts that followed.
* The exact scope is never delved on, but ''VideoGame/SidMeiersAlphaCentauri'' has the Crusader Wars, the Twelve Minute War and the Indian Border Wars, all of which were nuclear. At least one of these might have been World War III.
** Then there is the [[ApocalypseHow nuclear holocaust]] that happened some time after ''Unity'' left for the eponymous star system.
* The ''VideoGame/TexMurphy'' games are set after World War III. Things are kind of crummy, but life goes on, and in a fairly acceptable way.
** ''The Pandora Directive'' reveals that the war was a pretty short nuclear exchange with a bunch of countries in Middle East, when the U.S. military decided to test their new anti-matter missiles against them. The geniuses didn't consider the ramifications of blasting bombs this powerful in a region known to dabble in bio- and chemical weapons. Much of that stuff, not to mention all the radiation, got spread throughout the world. [[spoiler:Your goal in the game is to stop the NSA from getting their hands on an even bigger supply of anti-matter from an alien mothership]].
* ''VideoGame/{{Battlefield}} 2'' has World War III between the US, the European Union, China, and the fictional Middle Eastern Coalition. The cause of the war is never explicitly stated, but one map description hints that it was over oil. Russia was originally going to be a faction too, but they were downgraded to a spec-ops faction in the expansion pack.
** The ''Bad Company'' subseries depicts what is most likely the same war, with the focus shifted towards fighting between the U.S. and the Russian Federation, who is allied with the MEC. By the time of ''Bad Company 2'', Russia has taken over vast swathes of Europe and South America, and is advancing on the U.S. from the north and south.
** ''VideoGame/{{Battlefield 3}}'' appears to show what might be the beginning of that World War occurring on the Iran-Iraq border.
** ''VideoGame/{{Battlefield 4}}'' depicts the same war in ''Battlefield 3'' after an indeterminate amount of time. China has entered the war. In the campaign, they're mostly allied with Russia, but the multiplayer suggests that it broke down and became a MeleeATrois between three of them.
** ''2142'' has World War IV (assuming nothing happened between Battlefield 2 and 2142) between a futuristic European Union and the Pan-Asian Collation. No word on what the rest of the world is doing.
*** [[AllThereInTheManual Supposedly]], the whole conflict is over a dwindling number of global resources and the two hemispheres are vying for whatever's left. One of the expansion packs also adds a third wheel to the war, meaning it truly is a new World War.
* ''VideoGame/CommandAndConquerRedAlert2'' would probably count as World War III, in spirit if not in name; due to Einstein's [[HitlersTimeTravelExemptionAct meddling]], "World War II" as we know it was replaced with "The Great War" (with the Soviet Union as the agressor against an Allied alliance in place of Germany). The next war is the Soviet Union versus everyone else, with the United States as their primary target this time instead of Europe. However, add to that Red Alert 3 and the ''entire'' Tiberium series (which, [[FlipFlopOfGod maybe chronologically takes place]] after [[TimeyWimeyBall one or more of the Red Alert games]]), and the idea of a "World War" kinda loses its impact.
* World War 3 basically happens in ''VideoGame/CommandAndConquerGenerals'' expansion ''Zero Hour'', but is downplayed. In the original game, an NGOSuperpower known as the GLA (Global Liberation Army) takes control of most of Central Asia, the eastern half of the Middle East, and parts of North Africa, including Somalia. The People's Republic of China takes over the the parts of Central Asia that aren't GLA-occupied (including a lot of Kazakhstan). Apparently in retaliation to Chinese and American imperialism, the GLA nukes Beijing (using a nuke they stole from China), establishes a presence in western China, and attacks American-held Iraq. This leads to a a struggle across Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western China, with the GLA and a faction of Chinese military defectors on one side and China and America on the other. Eventually, American and Chinese forces decimate the GLA and capture their capital. Then Zero Hour happens, where the GLA is revealed to be NotQuiteDead, and the game becomes WorldWar3 proper, featuring major battles across Central Asia, the Middle East, West China, North Africa, the Eastern United States, and Europe. [[spoiler: The United States is forced to withdraw, leaving the nations of the world to turn to China for help. They eventually drive the GLA out of Europe and become the new world superpower.]]
* The [[AllThereInTheManual manual]] for the ''VideoGame/{{Earth 2150}}'' games reveals that [=WW3=] was of the "everyone against everyone" variety, with most of the nations obliterated in a matter of hours by massive nuclear strikes. Due to a better anti-missile system, a decent chunk of the U.S. remained unscathed, and the remaining twelve states reformed into the United Civilized States. On the other side of the pond, a Russian army colonel took his surviving men out of the fallout shelter, walked to Mongolia and met up with the nomadic Khan tribe. Realizing the potential, he married the chief's daughter and formed the Eurasian Dynasty that conquered all of Europe and Asia.
** From the same developers came ''World War III: Black Gold'' which has the Middle East deciding to stop oil exports to the west. Naturally, the US decides to step in with military force... but somewhere around the way, the once-again Soviet Russia decides that the Middle East is in ''their'' sphere of influence and steps in. And to drive the point even further, some of the game's cutscenes were included in ''Earth 2160'''s trailer which heavily implies that this game is actually a prequel of sorts to the Earthverse and shows how the world seen in ''Earth 2140'' came to be.
* World War 3 is mentioned in the {{backstory}} for ''VideoGame/GroundControl'' as the reason for war being abolished on Earth (but not everywhere else). Too bad the [[TheEmpire Draconis Empire]] doesn't agree with this policy.
* Another World War was part of the backstory for ''VideoGame/YoujuSenkiAD2048''. The player is never given the details, just that a lot of nukes were used and most of the world is now completely uninhabitable for normal humans.
* Depending on the player's [[SadisticChoice decision]] at the end of ''VideoGame/{{Killer7}}'', [[spoiler: Japan may attack the US]] and trigger WWIII. The alternative is having [[spoiler: Japan nuked off the face of the planet]].
* Averted in ''VideoGame/StarControl'', where the closest thing is the Small War Of 2015, a short nuclear exchange in the Middle East which killed 1 million people and led to the world's nuclear weapons being sealed in the Peace Vaults.
* An enormous thermonuclear war occurred in the {{backstory}} of ''VideoGame/ShinMegamiTenseiIV'', twenty-five years prior to the game's setting to be specific. It was caused by the sudden appearance of demons throughout the globe, with every country blaming practically every other country and ending with all of them except Japan as bombed-out wastelands. An NPC implies at one point that [[LawfulEvil the Archangels]] may have started or at least helped this war along somehow, in order to whittle humanity's population down to a handful of {{Chosen One}}s, though [[{{Satan}} Lucifer]] was also a player.
* Jonathan Irons of ''VideoGame/CallOfDutyAdvancedWarfare'' [[spoiler:instigates a world war against his own PrivateMilitaryContractor organization "Atlas Corporation" by openly threatening the UN with a superweapon]]. As he already controls the world's global security infrastructure [[spoiler:through some manipulation of world events]], the other nations struggle to match him. Even by the end of the game, [[spoiler:the only goal that gets accomplished is the death of Irons himself. Everyone knows that Atlas's efforts will continue with or without Irons in command and the war isn't over]].

[[folder:Visual Novel]]
* In one BadFuture of ''VisualNovel/SteinsGate'', a scientist brings plans for a fully functional time machine to UsefulNotes/TheNewRussia. It doesn't take long for other countries to discover what's going on, and eventually a [[LensmanArmsRace time machine race]] starts which eventually erupts into World War III. The result: ''[[ApocalypseHow 5.7 billion people dead.]]''
** The ''VisualNovel/SteinsGateZero'' covers the World War III part.
* In ''VisualNovel/TheBottomOfTheWell'', the start of a nuclear war (apparently between the United States and Russia) is the cause of the story. The city in which the protagonist lives is hit by nuclear detonations, and she needs to survive both these and the aftermath radioactive ash, looters, and such. There's no background as to how it happened there's brief early warning of the attack, but no explanation of it.

* Book 4 of ''Webcomic/HarryPotterComics'' takes place during World War III. Besides nuclear weapons, magic is also involved, as well as hybrid tech (including invisible missiles and beam-spamming wand/guns that even muggles can use.)
* ''Webcomic/KiwiBlitz'' takes place after World War III, though things have largely settled down by the time of the story. The Frohlich family originally made its fortune building war machines.

[[folder:Web Originals]]
* The "Eye in the Sky" story from the ''{{Franchise/Transformers}}'' MirrorUniverse of ''[[Literature/TransformersShatteredGlass Shattered Glass]]'' mentioned a World War III as having occured in the 1980s.
* The Literature/ChaosTimeline has one, appropriately at the end of the story. It doesn't last long (less than one day, in fact), but afterwards, the world will never be again as it was before.
* It is mentioned that when using [[Wiki/SCPFoundation SCP]]-2000, [[spoiler: which can reset humanity to a certain time in the event of a ApocalypseHow]], one can't set it any further back than twenty years, or they'd be liable to trigger this. After all, [[spoiler: that's how World War 2 happened.]]
** Another interpretation is that [[spoiler: the SCP Foundation fabricated World War 2 to explain away the massive destruction and loss of life caused by whatever incident led to the activation of SCP-2000]].

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* The DCAU made reference to "the near apocalypse of '09" headed by Ra's ah Ghul, took the entire Justice League to stop and implied that Franchise/{{Batman}} was instrumental in stopping it. Whether or not that is an example of this trope is unclear. 2009 has passed, so it looks like we'll never know what happened.
* In one of the future-set episodes of ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'', Moe says to Lisa's English fiance "[[AmericaWonWorldWarII We saved your asses in World War II!]]" He responds "Yes, well, we saved ''your'' arses in World War III!" Moe concedes the point.
* ''WesternAnimation/RockAndRule'' ended up having this in the {{backstory}}. Mok specifically cited it in his ThemeSong ('I'm the biggest thing since World War Three!')
* One episode of the WesternAnimation/PinkyAndTheBrain involved a possible future where the United States ends up in a nuclear war against not Russia, not China, but against.... [[CanadaEh Canada]]. The war begins with an argument between the Canadian Prime Minister (who wears a space helmet with the Canadian maple leaf painted on it, apparently because this is how Canadian leaders dress in the far future) and the President of the United States: UsefulNotes/BillClinton, who is still alive thanks to being preserved as a head in a jar WesternAnimation/{{Futurama}}-style and is somehow still President.
* ''WesternAnimation/AdventureTime'': What kind of Mushrooms did you think were in the Mushroom War? (Hint: Not [[WhatDoYouMeanItWasntMadeOnDrugs those shrooms, though you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise]].)
* One episode of ''WesternAnimation/Phantom20140'' makes a reference to "World War IV" suggesting that World War III had already happened.