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Deus Ex Nukina
aka: Nuke Ex Machina
The right tool for the right job.

"I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's The Only Way To Be Sure."
Ellen Ripley, Aliens

When nukes are used as Deus ex Machina. Such applications are often contrived and approach the arbitrariness of Green Rocks.

The most interesting dramatic element of Deus Ex Nukina is the common 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. Frequently, the courier must also make the ultimate sacrifice and stay with the bomb to trigger it manually.

Not to be confused with I Love Nuclear Power.

Antimatter sometimes substitutes for "futuristic" settings. See also Biological Weapons Solve Everything.

For nukes used as the Plan A of the evil military, see Nuke 'em. For nukes used when the consequences of not using them would be worse, see Nuclear Option.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass: Late in season 2, Suzaku is getting absolutely mangled by Kallen's new Guren SEITEN. Just before the final blow hits him, Suzaku's "Live!" Geass kicks in, causing him to deploy the FLEIJA that he was until this point unwilling to use, and by extension kills off 30 million civilians. Whoops. This incident also brings up either Fridge Logic or Fridge Horror: had Suzaku hit Kallen, the warhead would have killed him, too. This either means that it was a last-ditch shot, or he deliberately nuked a civilian population for a distraction.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: In the fight against Armisael, Rei uses Unit 00's experimental N2 device to take out the Angel along with herself. It works, but it destroys most, if not all of Tokyo-3.
    • Subverted in most of the episodes, where using N2 weapons against the Angels works, to an extent, by disabling them momentarily, but not directly killing them.

    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.
  • In Legion of Super Heroes, Ferro Lad knocks out Superboy and hand delivers a nuke into the heart of the sun-eater in order to destroy it.

    Fanfic 
  • "Dragon Droppings" by Hans Von Hozel:
    "Oh no!" said Obama, "The feces are spreading outside the wall of the city! We must use nuke!"
    So he pressed a button and nuke city, which killed the dragon and evaporated all of the fecals.
    The world of celebration, for dragon to gone!

    Film 
  • In Deep Impact, the nuke is delivered by a spaceship that flies into the larger of the two comet fragments, saving (most) of the population of Earth in the process.
  • Humanity constructs a really big nuke in Sunshine, in a desperate bid to, ahem, re-ignite the sun. Never mind that the sun creates the amount of energy generated by the bomb many times over every single second. Best to suspend your disbelief on this point. The flaws of this idea are pointed out in this comic.
  • The same exact concept is used in Solar Crisis.
  • In the 1979 epic Meteor, a gigantic piece of a main-belt asteroid breaks off and is headed straight for Earth. US and Soviet orbital nuclear weapons that point Earthward are turned toward the incoming meteor. Special Effect Failure ensues.
  • 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.
    • Well arguably a subversion — the whole thing is started by underground nuclear testing weakening the Earth's crust, then a nuclear weapon used as a giant drill. Then a H-bomb is used to stop the crack, but it's effect is limited.
  • Featured in Aliens, with Ripley and the surviving Space Marines voting to nuke the facility from orbit. (It's the only way to be sure.) They don't, but thanks to accidentally shooting up the thermal regulators, the reactors go critical and it becomes a conveniently self-nuking facility.
  • Back in 1961, Admiral Harriman Nelson used a nuke to defeat Global Warming in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
  • The Sci Fi Channel absolutely loves to use this as the solution to their natural-disaster-of-the-week films, even if it makes absolutely no sense. 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. Yet the idea of using those mini-nukes to, say, wipe out those charging swarms of bugs attacking them never crosses their minds. No, they prefer using automatic rifles against a sea of kamikaze Bugs.
  • 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.: The High Priestess of the Neolite sect is on the phone with Russian mob boss Gorsky.
    High Priestess: "Mr Gorsky, when I kill, I kill for good."
    Gorsky: "Are you threatening me?"
    High Priestess: "Bless your soul."
    (Gorsky's security system detects an incoming missile)
    Gorsky: "Bitch..."
  • In The Core, the Earth's outer core has stopped spinning, resulting in the collapse of Earth's magnetic field and spelling doom for life as we know it. How can we get the core spinning again? With 200 megaton nuclear bombs, that's how!
  • In Pacific Rim, various Kaiju aliens are coming through some kind of dimensional portal. Fortunately, it turns out there is a way to seal the portal up, if they drop a... well, three guesses.
  • In Mars Attacks!: General Decker insists using a nuclear missiles to blow the martian's head ship. When the president is at his lowest out of desesperation, he agrees to finally shoot them. The martians use a bizarre machine that absorbs the explosion into a balloon, brings it back to the ship and the martian emperor inhales the nuclear explosion which makes his voice sound funny.

    Literature 
  • Stephen King's The Stand has Deus Ex Nukina delivered by hand by the Woobie and set off by a loose spell that turns into the Hand of God.
  • From John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata, a cobbled up device using various weapons powered by antimatter rigged to form an improvised munition is used to destroy an alien invader's warship, delivered by Michael O'Neal, Jr in Powered Armor. The Posleen ability to kill most anything that flies required delivery by a person who could dodge incoming fire in the way regular delivery methods couldn't.
  • In Footfall, an alien invader is fought off using an Orion Drive spaceship launched from near Tacoma, Washington.
  • 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.
  • Played straight, more or less, in The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. A warhead is carried through a portal by a special ops team into a parallel universe to take out an Eldritch Abomination. Turns out that this was the endgame of a big Gambit Roulette by said abomination to provide it with enough energy to open a big portal to Earth and come through to eat our universe. One man has to stay behind to cause a faulty detonation to stop an actual nuclear reaction, but gets severely irradiated in the process by the critical plutonium assembly.
  • Used in The Wave, by Christopher Hyde, which depicts a series of disasters in the Columbia River starting with terrorist activity in Canada and the USA, that leads the wave of water to take out several dams, and a nuclear reactor. To prevent the irradiated water from reaching the Pacific, a nuclear weapon is used to stop the wave by collapsing the mountains. This book was released in 1979, the same year as TMI accident and "The China Syndrome" film.

    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 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 (Fan Nickname "Nuke'em Johnny") 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. He gets better, but not without consequences.
    • In the episode "Into the Fire", Sheridan lures both major ancient races into an area mined with hundreds of 500 megaton nukes to cause a decisive battle.
      • Something on an aversion, since the nukes were used to get their opponents' attention, and were not themselves the resolution to the 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 Story variety.
  • 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.
  • Stargate Atlantis loves nuclear weapons.
    • The first use of nukes on the show was in "The Siege," in the form of five 1.2 gigaton nuclear mines, placed above Atlantis to intercept the Wraith ships. The Wraith catch on, and use asteroids to detonate them.
    • In "The Siege," Sheppard flies a nuclear bomb into the bay of a Wraith Hive in order to destroy it. He gets beamed out right before detonation.
    • 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 attempt to nuke an encampment of Wraiths. Michael escapes. The Genii also use one of their nukes on their own people as part of a coup.note  Honestly? They just like nukes a LOT.
    • They detonate a nuke over the city to make the Wraith think they blew themselves up. Or the time they nuked the Replicators. With six Mark IX weapons, capable of destroying Stargates and with an average yield of about five gigatons, at least fifty times as powerful as any weapon ever actually detonated by man. When the Mark IX came along, in SG-1 and Atlantis, they really turned this trope Up to Eleven.
    • Also beaming nukes directly into Wraith hive ships (and the one time they just fired all their nukes at once since beaming wouldn't work)!
    • 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.
    • A mega-nuke called Horizon and was described as a 1.2 giga-ton Phlebotinum enhanced nuke used to blow up a whole continent of Replicator cities.
    • The ZPM-powered Hive Ship in the Atlantis series finale had a Healing Factor on steroids, and such thick "skin" that it rarely even needed to heal. Solution? Nuke it from the inside.
  • Played straight in the Season 1 finale of SeaQuest DSV, in which the sub's nuclear payload - still contained within the sub - 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 disastrous 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.
  • At the end of LOST season 5, several characters decide to prevent Oceanic 815 from ever crashing by nuking the electromagnetic anomaly that caused the crash (doing so 27 years before the crash thanks to Time Travel.) The plan is simply to drop the bomb down a shaft. It doesn't detonate. Juliet, after being pulled down the shaft and critically injured, must detonate it manually.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Used with abandon in Warhammer 40,000, where application of planet-destroying cyclonic torpedoes is a regular and accepted solution to Tyranid invasions, major outbreaks of heresy, or just a handful of peasants who thought it was a good idea to use smuggled alien farm equipment.
  • In Shadowrun, a tactical nuclear weapon was deployed by Ares Macrotechnology to contain the mass breakout of bug spirits in Chicago. Even more of a Deus Ex Nukina than usual, as the blast not only put most of the bugs into hibernation (huh?), but the bugs' own attempt to shield themselves averted the spread of radioactivity from the blast site.
    • Important thing to note: These aren't flesh and blood bugs, but spirits from the metaplanes being invested into formerly human hosts. While it was noted that the blast effects wouldn't bother the spirits, radiation does muck up magic.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 1 a nuke has to be improvised from a ship's engines. Easy enough, However, the pick up ship only has time to pick up one of your two human squadmates.
    Okeer: "But before Saren can deliver his endless troops, in rides Shepard, securing victory through nuclear fire. I like that part, it has weight."
  • 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 Yucatán 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 monster'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 Fallout 1, 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.
    • 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.
    • In Fallout Tactics, the only way to break into Vault 0 is by escorting a nuclear warhead to point-blank range of the Vault's door. Heroic sacrifice not necessary.
  • 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 Zergified Kerrigan infesting the whole ship. And what do the marines pack with their big bomb? Beers.
    "Thank God for cold fusion!"
  • 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.
  • The Halo: Reach live-action trailer Deliver Hope shows Kat and the previous Noble Six hand-delivering a tactical nuke to the inside of a Covenant cruiser.
  • In UFO Aftershock, the only way to kill the Big Bad was by nuking it. Point-blank with a suitcase nuke. Most likely because it was that Big. Thankfully, timed detonation wasn't forgotten, and nobody had to stay behind. Showing these alien bastards the power of Earth technology was very satisfying.
  • Happens to the Black Mesa Research Facility in Half-Life. After the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit fails to fight back the invasion from Xen, A Black Ops. team is send in to plant a nuke meant to destroy the facility. In the expansion pack, Opposing Force, Player Character Adrian Shephard comes across and disarms the nuke, but it is shortly after rearmed by the mysterious G-Man. Finally, in the outro of Opposing Force, a white flash indicates the detonation of the nuke and the destruction of Black Mesa.
  • Alien Swarm ends the official campaign with this trope. You and your friends fight your way to the heart of the facility and have your Technician prepare the enormous warhead. Moments afterward you're alerted that your dropship pilot is ready to evacuate you, you just need to clear the landing area. A count down timer starts and your uploaded Battle Theme Music plays as you charge through the facility. If all goes well it results in a huge Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
  • At the end of Halo 4, Master Chief hand-detonates a nuclear (or possibly antimatter) weapon. No explanation is given as to how Cortana manages to protect him from a blast that started literally in his hands.
  • Played a wee bit more literally than usual in Shin Megami Tensei I and in Shin Megami Tensei IV - God was the one to arrange the cluster of nukes to level Tokyo. He succeeds in destroying Tokyo along with the rest of the wolrd in IV in Blasted Tokyo, while Tokyo escapes unharmed due to the ceiling in the normal Tokyo, while Kenji prevented it in Infernal Tokyo.
  • Going out through Gate B in SCP Containment Breach invokes this trope. SCP-682 has breached containment and because they tried everything they could to destroy him, they have no choice but to detonate the on-site nuke. It didn't kill him.
  • At the beginning of Mormonoids from the Deep, you obtain a suitcase nuke, which you use to take out an Eldritch Abomination at the end. You can also set it off early, resulting in a Game Over for you.
  • Earlier, in the Quest for Glory computer game series, a magic-using Hero can learn a spell called "Thermonuclear Blast", which will instantly end the game upon its use... but it has one possible, practical use where the Dragon of Doom is concerned. Basically, the Dragon is said to be impossible to slay (it's not, quite) without someone going up to it and offering themselves as a final sacrifice. The Dragon's resting place and the only place to fight before its flame gets out on the surrounding world is a thick volcano.

    Western Animation 
  • Legion of Super-Heroes 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.
  • Similar to the Fantastic Four example above, the Thing had to carry a nuke to the center of Ego, the living planet, in the 90's Fantastic Four cartoon.

    Real Life 
  • In The Fifties, when atomic power was still new and the U.S. Interstate Highway system was being built by the Defense Department, researchers proposed low-yield nuclear weapons for practical purposes, such as paving the entire system with atomic weapons, turning the asphalt into atomic glass.
  • One of several ideas to deflect an asteroid or comet, should one be discovered on a collision course with Earth, would be to send a spacecraft with thermonuclear shaped charges which would detonate near the object's surface and alter its trajectory enough to miss Earth. It would be quicker than a gravity tractor - a spacecraft which hovers near the asteroid to let its gravity slowly alter the rock's trajectory. However, even if shaped charges - which focus the blast energy in the rock's direction - are used, the method is less predictable against a tumbling body than the rotation-invariant gravity or electromagnetic tractor design.
  • The Russians suggested this to plug the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Seriously. They say they've done it before, with an 80% success rate. There are also proposals to use large conventional bombs such as the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast) to do it, which does have more scientific support. Same theory just a lot safer.
    • The Soviet Union built a few of its Biological research facilities with the intent that they could be sterilized by blowing them up with nuclear weapons should an outbreak or they need a clean up costing more than a nuke. Some of these facilities did indeed end up nuked.
  • The USA's hurricane forecasting office has had to write an official document explaining why setting off nukes inside hurricanes will not make them go away (and would in fact make things worse — you still have a hurricane, but now it's all full of radioactive fallout).
  • In a documentary about the future terraforming of Mars, a scientist said that one possible way to increase the temperature of Mars' atmosphere was to drop nukes on it. "But of course, that would be needlessly destructive", he added next.
  • Project Orion was a theoretical plan for a spacecraft that used a series of small nukes as a drive system.


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Devolution DeviceApplied PhlebotinumDiverting Power
Deus ex MachinaInd Ex MachinaDeus Ex Scuse Me
Demolitions ExpertTropes That Go BOOM!Dunking The Bomb

alternative title(s): Nuke Ex Machina
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