Any relatively simple (compared to the scope of the result) device or process which can cause the complete destruction of a building, spaceship, planet, empire, Weapon of Mass Destruction, etc. Effectively an Achilles' Heel for non-living things. The Evil Overlord seems particularly fond of this trope, frequently installing it in almost all of his ships, buildings and other whatnot, even when there is no obvious reason why such things need an integrated self-destruct system when a non-explosive instant shutdown mechanism will suffice.
Though usually activated by a Big Red Button, some Self Destruct Mechanisms require two (or even three) people to enter codes, turn keys or push buttons simultaneously, etc. The latter sort almost always comes with a countdown (or even a Magic Countdown) until it actually goes off. All of this fussing about builds suspense and also allows the Self Destruct process to be halted once set in motion.
Sometimes the heroes change their minds, or they weren't the ones who started the countdown. Depending on the situation, the off switch may be uncooperative (or there may not be an off switch); this often results in a Wire Dilemma. Other times it's simply a question of getting back to where the switch is. Either way, it is Always Close.
In the real world, scuttling a large ship is a complicated process involving detonating explosive charges at various points on the superstructure - for obvious reasons, these charges are not in place and armed at all times, but are usually placed just before the fact if it becomes necessary to destroy a ship. Persons working with sensitive equipment are often provided with a more practical "self-destruct mechanism" to use if capture is a possibility - a large hammer, fire axe, or other heavy implement used to smash the equipment and thus stop its being reverse-engineered.
Real world self destructs do exist, such as special microwave ovens for destroying integrated circuits, electrically self-frying storage media, and self erasing disks are used in many intelligence situations; in all cases "won't smoke excessively, no toxic smoke, won't damage the vehicle or occupants" are pretty hard and fast contractual requirements.
Marginally more forgivable in the case of advanced spaceships; the Kzinti Lesson, "A reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive", can be made to apply just as well to the ship itself as to other ships.
See also Cyanide Pill, Self-Destructing Security, and This Page Will Self-Destruct. Compare Load-Bearing Boss. Sometimes related to Taking You with Me.
In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Athrun uses the Aegis Gundam's Self-Destruct Mechanism to take out an enemy (Kira and the Strike Gundam) after Aegis has run out of ammunition and energy. It would have worked if not for an Ass Pull explanation. Later in the series, he plans on self-destructing the Justice Gundam to take out GENESIS. Cagalli begs him to find another way, and they do.
Gundam SEED Destiny And Gundam AGE has it with the ZAFT and Veigan MS, when Kira took out the mobile non lethally, usually the immediate recourse for the pilots is to pull the switch, self destructing their mechs.
Uzumi Nara Athha self-destructs Orb's mass driver and himself and there's even the stereotypical Big Red Button.
Subversion: Certain Pokémon from the eponymous series have a self-destruct move, even though they're living creatures. Seeing as the Pokémon in question, Voltorb and Electrode, may originally have been Poké Balls, this makes some sort of sense. On the other hand, there's the question of why a Poké Ball would develop a self-destruct mechanism in the first place.
In the anime, Electrode doesn't even have the "fainted" look after self-destructing, only a smug grin.
Taken to an (il)logical extreme with Brock's Pineco in the third season, which would Self-Destruct as an expression of affection, and be perfectly fine afterwards (if a little singed). Sure, it doesn't have arms, but still...
Twice used as a way to escape and buy some time by the protagonists in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The first one requires a fairly lengthy code, while the second one required them to log into a computer first.
In Yatterman, and possibly in other Time Bokan series too, the Terrible Trio always installed an useless self-destructing mechanism on their mechas. This, combined with their stupidity, was often the cause of their demise. Also, the Big Bad almost always left them self-destructing messages with the mission objectives, often hidden in the weirdest objects.
Hanaukyō Maid Tai. During the hacking incident in episode 8 it's mentioned that the mansion has a self-destruct system accessible through the MEMOL supercomputer.
Crazy-PreparedMad Scientist Mayuri Kurotsuchi reveals during his battle with Szayel that he has tinkered with his Bankai to ensure it will self destruct if it is ever used against him.
There are four types of soul power: Human, Quincy, Hollow and Shinigami. Human is opposite to Hollow and Quincy is opposite to Shinigami. If souls mix, they break the boundaries and create beings much more powerful than having one soul alone. However, the soul becomes unstable and self-destructs in a process known as soul suicide. Visoreds are Hollowfied Shinigami who were stabilised by a Quincy/Human vaccine. Masaki was a Hollowfied Quincy whose self-destructing soul was stabilised by being bound for life to "Humanified" Shinigami soul (Isshin).
One Piece,Franky encounters one of these while exploring Vegapunk's old lab. Despite having been repeatedly warned not to activate it, take one guess what happens when he encounters the big skull-marked button.
NERV HQ also has a self-destruct mechanism that can be triggered by the MAGI and would destroy the upper portion of the Geofront, Tokyo-3 included. It is also programmed to automatically activate if an Angel is detected in Terminal Dogma; seemingly justified but actually a complete waste of effort since 1) if an Angel does gets there, it means the Evas have failed and nothing can stop it as well as 2) Adam's not even there to begin with so the Angels can't trigger Third Impact anyway.
In episode 13 of the series, "Lilliputian Hitcher", NERV HQ's self-destruct sequence is triggered by Balthasar-2 being taken over by Ireul (the 11th Angel). As the self-destruct countdown is in motion, Ritsuko programs a self-termination kill-code on her laptop, cancelling the self-destruct sequence and Special Command 582 as well. At the same time, the MAGI Super-Computer recovers and Ireul's biological circuits break down, and the Angel vanishes from existence, never to be seen again.
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: In If Angels Wore Swimsuits, Scanty furiously slams her fist down on a button in the middle of their Humvee, G-String. Kneesocks shouts out that she just pressed the self destruct button, and the car blows up. An Ash Faced Kneesocks lampshaded it afterward.
Kneesocks: What is the point of that button? Who would CHOOSE to use it?
The Cyborg009 episode "Mystical Island" has a Self-Destruct Mechanism for the island base which is triggered by the destruction of security robots. The self-destruct sequence was disabled when the scarecrow robot removed the circuit control card from the main power circuit, causing the base's main power systems to fail and the self-destruct countdown to stop with 6 seconds left on the timer.
Spaceballs has a Big Red Button on Spaceball One that triggers the self-destruction of the ship. Lone Starr knocks Dark Helmet into it, setting off the countdown to the big boom. Later, the main computer gently informs Colonel Sandurz, President Skroob, and Dark Helmet (the only ones left on the ship after everyone else uses the escape pods) that they have one last chance at pressing another Big Red Button that cancels the procedure. They rush to do so, only to discover it's out of order, leading Helmet to lament "Even in the future, nothing works!".
In the classic sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, the Big Red Button (actually a switch... well, a plunger switch, so kinda button-like) initiates a chain reaction that will destroy the planet.
A 1990s Comic Book adaptation lampshades this by having one of the Earth crewmen ask something along the lines of: "Why would the Krel build that?"
This editor saw a TV movie once that subverted the trope. A spaceship transferring prisoners has an accident that forces them near Earth, a trope in itself. The hero, a cop, must join forces with an alien crew member to stop the alien villain. He suggests going to the ship while the alien is on board and setting off the self destruct. The alien crew member is not only unfamiliar with the idea, but says it makes no sense, as the crew would be left stranded far from home.
This was Something Is Out There, originally a miniseries, later edited down a lot and syndicated as a movie. Of course, after Tara (the female lead) points out that a self-destruct device would be largely useless, the male lead has to point out that in their present situation, it would be very nice to have one.
She also notes that even if such a device existed, an ordinary crewmember such as herself wouldn't have been told how to use it.
Lampshaded in that while they press the abort button with about 16 seconds to spare, the ship is rigged so that the countdowns always stop with one second left.
Alternately, it may be that the ship did have one, but the Bad Guys didn't use it for some reason - e.g. they didn't know about it, sabotaging the engines was easier than hacking the codes, or they just didn't want to use a method that could be shut down by any of the command crew speaking a code phrase from anywhere in the ship.
The Predators don't want their hunting gear to fall into local hands, and don't mess about, so they have a personal of these that can destroy an area equal to 300 city block. In the first Alien vs. Predator, it was explained as a way to keep Xenomorphs from spreading if a hunt on a friendly planet went wrong.
Undercover Brother. Conspiracy Brother foolishly presses the Big Red Button and activates the Atomic Core device in The Man's island headquarters, causing the HQ to be destroyed after a countdown of several minutes.
Alien. The Nostromo's engines could be used as a Self-Destruct Mechanism with a ten minute delay before detonation ("We ain't outta here in ten minutes, we won't need no rocket to fly through space."). If the cooling units were turned back on with at least five minutes left, the countdown would be aborted.
Aliens. The colony's atmosphere processor (a fusion reactor) became an inadvertent Self-Destruct Mechanism when the Drop Ship's wreckage crashed into it and damaged it. The damage caused to the cooling system earlier by the small arms fire may have had something to do it with it as well. It exploded 4 hours later, with a blast radius of 200 miles and and a destructive force of 30 megatons.
Since they have no sense of science either, it hardly matters. A fusion reactor cannot catastrophically explode - there's not enough fuel in it at any given moment to do more than turn the reactor itself into slag. For that matter, even a fission reactor can't produce anything bigger than a steam explosion.
Not entirely true (the reactor in the drive system of the unbuilt Pluto Missile also functioned as the primary warhead) but the compromises required to build a reactor that will also explode give you a rather poor bomb and a dangerously unstable reactor.
The Avengers (1998). After Mrs. Peel deactivates Sir August's weather control machine, it activates an "Auto Destruct" that destroys not only it but also the island base it's on.
In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk and company activate the self-destruct before inviting some Klingons abroad and beaming out, making this film very technically the final voyage of the starship Enterpriseas advertised. As a Call Back, the steps they need to go through for activating the destruct sequence are the same as they were in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."
The auto-destruct was used again in Star Trek: First Contact: faced with the Enterprise-E being overrun by the Borg (and eventual assimilation of Earth) the crew attempt to abandon ship and destroy the Borg with it. Things don't go quite to plan.
Escape to Athena (1979). A Nazi sets the self destruct on the secret V2 silo before passing out. Telly Savalas is unable to avert the countdown, but gets all the good guys out while all the Nazi Faceless Mooks die. Given that there was plenty of liquid oxygen around, and secret missile equipment the Nazis wouldn't want to fall into Allied hands, at least there was a plausible reason for the existence of a destruct mechanism.
Buckaroo Banzai. Used to prevent the Red Lectroids from capturing the Black Thermopod.
The Andromeda Strain, both the book and the movie, has an atomic self destruct device in the Wildfire complex in the event of a biological contamination. So figure what happens when the eponymous organism begins to eat through the seal gaskets...
In the intro to Wing Commander, the NavCom AI navigational aid with information on approaching Earth safely is set up with a self destruct mechanism to prevent the data from falling into enemy hands. It doesn't work. The subplot was cut from the movie, but the novelization makes it clear that it was due to sabotage by a mole.
The Aston Martin is fitted with a self-destruct mechanism. Of course, having James Bond as the driver usually makes said mechanism unnecessary. Only twice did one of the cars explode, and only in The Living Daylights Bond armed the Auto-Destruct.
The SPECTRE space ship has a built-in self destruct device that's activated by an "exploder button" in the SPECTRE base.
The SPECTRE base has one too. Blofeld throws a switch that sets off explosions and a volcanic eruption.
Transformers: The Movie shows that one of Cybertron's two moons has a self-destruct mechanism. It didn't affect Unicron at all. The planet Quintessa was also rigged to explode in the five-part season three opener in an attempt to kill the Autobots.
Taken to the most unlogical extreme in Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, when after the heroes have saved the girl and taken over the villain's flagship. Dagg presses the Self Destruct Button and it proceeds to blow up EVERY other ship in the villain's fleet, except the flagship.
The Empire Strikes Back. According to Han Solo the Imperial probe droid that discovered the Rebel base in the Hoth system had one, presumably to prevent anyone from capturing and identifying/analyzing it. It initially fought back when discovered, but when Chewbacca rendered droid vulnerable to capture by destroying its blaster cannon it immediately self-destructed.
Event Horizon has the odd variation of fitting explosives to the connecting walkway between the command section and the engine section of the ship, for the event that the engines do something inexplicably stupid. Like, for instance, trying to drag the ship into Hell itself. For some reason, the charges are always in place, and can be armed whether they are attached to the ship or not. One main character who is Not Himself uses one such explosive to destroy the Lewis And Clark. The setup is used by the survivors to escape by the command section as the engine section returned to the pit from whence it had once been.
Subject of a brief gag in Dr. Strangelove: "I think the auto-destruct mechanism got hit and blew itself up."
In Robot And Frank, when a group of kids taunt the robot, Frank teaches it to say "Initiating self-destruct" and then to count down from ten to scare them off. It later turns into a Chekhov's Gag when the police try to dump the robot's memory.
This occurs in both the book and movie The Andromeda Strain, where the Wildfire Lab in which most of the story takes place was constructed on top of a nuclear bomb, that is activated automatically in case of a lab breach. No Buttons or wacky codes here, just a automatic kaboom if the bug gets out. One man on the team has a key that can turn it off and save everyone - though the stations where he can put his key in on the last level are still being worked on. Then of course, they Receive the Call, start investigating the Alien Space Bug...and it gets loose. Adding insult to injury, of course, is that the Alien Space Bug feeds on pure energy, so if the bomb does go off, the bug will mutate and spell the End of the World as We Know It ... The trope is complete right down to the last second.
The "last second" bit is actually played with. He stops the countdown with 34 seconds to spare, which "hardly seems exciting". The other scientists then inform him that the system also evacuates all the air from the level they were in 30 seconds before detonation.
In the Known Space series, the Puppeteers have transparent, indestructible hulls. In one book, a Puppeteer scientist discovers a way to destroy said hulls by destroying the optical computer holding it together which is used in "Destroyer of Worlds"
In the prose Daredevil novel Predator's Smile, Gary Wieczack had a self-destruct button in his warehouse to destroy incriminating evidence.
The Mothballed Spaceship by Harry Harrison. The protagonists are trying to reactivate a derelict battleship that has been set to self-destruct to prevent it falling into the hands of anyone who doesn't have the correct codeword. Just in time they discover what the codeword is; a simple five-letter word in Esperanto — "Haltu" or, "Stop".
Largely avoided in BattleTech fiction. In the famous scene in which Kai Allard-Liao wipes out the Falcon Guard by blowing up his own 'Mech (and thereby setting off the explosive charges earlier placed in the canyon walls), he has to wreck his own machine by pulling out circuit boards until the engine goes into overload because there is no convenient self-destruct trigger otherwise. Units actually wired to self-destruct on purpose are usually simple decoys such as those used during the battle for Luthien.
Notably played straight in the videogames, where the self-destruct button is basically a flashy way to abort the mission.
Inverted in E.E. Smith and Stephen Goldin's "Eclipsing Binaries": the face-off is between the Good Guys and the Dragon, when the Big Bad calls up and informs all that a self-destruct mechanism is ticking aboard their space station, then orders the Dragon to stay and die to atone for her repeated failures. She disobeys, holding off the heroes at gunpoint and stealing the Escape Pod... in which the actual destruct mechanism was planted. The Dangerously Genre SavvyBig Bad was relying on the heroes' repeatedly demonstrated ability to escape from a lethal situation in order to coax them into it, but hadn't counted on her minion taking independent action for once.
Starfleet introduces them for the first time in Beneath the Raptor's Wing, part of the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch. In the same novel, a Tellarite captain activates his ship's self-destruct mechanism to prevent the Romulans taking control of the vessel. In fact, there are quite a few examples; two Vulcan ships and at least one Klingon use the same technique, denying the Romulans capture of their craft.
Lampshaded in the Star TrekExpanded Universe novel The Pandora Principle when Chekov, as the computer counts down, thinks to himself: "This is it. It's really going to happen this time."
In Timothy Zahn's The Conquerors Trilogy, human spacecraft are equipped for self destruct to prevent sensitive information in the ship's computers from falling into enemy hands. The one example we see of the device being used for this purpose is subverted, as the task force admiral kept a personal log of important data contrary to Peacekeeper regulations, which the Zhirrzh found when sifting through the wreckage of the Kinshasa.
Spaceships in The Expanse series have self-destruct systems which work by making the fusion engines explode. Military ships carrying sensitive technology generally have three self-destruct buttons: one on the bridge, one in engineering, and one in tactical. When the ship is boarded, the Space Marines will barricade themselves in those three rooms. If one is breached, the people in the other two press the buttons. The self-destruct buttons on the Donnager and the King end up getting used.
Military starship captains in David Weber's Honor Harrington series will commonly scuttle their ships before handing themselves over as prisoners of war.
In In Enemy Hands, when Honor's flagship is overpowered by Havenite forces, she orders her flag captain to surrender, and has him tell the crew that they should destroy any sensitive equipment and documents aboard before the enemy boarding parties arrive.
In Shadow of Freedom, when Solarian Captain Myau witnesses the complete destruction of four battlecruisers at the hand of the Manticoran Navy, she has her engineers rig her destroyers' fusion plants to blow if enemy boarders aproach, then gives orders to abandon ship.
Subverted in Tomorrow Town, a short story by Kim Newman. The villain's mad attempt to destroy the community by having Master Computer Big Thinks overclock the climate control is thwarted when Big Thinks helpfully informs the heroes that they might want to pull Circuit Breaker 15 about now. This also works to underscore the theme about how inaccurate the community's whole idea about the future is; upon confronting the villain after this, Jeperson notes that even in the far-flung world of the twenty-first century, it's unlikely that local communities or public offices will have self-destruct mechanisms just in case the incumbent doesn't feel like giving up office after their term is completed.
Wizards in The Dresden Files can release an extremely powerful death curse. Of course this kills the wizard, hence the name.
In Cold Days it's revealed that the island of Demonreach has a self destruct. In case the dark gods imprisoned beneath are in danger of getting loose.
Live Action TV
In Star Trek, the self-destruct mechanism aboard the starship Enterprise in its various incarnations is an example of the kind that requires multiple activators and includes a Magic Countdown. All of the Star Trek series, with the exception of Enterprise, had Magic Countdown episodes involving the self-destruct mechanism, as did the third movie. One notable subversion is the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Dreadnought", where Captain Janeway set the ship on a suicide run towards a rogue missile, before it was disabled at the last possible second.
In another Voyager episode, Kazon ships had repeatedly hit one specific spot on Voyager in hit-and-run raids, damaging the secondary command processors. The reason became apparent when Voyager fell into a massive ambush, and tried to activate the autodestruct to prevent capture. Turns out the secondary command processors are vital to the job, and the Kazon had been notified to this fact by a Cardassian spy on Voyager who had defected to them upon her discovery.
"The Doomsday Machine": Scotty turned the U.S.S. Constellation's impulse engines into a jury-rigged self-destruct device with a 30 second countdown. Note that once he enables the device, he warns Kirk that activating it is irreversible, presumably due to the considerable damage the ship has already taken. In his own words: "The way things are it's hard to keep it from blowin'!"
"By Any Other Name": Scotty rigged the engines to detonate while the Enterprise was passing through the energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy.
Used and aborted (complete with Magic Countdown) in the episode "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield". The same code sequence to arm the device was used again in the film Star Trek III, this time destroying the Enterprise. :
"Assignment Earth": The missile carrying the orbital nuclear warhead platform has a self destruct device to destroy it in case it goes off course. Gary Seven deactivates it as part of his plan to scare the Earth governments into not using such weapons.
"Balance of Terror": The Romulan commander destroys his ship rather than surrender. Notably, the Romulan ship's destruct mechanism does not feature the usual count-down or multi-person activation. The Romulan commander simply pulls a lever and the ship goes boom immediately.
According to the extended universe and various technical manuals, most ships implement their self-destruct by simply turning off the force-fields that keep their antimatter fuel contained. Some ships, including the original Enterprise, also have the option of using regular scuttling charges to cripple the ship without causing too much collateral damage to anything nearby.
Picard activates it in "Where Silence Has Lease," finding it Better to Die than Be Killed when Nagilum decides to kill a large portion of the crew For Science!. Fortunately, Nagilum finds this decision to be more interesting than anything else and lets them go.
In another episode, both Enterprise and a Romulan ship have had their computers invaded by Alien Phlebotinum. In a scene inside the Romulan ship, there's a computer-voice speaking (in Romulan) what sounds an awful lot like a sef-destruct countdown.
Spoofed in Red Dwarf, when Lister accidentally activates the self-destruct through the vending machine... and when the countdown finishes, he gets his order delivered. Turns out Holly chucked the self-destruct mechanism ages ago just because of the chance that would happen.
Stargate SG-1. Stargate Command features a self-destruct in the form of a Really Big Nuke. Its usual role in the story is to emphasise how the heroes really don't want the current threat escaping the base, and it's usually deactivated in plenty of time. Early on it was standard procedure to start the nuke's countdown every time the Gate was activated from off-world and only stop it once the gate closed.
The SGC's self-destruct was also prone to be activated or de-activated by hostile aliens. One wonders why they don't make the thing more secure.
The SGC's self-destruct requires two ranking officers to turn their keys and enter their passwords simultaneously.
Atlantis has one too, usually used to prevent the city from falling into enemy hands. Of course, the day is always saved just in time.
The midway station between the galaxies also had one. And when the Wraith tampered with it, it was NOT stopped just in time. The protagonists ended up floating around in a puddle jumper for days until a ship came to the rescue.
Although that line wasn't used nearly as often as people think. Plenty of episodes had the mission broadcast once over a secure line or the agents destroying the tape/message themselves.
Famously spoofed in Inspector Gadget, with the message self-destructing all over the Chief's face.
Also famously spoofed in Filmations Ghostbusters: Zero's messages (disguised variously as a tuba, a rubber chicken, and other strange objects) exploded to comedic effect.
Naturally in Get Smart as well, with the explosion destroying everything except the tape player, so Max has to walk off with it under his arm.
In the fourth season finale of the new Doctor Who series, it's revealed that UNIT installed multiple nuclear warheads in the Earth in order to destroy it if necessary. Mildly subverted in that the destruct timer is never activated; it requires three people to set off, and the Daleks transported Martha out of the third station while she was issuing an ultimatum.
In the Doctor Who episode "Genesis of the Daleks", Davros has a button on the control panel of his life support chair that turns it off. Later, he tries to press a red button that would destroy the Daleks.
Even the TARDIS itself is revealed to have a self-destruct mechanism in "Attack of the Cybermen."
Except it doesn't. Doesn't stop the Doctor from threatening to activate it around those who don't know better, though.
In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers,Robot BuddyAlpha Five had one of these. He can activate it himself, but can't turn it off. Rangers saved him at the last moment, of course. (And, if it's the 'kaboom' kind, they also saved the kid Alpha had been protecting. Alpha didn't seem too concerned about his proximity.)
The finale of Power Rangers Turbo featured the rangers using the Rescue Megazord in battle. It was badly damaged and had not left a scratch on the enemy. Figuring that they were going to lose any way since there was no time to repair the megazord, T.J set it on a collision course with the enemy and activated the self-destruct, hoping the blast would take it out. It didn't.
A humorous take on the self-destruct button is offered in one of the 2010-11 ESPN promos for its NBA basketball coverage. A rookie player and one of ESPN's announcers are at the front of the RV the crew drives to games when the rookie starts playing with the buttons and knobs on the dashboard. One of the buttons is a Big Red Button, which the announcer tells him not to push. He does, initiating the RV's self-destruct sequence. As several ESPN and NBA personalities evacuate the RV, the rookie can be heard asking, "Why would you even install one of those?"
The Center for Disease Control in The Walking Dead is equipped with a high powered explosive device that is intended to incinerate everything in the facility in the event of total power loss.
In the JAG season eight episode "Need to Know", Harm, Mac and Sturgis is investigating why a submarine on a CIA mission in 1968 foundered off the Russian coast. There are rumors floating that so called spec-boats had self-destruct charges aboard but this is flat out denied and the cause of the sinking was rather a collision with a Soviet sub.
Mocked in TheSuiteLifeOfZackAndCody, when Zack and Cody get a message from a spy that's set to self-destruct. It's a text message, which leads to this exchange.
Zack: There's no way he can make a text message explode.
*countdown terminates and smoke flows from the phone*
In the 3-part mini-series V: The Final Battle, the Visitors activate the Mothership's self-destruct mechanism which will destroy not only the ship, but the planet Earth as well. The self-destruct procedure begins with a 5-minute countdown until the machine reaches critical mass. When the machine reaches critical mass, a 30-second countdown to detonation begins. But then a young girl named Elizabeth uses her magical human powers and deactivates the machine, thus cancelling the self-destruct.
Averted in the premiere of Something Is Out There (a short-lived sci-fi series on NBC). The male human protagonist's plan for defeating the The Assimilator is to get the female alien protagonist to activate the self-destruct mechanism on her spaceship. She asks a) why a spaceship would have a self-destruct system and b) even if it did, why would she know how to activate it, which would be like a naval seaman knowing how to destroy an aircraft carrier.
The UOSS took out close to half of the battlefield.
Call of Cthulhu campaign The Fungi from Yuggoth. Dr. Dieter's laboratory has a self destruct device that will blow up the entire installation three minutes after the switch is thrown.
If you're playing Paranoia, you work from the assumption that every robot or vehicle you encounter in Alpha Complex will be equipped with one of these, and the button activating it will be mislabeled. Ditto the Bouncy Bubble Beverage vending machines, the toilet stalls and many of the light-switches.
In Star Trek Online, one of the ship skills you get is a self destruct with a 15 second countdown timer.
Code ATA standing for Ashes to Ashes from Super Robot Wars Original Generation series combines this with the Cyanide Pill by having Lamia be able to blow up not only herself but the Angelg and any surrounding units. Dunamis plans for the Brainwashed and Crazy Lamia to pretend to escape so that Excellen and Kyosuke can follow her only to blow herself killing both of them as well and sending everyone else into a Heroic BSOD. Axel stops her with the code DTD
Units piloted by Shadow Mirror bioroids will initiate Code ATA on their own rides once its HP is depleted.
Every ship in the MMORPGEVE Online has a self-destruct feature. Self-destructing is a viable tactic in a hopeless PvP fight, as it denies your opponent any chance of looting your ship's remains.
The titular house of the computer game Maniac Mansion has a nuclear reactor installed in its basement, which can easily explode, destroying the house, everything within it and everything within a five mile radius in a meltdown. The player can cause this in several different ways, including draining the mansion's swimming pool (which doubles as a cooling mechanism), pressing a very large red button that says "Do Not Press", or shutting off the power and allowing the electrical system to go haywire. One particularly bizarre way is if the player sets off the mansion's security system, which triggers a self-destruct sequence that blows up the entire mansion. This, of course, raises the question of just how stupid (or crazy) Dr. Fred is to install a nuclear reactor in his basement, much less buy a security system that triggers it to explode if it's activated.
The first two Fallout games have these. Nice for Technical Pacifist and diplomatic PCs, 'cause it enables one to finish the game without firing a single shot.
Fallout 3 also has an optional one in Raven Rock, the Enclave's main base. At the end of the Broken Steel DLC, you destroy the Mobile Base Crawler by targeting it with the Enclave's own Kill Sat.
In Fallout: New Vegas, the Brotherhood of Steel's subterranean bunker in Hidden Valley comes equipped with one. Several of the various quest lines involve the option of triggering it to remove their faction from the field of play before the battle at Hoover Dam.
In Gradius III and Galaxies, inputting the regular Konami Code will cause your ship to self-destruct. On the other hand, substituting Left with the L button and Right for the R button will yield full powerups.
An optional $10 'Super Booster Pack' for City of Heroes gives all your characters a Self-Destruct power on a long recharge timer. It looks very cool and does quite a bit of damage, in return for causing you to be defeated and being slightly harder to resurrect. Since Death Is a Slap on the Wrist in this game...
However, Yugi gives you a few cards to do this in case you don't already have them — a Self-Destruct Button, and Ring of Destruction, the most notable method of forcing a draw (use it, kill something, and both players take damage equal to that monster's offensive power — naturally, this is used more often for the 'both players take damage' than the 'kill something').
Averted in Deus Ex. At one point the main character has to destroy an oil tanker. This is done through the above mentioned method for scuttling large ships.
Although also played straight - most augmented people will explode after you kill them. For the Mi Bs, it's explicitly stated this is to prevent the technology falling into enemy hands. Some also have a kill-phrase you can speak to make them self-destruct without a fight. The sequel has people with a self-destruct that causes them to dissolve into a cloud of poison gas rather than explode.
Played straight in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. One of the choices for the ending is to destroy the Panchaea by depressurizing the structure with a press of a button, killing everyone in it, including yourself, but not pushing anyone's agenda.
In Wing Commander Privateer if you don't want to wait to get blown up or just are in a hurry to go back to an earlier saved game, you're given the option of self-destructing your ship, which takes you back to the main menu screen.
The entire point of the first two Descent games is to find the mine's fusion reactor, and shoot it a bunch until a nuclear meltdown occurs (in the mines with boss robots, the robots are Load Bearing Bosses, although exactly why blowing them up still blows the mine is not explained). Then, of course, it's a mad dash to the emergency exit...
The Harkonnen's Devastator tanks in Dune II possess these. Strange design decision since there doesn't seem to be any real use to them... unless if you're fighting against them as the Ordos. Suddenly, the Deviator's gimmicky but not too useful temporary side-switching attack becomes very useful as you order the tank to self-destruct in a huge and damaging blast radius while it's sitting in the middle of the enemy ranks.
They also have this same ability in Dune 2000, where it qualifies as Worst Design Decision Ever - due to the game's primitive controls (left-click did everything - click the ground and it's a move order, click the enemy and it's 'attack'... but click the tank itself and it's 'arm self-destruct' with no way to cancel) it was terribly easy to set off the self-destruct by accident in the middle of your own army.
In Quake II, the Strogg homeworld is riddled with self-destruct mechanisms that are activated by single buttons about ten times larger than the protagonist's head. It would have been impossible for him to have single-handedly defeat the Strogg without this being a ubiqutous design feature.
World of Warcraft makes use of this trope in the Ulduar raid dungeon. Mimiron's lair has a Big Red Button labeled "DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON!". Pushing the button, naturally, activates the lair's self-destruct mechanism and the boss encounter's hard mode.
Every building and machine in Machines comes with one, there purpose is unclear but could potentially be used with quick timing if your opponent uses Enemy Exchange Program techniques against you.
Iji: One of the Komato logbooks talks about the various self-destruct devices for their bigger troops - Berserkers explode when killed, Beasts spray Splinters when they blow up, and Annihilators have massive explosions for when they finally bite off more than they can chew. The reason for this is that the Komato want to ensure that none of these big guns fall in the wrong hands - namely, that these measures do less harm to themselves than they do to the Tasen.
There's also a mention in one logbook that generals used to have nuclear-grade warheads in their suit's self destruct. One ended up destroying multiple cities when he went out (which prompted the decision to use regular explosives instead). Ouch.
In Mega Man X: Command Mission there is an extremely tough enemy called - appropriately enough - Meltdown. It will shrug off countless blows from your strongest party members while it slowly raises one arm that is shaped like a mine with a skull and spanners emblazoned on the side (no, seriously) during each turn. You have 3 turns to run away/kill it, and if you fail the Meltdown self-destructs, dealing the maximum damage you can be dealt. Obviously, your best chance of survival is to run away whenever you encounter it.
Averted by name in Sudeki - the most Elco can do to delay activation of the "Peace Shield" is perform some sabotage that end up easily repaired. He later tell Tal point-blank that it "...Took years to construct, [destroying it] isn't as simple as flipping a self-destruct switch!"
Aliens Vs Predator (2010) has the 10,000+ year old pyramid have a self-destruct sequence. Note that this pyramid was a large shrine to the first Predator to find the xenomorphs and the first captured Queen was buried along with him so maybe it was a defence mechanism but still, does everything their race builds have to blow up?
In Star Trek: Elite Force, Virtual Voyager mode, there is a large self-destruct mechanism between the Captain and the First Officer's seat. Activating it makes Chakotay angry.
In Space Quest V: The Next Mutation, the SCS Eureka is equipped with a jury-rigged self-destruct mechanism with an Astro Chicken egg timer. Using it before the right moment is a good way to get a Nonstandard Game Over. However, it is necessary to stop the Big Bad.
WD-40's ship also has one that activates if an incorrect code is entered. Justified, if you don't expect your gynoids to ever have a glitch.
The giant base in Over Blood started a twenty-four self-destruct countdown after an earthquake, giving people enough time to evacuate.
Halo: In accordance with the Cole Protocol, all UNSC vessels in danger of capture by the Covenant must self-destruct.
In Halo: Combat Evolved, the Master Chief and Cortana decide to destroy the Pillar of Autumn in order to prevent the Flood was spreading and the ring from being fired. Once they've recovered Captain Keyes' neural implants, containing the codes necessary to destroy the ship, they head to the Autumn and are rebuffed by Guilty Spark, who locks Cortana out and stops the countdown. So the Chief comes up with an alternate plan: crack the engine's shields and induce a reactor overload. They're successful.
In Halo 2, Cortana plans on activating the In Amber Clad's self-destruct, to destroy High Charity, Delta Halo and Gravemind. She fails.
In Halo 3, the Master Chief destroys High Charity's backup reactors in order to destroy it and Gravemind. The chief is successful, but somehow Gravemind makes it to the replacement Alpha Halo and starts rebuilding himself on it. The Master Chief, Cortana, and the Arbiter finally kill him for good by activating the incomplete ring: the ensuing firing shakes Halo and the Ark to pieces.
Pretty much every Final Fantasy game has the Bomb family of monsters. Once attacked they begin a count down to explode in your face—unless you kill them first.
Overlaps with real life, but many arcade games starting from the mid-80s on had suicide batteries. The way this works is that the game ROM data is encrypted and the manufacturer stores the decryption key on volatile RAM that is powered by a battery. The game is Lost Forever in that the key becomes lost once the battery drains, as the RAM loses the decryption key once it loses power. Once the battery drains, the operator is forced to call the manufacturer, which will either offer to "replace" the board's battery and key at a incredibly high price to the operator, or offer a trade in for a newer version of the game at a discount (note that suicide batteries and Capcom Sequel Stagnation go hand in hand). Since the 2000s, when arcade machines started using off the shelf PC hardware, suicide batteries fell into disuse and was replaced with licensing dongles with expiry dates on them, or games that refused to run once a certain date on the machine passed. However, the ruse is the same: operator calls and is offered a new license dongle or a patch to extend the game's expiry at a higher price, or a upgrade at a discount.
Master of Orion allows manual self-destruct, which causes a ship to damage everything around. A special device increases the power of explosion and probability it will happen on capture — preventing ship from being captured (and possibly reverse-engineered) by enemy is the main reason to do this.
The main plot of Mass Effect 2 has Shepard trying to find a way to stop the Collectors from abducting humans from across the galaxy. At first it's assumed that they live on their homeworld reachable only through the Omega 4 mass relay. Upon traveling through the relay, it's revealed that the Collectors actually reside on board a large space station, complete with a reactor core that can be overloaded to go boom. Setting the thing to go off only takes Shepard about fifteen seconds, so the entire mission basically amounts to fighting your way in, pressing a self-destruct, and getting the hell out before it blows.
Of course, the base and its reactor being so ridiculously unsecure is justified since the Reapers never expected anyone to find out about their existence, manage to get their hands on one of their IFF's, survive the trip through the Omega-4 Relay and get past the outer defences.
In XIII, in the final part of the SSH 1 Base mission, the base's self-destruct mechanism is activated and you must cancel the self-destruct procedure (by destroying the self-destruct computers) before the base explodes.
In the NES game Crystalis, after the final battle with DYNA, a self-destruct mechanism is activated when the player throws Crystalis into the main reactor. The two characters are then shown running off screen as the alarm goes off and the reactor goes critical. The tower in the sky then gets struck by lightning and falls to the surface of the earth.
In the NES version of Bionic Commando, the base's self-destruct mechanism is activated after the player shoots the cockpit of Hitler's escape helicopter with the Hyper Bazooka. He then has 60 seconds to escape before the base explodes.
In Abadox The Deadly Inner War, destroying the final boss activates the Living Planet's self-destruct sequence. The player must then fly his way through the tunnels and out of the planet before it explodes.
In the NES version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the self-destruct sequence for the Joker's secret base is activated when Batman destroys the final boss. The screen then shows Batman flying away in the Batjet as the base explodes, before the credits start rolling.
In StarTropics, the spaceship's main computer activates the self-destruct sequence towards the end of the game and the player must find and retrieve the last Magic Cube and escape before the ship explodes.
In the NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Manhattan Project, destroying Super Shredder (the final boss) activates the self-destruct mechanism for Krang's spaceship. At this point, the screen shows the Turtles escaping in the Turtle Blimp as the ship explodes.
In Starcraft II one of the SCV's Stop Poking Me lines is where he accidentally hits the self-destruct and frantically tries to deactivate it.
In Cake Mania 2 buying the second-fastest cake topping machine prompts the quip "Self-destruct button is on the back panel."
In Mystery Trackers 4: The Four Aces the villain activated the self-destruct mechanism in his bunker shortly before the end of the game.
In the Sega Master System game Zillion, when you reach the base's main computer near the end of the game, you must enter the code to activate the base's self-destruct sequence. After this, you have 300 seconds (5 minutes) to escape to the surface and back to the ship before the base explodes. If you do not escape the base in time, the explosion will kill you instantly and the game will end.
The NES game Air Fortress has a similar setup: Each of the eight Air Fortresses contains a Power Reactor, which you must locate and blow up; once done, you have about two minutes to get to the escape hatch and your ship before the entire Fortress blows up with you in it. The challenge in later levels comes from the warp tubes not leading back to the same places they came from, forcing you to find an alternate way back.
In the prologue of Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus, part of which is played as the commander of a bunch of space-lizard pirates, Max hits the pirate base's self-destruct button on his way out, prompting the parenthetical comment "You knew you shouldn't have given in to the salesdroid's blandishments, but it was offering a great 2-for-1 deal on self-destruct systems, with free installation."
The X-Universe series has one aboard player-owned ships and space stations with a ten second timer. Undock or eject before it goes off or the obvious happens.
Andrew Ryan has one built into Rapture in Bioshock 1. Completely justified in that Ryan has an extremely warped perspective - if he cannot control Rapture, he will see it reduced to nothing before he'll see it in the hands of another. It's even foreshadowed in Arcadia, when he tells you of the time he set fire to a forest he owned when ordered to turn it over to the government. At that time, he set parts of Rapture to self-destruct by poisoning the trees in Arcadia, destroying Rapture's main source of oxygen.
In the sequel, Lamb sets the prison area to self-destruct when it's obvious that her daughter, who was the crux of her whole operation, is utterly defying her by becoming a Big Sister.
And in Minerva's Den DLC, turning off The Thinker, Rapture's Core AI, means that all of the city-supporting AI systems like, say, "pressure regulation" and "air supply systems" are dumbed down to morons. Tenenbaum panics and urges Sigma to kill Wahl quickly.
The Shofixti Scout in Star Control 2 has a "Glory Device" strapped to its hull as a secondary weapon. The blast can destroy much larger ships. It requires three switches to activate, but most pilots throw the first two immediately and then keep one finger hovering over the trigger.
In Hidden Expedition 7: The Crown of Solomon the villain's late partner's laptop self-destructs after your character reads a message identifying said villain and locates his current position via GPS.
Haloid. The chest (front and back) section of MC's Spartan armor.
When Julia gets beaten by Scrooge McDuck and Vegeta in Ducktalez 7, Julia activates it, causing the two to run away. Julia then deactivates it, but the money bin's AI reactivates it, hoping to take Julia with her.
Subverted and parodied in Exterminatus Now, where, while trying to foil the plot of bunch of evil scientists in the arctic, Lothar mocks Virus for suggesting the possibility of a self-destruct switch, which Virus indeed finds in the form of a Big Red Button. As it happened, the resident villains were Dangerously Genre Savvy, as the button instead triggered the alarm.
Alarm: You have activated the decoy self-destruct. Please remain where you are. Armed guards will arrive immediately to capture you or shoot you in the head, depending on their mood. Real evil labs don't have "self-destruct" systems in their control room, what are you, stupid?
Parodied in thisNews Biscuit article, "Self-destruct buttons are 'a needless risk'".
In the Acceptable TV short "Homeless James Bond" one of the villains' lair is just a very large conglomerate of cardboard boxes and the self-destruct mechanism which the titular hero activates is a long strip of duct tape which once pulled away causes the "lair" to collapse, accompanied by a Big "NO!" courtesy of the villain.
A Running Gag on Villain Source (Your Online Source For Everything Evil) in which every advertised Supervillain Lair comes with an "obvious and accessible self-destruct mechanism". There's even a portable version!
In Worm, Coil's base has a phone-activated demolition command that Tattletale activates to trap Noelle/Echidna.
In Phaeton the UD, Planet Shield and The Orphange all incorporate these into their bases and some other machines, that way nobody can swipe their tech that "adams just aren't ready for".
Haloid. MC's Spartan armor has a detachable breastplate that can be set to detonate like a nuclear bomb.
Spoofed in the Ren and Stimpy episode "Space Madness", where the narrator ends up badgering Stimpy into pressing the "History Eraser Button".
The shiny, candy-like button.
Lampshade Hanging on Codename: Kids Next Door: in one episode, Cree is en route to the KND HQ on the moon to have her memories erased, but escapes when the two KND agents piloting the ship accidentally activate the "Blow Up The Engines" button, which prompts her to incredulously ask Numbuh 5 why a spaceship would need such a device. (Actually, Fridge Brilliance would suggest that it would need one for exactly what happened: a prisoner getting free and taking over the ship. If she had been able to commandeer the ship, it would have been really bad.)
Subverted in The Venture Bros.: the old Team Venture once raided an enemy base that was set to self destruct, but malfunctioned. They then decided to move in. Then double subverted when the thing comes back online from someone touching the control panel. Thankfully Richard Impossible absorbed the explosion by eating the bomb in an attempted Heroic Sacrifice/failed suicide attempt.
Goddard from Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius has a self-destruct mechanism that can be activated by voice command; afterward, he can reassemble himself.
Specifically: "Play dead, Goddard!"
In an episode of Doug, the class gets snowed into their school after hours, but Bebe Bluff is prepared with a laptop that can connect to the Internet via her own personal satellite. Unfortunately, before they succeed in actually contacting help, someone pushes the button on the laptop that causes the satellite to self-destruct. Bebe berates the person for being an idiot, but they then reply that having a button that does that is even more idiotic, which Bebe realizes is true.
In the Transformers episode "B.O.T." (widely considered one of their worst episodes of all time) Megatron's Orbital Disruptor Cannon is equipped with a clearly labelled Overload button. Its sole function is, as the name implies, to make the cannon overload and explode. Yes, Megatron, putting this button on your cannon was a wonderful idea.
George Takei: Do you guys have a self-destruct code, like, "Destruct sequence 1-A, 2-B, 3—" [Bender's head explodes]
Bender: Thanks a lot, Takei. Now everybody knows!
Jonny Quest: The missile in the TOS episode "Arctic Splashdown" has a self destruct mechanism so it can be destroyed in mid-flight if it goes off course.
"Versus Dr. Freezoids". When Birdman defeats him, the title villain sets his Freezoid Generator to overfreeze. This causes his base to become a block of ice, expand and explode.
"Number One". The main body of the title villain's ship has a "destruct switch".
"The Deadly Duplicator". Professor Taggert's duplicate uses a Destruct Bomb to destroy his lab.
The Herculoids episode "Malak and the Metal Apes". The Metal Apes (robots) have one, which can be activated by a Big Red Button in Malak's observation room inside his base.
Phineas and Ferb: Dr. Doofenshmirtz puts self-destruct buttons on practically everything; the first time we see one activated is in "The Magnificent Few", where the button installed inside Perry's trap blows up the island hideout.
And by "everything", we mean "everything"; in "Bee Story", Doofenshmirtz reveals he has a self-destruct button on his underwear... which he promptly activates.
Dr. Doofenshmirtz puts these on just about every "inator" he's ever built. In the movie, he also mentions attempting to take over with an army of robots...and put the self destruct buttons on the bottoms of their feet...
Dexter's Laboratory, Dial M for Monkey episode "Huntor". After Monkey captures him, Huntor activates a device that will destroy the asteroid they're on in 30 seconds. Huntor assumes that Monkey will be distracted rescuing his friends (including Agent Honeydew), allowing Huntor to get away in his escape ship.
Apperently all Irkens and S.I.R units in Invader Zim have one. This is shown in the first episode, when Dib first tells everyone Zim's a alien; Zim panics and brings out one of these, but puts it away, never to be seen again when everyone dismisses Dib as crazy. And in "Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom" Zim commands GIR to self destruct, which he gleefully does.
The Mega-Doomer stealth mech is also equipped with such a device (causing the Tallest to briefly hope Zim was destroyed with it), and the Resisty's ship has a "Shrinky Self Destruct".
In one episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi's cruiser gets boarded and is being overrun by General Grievous's forces, he cleverly sets the self-destruct mechanism without the computer displaying or vocalizing any countdown warnings before making his escape. Unfortunately, since this effort is Doomed by Canon (Grievous has to survive until Revenge of the Sith), Obi-Wan can't resist the urge to leave a recorded message on the bridge to gloat to Grievous...giving him just enough warning to get off the ship seconds before it explodes.
Space launch vehicles usually have "Range Safety" systems. Typically it involves a linear shaped explosive charge that splits open the side of the rocket, allowing the propellant to disperse. They're there primarily to guard against the scenario of a malfunctioning rocket flying into a Bus Full of Innocents. There's even a guy (the Range Safety Officer) specifically tasked with pushing the Big Red Button if the rocket goes out of control and the safety of the public is at stake. Manned craft from Apollo onwards include a Launch Escape System to propel the capsule clear of the blast radius before triggering it; the Shuttle notably did not, depending solely on its aerodynamic properties to bring the crew safely back to the surface. Whether this would have worked is difficult to say.
In the case of solid-fueled rockets, it is actually impossible to stop firing once they're lit, so triggering destruct is often the only way to terminate thrust in the event of a range safety concern.note Thrust venting can be used to equalize thrust — yielding zero net acceleration — but the propellant will still burn to completion. And not all solid rockets feature thrust venting. The Shuttles notably don't. Doing this typically results in the entire booster going up in a massive explosion, with lots of chunks of flaming debris.
The Ariane 5 rocket's maiden flight: A bug in the navigation system caused the rocket to attempt a wild course change. Structural damage resulted, triggering range safety destruct.
Averted with most Russian launches, as Baikonur Cosmodrome was intentionally sited in one of the least densely-populated regions of the old Soviet Union so that the odds of a failed launch crashing in a populated area were negligible.
Naval vessels are sometimes fitted with "scuttling charges" — explosives designed to blow holes in the hull and sink the ship, to prevent capture by the enemy. Of course, depending on the design, scuttling is sometimes as simple as opening all the valves and shutting off the ballast pumps, effectively pulling the plug and letting the ship fill with sea water.
When any US Military plane or helicopter goes down, one of the primary jobs of any surviving crew member or rescuer is to set up charges to destroy the downed aircraft.
A lot of US Military gear, such as mobile generators, are fitted with a "Battle Short" switch. Throw it and the unit overloads to the point that it burns out (and may even explode). During a retreat, if there isn't enough time to extract the gear, this prevents the enemy from capturing the gear to use for themselves. Like most self-destruct mechanisms in fiction, there is no way to cancel it once activated.
Probably overlapping with This Page Will Self-Destruct: in January 2014 DARPA hired IBM to create "new class of electronics" — Vanishing Programmable Resources — that would be easy to physically destroy by a radio command. The plan is to manufacture chips on a strained glass substrate that would easily shatter into fine powder and to initiate shattering with a fuse or a reactive metal layer.
Blackberry smartphones hooked up to an enterprise server had a self-destruct built in. Someone who lost their equipment could phone a company helpdesk. The helpdesk would remote into the Blackberry server and initiate a remote wipe that would render the phone and any data on it to a useless brick.
Some computers designed for use with illegal activities use various methods to melt their hard-drives.