The discerning overlord works smarter, not harder. When the need arises to kill everyone, why tear a world into its constituent particles? Everyone on the planet is equally in its atmosphere: that fragile, wispy shell that can be blown away like seeds from a dandelion, or reconstituted in a number of creative ways. This takes a fraction of the time and effort, and need not deplete precious stores of Applied Phlebotinum at all, yet in skilled hands produces all the spectacle and excitement of antimatter bombs.
Certainly, paranoid bunkers and deep-sea habitats might survive. But then, what about the astronauts? Efforts at complete annihilation must, by their nature, include extra steps to be thorough.
Abusive atmosphere alteration is not solely for the Omnicidal Maniac, either. An Alien Invasion might combine conquest and colonization into one elegant package. Even the good guys may find themselves performing one, once a seemingly empty planet's catacombs open, sleepers waken, etc. The Apocalypse How score of such an act varies, though it's hard for one to not have one.
May overlap with Hostile Terraforming.
- Weather Report's Stand ability in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean can actually manipulate the ozone layer of Earth itself which is the reason why Enrico Pucci used his White Snake to take Weather Report's memory disc. If he had remembered his past trauma, the unconscious (and possibly apocalyptic) Heavy Weather ability of his Stand would be activated again.
- During the three-part The Supergirl Saga in the 1980s Post-Crisis Superman comic books, the Phantom Zone villains of the Pocket Universe decide that humanity is too bothersome to deal with once they build up a sizeable La Résistance force that could equal the villains' power. Thus the rogue Kryptonians put their plan in motion to kill everybody on Earth by burrowing through the planet at super-speed to its core, unleashing massive hot gases that ripped away the Earth's atmosphere and left it a lifeless husk except for the people within Lex Luthor's citadel in Smallville.
- The entire atmosphere of Nu Earth in Rogue Trooper is lethal to non-GIs due to excessive use of chemical weapons.
- The Arrival has aliens pumping greenhouse gasses into Earth's atmosphere as a terraforming project. The main villain gives a particularly Anvilicious lecture at the end about how they're only speeding up the process that humans have already started.
- In Battlefield Earth, the Psychlo breathe gas that reacts explosively when exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation (like the kind created by nuclear explosions). So, naturally, when the man-animals... sorry, humans decide to throw off the Psychlo yoke, they teleport a nuke to the Psychlo homeworld. Cue the all-consuming fireball, which also, for some reason, blows up the whole planet.
- An example of the "nukes ignite the atmosphere" idea: at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the astronauts note that the detonation of a cobalt bomb could "set off a chain reaction in the whole atmosphere. Burn the planet to a cinder." After the bomb detonates:
In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-size star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.
- The Matrix, specifically the Dark Storm Effect blotting out all sunlight in the real world. Although we don't know whether it was the humans or machines who struck first (it was us), it was the humans who scorched the sky.
- Since the ozone layer is part of the atmosphere, it's probably relevant that one of the alien criminals in Men in Black II was convicted of stealing some of it to sell on the black market.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If Dr. Totenkopf's space ship reaches 100 kilometers above ground and its booster engines ignite, the Earth's atmosphere will be destroyed. Of course, atmosphere doesn't work this way: this is a Shout-Out to how Pulp Magazine Science Fiction the movie is homage to often introduced the most ridiculous plot devices imaginable.
- Spaceballs. Planet Spaceball is out to steal planet Druidia's atmosphere with a giant vacuum cleaner powered by a Humongous Mecha shaped like a maid.
- In Animorphs #28, the team is trying to figure out the latest Yeerk plot. On guessing that the latest agenda might be to poison a food supply and kill humans, Ax disagrees with very specific reasoning...
- Crest of the Stars: Though we don't see it happen, the Abh casually mention stripping a planet of its atmosphere as one method they've used for dealing with rebellions.
- Mack Reynolds' novel Dawnman Planet. A race of aliens has the power to instantly convert the oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere of a planet to methane-hydrogen-ammonia, killing all of the inhabitants.
- The Science of Discworld. Paraphrased:
Rincewind: Ah. This is going to be one of the times when the atmosphere catches fire. I hate those.
- In John Christopher's The Tripods series, the alien invaders rule Earth from domed cities that contain their native atmosphere, but eventually plan to replace all Earth's atmosphere with their own — incidentally dealing with the last unenslaved humans.
- The First Men in the Moon: Although it is not actually used, professor Cavor describes in detail how cavorite has the possibility to destroy the Earth's atmosphere; a sheet of cavorite can make all the air above it weightless and cause it to shoot into space. New air that rushes in to replace the old air suffers the same fate, and this process will continue until all the air on earth is gone.
- In the 2010 movie based on the book, Cavor actually does this on purpose to destroy the Moon's atmosphere in an attempt to keep the Selenites from invading Earth. This explains why the moon has become a barren wasteland by the time of the 1969 moonlanding.
- In Robert Tressail's polemic against capitalism. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, the hero is searching for an analogy to explain why it is not a given that a minority should control the earth's resources and make the majority pay over the odds for basic needs like shelter and warmth. He draws a picture of capitalists being able to control the atmosphere and making everyone else pay for the air they breathed - with those too poor to pay dying from suffocation in front of everyone else's eyes.
- In a non-planetwide example, in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers the transformed residents of Haven manipulate the air in and to a certain elevation above their town into something that is both more breathable for them and toxic enough to any entering humans to make them turn back shortly after, as well as prevent internal-combustion engines from functioning.
- Doctor Who: In "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky", the ATMOS devices, which were fitted to automobile exhaust pipes in order to remove pollutants, turn out to have another, hidden, purpose: releasing a gas to convert the Earth's atmosphere into something ideal for growing more Sontarans. To save the day, the Doctor uses an atmospheric converter which literally sets the sky on fire.
- Quatermass II has a chemical plant run by humans under alien control which is manufacturing gases in which the aliens can live but which are horribly corrosive to human flesh. The plan is ultimately for the aliens to manufacture enough to replace the Earth's atmosphere.
- Stargate SG-1: The Eurondans from "The Other Side" built an Elaborate Underground Base and poisoned the atmosphere of their own planet in order to exterminate the Breeders. When they make contact with Stargate Command decades later, the atmosphere is still poisonous.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Averted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Matter of Time", in which the Enterprise fires an ionizing phaser blast into the upper atmosphere of a planet to clear away some volcanic dust. If the blast was imperfect, it would burn away the atmosphere. Needless to say, the Enterprise saves the day.
- The Twilight Zone (1985) episode "Voices in the Earth". At some point in the past the oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere was changed to methane.
- "Skullcrusher Mountain", by Jonathan Coulton:
Picture the two of us alone inside my golden submarine
While above the waves my doomsday squad ignites the atmosphere
And all the fools who live their foolish lives may find it quite... explosive
But it won't mean half as much to me if I don't have you here
- From Peter Schilling's "(Let's Play) U.S.A.":
"Go on and pollute the land. Clean air will be sold in cans."
- Dungeons & Dragons adventure OA7 Test of the Samurai. An evil magician named Za-Jikku is trying to change the planet's atmosphere. He kills people and turns them into evil butterflies, which breathe in normal air (t'ien ch'i) and change it to a deadly gas (yun ch'i). If he succeeds, he'll be able to breathe the yun ch'i and live forever, but every other living creature will die.
- Traveller Adventure 4 Leviathan. In the backstory, a series of nuclear explosions caused the planet Ganulf to lose its atmosphere, killing all of the inhabitants.
- Warhammer 40,000 has this as the end stage of separate methods of Exterminatus. Cyclonic torpedoes ignite the atmosphere as well as most things on the surface. In the case of virus bombing, the gases released by the virus reduce most of the planet's biomass into inflammable mulch, resulting in a planet-wide firestorm. Technically it doesn't burn the atmosphere, just the flammable gasses released there, but close enough. Cyclonic torpedoes play this completely straight.
- The Tyranids also employ this trope as part of their "harvesting". Prior to and during their invasion, the atmosphere is saturated with stimulants and mutagens to violently increase the rate of plant growth, while simultaneously infecting and debilitating local resistance. Within weeks, a barren savannah can be transformed into a steaming jungle, with 40% of the military wiped out in the process.
- The strategy of the Scrin in the Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series of games might be better described as Biosphere Abuse, but aims for the same effect - making the planet inhospitable to everything, so there's no resistance once their fleet shows up.
- Conquest: Frontier Wars has this in video, with a nice low-angle shot.
- In Homeworld the Taiidan Empire punishes the Kushan for violating the terms of their exile by using a Low-Orbit Atmosphere Deprivation Weapon on their adopted homeworld. The only survivors being the crew of the Mothership and the occupants of what cryo-trays they manage to salvage
- It rains acid in Iji. The protagonist is protected, but trails clouds of smoke. The question of whether the Earth's atmosphere is irreparably damaged brought up a few times.
- The terraforming tools in Spore can also be used to damage a planet's ecosystem, which can destroy buildings in colonies on that planet. This tactic is particularly effective against the Grox, whose colonies self-destruct when a planet becomes habitable.
- Star Control 2:
"Look, mistakes happen. Don't get so bent out of shape!""The Spathi once used a similar excuse after an unfortunate incident at their base on Algol IV. They didn't like the climate there so they decided to make `just a few minor, climatic adjustments.' Their equipment went haywire, they panicked and fled and the entire atmosphere was stripped off the planet much to the native Algolites sincere though short-lived regret."
- Traffic Department 2192. The rebellion kills The Emperor's daughter, so the Emperor floods the atmosphere with flammable gases and takes a match to the planet.
- In Gargoyles, the titular 'goyles had a problem with a curse that would not end "Until the skies burned." Earlier, they had been bound in stone until their castle rose above the clouds, and David Xanatos had arranged that... so it comes as no surprise that he's got a solution this time, too. Figuring that they only need a very localized phenomenon, he helps them distribute a flammable gas above New York and sets it on fire, causing the heavens to burn (briefly and harmlessly), breaking the curse.
- In a non-canon Futurama Xmas episode, pine trees rapidly propagate across Earth's surface, drastically increasing the atmospheric oxygen levels to 100%. Then Bender lights a cigar, cue worldwide fiery death.
- One episode of Phineas and Ferb has Baljeet attempting to extract Earth's atmosphere and put it on the Moon after being turned into a Mad Scientist by an intelligence-boosting helmet.
- A couple of the solar system's moons (Titan and Triton are the major examples) have atmospheres which, if not for their lack of oxygen, would be extremely explosive.
- For that matter, Earth's atmosphere would also be extremely explosive if not for its relative lack of methane, or the relative abundance of nitrogen. The possibility of runaway chain reaction of atmospheric oxygen wasn't ruled out until the end of World War II, when it was stated to be a possible concern during the testing of nuclear bombs. Of course, humanity went and did it anyway.
- Current (2015) theories in planetary science indicates that Venus started out with a similar amount of water and carbon dioxide as the Earth. On our world, the carbon dioxide was eventually trapped in carbonate minerals, allowing the planet to cool and conditions to become suitable for liquid water and life. However, the higher temperatures on Venus caused by its proximity to the sun meant its oceans soon evaporated, causing a super greenhouse effect with temperatures in the low thousands of degrees Fahrenheit and an atmospheric pressure that could have been in the hundreds of bars. The Sun's ultraviolet light caused the water vapor to break up into hydrogen and oxygen which dissipated out in to space, and Venus was left with its current 90-bar load of CO2 and its temperature of more than eight hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit. Before, that is, gets its atmosphere stripped away when the Sun goes red giant.
- Earth will become in the far future as the Sun's luminosity increases either a Venus as is now-like world, a hellish version of Venus as described above, or most likely a bone-dry hot desert world with very little water and oxygen -before the red giant Sun strips its atmosphere too-.
- To end with Solar System examples, early Mars had an atmosphere dense enough to support liquid water on its surface and perhaps even life. However because of Mars' small size (read: both low gravity and a magnetic field that has mostly gone away) said atmosphere was blown away by the solar wind, with surface water disappearing and with it the life that could have existed — on its surface, that is.
- Jupiter-like planets orbiting very close to their stars, assuming they do not spiral into their suns, may have their thick atmospheres blown away leaving just their bare cores. Such planets are known as Chthonian planets.