Sci-fi is packed with planet-killing super weapons and lasers that can disintegrate matter like papier-mâché, so choosing the most destructive sci-fi weapons of all is tricky.
To make things interesting, we’ve split our list into five categories, from handheld weapons to galaxy-destroying doomsday machines. Why? Because if we went strictly by “the most destructive,” a good chunk of this list would be taken up by various iterations of the Death Star.
This list also includes many comparable weapons as runners-up, since nailing down exact power levels is almost impossible in sci-fi. Less “science-based” weapons, like the Ultimate Nullifer or Infinity Gauntlet, have been left out to leave more room for other entries, too.
10. Lightsaber, Star Wars
Yeah, you know we’re not playing around when we list this iconic piece of sci-fi weaponry at number 10. Though portrayals vary, the lightsaber generally has the ability to cut through almost anything, from durasteel doors to the armor plating of an AT-AT.
Various commentators have tried to measure the sheer power output of a lightsaber (including Kyle Hill of Youtube), and there’s some debate over whether a dropped lightsaber would accidentally slice its way to a planet’s core, but the general consensus is that a determined Jedi can melt their way through pretty much any material. That makes the lightsaber extremely destructive…as long as you’re within slashing range.
9. Fat Man (or Experimental MIRV), Fallout 3
Fallout’s Fat Man (and its rarer, more powerful counterpart, the Experimental MIRV) is essentially the M-28/M-29 Davy Crocket tactical nuke launcher developed by the US Army during the Cold War, which was capable of launching a 76-pound “atomic watermelon” one to two miles. If you want to see what the blast radius looked like, check out Nuke Map.
The “mini-nukes” used by the Fat Man in Fallout aren’t quite that powerful (in the game, you can comfortably fire them a couple hundred feet away and live to tell the tale), but nuclear weapons, even small ‘tactical’ nukes, dwarf anything you can accomplish with a laser pistol and good aim.
Runners Up: Spartan Laser from Halo, BFG 9000 from Doom, DX R-6 Disintegration Rifle from Star Wars
Let’s get one thing straight: the tow-cable tripping technique used on Hoth was a desperation measure, and one that got a lot of pilots killed. Despite their awkward appearance, slow speed, and limited range of fire, AT-ATs are nearly indestructible and capable of wiping out an enemy base (and a giant shield generator) with a couple laser blasts. They have the luxury of being clunky because they’re pretty much unstoppable on the battlefield, bar a squadron of X-Wings or a Jedi crawling into its belly.
And that’s actually the point—according to the official Star Wars database, an AT-AT isn’t just supposed to blow up key installations and drop off troops, they’re meant to intimidate and crush the will of their enemies.
Pacific Rim’s Jaegers (and other giant robots like them) are walking wrecking balls on a massive scale, and a whole bunch of articles have come out trying to size up just how destructive they are. One of the most concise examples is Scientific American's entry, which equates a Jaeger punch to taking a Boeing 747 to the face.
The fact that a Jaeger can swing and arm and accidentally wipe out a city skyline is a testament to just how destructive these robots are, but combined with weapons like giant chainswords, plasmacasters, and missile arrays, these things are essentially Category 5 hurricanes when it comes to sheer devastation.
Runners Up: Scarab from Halo, The Iron Giant from The Iron Giant, Gundam mechs from the Gundam series, EVA Units from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Transformer from Transformers, Hammer of Dawn from Gears of War.
City Destroyer Class
6. T-Virus, Resident Evil
The T-Virus of Resident Evil was designed by the Umbrella Corporation to a) be incredibly contagious and b) kill everything it infected. As terrible as that sounds, it’s actually a paradox when it comes to epidemiology: if the virus kills its host too quickly, that host doesn’t have a chance to infect anyone else. The solution? Make sure every victim comes back from the dead as a murderous, walking vector for the disease.
Though the viability of a zombie apocalypse is debated, there’s no denying that the T-Virus does its job extremely well—if left unchecked, it can spread through cities, nations, and even the world, and the damage can’t be undone even after a vaccine is created.
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5. Harvester City Destroyers, Independence Day
Independence Day may seem corny by today’s standards, but no one can forget the famous scene of the giant grey Harvester ships silently looming over New York City and unleashing a torrent of destructive energy that fills the streets with fire. It’s an awesome, terrifying display of firepower, one on the level of a full-sized nuclear blast.
Funnily enough, the true destructive potential of the Harvester ships may not lie in the laser weaponry, but the sheer size of the ships themselves—according to an article written by Robert Kennedy, the mere arrival of the Harvester Colony Ship and the City Destroyers would cause absolute havoc due to their gravitational pull and the energy they eject into Earth’s atmosphere.
Runners Up: Warhammer 40K Titan
Planet Destroyer Class
4. Starkiller Base, Star Wars
Yeah, we could sit here and argue that Starkiller Base is just a clone of the Death Star, or that the Sun Crusher or Galaxy Gun of the old Star Wars Extended Universe is more powerful (or, if you’re really into esoterica, the Star Forge or Centerpoint Station). Star Wars has become flush with superweapons, each one essentially saying “Oh yeah? Well I just made up this, and it’s even more powerful than ‘X’!”
At least Starkiller Base has some interesting sci-fi stuff behind it—it operates by collecting and storing dark energy within the core of a planet, which is then released as “phantom energy,” which can tunnel through a dimension called “sub-hyperspace” to hit multiple planets light-years away and induce miniature novas. Apparently, the blasts were so powerful that they warped space-time, allowing people to see the explosions from across systems.
3. The Little Doctor (Molecular Disruption Device), Ender’s Game
Even against fleets of Formic ships, the "Little Doctor" (also known as the Molecular Disruption Device or “MD” for short) is a frighteningly powerful weapon: after its dual beams fire at a target, it manipulates the atomic structure of that target to prevent its atoms from sharing electrons, which form the basis for atomic bonds. This ends up disintegrating the target at the most basic level, and the more matter is around the target, the more the disintegration field will spread.
In the final act of Ender’s Game, the Little Doctor is fired at the Formic Homeworld, which destroys the planet and reduces its inhabitants to chunks of iron and scattered atoms.
Runners Up: Harvester Mothership from Independence Day 2, Exterminatus order from Warhammer 40K, Dakara Superweapon from Stargate, Nova Cannons from Warhammer 40K, Death Star from Star Wars, Borg Cube from Star Trek, Nova Bombs from Andromeda.
Galaxy/Universe Destroyer Class
2. Halo Array, Halo Series
The Halo Array is almost mind-boggling in scope: made of over a dozen planet-sized ring-stations scattered across thousands of light-years, each ring has a range of about 25,000 light-years by itself. When fired all at once, the dozens of installations send out “cross-phased supermassive neutrinos,” which interfere with the nervous system of all life they encounter, down to the microscopic scale. The final result is the death of nearly all life in the galaxy, apart from plants, fungi, and other non-sentient organisms.
One interesting fact is that, according to the Halopedia wiki, “The radiation [from the Halo Array] is propelled at superluminal speeds and will eventually propagate at a near-infinite velocity. This was known to generate causal paradoxes when the rings first fired, with two of the Halos reporting pre-echoes of the combined activation before the rings had been fired.”
1. Reality Bomb, Doctor Who
The Dalek Reality Bomb doesn’t wipe out planets. It doesn’t wipe out solar systems, or even galaxies. No, it wipes out all life in the universe, and thanks to the existence of space-time rips in the Doctor Who canon, it actually threatens to wipe out the multiverse as well.
The Reality Bomb operates by dissolving the magnetic fields that hold matter together, essentially ripping apart everything (except for the space station where the weapon is housed). It’s the culmination of the Dalek goal to be the only species left in the universe (or any universe), and it’s arguably the most destructive weapon ever shown in mainstream science fiction.
Runners Up: Super Tenga Toppen Gurren Lagann from Gurren Lagann