Millions of years ago, at the dawn of time, an ape picked up a bone and had an idea that would change the world forever: “I could use this to beat the crap out of all the other apes.” It was the creation of the very first weapon (or at least that’s how Stanley Kubrick tells it in his science fiction masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and since then, mankind has been dreaming up more and more fantastical ways to totally annihilate one another. Science fiction in particular has given us some truly incredible and incredibly destructive weapons, but it got us wondering: what is the most destructive of all the doomsday devices ever dreamed up? From phasers to Death Stars, we’ve compiled an exhaustive list of all our favorite weapons from science fiction and conferred with a few experts in science fact to determine their real-world destructive capabilities.
FatWallet crunched the numbers to compare real life weapons with the destructive power of their science fiction counterparts. We worked with physicists and engineers on this infographic, which breaks down iconic weapons and their energy of devastation in joules, an energy measurement of “work done.” In some cases, we drew data from source material or compared the weapons to real-life versions. In others, we attempted to calculate energy requirements for destruction shown in movies and TV shows. And in the case of reality-warping, fantastic weapons from the limits of our imagination, we drew help from theoretical physics.
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You might think the bone from “2001” is the least-destructive weapon on the list, but it actually surpasses five others. Using the ideal swing of a Major League Baseball player as a point of comparison, it was determined that an ape could get 1,270 joules of devastation out of one good hit from his bone. That’s more potential destruction than the blasts delivered from the Golden Gun, Mal’s Revolver from “Firefly,” the sonic guns from “Minority Report” or the F-Ray Gun from “Futurama.” The F-Ray gun ended up being the least destructive weapon on our list, which makes complete sense; when it comes to weapons, Professor Farnsworth can only build things that are overly destructive or completely ineffective.
The destructive capabilities of handheld sci-fi weapons ran a very wide spectrum. On the low end, you have weapons like Deckard’s 2019 LAPD blaster from “Blade Runner.” Although a few futuristic bells and whistles have been added to the model, it is still basically a .44 Magnum with a relatively low 1,400 joules of devastation. The same goes for the sawed-off shotgun from “Terminator 2,” the M41A Pulse Rifle from “Aliens” and the Auto 9 from “Robocop.” All of these weapons used real-world guns as their bases, meaning they can’t exactly cause otherworldly levels of annihilation. On the other side of the handheld spectrum, you have weapons like Han Solo’s blaster and the Noisy Cricket from “Men in Black.” These palm-sized pistols may look small, but they deliver a few million joules of energy each. That’s enough to blow the doors off a starship or take out a few blocks of a New York City street.
When it comes to robots, cyborgs and mech suits, size doesn’t seem to matter. The Jaegers from “Pacific Rim” may tower over the jive-talking Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit,” but both pack nearly identical punches. Watch those films, and you’ll see that both bots can blow up one armored vehicle with a single blast, putting their destructive outputs at around 55 million joules. As the bots get bigger in size, their weapons start delivering bigger payloads of devastation; the Tripod from “War of the Worlds,” the AT-ATs from “The Empire Strikes Back” and the Iron Giant all produce more than 70 million joules of energy. But the most destructive robot on the list is only 9 feet tall. Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” doesn’t just blow up a military vehicle like the Jaegers or Johnny 5, he disintegrates it into nothingness, putting his destructive output at a whopping 170 million joules.
Some of the coolest weapons in sci-fi simply defy classification, making their destructive capacities a bit of a challenge to figure out. The Smart Disc from “Predator 2,” for instance, is a flying, remote-controlled blade that can slice through a herd of cows in a few seconds. Using the energy delivered by a high-powered buzz saw as a real-world comparison, we determined that the Predator’s coolest weapon clocks in at 5,000 joules. The ZORG ZF-1 from “The Fifth Element” combines a bunch of weapons into one, including a machine gun, rocket launcher and poison arrow launcher, but the feature that would require the most energy is the freeze ray. To freeze a person, you’d actually need to remove all their stored energy, which in turn would take about 32,400 joules of energy. The proton pack from “Ghostbusters” may work great on enemies that are already dead, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t do some serious damage to those who are still alive. Venkman uses the controlled proton beam to destroy the chandelier at the Sedgewick Hotel in 0.001 seconds. Since brass melts at 900 degrees Celsius, that puts the proton pack at 337,500 joules.
Nothing seems to get a sci-fi writer’s imagination going faster than dreaming up ways to end the world, and some of the most creative items on this list are also some of the most dangerous. The Mega Maid from “Spaceballs” sucks all the air out of a planet, while the Portal Gun from the “Portal” games might work by creating singularities on an energy level comparable to that of a small stellar black hole. The Death Star from the very first “Star Wars” can blow up an Earth-sized planet (once it’s charged for about 24 hours), which would take about 2 billion joules. But why settle for a single planet when the “Futurama” universe-to-universe missile can take out an entire universe? But that’s still only the second-most destructive weapon on our list. The top honor goes to the reality bomb from “Doctor Who,” which undoes the bond between all the atoms in the universe. According to Robert Caldwell, theoretical physicist at Dartmouth, the Big Rip could potentially pull the atoms of the universe apart in 22 billion years. By magnifying the amount of dark energy in the universe by 1014, the Big Rip would occur in 58 minutes, roughly the length of one episode of “Doctor Who.”
Of course, why stop at just one universe? Why not create a machine that could wipe out two universes? Or three? Or even all potential universes in all potential realities? With new and exciting sci-fi stories being told every day in print and on screen, there’s no limit to how destructive the next dreamed-up doomsday devices will be, and we, for one, can’t wait to see them… so long as they stay safely in the realm of science fiction.