: America's love affair with the doomsday device is a turbulent one. First popularized in comic books and James Bond movies, then lampooned by Austin Powers, we love them because their ridiculousness makes us feel safe — like the exhilarating false danger of a roller coaster.
Now heightened audience cynicism has forced world-ending devices into the realm of camp, and except for a new breed of superhero movies, they've largely been replaced by natural disasters or apocalyptic sci-fi scenarios in Hollywood films.
The opening of Quantum of Solace on Friday is making us nostalgic for the junk science and catastrophic fear that make fictional doomsday devices fun. From earth-shattering fusion reactors to catastrophic earthquake machines to planet-destroying space stations, here's a list of some of our favorite extinction-bringing devices from film, television and videogames. Be sure to share your own favorites in the comments.
The Doomsday Machine — Dr. Strangelove (film)
The aptly named "Doomsday Machine" was one of the uncredited stars of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Its purpose? Delivering a retaliatory nuclear strike on all mankind in the event of an attack on Soviet soil. All it took was a broken radio and one bomb-riding cowboy to set it off.
: In 1979's Moonraker, James Bond went into space. Seriously. In his defense, the goal was to destroy the Moonraker space station. This apocalyptic orbital platform was designed to poison mankind by releasing orbs full of lethal toxins into Earth's atmosphere. Agent 007 destroyed the orbs (with lasers, no less), and the planet was spared.
: It's hard to say what made Beneath the Planet of the Apes creepier: the "Divine Bomb," a misplaced nuclear warhead capable of destroying Earth, or the radioactive mutants who worshiped it. Either way, the Divine Bomb gets its moment in the sun when a dying Charlton Heston flips the switch, thereby destroying ... er ... everything.
: Leave it to the military to need rescuing from its own doomsday device. In 2003's The Core, the "Deep Earth Seismic Trigger Initiative," or Destini, became the aforementioned device. Though designed as a weaponized earthquake machine, Destini threatens the planet by screwing up Earth's magnetic field. Ironically, nuke-wielding scientists provide the solution.
: Elaborate doomsday devices often rely on sketchy science. Take Dr. Octavius' highly volatile fusion reactor from Spider-Man 2. Not only was this "artificial sun" self-sustaining, but capable of indefinite growth by consuming everything around it (i.e., the world). Strangely enough, its Achilles' heel was a dunk in a nearby river.
: This iconic space station from the first Star Wars trilogy was no moon. In fact, it was a planet-shaped superweapon designed to destroy
planets. After a whizz-bang demo on Alderaan, it was clear the Death Star spelled certain doom for any planet dweller. But then there was that exposed exhaust port …
: By the time Futurama's sci-fi satire hit the scene, creator Matt Groening had the doomsday-device shtick down. Case in point: the Spheroboom. This highly explosive space/time-bending device isn't just the prized jewel of the show's mad scientist, professor Farnsworth. It also destroys anyone/anything not wearing a "Doom-proof Platinum Vest."
: The titular ring-shaped world of the Halo videogame series is more than an architectural feat. When activated, the megastructure is capable of destroying all sentient life in the universe. In Halo 2, puzzled gamers discovered that stopping this harbinger of the apocalypse was as simple as turning it off.
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