Origin of "nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

It’s a common saying or meme here on the SDMB that sounds like it might have been lifted from some science fiction book or movie.

Searching the board archives doesn’t produce an obvious ur-thread where it was coined & entered our hive-mind.

So, where’s it from? If it is from a SF book or movie, how good (or bad) was the story?

The movie Aliens.

(which I thought was pretty good)

Or to put the saying in context:

The space marines have gone deep underground to the Aliens lair led by their gung-ho commander. Ripley had advised simply nuking the entire site, but the commander is sure his squad of big tough marines can handle a few bugs. Ambushed by the xenomorphs, the squad barely gets out alive, with the commander temporarily comatose and the ranking non-com in command. His first decision as acting commander is to repeat Ripley’s suggestion word for word.

In other words, it’s an archtype of being smart rather than badass. Sorta like when Indiana Jones pulled out his gun and shot the attacker.

Or that you’ve just been whipped good and have to retaliate with the most excessive use of force possible.

Here’s the relevant dialogue (Ripley is the protagonist, played by Sigorney Weaver, Burke is the “company man” and the rest are the remainder of a pair of squads of Colonial Marines that just barely survived an attack by the aliens):

                   All right, we can't blow the fuck
                   out of them...why not roll some
                   canisters of CN-20 down there.
                   Nerve gas the whole nest?

                   Look, man, let's just bug out and
                   call it even, okay?

                          (to Vasquez)
                   No good.  How do we know it'll
                   effect their biochemistry?  I say
                   we take off and nuke the entire
                   site from orbit.  It's the only
                   way to be sure.

                   Now hold on a second.  I'm not
                   authorizing that action.

                   Why not?

        Burke senses the challenge in her tone and backpedals
        flawlessly into conciliatory mode.

                   Well, I mean...I know this is an
                   emotional moment, but let's not
                   make snap judgments.  Let's move
                   cautiously.  First, this physical
                   installation had a substantial
                   dollar value attached to it --

                   They can bill me.  I got a tab
                   running.  What's second?

                   This is clearly an important
                   species we're dealing with here.
                   We can't just arbitrarily
                   exterminate them --


                   Yeah, bullshit.  Watch us.

                   Maybe you haven't been keeping up
                   on current events, but we just got
                   out asses kicked, pal!

        Ripley faces Burke squarely and she's not pleased.

                   Look, Burke.  We had an agreement.

        Burke moves in, lowering his voice.  He takes her aside
        from the others.

                   I know, I know, but we're dealing
                   with changing scenarios here.  This
                   thing is major, Ripley.  I mean
                   really major.  You gotta go with
                   its energy.  Since you are the
                   representative of the company who
                   discovered this species your
                   percentage will naturally be
                   some serious, serious money.

        Ripley stares at his like he's a particularly
        disagreeable fungus.

                   You son of a bitch.

                   Don't make me pull rank, Ripley.

                   What rank?  I believe Corporal Hicks
                   has authority here.

                   Corporal Hicks!?

                   This operation is under military
                   jurisdiction and Hicks is next in
                   chain of command.  Right?

                   Looks that way.

        Burke starts to lose it and it's not a pretty sight.

                   Look, this is a multimillion
                   dollar operation.  He can't make
                   that kind of decision.  He's just
                   a grunt!
                          (glances at Hicks)
                   No offense.

                   None taken.
                          (into mike)
                   Ferro, you copying?

                          (voice over; static)
                   Standing by.

                   Prep for dust-off.  We're gonna
                   need an immediate evac.
                          (to Burke)
                   I think we'll take off and nuke
                   the site from orbit.  It's the
                   only way to be sure.

Great movie, directed by James Cameron (Terminator, The Abyss, True Lies. It (and its predecessor, Ridley Scott’s Alien) basically spawned the '80s/'90s collection of unrelenting killer-alien movies. So yeah, you should see it.

It’s just a good thing they didn’t make any sequels or absurd cross-overs, 'cause those would have sucked. If you catch my drift. :wink:


Cool. Thanks everybody.

And after making such a sound judgement call, Ripley later pisses off the Alien Queen by frying her entire clutch of eggs, whereupon Queenie comes after her looking for evens with consequences that prove catastrophic (if you accept Alien[sup]3[/sup] as canon :wink: ) – all for nothing because the colony’s fusion plant was going to blow anyway. Normally Ripley kicks ass, but on this occasion you have to admit shefucks up.

I just find it comical that a squad of marines commanded by a green lieutenant has nukes and nerve gas. What does a Major get - the Death Star?

I think it caught on as a catchphrase because it’s one of the few examples of sound tactical thinking in movie SF: usually fighting the monsters depends on either fortuitously discovering some implausible weakness {“Water! Water will dissolve them!”} or encountering moral qualms {“But if we kill them, General, we’re no better than they are.”} For once a character said exactly what the audience was thinking: piss off and nuke the fuckers from a safe distance.

Yeah, but then they don’t do it!

Mind you, that would have short-circuited three movies.

Which is also why the sequence with Indiana Jones and the swordsman is so popular- it’s exactly what any normal person (who happened to be carrying a .455 calibre revolver) would do when confronted with a Bad Guy showing off his Mad Scimitar Skillz™ - they’d simply draw their gun and shoot him. :smiley:

They didn’t get the chance. Their ride got 'jacked, remember?

Leading to the best line ever

“game over man, game OVER”

Bill Paxton will ALWAYS be HUdson to me, ALWAYS whimpering those lines…heh heh heh.

Kinda makes things weird seeing his naked, polygamist ass on a regular basis over on “Big Love.” Feh.

Maybe we could light a fire. Sing songs.

Put her in charge!


The funny thing is that wasn’t how the scene was written. Originally it was a typical over-complex Hollywood type fight scene, but when it came time to do the shoot, Harrison Ford was suffering from a bad case of the trots. Knowing that he really wasn’t up to the task for the complex scene they had planned, Harrison asked Spielberg if he could just shoot the guy.


I also can’t see Bill Paxton in anything without thinking of his famous “game over, man” lines.

Whenever I think of Bill Paxton it’s for his other great line in that movie

My favorite Paxton line:

“They’re gonna come in here, and they’re gonna come in here, and they’re gonna kill us!”

I love the repetition of the first part- he’s too jacked up to think of any worse fate than the aliens coming in there. And then, of course, killing them.

Actually, the best line ever, which I silently quote almost daily, occurred earlier.

Sgt. Apone: Any questions?
Cpl. Hudson: Yeah, how do I get out of this chicken shit outfit.

If only I were brave enough to say that to my boss every time he asks that question.