Death Ray

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Do not piss off Stewie Griffin.

Henry: It's not a death ray.
Jack: But it's a ray, right?
Henry: Yes...
Jack: That causes instant death?
Henry: Yes...
Jack: How is that not a death ray?

The Death Ray is an old Speculative Fiction staple, probably cliché or a Discredited Trope by now, but the little kid in all of us would kill for a Death Ray. In function it's a Ray Gun that causes death (It doesn't actually shoot out Death, awesome as that would be); whatever the ray hits, dies—instantly and without question. It can do this via disintegration, somehow draining the target's life force, rapid calcination or some other method. If When scaled up, it becomes a Wave Motion Gun.

Visually, it's probably going to emit a red beam and look scary compared to a hero's clean chrome Ray Gun (which, of course, just makes you sleep). It can vary from your garden variety Disintegrator Ray because the Death Ray usually causes inanimate things to explode but humans to keel over dead. Why don't humans explode? Probably because it would raise the flick into R or NC-17 status (plus it costs a ton more in Special Effects compared to a cheap ray effect). In effect, it is the Designated Villain of retro Sci Fi weapons, much worse than its "little brother" the Agony Beam.

Anyone using it is probably a villain with his own villain store discount card, a (Mad) Scientist who just happened to think making a Death Ray would be cool, or space aliens, death bots, or what have you. It's unlikely for an Evil Overlord's henchmen to be armed with these, as he's more likely to keep the only one for himself.

Sci-Fi villains are not the only ones who can use a Death Ray—many an Evil Sorcerer or other Fantasy villain will have a spell, artifact, or other piece of magical phlebotinum that basically amounts to one of these.

A planetary Death Ray will be more akin to the Doomsday Device, clock and all, and will only work twice: Once when test fired, to prove it works to the UN member countries; and another to annihilate the Redshirt Army, before being destroyed/stopped by the heroes.

Examples of Death Ray include:

Fan Works

  • This trope receives a Shout-Out in The Crimson Badger, a Redwall fic, of all places, where Urthblood idly ponders about the possibility of creating a giant focusing lens that could incinerate an enemy army after having seen some children burn insects with a magnifying glass. He never comes around to building one, however.


"What's that in your hair daddy?"

      • Even though that's a lot truer to Wells' original idea.
  • Quite possibly the most iconic Death Ray (and frickin' laser and Wave Motion Gun while we're at it) capable of an Earthshattering Kaboom, not just the size of an entire ship but a small moon and in the hands of the ultimate baddie is the Death Star from Star Wars.
  • The film Danger!! Death Ray had a death ray, briefly. But it was mostly just vaguely European guys, some guy named Bart Fargo, and a catchy theme song.
    • Remember, it's a peace loving death ray.
  • It Came from Outer Space (1953). The protagonist is uncertain whether he should believe the aliens' claims that they're simply trying to repair their spaceship so they can leave Earth. After a deadly confrontation with an alien guard who tries to slice him in half with a handheld Disintegrator Ray, he enters a chamber and is shocked to find the aliens assembling what appears to be a classic giant Death Ray, but actually turns out a device for powering their ship.
  • In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Inspector Dreyfus uses a Death Ray to hold the world for ransom. It disintegrates too cleanly for Dreyfus's tastes: "I want a crater! I want wreckage, twisted metal. Something the world will not forget!"
  • Hoodwinked doesn't have a death ray, but, well...this is what happens when someone visits the villain's lair pretending to be an evil lair inspector:

Wolf: Are you thinking about putting in a laser?
Big Bad: I don't know, I... well, do you think I should?
Wolf: Well, it's standard equipment for a cave lair.


  • For sake of reverence and posterity, the Martian Heat Ray in The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, and all of its subsequent adaptions.
    • Notably, it's a Heat Ray, and victims catch fire and burn to ashes, rather than just dropping to the ground.
  • The Killing Curse, Avada Kedavra from Harry Potter is a proper Death Ray, which kills a living being without even leaving a burn scar, but breaks statues.
    • Note that side effects such as this seem to be pretty common in the Potter 'verse, at least in the movie versions - every single aggressive spell throws its target through the air, no matter its actual use.
  • The Dragonback novels, by Timothy Zahn, feature a Death Ray, appropriately named "the Death," which ignores any defense and leaves anything unliving unharmed, but leaves anything hit by it dead, but not visibly hurt.
  • In Dan Simmons' Hyperion books Death Ray weapons, created by the mysterious A Is of the Core, are exclusive to officers of FORCE, the military of the Hegemony of Man. Nobody quite knows how they work and there are no visible effects, but they undoubtedly kill anyone targeted by them. Later the smaller gun-type weaponry is joined by ship-to-ship Death Rays that work at interplanetary distances and even a Death Ray bomb, which is supposedly capable of killing anything withing several light years.
  • Project X (later named the Thompson Harmonizer) in Atlas Shrugged, which emits sound waves capable of destroying anything within 100 miles.
  • Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory is a stimulating compendium of destructive devices for all enthusiasts of the genre known as "steam-punk", plus those gentlemen of leisure who feel that their masculinity would be grossly enhanced by the acquisition of an Exterminator of Prodigious Dimensions.
  • Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story involving a scientist who decided to murder his unfaithful wife with an improvised death ray. The ray was merely a beam of ordinary light, amplified by being projected through an observatory's telescope, with the intent that it'd dazzle her eyes while driving on a mountainside road, causing her to blindly go over the cliff. The narrator told the story to contradict someone who'd argued that any real death ray would be invisible; this one had to be visible to work.
  • Elleston Trevor, who usually wrote spy thrillers or mysteries, featured a death ray in the book Rook's Gambit. The hero became aware of a series of mysterious deaths of people who'd been sentenced to execution but simply fell dead before the government could kill them. The weapon was hand-held, with a range "limited only by the curvature of the earth," and made no noise or flash.
  • Subverted in Anathem: Erasmas sees red light shining from the sky on part of his concent and panics, thinking that it is being shot at with death rays... then his scientific training kicks in a few seconds later as he realizes that any such ray would naturally be invisible.
  • John Ringo's Troy Rising series has the main character creating orbital mirrors to collect the sun as use as a mining laser and weapon. Refered to as a "Death Ray" by the main character, it could pump out 170 Petawatts of power by the end of the second book.
  • The fairies' bio-bombs in Artemis Fowl give a flash of blue light, killing every living being in it. All inanimate objects are unharmed. Except from Holly's LEP-helmet, which she uses to absorb the full blast of a bio-bomb meant to kill her.
  • In The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling, Jack’s first invention as a mad scientist is one of these. Extra points for being housed in his wife’s hair dryer, so not only can it convert a kitchen island into ash with a red beam of light, it does so while being pearlescent pink with stylized purple flowers.
  • In H. Beam Piper's Paratime stories, the Paracops have the "sigma-ray needler which left no traceable effects. Heart failure, or, 'He just died.'" It's the weapon of choice for dealing with someone unauthorized who's learned the Paratime Secret.

Live Action TV

  • Although rare, this is how Laser Pistols work in Firefly. Too bad bullets are still better (and way more common).
  • The Daleks in Doctor Who have Death Rays, which were once most literal instances of this trope - any living being struck by it goes into X-Ray Sparks and dies screaming, then and there, wheareas the rays never caused serious damage to property (missing a target results in a minor spark burst.) However, as of "The Stolen Earth," a small group of Daleks showed that they were more then capable of destroying a building, although they did have "Maximum EXTERMINATION" setting on. The result was an impressive boom.
    • The Dalek extermination effect has gradually got more elaborate over time as special effects improved. At first you simply saw an emitter extend from the Dalek gunstick in close-up, followed by a quick cut to the victim as the whole screen goes into negative. Victim screams and drops dead. Things got gradually more elaborate over the years, especially when it became possible to add ray effects to the screen, but the X-Ray Sparks effect wasn't introduced until the last pre-2005 appearance, "Remembrance of the Daleks", where it was quite elaborate for the time and budget.
    • In their very first appearance, the Daleks do shoot to paralyze. Once. This was before they got on their EXTERMINATE kick. But after that one incident in the second serial of Doctor Who ever, Daleks do shoot to kill.
      • There's been mention that the Daleks' weapon could kill instantly and painlessly, but they deliberately dial down the power of their weapons depending on the species encountered so it takes longer for said being to die. Yes, the Daleks so freakin' evil they have a Death Ray and Agony Beam in one convenient package!
    • They did explain what a Dalek neutralizer ray does, and why nearly everyone hit with this screams in agony as they die. The Doctor called it "internal displacement": Your internal organs are scrambled, literally. Now imagine what would happen if Doctor Who stopped trying to be family friendly with the special effects...
      • Though the fact that the ray can be conducted through water suggests it's actually some kind of electron particle beam.
    • The Daleks do shoot to stun in Planet Of The Daleks.
    • Death rays are actually extremely common in Doctor Who. Hardly an episode goes by without some innocent being disintegrated or otherwise killed by a bad guy, usually with some type of energy weapon.
  • The Varon-T Disruptors in Star Trek: The Next Generation were a "modern" Death Ray, they disintegrated the target like a normal disruptor... but did so slowly, causing tremendous pain.

Chaotica: "But my greatest achievement is there. Behold: the Death Ray."
Captain Janeway (playing Queen Arachnia) caresses the barrel suggestively.
Arachnia: "Oh, it looks like a formidable weapon."
Chaotica: "The most powerful in the cosmos!"

    • The Klingon version of the disruptor is definitely a Death Ray; the disintegration special effect is pretty horrific, as Star Trek goes.
      • That's the aforementioned type T, I think. It's outlawed because of how horrific it is.
      • Only five Varon-T disruptors were built, and the one shown to us bears little resemblance to the Klingon disruptor pistol.
    • Additionally, Andorian phasers have no stun setting.
  • Eureka had these.

Carter: It's a ray that causes immediate death! Why can't you just say "death ray"?

  • MythBusters decided that Archimedes didn't. (It was supposedly based on The Power of the Sun.) There's a very snarky quote from that episode on the Quotes page.
  • The Shadows' ships in Babylon 5 had a beam that could cut a younger race's warship in half. Lengthwise. And then make it explode.
  • A That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch featured a Mad Scientist demonstrating his "Giant Death Ray", along with a "Giant Scorpion Of Death" - turns out his name is Dr Death, and he's horrified at the President's asking if these (obviously lethal) machines might have military potential.
    • His intention is for it to be the world's first barcode reader.
    • They then of course push the idea to silliness: "No! I created the Doomsday Bomb to help mankind, not destroy it!"


  • "Doe Deer" by Crystal Castles consists solely of Alice Glass screeching "Death Ray" over and over

Print Media

  • A cartoon Charles Addams did for The New Yorker shows two men standing at the upper-story window of a patent office, one of them holding a futuristic gun which is plugged into a wall socket. The caption reads: "Death ray, fiddlesticks! Why, it doesn't even slow them up."

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • In Master of Orion series, the Death Ray is the signature armament of the Guardian of Orion, and can only be obtained by beating the Guardian and looting the ruins on the planet below. (Or trading with/stealing from/conquering someone who had.)
    • In the second game, successfully capturing an Antaran battleship[2] and researching its equipment can also yield Death Ray tech.
  • And of course the alien ship in Fallout 3. Its Death Ray can be fired towards Earth and cause a massive mushroom cloud. Not to mention that the Lone Wanderer used it to blow away the other alien ship.
  • In the Destroy All Humans! series, the Death Ray is the basic weapon of your Flying Saucer. It fries human targets real good.
  • Nethack‍'‍s wand of death sends a ray of death towards an enemy who will instantly die except under a few extenuating circumstances (the ray misses, the target has magic resistance or reflects the ray, or is polymorphed into an undead or demonic creature, or is Death).
    • Nethack also has a wand of disintegration, which has similar results if the target isn't immune. (Important safety tip: don't shoot either of these wands at yourself or at a wall near you.)
  • A death ray appears in the final mission in Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. Ironically, it can't kill units, only reduce them to 1HP.
    • So more of a Near Death Ray then.
      • Considering units have 10 HP, I believe the proper term is Decimation Ray.
      • Surely a decimation ray would reduce their HP by 1 not to 1?
  • The enemy spell "Calmness" ("Repose" in the Updated Rerelease) in Final Fantasy VI is a beam of pale blue light that descends on a character, and kills him instantaneously regardless of defenses.
  • You can buy and mount one of these on your plane in Raptor, a shareware shoot 'em up. It's one of three laser weapons with instantaneous blast (the others are a laser turret and a twin laser).
  • In "EarthBound", Jeff (one of the heroes) gets a Death Ray as a weapon.
  • The Marathon trilogy features the Trih Xeem, the 'early nova device' actually used by the phor at the end of Marathon 2. It seems to do what the name implies, cause a star to go nova which would wipe out pretty much anything of consequence in the surrounding system (the planets, moons etc would probably still be there, just with their surfaces pretty much scoured and then left uninhabitable). It is implied that the phor, being the nice caring slavers they are, give this weapon to all their main battle fleets for use as a last resort in hopeless military situations.
  • In The Legend of Zelda, Link or Zelda receive Light Arrows at the end of many games. These act as death rays, killing any monster in one hit, while shattering inanimate objects.
  • In World of Warcraft players who learn the engineering skill can make a 'Gnomish Death Ray', which drains the user's health before firing. It's not a guaranteed kill, but being hit by it hurts, to say the least.
  • The sweet, sweet (if power-ravenous) Gluon Gun in the original Half Life, called the Egon in the game files.
  • Nexus the Jupiter Incident has one example. When the Vardrag-Noah alliance invented the fortress shield[3] to protect their supply ships, the Gorg answered with the Siege Laser: a giant Wave Motion Gun affixed onto a battleship. It requires three other ships to assume a triangular formation around the battleship and provide power but when it does fire, the results are very painful for the target.
  • Being based on, well, War of the Worlds, Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds has the Martians using plenty of these, from classic heat rays to masers to x-ray versions.
  • The mod Unreal4Ever for Unreal Tournament has a comparatively small laser pistol that shoots a continuous, hitscan stream of energy. Killing an enemy with it will cause their flesh to boil instantly, leaving behind only a charred skeleton. Can be upgraded by picking up more of the same gun; at its most powerful it really embodies this trope, as casually moving the beam across an enemy will kill them almost instantly.

Web Comics

  • In Girl Genius, it's almost a "rite of passage" for an evil Spark (and a number of non-evil ones) to make a Death Ray, like the following exchange shows from this strip shows.

Agatha: What about a good death ray? That'd be perfect!
Gil: I don't have a death ray! [...]
Agatha: So what you're telling me is that you--Gilgamesh Wulfenbach--the person next-in-line to the despotic, iron-fisted rule of the Wulfenbach empire--have got no weapons powerful enough to destroy those things. That's just great. What kind of an evil overlord are you going to be, anyway?
Gil: Apparently a better one than I'd thought...

    • So he started with his lightning generator project and scaled it up. And then, yes, built a big death ray.
    • Agatha herself seems to have a fascination with death rays if going by the number of times she can be cited using her immediate materials wishing for/building one. When she got to the Castle with good parts, the result was this (if you're looking at the damage to the wall, you're not looking far enough). Then in Paris she disassembled a vehicle she was riding to make an oversized death ray, and had to hijack a local humanoid clank to wield it against enemy cavalry (of course the city got invaded when she was there).
  • One strip of Casey and Andy features a ray gun called the Kill-O-Mat. While this one doesn't work, the Casey Vaporiso-Annihilatomat does wonders.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: The Enigmarons from Dr. Disaster's space battle simulator possess a Death Ray that's somehow able to target every capital city on Earth simultaneously. It also explodes spectacularly when Annie knocks it over.
  • Neglected Mario Characters mainstay Fred the Spanyard (sic) uses the attacks "Deathray," "Ray of Death," & "Deathly Deathray of Deathly Deathness."
  • The "Is There In Roof No Beauty?" story arc in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob involved Space Pirates trying to obtain some Unobtainium called borfomite to power their unstoppable Death Ray. They hit a small delay when they finally got the borfomite but realized it needed to be combined with caramel, which they didn't have.
  • Narbonic has Dave get killed by one. Why did you do that, Dr. Narbon? "I had a death ray." But it's more complicated than that...
  • In SSDD the Tower of Babel almost counts as the planetary version, as it's a skyscraper sized maser cannon that can roast everyone in an anti-missile defense base (though the base itself appeared intact). The way things are going it's likely to be destroyed before it's used to destroy another country.
  • One Packrat strip features the MAD-Ray (Memorymoog Acoustic Death Ray).

Web Original

  • Dr. Horrible converts his Stun Ray into a Death Ray to use against Captain Hammer. In the end it is damaged after Captain Hammer punches him and it ends up exploding, causing Captain Hammer great pain and killing the Wide-Eyed Idealist Love Interest Penny.
  • Apparently, R2D2 has a Death Ray.
  • The Salvation War has an AEGIS cruiser using its radar as an improvised Death Ray against Uriel. The results are quite messy. He survives, but he doesn't have much skin left afterwards.

Western Animation

Commander Nebula: What's the difference between that and a normal death ray?
LGM: More death.
We can't get there in time to stop it! What're we gonna do?
Hyper die?

  • An episode of The Simpsons showed Frink with a death ray he was developing, although it was only capable of generating a beam which felt pleasantly warm (plus he gave up on it when he failed to secure funding).
    • ...He shouldn't have admitted that "well, the ray only has evil applications..."
  • The Venture Brothers have a lot of these but in the episode "The Lepidopterists" we find Jonas Jr has inherited a very nice one. Brock and the OSI guys are all very impressed. "If that [death ray] was a woman, I'd marry her" "And I'd jeopardize our friendship by nailing your wife"
    • Dr. Venture has accumulated more than he needs - Brock is worried he's too unconcerned about the security problems at a yard sale, pointing out he put up a 'Laser Death Ray Bargain Bin'.
  • One of the unproduced episodes of Invader Zim had Zim instruct GIR to activate a Death Ray (or a Doom Ray), to proceed with his latest plan. It works, and GIR takes over the Earth while Zim is having his existence evaluated.

Real Life

  • It is said that Nikola Tesla actually built a prototype of a tower that could kill anything within a certain radius. For some strange reason, the military wasn't at all interested when he pitched it to them.
    • He called it a Peace Ray, rather than a Death Ray, of course.
  • The [ Medusa Particle Beam Cannon}, which as of about 2010 was in the late stages of development and was supposed to be field tested shortly afterward. If successful, it would have resulted in the creation of what is essentially a real-life portable Death Ray, but appears to have vanished entirely off the radar; the only directed-energy weapon currently called "MEDUSA" is a non-lethal anti-crowed weapon.
  • The MTHEL, on the other hand, has already had functional prototypes built, capable of shooting down not only missiles but artillery shells and mortar shells, feats almost no other weapon can do. Because of the precise details of how high-energy lasers work, the MTHEL wouldn't be able to kill a person easily (though it would cause serious harm) - but it can destroy small, fast-moving explosive projectiles more accurately, and less expensively per shot, than any other current weapon.
  • Neutron Bombs are essentially explosives that emit Death Rays. They kill living things, but leave inanimate objects unharmed. Not quite 'rays' since they are actually bombs... but close!
    • A neutron bomb is still a nuclear weapon. It does destroy inanimate objects.
    • Sort of. A neutron bomb is designed to release a burst of neutrons that would otherwise be used to accelerate the fission chain reaction. What you end up with is a nuclear weapon that has a small (by modern standards) blast radius which obviously affects animate and inanimate objects. However outside of that range inanimate objects are unharmed but the neutron burst will kill by radiation sickness living creatures, which is usually slow and painful way to die. Not an invention the human race can be proud of.
    • Strangely enough its most useful tactical application is to defeat a armored advance as the neutrons with penetrate feet of steel and cause it to give off hard gamma for days. This serves the dual function of killing the crews within six hours and preventing reinforments from using the equipment. I am proud of all our weapons.
  • Large particle accelerators can generate some impressively powerful beams, which would act like death rays if anyone wandered into the path. Luckily for them, the beams are usually kept in vacuum chambers, confined by powerful magnets. The only exception is when it comes time to turn off the beam, when it gets "dumped" into something so that it doesn't ravage the accelerator when the magnets come down. For the Large Hadron Collider, each of two beam dumps must be able to absorb 362 MJ of energy in 90 microseconds, for 4 TW of power. Since that would blow a hole clean through the tens of meters of metal usually used for that purpose at lesser facilities, engineering the LHC beam dumps was something of a challenge.
  • Who the hell hasn't tried to invent a death ray? Pretty much no one, it seems. Tesla! Archimedes! A bunch of crackpots!
  1. That's not a laser, that's a phaser!
  2. good luck with that task
  3. huge, spherical shield that is completely impenetrable to outside fire yet allows friendlies inside to fire out; taking it out requires either tons of firepower to overwhelm it or quick wits to be inside it's radius when it activates