Any gun that shoots light, rays, waves, or something similar. Initially popular during the appropriately named Raygun Gothic era of Science Fiction, but back then it was based on pure Phlebotinum, as shooting such things from weapons wasn't known to be possible. In short, the ray gun was falling out of favor for being unrealistic. Then the laser was discovered in The Sixties. Suddenly the Ray Gun was brought back from being a Discredited Trope.
But even now it's still treated as an Impossibly Cool Weapon, as lasers in fiction are often used in ways they can't really be. And while other ray guns do exist in Real Life (the US Army has been experimenting with microwave crowd dispersal wave generators, for example), they're still Cool but Inefficient.
The term "ray gun" became a cliché even by the 1940s, having strong associations with Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon etc., and from at least E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novels, was increasingly replaced by the more bad-ass-sounding generic "blaster", Smith himself generally choosing to refer to the weapons by their maker just as we would refer to a Colt or Smith & Wesson.
They are also popular as a form of Family-Friendly Firearms.
Itself a Super-Trope including:
- Agony Beam
- Chekov's Gun (pay attention to the spelling)
- Death Ray
- Disintegrator Ray
- Freeze Ray
- Frickin' Laser Beams (lasers specifically, and plasma weapons to a lesser extent)
- Hypno Ray
- Lightning Gun
- Reflecting Laser
- Stun Guns (non lethal, usually energy)
- Transformation Ray
- Wave Motion Gun
Compare Pure Energy.
- Blasters and turbolasers in Star Wars.
laserantimatter guns in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow has Dex build one for the protagonist. It's unreliable and the shots are a parody of Special Effects Failure: goofy slowly spreading rings straight out of period comics and cheap science fiction. However, it's very impressive at melting Totenkopf's robots.
- In Isaac Asimov's book they use "atomic ray guns" that apparently boil the blood of any organic thing hit until it explodes.
- The short story "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" is about a ray-gun.
- One Biggles story mentions these as a possible explanation for the inexplicable crashes of multiple Allied aircraft flying a particular supply route. It turns out to be something rather simpler: Japanese intelligence officers were slipping packets of chewing gum laced with a powerful narcotic into the cockpits of the planes, causing the pilots to pass out at the controls.
- Arthur C. Clarke, always a stickler for hard science in his short stories, subverts this. A group of pub patrons lampshade this trope while arguing whether ray guns can even exist, prompting one to tell a story within a story of an astronomer that uses a highly polished mirror to reflect his wife's headlight beams back in her face when she's driving home from one of her trysts - attempting to murder her by driving her off a dangerous road. Unexpected outcome ensues. Note - it wasn't the tryst that annoyed him - is was the light pollution from her hieadlights interrupting his studies of the heavens that drove him to such measures.
- Northwest Smith uses a "Heat Gun" in the stories by C.L. Moore.
- Used in the tagline of The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling: Brilliance. Madness. Ray Guns.
- Phasers and disruptors in Star Trek.
- The tie-in Star Fleet Technical Manual actually features a weapon called a 'ray gun', although this is actually a mislabelled prop used in the show as a signal beacon.
- The laser gun stolen by the crew of Serenity in the Firefly episode "Trash".
- The overabundance of "ray guns" of similarly-cheesy design in scifi is lampshaded on Doctor Who, when the Doctor is shown a bunch of unidentified alien devices suspected, largely on the basis of shape, of being weapons. As he searches for something that might actually hurt the Monster of the Week, he tosses aside the rejects, reciting:
Doctor: Broken... broken... hair dryer...
- Red Dwarf's bazookoids are basically mining lasers used as weapons.
- Common in Power Rangers and Super Sentai. The best-known would probably be Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' Blade Blasters, which also become dirks.
- Mekton has an elaborate construction system for equipment from switchblades to planet-killing space fortresses, including a dizzying array of "Beam Weapons" (ray guns).
- Warhammer 40,000 has a number of ray-gun-wielding troops. For brevity's sake, probably the most exotic is the Necron Gauss Flayer, an electromagnetic Disintegrator Ray that can break down the magnetic charges that hold matter together. The catch? The ray has to be fired through a crystal with exact specifications, right down to the atom, so it's virtually impossible for any other race to emulate.
- Also, it works by tearing off the flesh of its victims one layer of molecules at a time. First skin, then flesh, then muscle, then bone...
- The standard Imperial raygun are classified as 'las weapons'. They fire a laser beam capable of blowing a man's arm off. Though they're unfavorably compared to flashlights.
- Paranoia has laser pistols and rifles, energy pistols, blasters, stun guns, and plasma generators.
- Traveller naturally offers a range of laser, plasma, and fusion weapons to meet all your needs.
- The Quake series has a few. The original Quake features the Enforcer enemies, who are soldiers with laser guns which shoot reddish-yellow projectiles. Quake II has the infinite-ammo blaster gun, an unusual example of a ranged Emergency Weapon. The Rail Guns can be considered to be Ray Guns too.
- All three Super Smash Bros. games have the "Ray Gun" item. Unlike some other energy weapons though, it only has 16 shots.
- Call of Duty: World at War, of all games, has a ray gun, by name, available randomly in the Nazi Zombies bonus mode and sneakily hidden in one of the singleplayer levels, along with its larger cousin, the Wunderwaffe, on a downloadable map. The former fires green rays surrounded by rings, and the latter some sort of electricity. Both have a very retro Raygun Gothic look to them, and are very good at killing zombies.
- Several of the weapons in The Conduit are various forms of ray guns. To give but two examples: the Carbonizer Mk16 fires a giant beam that cooks enemies from the inside, and the alien Strike Rifle can be charged to fire a One-Hit Kill beam.
- Aside from the obvious example of the alien blaster, the Fallout series has a number of weapons resembling ray guns, such as the laser, plasma, Gauss, and (most especially) pulse guns.
- Team Fortress 2: One of the Soldier's many, many alternate weapons is now a small handheld ray blaster or a larger ray gun.
- The Engineer and Pyro now have ray guns of their own, although predictably the Pyro's new primary still has range issues.
- Riff from Sluggy Freelance rarely leaves home these days without an inflatable ray gun in tow.
- Girly: OHNOLOOKOUTIT'SARAYGUN!
- How to defeat the storyline as demonstrated by Freddie coming to the rescue of Bob the Angry Flower
- Agatha loves building this from scrap. Latest version is capable of putting holes through distant mountains.
- Tedd of El Goonish Shive, didn't invent his but loves to tinker with it.
- The prisoners in The Lydian Option collect a variety of ray guns from the corpses of other escapees.
- Scarlet of Sequential Art manages to make a ray gun out of a movie prop belonging to Art, this comes back to haunt him later.
- Yaeger's pistol, the Lumiére, in The Mercury Men.
- Although they turned out to be mistaken, Allied advisers who learned of the plans for German "reprisal weapons" in the mid-years of WW 2 put both "death rays" and "engine-stopping rays" higher on the list of suspects than "long-range rocket missiles".
- Apparently radar originally came to the attention of the British government after they put out a request for proposals for directed-energy weapons.