The 80s and 90s had some of the coolest sci-fi movies of any decade—and those movies had some awesome weapons.
Both heroes and villains wielded impressive arsenals that helped them blast their way through exciting adventures and harrowing close calls.
They looked cool, they sounded cool, and their designs influenced decades of sci-fi tech in future movies and video games.
Here are some of the coolest sci-fi weapons worth remembering from those decades of sci-fi creativity.
1. Thermal Detonator
The Thermal Detonator is one of the ultimate sci-fi weapons. The mere suggestion of its use is enough to demand anything you want during a negotiation.
It’s just a tiny grenade-like incendiary device—that was first introduced to Star Wars fans in The Return of the Jedi—but its potential destructive power is hard to match.
In the scene, Princess Leia Organa (disguised as the bounty hunter Boushh) argues with crime lord Jabba the Hut over the price of her captured Wookie bounty, Chewbacca.
All she had to do was take a thermal detonator out of her pocket and she was able to demand cowering respect from the entire palace throne room.
Not only did Jabba the Hut capitulate, but the silent-and-deadly Boba Fett gave a nod of respect, which is the highest validation a bounty hunter can receive in the Star Wars universe.
And she’s not the only one who’s used it.
In the Star Wars anthology book called Tales From Jabba’s Palace (written before Disney’s acquisition of the franchise), there’s a story called A Barve Like That: The Tale of Boba Fett.
That story describes Boba Fett’s captivity and eventual escape from the Almighty Sarlacc using Thermal Detonators to blow through the side of the desert pit-dwelling monster.
The Thermal Detonator has one devious feature that makes it more than just a really powerful grenade: the only person who can disengage it once activated is the person who turned it on.
This means you can’t just shoot the person holding it to quickly disarm the situation. If the one who switched it on dies—for any reason—it’s blowing up.
2. Lawgiver II
Lawgiver II, the DNA-reading futuristic pistol from 1995’s Judge Dredd, is a versatile weapon with a cool look that matches the sleek armor of the Judges that carry it.
It features several firing modes, including a signal flare launcher, rapid-fire armor-piercing rounds, a grenade launcher, and a special high-powered dual round called a “double wammy”.
The giant pistol also self-destructs if the person shooting it doesn’t match the DNA of the judge the weapon is assigned to.
The Lawgiver II looks awesome and packs a punch. A good choice if you ever find yourself on the lam with Rob Schneider in a futuristic dystopia. That guy is useless in this movie!
3. EM-1 Railgun
The physically implausible EM-1 Railgun was first featured in 1996’s Eraser. It influenced many sci-fi weapons, and certain video games and movies have even identically reproduced it.
Versions of the EM-1 and its signature X-ray scope can be seen depicted in video games like Perfect Dark (as the Farsight), the first two Red Faction games (as railguns), and both Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2 (as the Auger Rifle).
The swirling trails left by the traveling rounds in Eraser were copied in the first Turok game and Quake 2. The EM-1 was also one of the weapons seen in Ready Player One.
The near-lightspeed bullets and the X-ray scope both defy the laws of physics, but this weapon is fun to use in any game—and super effective when wielded by a middle-aged U.S. Marshall bodybuilder who inexplicably speaks with an Austrian accent.
4. Zorg ZF-1 Pod Weapon
Designed and developed by weapons dealer and all-around weirdo Jean-Baptiste Zorg from The Fifth Element, the ZF-1 is an energy weapon that features a variety of deadly functions—perfect for all of your egomaniacal needs.
The bulky rifle has a rocket launcher, an arrow launcher, and a net launcher. It can freeze people. It even has a special setting that fires a tracker bullet, which then guides all following bullets to the exact location of the tracker bullet.
It also has a massively explosive self-destruct button.
The ZF-1 looks a little unwieldy, but at the very least seems effective at helping to execute the orders of a malevolent planet-sized space intelligence set on destroying Earth.
5. Tactical Oxygen Nuke
The Tactical Oxygen Nuke from Starship Troopers doesn’t have a lot of fancy firing modes or gadgets. Its utility and capability is simple and obvious: it’s a nuke. It explodes.
What makes this version of a nuclear weapon uniquely useful is that it’s delivered via a smart missile fired from the handheld M55 Rocket Launcher.
It’s also an ultra-low-yield pure-fission weapon, meaning that it doesn’t require the use of fissile material (like Plutonium or Uranium) and leaves no nuclear fallout.
The Tactical Oxygen Nuke is a perfect choice for any galactic mobile infantry unit grunt under the direction of a satirically fascistic worldwide government engaged in a battle for survival against giant space bugs.
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More Sci-Fi Movies to Enjoy
Check out our review of the stellar space-western Prospect. This movie’s unconventional take on the sci-fi genre features some cool, innovative sci-fi weaponry guaranteed to satisfy your deadly futuristic tech cravings.