Nuked from orbit?
July 23, 2006 8:22 PM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the phrase, "(something) should be nuked from orbit," or "nuke it from orbit?"

I've heard it used a number of time but I'm not sure whether it was popularly used by a famous figure or if it's just one of the cold war-isms that permeated my mind after living with a guy for a semester in college who secretly hoped the events of "Red Dawn" would come true.
posted by mikeh to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's a line from the movie Aliens.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2006

posted by jrossi4r at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2006

It's a line in Aliens.
posted by bshort at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2006

It was a line from Aliens, which was a sequel to Alien. Basically the humans had just gotten their ass kicked by a bunch of aliens and they were trying to figure what to do next. Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) had dealt with the Aliens before and decided not to mess around with them so she suggested that they take off and nuke the site from orbit.

Sadly, things did not go that way and we were forced to endure Aliens III and IV.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:32 PM on July 23, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I now feel dumb having recently rewatched part of Aliens when it was on television and not checking movie quotes before asking. Good work, guys.
posted by mikeh at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2006

Check with MetaFilter: it's the only way to be sure.
posted by SPrintF at 8:37 PM on July 23, 2006

The best part is how Ripley suggests and the corporate stooge (Paul Resier) flips out, and then the command officer Hicks repeats Ripler's exact words.

If you haven't seen these movies, you should really check out the first two, Alien and Aliens.
posted by utsutsu at 8:39 PM on July 23, 2006

Sadly, things did not go that way and we were forced to endure Aliens III and IV.

Actually, they did nuke the site from orbit. But it turned out that an alien planted a seed in the android, or something.
posted by bingo at 8:52 PM on July 23, 2006

For googling purposes, the phrase is "take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

the command officer Hicks

He's not a command officer. He can't make that kind of decision -- he's just a grunt. No offense.

we were forced to endure Aliens III and IV

I've come around on A3 and like it a lot. It nicely ends the trilogy -- the first is a horror movie, the second is an action movie where Ripley goes after them, and the third is a tragedy because having gone after them and reclaimed her sanity only gives her more to lose. The extended cut of A3, in which gur cevfbaref npghnyyl fhpprrq va pncghevat gur nyvra, ohg gura Cnhy ZpTnaa'f punenpgre yrgf vg bhg ntnva orpnhfr ur'f A-I-G-F ahgf, really heightens the tragic nature of the film.

A4 has too much self-indulgent crap from Weaver for me to really like it.

And don't forget that AVP is a high-quality bug hunt. That is, for a bug hunt movie, it's good. I recognize that this is close to saying that for peanut butter, Jif is good toilet paper.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 PM on July 23, 2006

Actually, they did nuke the site from orbit.

Actually, the terraforming facility blew up, because in the earlier scenes, the Marines accidentally damaged it during their initial foray into the facility, when they had to shoot their way out of a jam. Ripley warns them to not use their high-powered firearms because of their proximity to the equipment, but they use the guns anyway when they're getting overwhelmed.

But it turned out that an alien planted a seed in the android, or something.

In Alien III, we learn that the Alien Queen left at least two eggs aboard the ship, the Sulaco, before she was flushed out of the ship. One of them infected Ripley, and the other (or both) damaged the ship, leading the Sulaco computer to eject the sleeping crew and send the capsule to the nearest planet. It crash-landed, killing Newt and Hicks and severely damaging Bishop, the android.

Wow, I'm a dork.
posted by frogan at 9:42 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

And Hicks, at that point, was in command. His CO was dead.
posted by filmgeek at 10:02 PM on July 23, 2006

For the longest time, I thought they were saying "nuke it for morbid," which I took to be some kind of military lingo for "make sure everything's dead."
posted by scarabic at 10:14 PM on July 23, 2006

/offtopic... sorry

Like ROU_Xenophobe i've grown to see the goodness that is Aliens 3. I really hated it when I saw it in the theater (they killed Hicks and Bishop, WTF?), but subsequent viewings have shown me that it really is the best directed of the three.

Aliens 4 could have been great if someone cut the last 20 minutes. Ripley getting sucked into the deck should have been where the credits rolled. Had they done that and I suspect that it would have been heralded as the darkest and cleverest of the series. As it stands the human/alien hybrid was simply the dumbest SciFi moment until Greedo got the chance to shoot first.


I really wanted to hate AVP, but come on, they got Bishop. And I defy anyone who claims to love this franchise to not have cheered when the cute black chick is arming up with the alien skull as a shield. That was just cool.

And frogan is my new hero. That kind of encyclopedic knowledge of one of my favorite series just makes me want to applaud.
posted by quin at 10:26 PM on July 23, 2006

Scarabic, me too. In fact, I still feel "nuke it for morbid" has a sort of poetry to it which the much more practical "from orbit" completely lacks. Oh well....
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:36 PM on July 23, 2006

And Hicks, at that point, was in command.

But still just a corporal.

His CO was dead.

Knocked out. Hence the "wek up pendejo man I'm gonna keel you" in Jeanette Goldstein's just-a-wee-bit-over-the-top chicana accent.

I for one would be peeved if I were a lieutenant and one of my corporals had taken it upon himself to nuke this or that while I was having sleepy-byes.

It don't matter when it's Arcturian.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:07 AM on July 24, 2006

I recommend watching the about 30 minutes longer cut of Alien3 (not a director's cut) to give one a better idea of what Fincher intended to do, but the studio didn't let him.

ROU_Xenophobe (the temptation to make that into Xenomorph was quite high), I thought that Gorman was in a coma and it was something of a surprise that he woke up later? And surely Hicks would take charge in that situation? (Plus, y'know, Gorman was being a tool.)
posted by slimepuppy at 2:22 AM on July 24, 2006

They come at night, mostly.
posted by matty at 4:49 AM on July 24, 2006

Huh. I watched these movies when I was pretty young, and I had no idea about the continuity between the first two, other then Ripley. The only characters I remember are Ripley, the android, and the little girl.
posted by delmoi at 6:22 AM on July 24, 2006

ROU, I was simply making reference to the fact that he was in command at that point, whatever the proper title for that would be. Acting commanding officer?
posted by utsutsu at 6:35 AM on July 24, 2006

They're coming out of the fuckin walls, man
posted by dmt at 6:43 AM on July 24, 2006

Game over man!
posted by banshee at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2006

posted by cortex at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2006

I just wanted to call him a grunt like Burke did.

They come at night, mostly.

Carrie Henn (who played Newt) is one of the many people on the commentary track on the umpty-disc set and says that this is the thing that her friends mostly still make fun of her for. Mowstly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2006

posted by phearlez at 4:09 PM on July 24, 2006

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