Electromagnetic pulse in popular culture

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Lightning has long been used as a dramatic device in popular fiction. A non-nuclear EMP (NNEMP) device appeared as early as 1965, in the Thunderbirds TV puppet show. By the early 1980s, a number of articles on nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP) in the popular press spread knowledge of the EMP phenomenon into the popular culture.[1][2][3][4]  EMP has been subsequently used in a wide variety of fiction and other aspects of popular culture.

Motion picture and electronic entertainment quite often depicts electromagnetic pulse effects incorrectly. This problem has become so bad that it was addressed in a report for Oak Ridge National Laboratory by Metatech Corporation.[5]

In addition, the United States Air Force Space Command commissioned science educator Bill Nye to make a video for the Air Force called "Hollywood vs. EMP" so that people who must deal with real EMP would not be confused by motion picture fiction.[6] That U.S. Space Command video is not available to the general public.


  • In the 1983 made-for-television motion picture, The Day After, the fictional Soviet nuclear attack on civilian targets begins with a nuclear EMP attack in order to disable as much of the United States' retaliatory capability as possible. This scenario accurately conforms to the Cold War nuclear attack scenarios as understood by military officials and nuclear weapons designers (although post-Cold War scenarios are generally much different). Such a scenario is also presented in the programme Threads, again dealing with a fictional Soviet nuclear attack on Britain.[7]
  • The 1985 film A View to a Kill starts off with James Bond recovering a Soviet-made microchip, which is discovered to be a copy of an EMP-resistant design produced by Zorin Industries under a US government contract. Subsequent investigation reveals Max Zorin's connections to the KGB, and his plot to destroy American semiconductor production in Silicon Valley by triggering an earthquake.
  • In 1995's James Bond film GoldenEye, the main plot involves the former Soviet Union developing a pair of satellites called Petya and Misha, carrying an EMP Goldeneye weapon, which are then stolen by the Janus crime syndicate and used against the satellites's original tracking station. Because of the EMP blast, 3 MiGs (which were called in to check a distress signal sent by one of the tracking station's workers) suffer severe damage to their electronic systems. One of them crashes into the station, severely damaging it, and igniting major fires inside. This also disabled British satellites surveillance of the tracking station.
  • In the 1999 movie The Matrix, one of the surviving humans' few effective weapons against the machines are non-nuclear EMP generators mounted on their hovercraft. In the process, the hovercraft's electronics are also temporarily disabled, as is any advanced machinery around, making it a hazardous last-resort weapon. The EMP is shown disabling machine sentinels near the end of the movie. In the 2003 second sequel The Matrix Revolutions, an EMP is discharged in the dock of the only remaining human city, Zion, disabling many machine sentinels, but also the entire defense system of the city.
  • In Small Soldiers, it is revealed that the military chips in the Commandos are vulnerable to EMP. The humans exploit this weakness by overloading a powerline and unleashing an EMP to fry the Commandos.
  • In Broken Arrow (1996), the EMP generated by the blast of a nuclear munition deep in an abandoned copper mine knocks out an USAF helicopter which was sent to detect the missing weapons. John Travolta's character in the film accurately predicted the EMP and stopped the jeep in which he was travelling.
  • In John Carpenter's 1996 film Escape from L.A., Snake Plissken is sent to recover the remote control for an EMP weapon that can be targeted to shut down electrical systems in specific areas. He eventually triggers the weapon to knock out all power around the world.
  • In the 2001 version of Ocean's Eleven, an explosively pumped flux compression generator (non-nuclear EMP device) in a van is used to shut down the electrical power to Las Vegas. It is not explained how such a small non-nuclear device can shut down the power to an entire large city. It is also not explained how the power could be predictably brought back on line in only 30 seconds after such a disastrous event which should have permanently destroyed all electronics in the area.
  • In the 2003 film Battle Royale II: Requiem, an EMP was used to deactivate the collars on the students.
  • In the 2006 film Superman Returns, the use of stolen Kryptonian technology by Lex Luthor causes massive EMP pulses of short duration that cause havoc with the test flight of a shuttle and also damage Metropolis later on in the film.
  • In the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu destroys the nano swarm, but using EMP which also destroys Earth's technology.[8]
  • In Cars 2, the EMP causes the cars with alternative fuel called "Allinol" to explode when affected by the pulse.
  • In the film The Dark Knight Rises, Batman has a device similar to an EMP weapon. During the motorcycle chase, Batman uses it to disable one of the motorcycles Bane's henchman is riding.
  • The 2012 remake of Red Dawn concerns a North Korean invasion of the United States, enabled by an EMP weapon which disables much of the defensive infrastructure of the US.
  • In the 2013 film Pacific Rim, the kaiju Leatherback fires an EMP that disables the Jaeger Striker Eureka and the Hong Kong Shatterdome's electrical systems.
  • In the 2014 film Godzilla, the MUTOs have the ability to generate and release EMPs through striking the ground with their forelimbs.
  • In the 2016 film Independence Day: Resurgence, the aliens disable the pilots' jets and weapons systems with some type of EMP when they initially attack the alien mothership.
  • The 2016 film Captain America: Civil War featured an Electromagnetic pulse device, delivered by Baron Zemo to the substation that provides power for the secret facility holding Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier.
  • In the 2016 film Amerigeddon, a globalist terrorist organization aligned with the United Nations uses an EMP attack to disable the United States' power grid.


  • The 2006 Restoration Series novel Last Light by Terri Blackstock tells about an EMP, possibly generated from the depths of space, disables all electronic and electrical systems worldwide.
  • Electromagnetic pulse is a very prominent concept in the novel Warday, published in 1984.[9]  Warday is about a limited, but nevertheless devastating, nuclear war that occurs on a single day in October 1988.  Warday contains a fictional government report, several pages long, about the fictional Soviet nuclear EMP attack of 28 October 1988 against the United States.  The fictional government EMP report is titled, "Summary of Effects Induced by Electromagnetic Pulse in the October 1988 Attack by the Soviet Union, and their Implications for Recovery."[10]  The war begins with six high-altitude nuclear EMP detonations over the United States, each with energy yields of 8 to 10 megatons.  The six nuclear EMP weapons are detonated in two triangular patterns in order to cover both the eastern and western halves of the continental United States with fairly evenly spaced EMP detonations.
  • In the 1994 Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove, the reptilian Race begin their invasion of Earth during WWII with a barrage of nuclear EMP detonations over industrialized nations, though the EMPs have little effect due to the vacuum tube level technology of early 20th century electronics.
  • The 2009 novel One Second After and its sequel One Year Later: A John Matherson Novel by William R. Forstchen is about a nuclear EMP attack against the United States told from the perspective of a small community in North Carolina. The community is cut off from nearly all outside information by the EMP attack.  Large numbers of people die from starvation, lack of medicines, and the lack of medical care. The EMP attacks in One Second After are launched from missiles in container ships.  After the book was released, a Russian company started advertising missile launchers hidden inside shipping containers made for launching from such ships.[11]
  • Novels based on the video game Halo describe the use of nuclear EMPs to remove energy shielding on Covenant starships in extreme situations, as the EMP damages human vessels also. EMPs can also be produced by Covenant infantry overcharging plasma pistols.
  • In The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy, an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear detonation causes several commercial satellites to malfunction, when the EMP causes intense signal interference with nearby media communications equipment relaying with various satellites.
  • In the novel The 5th Wave and its film adaptation, aliens use an EMP to permanently disable all electrical power on Earth, killing about half a million people worldwide.


  • The Fox show, 24, has had EMP weapons featured or mentioned in numerous episodes.
  • The 2007 web series, Afterworld, the plot revolves around a regular EMP pulse that disables all AC electronics, although battery powered electronic devices still work.
  • In ABC's Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Season 1 Episode 21 "Ragtag," Agent Fitz uses an EMP to short out John Garret's circuit, almost killing him.
  • In the re-imagined miniseries of Battlestar Galactica a non-nuclear EMP device is used to fake the destruction of the passenger-liner Colonial One by both disabling the incoming missiles and producing an illusion of a nuclear explosion. It is hinted that such devices are standard-issue for Colonial Fleet capital ships, which is unsurprising, given the robotic nature of their Cylon enemies. Unrealistically, everyone on board the liner is knocked out by the pulse.
  • In Season 2 Episode 1 of Colony, alien invaders use an EMP to disable electronics, motor vehicles, and the power grid prior to landing.
  • The setting of the Fox television series Dark Angel, produced by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee, was in the United States after it has been devastated by a terrorist nuclear EMP attack on 1 June 2009. The setting of the Dark Angel series is in the period of 2019 to 2021, although the United States is still suffering from a deep economic depression caused by the EMP attack a decade earlier. Time periods in the television series are commonly referred to as either pre-pulse or post-pulse.
  • Falling Skies is a DreamWorks Television series that premiered on Turner Network Television on 19 June 2011. The series was created by Robert Rodat and Steven Spielberg. In the science fiction series, alien invaders arrive and begin silently orbiting the Earth and hovering over major cities, refusing to respond to all attempts at communication. After the invading ships are in place, the aliens suddenly release a large electromagnetic pulse from their orbiting ships, which incapacitates all of the electrical and electronic technology of the advanced countries on the Earth, leaving the inhabitants of the Earth at the mercy of the invaders.
  • In episode number 6 of the 2006-2008 CBS series, Jericho, a missile launched by unknown agents from within the United States causes a high-altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse. The episode was titled 9:02 after the time at which all electric clocks stopped running.
  • In the 2008 series Knight Rider the co-protagonist—a Ford Shelby GT500KR named KITT which is capable of driving itself, talking, and firing all sorts of offensive and defensive weapons—has a small EMP device on board. The car is most often seen deploying this weapon to disable vehicles that it pursues. When the EMP is discharged, it is visualized by a distorted blue wave that expands outward from KITT in a circle. The effect is a total electrical shutdown of the target vehicle, which is depicted by the car radio shutting off if in use, the gauge clusters all falling to zero, and the vehicle occupants cellphones also becomes inoperable. The target vehicle then (usually) coasts to a stop. In one episode, a continuity error shows up in the fact that after their vehicle has been EMP bombed by KITT, a two-way walkie-talkie held by one of the goons still appears to work. KITT is not affected in any way by his own EMP weapon.
  • An EMP is used in the Macgyver season 1 episode "Easy Target" for use as a threat to demand release of a terrorist leader.
  • In the 1987 science fiction animated series Spiral Zone episode "Back to the Stone Age", Overlord and his Black Widows used an EMP device to disable the Zone Riders' advanced weapons. However, the Zone Riders are taught by Australian Aborigines how to fight using "primitive" weapons and soon defeat the Black Widows.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 universe, several instances of EMP were used in both the original series and the spinoff Stargate Atlantis. For example, in the original series episode Urgo, it is used in an attempt to neutralize an alien artificial intelligence. In another SG-1 episode, an EMP generator is used, unsuccessfully, in an attempt to destroy an ancient superweapon. In the episode "A Matter of Time" a directed beam EMP unit was used to close a connection between the SG-1 stargate and one on a planet being pulled into a black hole. In the Stargate Atlantis series, a nuclear EMP was used to destroy an artificial nano-machine virus infecting the city.
  • The 2014 anime series Terror in Resonance features a nuclear EMP that is detonated from high altitude that knocks out all of Japan's electronics for a year.
  • In the episode "Terror in New York City", fourth in the first series of Thunderbirds , Scott Tracy flies Thunderbird 1 over a vehicle containing an illicit video tape of Thunderbird 2 and uses a non-nuclear EMP (NNEMP) device to wipe the tape.
  • In Transformers Animated, the Autobot medic, Ratchet owned an EMP generator before it was stolen by the Deception bounty hunter Lockdown. Ratchet regained his EMP in the episode "The Thrill of the Hunt" after infiltrating Lockdown's ship after Lockdown kidnapped Optimus Prime. After a short quarrel, Ratchet pinned Lockdown to the floor via his trophy shelf and forcefully removed Prime's grapplers (which Lockdown cut off of Prime's arms via chainsaw) and his EMP. Ratchet then shot the control panel with the EMP, shutting the ship down, and escaped with Prime as the ship crashed.
  • In the 2-hour season 1 finale of the 2018 ABC sci-fi drama The Crossing, one of the minor characters constructs a device to generate an EMP in order to destroy all the computers at a secret government detention facility.

Video games[edit]

  • In Alien: Isolation, EMP mines appear as one of the craftable items players can use to stun Working Joe Androids upon finding its blueprint.
  • In Banjo-Tooie, Mumbo Jumbo uses an EMP spell to disrupt a couple machines for the titular duo.
  • In Battlefield 2142, some weapons used by players utilize EMP that can be used to disable vehicles and equipment, as well as scramble infantry's helmet displays. The support class can use an EMP grenade that can temporarily disable vehicles whereas the engineer class has an EMP mine that works to a greater degree, and the commander can utilize an EMP strike, which is the most powerful EMP weaponry in the game. Anti-air guns have homing EMP missiles which can temporarily disable aircraft.
  • In Battlefield 4, during a mission in Shanghai, upon exiting the city, an EMP blast occurs darkening the city and causing a nearby helicopter to crash. It is later remarked by some fellow Marines on board a US navy vessel that the blast also disabled some of the ships in the U.S. Naval fleet engaged around the area. Some are still able to function due to operating on diesel fuel and having no spark plug within the engines.
  • In Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the story focuses on a Russian plot to weaken the United States for invasion by detonating an EMP weapon above the U.S.
  • In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, an EMP attack is seen in the campaign missions "Contingency" and "Second Sun". In "Contingency", Captain Price, aware of the Rangers' struggle against the Russians in Washington, D.C., uses a submarine to release an ICBM into the higher atmosphere that disables all electronic devices in range, effectively destroying the Russian and American forces' vehicles and equipment there. However, the International Space Station is inconveniently unaware of the war on Earth and identifies the missile as an aircraft. As the missile is detonated, releasing an electromagnetic pulse, the shock wave from the nuclear explosion destroys the ISS. Players can obtain an EMP bomb in a multiplayer game (if unlocked and selected for their killstreak reward) after obtaining a 15 kill streak. This is also available in its sequel, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, in the Support Strike Package. When used, all enemy killstreak rewards are disabled, holographic sight, red dot sight, thermal scope and ACOG scope attachments lose their electronic features (such as their targeting reticle) and all aircraft in the airspace are disabled and fall from the sky (including AC-130s and UAVs). However, if the player is using the Assassin Pro perk, the player will be immune to the effects of an EMP. In Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the player can use EMP grenades to disable drones, robotic soldiers, and enemy AST exosuits.
  • In Command & Conquer: Generals and the expansion pack Zero Hour, the Chinese 5-star General Power is an EMP bomb. Additionally, the U.S. Super weapons General may construct an alternate Patriot missile defense structure that fires warheads that release a localized electromagnetic pulse upon impact, temporarily disabling any manufactured vehicle they touch. In the case of aircraft, those struck with the missiles will be instantly destroyed.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, both factions, Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and Brotherhood of Nod use EMP buildings to temporarily disable mechanical units. In the expansion, "Command & Conquer: Firestorm", there is a mobile unit with similar capabilities. In Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars Nod can mount EMP generators on their buggies and can reactivate pulse-affected systems using "master computer countermeasures", whereas Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath features hand-thrown EMP grenades for GDI infantry. Also in Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars the Scrin's Annihilator Tripod and Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath the Reaper-17's Reaper Tripod can both emit a small EMP wave at close range.
  • In Crysis, the robotic alien enemies have the ability to emanate EMPs that disrupt the player's Nanosuit. In Crysis Warhead, a downed alien robot generates an EMP that shuts down the player's Nanosuit completely. The game features "nano-disruptor" EMP grenades, purpose-built to be used against Nanosuit-equipped soldiers, though they are very effective against the alien robots as well, disabling them completely.
  • In Dota 2, EMP is one of Invoker's spells. Its main function is burn away heroes' mana based on his Wex level, which is based on energy.
  • In Deus Ex, the player can use EMP grenades for disabling security systems and robots.
  • In Enemy Territory: Quake Wars the GDF can use EMP grenades to disable vehicles and deployables for a short time. The Strogg have scrambler grenades, which work to a similar degree. Both grenades also slightly damage infantry.
  • In Fallout 3, and followed by Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 4, there are also usable EMP grenades that do extra damage to robots. There is also an EMP firearm named the Pulse Gun, which is exclusive only to Fallout New Vegas and its DLC titled Old World Blues, where the player is given additional EMP firearms.
  • During a heist setup in Grand Theft Auto Online, the players have to steal a Hydra jump jet from an aircraft carrier. Said jump jet holds an EMP generator, which will be delivered to a laboratory, causing a blackout later on.
  • The Half-Life 2 mod Dystopia has an EMP grenade that disables enemy equipment and implants.
  • In Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, one can create an EMP by briefly charging a Covenant plasma pistol, or deploying a "power drainer". In Halo: Reach, the power drainer (like all deployables) is removed, but an EMP can also be created by using manual detonation on UNSC grenade launchers, or by using the full duration of the "armor lock" ability. An EMP disables the shields of a character, or their vehicle.
  • In Homefront's backstory, the Greater Korean Republic, a fictional superstate formed from the unification of North Korea and South Korea, launches a satellite that creates an EMP blast over the United States, crippling its entire electronic grid.
  • In I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike, the main antagonist wants to use EMP weaponry on a space rocket to start World War III.
  • Infamous begins with a large terrorist EMP attack on a major American city, plunging it in chaos. As the game has a super-hero theme, the player character is shown to have been standing at ground zero when the pulse went off, thus receiving radiations that made him develop electricity-based superpowers.
  • In Just Cause 2, there is an EMP tower over an island. The effects of the EMP are thunder and lightning. It can also destroy the player's vehicle.
  • The Mario Kart series features EMP in the form of "Lightning" power-up that could inflict a massive electric shock on other players and causing their vehicles to slow down. In addition, affected players will also temporarily shrink into a diminutive size.
  • In Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Need for Speed Rivals, the cops and the racers have an EMP system that fires a directed EMP blast at a targeted vehicle.
  • Outpost 2, an early Sierra game for PC, features EMP weaponry on the planet New Terra.
  • In Overwatch, the character Sombra has an ultimate ability called EMP that disables all abilities, shields, and others in range.
  • In Planetside 2, players have access to an EMP grenade that disrupts players HUD and shields caught in the blast.
  • In Plants vs Zombies 2, there is a plant name EMPeach, which can use its power to disable all machines that are being used by zombies.
  • In Splinter Cell: Conviction the game follows Sam Fisher trying to stop a mass EMP detonation in Washington, D.C.
  • In Star Wars: Battlefront II, the player, while in the character of a clone jet trooper, may use a weapon called an "EMP launcher" that is ideal for neutralizing droid enemies.
  • In StarCraft and StarCraft II, an EMP weapon was utilized by Terran Ghosts and science vessels to disable Protoss shields and deplete energy reserves of enemy units.
  • In Team Fortress Classic, The Engineer has Electromagnetic pulse hand grenades as the unique thrown grenades specific to him. They detonate all the ammunition carried on enemy players in the blast radius.
  • In The Crew, both police and evaders can use EMP Shocks, which will temporarily disable targets in range.
  • In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, the operator Thatcher's gadget is an EMP grenade that will disable enemy electronics.
  • In World in Conflict, an EMP wave from the tactical nuclear device detonated at Cascade Falls results in the loss of most of the radios and scatters the fighting forces across the Cascade Mountain Range. The EMP's radio effect also removes the players fire support capabilities for most of the mission.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Raloff, Janet. May 9, 1981. "EMP: A Sleeping Electronic Dragon." Science News. Vol. 119. Page 300
  2. ^ Raloff, Janet. May 16, 1981. "EMP: Defensive Strategies." Science News. Vol. 119. Page 314.
  3. ^ Broad, William J. 1983 January/February. "The Chaos Factor" Science 83. Pages 41-49.
  4. ^ Burnham, David. June 28, 1983. "U.S. Fears One Bomb Could Cripple the Nation." New York Times. Page C1. [1]
  5. ^ Report Meta-R-320, Appendix: "The Early-Time (E1) High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and Its Impact on the U.S. Power Grid" January 2010. Written by Metatech Corporation for Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Appendix: E1 HEMP Myths
  6. ^ 2009 Telly Award Winners, (Manitou Motion Picture Company, Ltd.)
  7. ^ United States House of Representatives. House Armed Services Committee No. 106-31. Hearings held on 7 October 1999. [2]
  8. ^ https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0970416/
  9. ^ Strieber, Whitley and Kunetka, James. (1984) Warday. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-32630-5.
  10. ^ Strieber, Whitley and Kunetka, James. (1984) Warday. New York: Warner Books. (first paperback edition) pages 334–340. ISBN 0-446-32630-5.
  11. ^ Club-K Container Missile System advertised by Concern Morinformsystem-Agat JSC, with YouTube video [3]

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