As two of the four classical elements, and probably the two most frequently used in fiction, it's no surprise that fire and water can play dominant roles in building atmosphere in visual media. A raging rainstorm can carry as much pathos as a burning house, just as a roaring bonfire can be as comforting as a calm lake. When a writer wants to form an immediately obvious contrast between two characters, places or events, though, it can be particularly visually stimulating to associate one with fire, and one with water—perhaps drawing a contrast between creation and destruction, tranquility and belligerence, or nurturing and consuming.
Alternately, it can be equally stimulating to create a contrast between fire and ice, with the two playing into differing flavors of destructive power, or mutually destructive elements that help form the world.
If writers want to play with religious motifs, this trope can play into imagery frequently associated with baptism, with a "baptism by fire" forming a contrast to traditional baptism by water. If this trope is employed, expect lots of playing around with the Orange/Blue Contrast or some other form of Color Contrast.
Compare Evil Is Burning Hot and Evil Is Deathly Cold (when this trope is employed in two differing portrayals of evil), Kill It with Fire and Kill It with Water, Lightning/Fire Juxtaposition (Where Lightning replaces Water as Fire's counterpart) and Elemental Rivalry (when this trope is used to set up two elemental wielders as adversaries).
This trope frequently comes into play in Four Element Ensembles, when characters' uses of fire-based and water-based abilities are used to set them up as Foils. Depending on the form that it takes, this trope can be a sub-trope of Elemental Powers (if characters are associated with fire, water or ice through their uses of elemental abilities) or Empathic Environment (when changes in the state of the physical world reflects changes in the emotional state of the characters that inhabit it).
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Anime and Manga
One of the openings of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX featured Bastion Misawa with Water Dragon and a similar fire dragon. However Water Dragon was the only one of the two to have ever been used in the anime (and the only one of the two to be Defictionalized).
In Dragon Ball GT we have the two brothers Nova Shenron (fire) and Eis Shenron (Ice).
Fairy Tail has boisterous, hot-blooded, red-haired, fire-wielding hero Natsu (Fire) and his serious, level-headed (most of the time), ice-wielding foil Gray (Ice).
In Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin and the Kyoto arc Big Bad Shishio Makoto can be considered rivals (both were highly skilled hitokiri during the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868), and now they're enemies. In their final battle, Kenshin's revamp and secret attack summons forth a fierce squall, while Makoto's special attack and power up are announced by roaring flames.
Rin Natsuki/Cure Rouge and Karen Minazuki/Cure Aqua from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. The former uses fire elemental magic and is designated as the Cure of Passion. The latter uses water elemental magic and is designated as the Cure of Intelligence. These two characters early on are depicted as rivals that couldn't get along most of the time and hate being one-upped by the other. However, over the first season, they came to an understanding, and the rivalry became less severe.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS introduced the child-like Reinforce Zwei and the cynical Agito, the two sole living Unison Devices in the current era who has affinities to ice and fire respectively to further showcase their contrasting personalities and pasts (the former was created and raised in a loving family environment, while the latter had to be rescued from an illegal research facility).
The aforementioned rivalry between Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch also carries over into the current comics, where Namor is a frequent supporting character in books featuring the Fantastic Four (of which the second Human Torch is a member). Namor, a proud, overbearing monarch known for his stoic personality, provides the perfect foil for the compassionate, fun-loving daredevil Johnny Storm.
Jean is a red-haired woman who has gone by the code name "Phoenix" for a good bit of her career, frequently wears a flaming bird insignia as part of her costume, and has psychic powers that frequently manifest themselves as flames. Appropriately, she is known for her warm, compassionate nature, and (on darker occasions) for her unpredictable fiery temper.
Emma (while not actually having ice-based powers) is frequently visually associated with ice and the cold because of her surname "Frost", her blonde hair, her all-white clothing, and her diamond-based form that makes her resemble an ice sculpture. Appropriately, she is known for her coldly stoic personality, and her often cynical attitude towards life.
Justice League of America's aptly-named Fire and Ice, who have something of a surrogate sisterly relationship with one another, are a fairly straightforward example.
Batman and the Outsiders has a villainous couple with heat and cold powers, who are actually trying to find a cure to their opposite powers.
The first page of issue #1 of 100 Bullets is a flashback sequence showing the the central character Dizzy Cordova standing in the rain with a gun to her head, and it's immediately followed by a scene of a nude Dizzy taking a shower. The final page of the final issue has Dizzy in the burning Medici manor, pointing a gun to Agent Graves' head, possibly about to be burned to death.
Discussed in Freddy vs. Jason where it's suggested that some of the animosity between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees stems from the fact that the former was created from fire, and the latter was created from water (Freddy became a dream-dwelling demon after being burned to death by an angry mob, and Jason became a hulking zombie after drowning as a child).
Employed in V for Vendetta, as a contrast between V and Evey's respective "rebirths": we see shots of Evey basking in a rainstorm following her imprisonment and torture at V's hands interposed with a flashback of V emerging from the fiery ruins of Larkhill Concentration Camp.
The climax of Casino Royale has 007 fighting to save Vesper Lynd from the bad guys amidst a collapsing building in Venice, and ultimately diving into the water in an attempt to save her from drowning.
The climax of Quantum of Solace has 007 and Camille fighting the bad guys in a burning building in a desert in Bolivia, and just narrowly avoiding being consumed by flames.
In Sherlock Holmes, the two most dramatic murders carried out by Lord Blackwood (both of which occur at the midpoint at the movie, just as Blackwood's plan is coming together) employ this trope. First he drowns Sir Thomas Rotheram in his bathtub, then we see him burn Ambassador Standish alive about 15 minutes later.
Used as a plot point in Constantine, where it's explained that water is a "universal conduit" that can facilitate transportation to Hell and its surrounding realms. In order to reach Hell, which is made of fire and brimstone, a person has to suspend at least part of their body in water while on Earth.
Played extremely straight in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, through the obvious differences between Sharkboy (a bitey, angry water-guy) and Lavagirl (the feisty, but caring fire-girl). Although the characters themselves seem like they wouldn't be able to get along (and indeed, they are often hurt by each other), together they make up for the other's weaknesses.
Used in the climax of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where the Connors and the T-800 finally battle the T-1000 to the death. First they freeze him with liquid nitrogen and shatter him into a million pieces, which apparently kills him for good. A few minutes later, he manages to reform himself when the heat from a factory foundry melts the frozen pieces of his liquid metal body—forcing the T-800 to kill him by throwing him into a vat of molten steel. The second time, it sticks.
In keeping with Gareth Edwards' stated "Man vs. Nature" theme for Godzilla (2014), and to emphasize just how small and helpless the humans are, one scene shows soldiers firing off tiny-looking flares in front of the massive Godzilla, who is still dripping with many gallons of sea water.
The first scene of Seventh Son, the first book in the series, has the protagonist nearly dying as an infant when his family is caught in a flood (which ends up drowning his oldest brother).
The first scene of Red Prophet, the second book, introduces us to a man with the ability to control fire, who nearly ends up killing the book's Big Bad by burning down his fortress.
Used for the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where the first challenge requires the competitors to face off against four fire-breathing dragons, and the second challenge requires them to swim to the bottom of the Black Lake while battling Merpeople.
According to Word of God, each of the Four Houses of Hogwarts is also associated with one of the four elements. Fittingly, Gryffindor and Slytherin—the two houses with the bitterest rivalry—have fire and water as their respective elements. Gryffindor's colors are red and gold, and their thematic association with fire ties into their primary virtue of courage, but also their notoriously stubborn personalities (Gryffindors, like fire, are incredibly difficult to control). This contrasts starkly with Slytherin, whose members pride themselves on their cunning and adaptability (much like water constantly shifts forms, assuming the shape of whatever container holds it).
There are two conflicting religions based around the ocean-dwelling Drowned God (whose followers show their devotion by anointing their heads with seawater) and the fiery "Lord of Light" R'hllor (whose followers show their devotion with huge bonfires).
This trope is used to contrast several of the warring factions in the War of the Five Kings.
One major faction is led by the dragon-taming House Targaryen, whose members follow the motto "Fire and Blood", have a dragon as their sigil, and claim to trace their lineage to an ancient civilization that was destroyed by volcanoes. One (in)famous member of the family started a lot of drama by attempting to use alchemical weapons to burn his kingdom's capital city to the ground.
One faction is led by Lord Stannis Baratheon, a militant follower of the religion of the aforementioned god R'hllor, who wears a red gold crown with points fashioned to look like flames, and has a heart-shaped ring of fire worked into his personal sigil.
One faction is led by the island-dwelling Greyjoy family, whose members have a kraken as their sigil, anoint their leaders with crowns made of driftwood, and follow the religion of the aforementioned Drowned God.
One faction is led by the Stark family and their Northern allies, who are constantly associated with ice and cold, following the motto "Winter is Coming", and are (initially) led by a man who carries a greatsword called "Ice".
Two major inciting events in the series involve the simultaneous return of the Others (undead creatures from the frozen North who carry weapons made of ice, and melt like ice when killed) and the fire-breathing Dragons. Both happen on opposite sides of the world, and both happen in the domains of two opposing factions of the war.
The Divine Comedy uses both Evil Is Burning Hot and Evil Is Deathly Cold during its description of Hell; fire and heat are used to punish the souls of the damned at various points, such as the burning sands and the rivers of blood, but the deepest layer, Cocytus, consists of a frozen lake where the worst sinners of all are partially entombed within the ice.
James Baldwin's famous 1963 Civil Rights essay The Fire Next Time takes its title from a Negro spiritual that uses this trope, predicting an eventual fiery apocalypse that will finish the work started by the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis.
Just prior to that, Power Rangers Mystic Force and its counterpart Mahou Sentai Magiranger had a more complementary version, as the team's mentor was an ice sorceress, and it was eventually revealed that her husband was a fire mage. It can also apply to the water-themed Blue Ranger and her love interests in both versions: in Magiranger she eventually married the Sixth Ranger who had The Power of the Sun, while the Mystic Force version of the character was Ship Teased with the Red Ranger, another fire wielder.
Used in Hannibal to contrast Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. Hannibal is shown cooking almost every episode, is frequently framed by firelight, and has a very warm and friendly disposition. He's also a devouring, destructive, catalytic force who is symbolically linked to the Miltonian Devil. Will, meanwhile, is a fisherman who frequently dreams of water and ice, and whose mental retreat is a calm river. His personality is off-puttingly cold and forbidding, and his talents involve assuming the mindset of killers in the same way that liquid assumes the shape of a container.
Mythology and Religion
In Norse Mythology's creation myth, runoff from Niflheim (the world of ice and mist) got too close to Muspellheim (the world of fire and heat) within the Gaping Nothing, which eventually led to the creation of the Universe.
In Hawaiian mythology, Pele the fire goddess is in a constant battle with her sister Na'maka the ocean goddess. This conflict actually creates Hawaii, continuously, as runoff from the volcanoes reaches the sea and solidifies.
Many depictions of Shiva Nataraja ("Dancing Shiva") traditionally depict Shiva dancing inside a ring of fire and water, symbolizing his mastery of opposites (i.e. his mastery of destruction, which makes creation possible).
In Götterdämmerung, after being burned on Siegfried's funeral pyre along with its final owner, the Ring, cleansed of its curse, is finally reclaimed by the waters from whence the gold was stolen. While the Rhinemaidens play with it in the river, Valhalla bursts into flames.
Most Toa teams in BIONICLE have a Toa of Fire as The Hero and a Toa of Ice as The Lancer, typically having a Red Oni, Blue Oni dynamic. Tahu and Kopaka are the most prominent example, although they're both just as likely to start arguing with Gali, the Toa of Water, as they are with each other.
In Metal Gear Solid 3, the final two members of the Cobras are set up using this trope. First, Snake battles "The Fury", who's perpetually angry, and battles his enemies by burning them with flamethrowers and jet engines. The very next boss battle takes place in a river in the middle of a raging rainstorm, where Snake is pitted against "The Sorrow", who's eerily calm, and never even throws a punch at him.
In the Diablo series, the hell you visit in Diablo II has overall a lava and rock motif, while the heavens you visit in Diablo III has a water and crystal motif (at least, before Diablo starts corrupting them). This is especially notable at the part where you must take some portals from the heavens to hell: the contrast is quite evident there.
Killer Instinct contrasts Glacius, an ice-themed alien shape-shifter, with Cinder, a human who was mutated into a living flame by an experiment gone wrong.
In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the legendary Pokémon Kyogre and Groudon are linked with the oceans and the continents respectively, but Groudon can also use fire attacks and creates a 'Sunny Day' effect when on the battlefield. There are also two groups of Pokémon trainers locked in a feud and battling for control of these legendaries: Team Aqua wants to use Kyogre to flood the continents and expand the sea, while Team Magma want to harness Groudon to evaporate the sea and raise new land.
Scorpion and Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. Sub-Zero uses ice magic to complement his fighting style, while Scorpion frequently has some form of attacks that utilize Hell Fire. They also have a rivalry borne from Scorpion's belief that Sub-Zero was involved in the massacre of his family.
Samurai Warriors has Kenshin (ice) and Shingen (fire).Note that it may refer to the chosen element of their ultimate weapon.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands has the elemental opposition between Razia the Marid Queen (who has powers over water, which in the series symbolize life) and the Ifrit Lord Ratash, who has power over both fire and sand (which, in the series, is opposed to water as a symbol of death and entropy.)
In Final Fantasy V, Lenna and Faris are foils in several ways. In addition to their personality differences, Lenna represents the element of water and Faris represents fire. A bonus job added in the GBA release gives the party members special elemental attacks which reflect this.
In the same game, the goddess Cosmos is associated with water, and her throne, Order's Sanctuary, is covered in a shallow layer of water. Chaos on the other hand is associated with fire, using many fire attacks in battle, and his throne, Edge of Madness, is a Mordor area covered in magma with fireballs raining from the sky.
The protagonist of Breath of Fire IV, Ryu, is associated with fire, while Fou-Lu is described as having an affinity for water (and a corresponding weakness to fire). This represents the fact that they are two halves of the Yorae Dragon, an immensely powerful god that was split into two beings when it was summoned.
In Tales of Phantasia the Eternal Sword is made by fusing a fire-elemental Flamberge (taken from the fire-themed level Odin's Tower) with an ice-elemental Vorpal Sword (taken from the ice-themed level Fenrir's Cavern).
Fireboy and Watergirl, a series of flash games in which you control both of the title characters simultaneously and must use their elemental powers to solve puzzles.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender , which is practically built entirely on the Four Element Ensemble, the first protagonists introduced in the show hail from the peaceful and simple Water Tribe, while the main antagonists are from the despotic and warlike Fire Nation.
The Avatars themselves often encounter this as well. Fire-native Avatars often find learning Waterbending to be the most difficult bending art to learn, and vice versa for Water-native avatars. Earth- and Air-native avatars also have similar difficulties, but this trope doesn't directly apply.
The grande finale also features a rather striking battle between Azula (fire-based powers, destructive, uncontrollable) and Katara (water-based powers, compassionate, in control).
In Adventure Time Flame Princess ( fire elemental ) sees Finn crying over her. She thinks he's a water elemental because he "releases water," which is why they can't get along.
There's also the episode "Hitman", which has the Ice King—a goofy, fun-loving Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain—trying to defend Finn and Jake from the overzealous assassin Scorcher—an eerily silent, ruthlessly efficient killer—when he almost accidentally has them murdered. Notably, this is one of the first episodes of the show in which the Ice King is completely on Finn and Jake's side, and signals the beginning of his Character Development into a more sympathetic Anti-Villain.
In the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-tu". During Captain Kirk's magical battle with the Megan prosecutor, the prosecutor summons up a wall of flames in front of Captain Kirk. Kirk responds by creating a cascade of water to put out the fire. The fire represents the prosecutor's desire to destroy Kirk, while the water represents Kirk's basically defensive and non-aggressive posture (as appropriate for a representative of the Federation).
Well, more like "Lava/Water Juxtaposition" in the case of Lilo & Stitch with experiments Yin (#501) and Yang (#502). The majority of the episode sets them up that they must never meet or the elemental clash would cause a deadly reaction, but it turns out Opposites Attract and their powers combined can create new landforms.
Given that Lilo and Stitch takes place in Hawaii, this could very well be a reference to the legend of Pele and Na'maka in Hawaiian mythology (see "Mythology and Folklore" above).