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In fiction, lightning is not just a massive electrical discharge which tends to destroy anything it touches. It is an amazing magical force which can do anything the screenwriter wants — it can turn a computer sentient, turn an already-sentient computer evil, send things through time or into an Alternate Universe, etc. It can miraculously reverse polarities and has been responsible for many a Phlebotinum Breakdown. It can even create life.
Basically, fictional lightning is a Mad Scientist with the ability to fundamentally redesign any machine, especially a futuristic one. If you're in a teleporter when it's struck by lightning, two of you might turn up at the other end; if your stun ray is struck by lightning it may turn into a volatile disintegration gun; if your radio is struck by lightning it could start channeling the dead, and so on, and so forth.
And God help you if you perform any kind of experiment during a thunderstorm - all you need is for the building to get struck by lightning and you'll have some kind of malevolent radioactive cloud on your hands — even if your experiment had nothing to do with radioactivity — or at the very least you'll gain freakish superhuman powers.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is, not only will lightning never destroy any machine, frequently it will cause a machine to malfunction just once, then return to normal behavior as if nothing happened, a super-condensed form of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, as nobody is sure what it did and it can't be made to do it again.
Naturally, these mystical properties extend to lightning in its "harnessed" form: electricity. Look in nineteenth-century Sears and Roebuck catalogs, and you're liable to find ads for actual electrified girdles, which tout the supposed health benefits of close proximity to a constant electrical flow. Symbolically, the notion of lightning as a magical force stems from the ancient belief associating it with the power of the gods; it's a convenient and spectacular visual shorthand for "and then a miracle happens".
There is a grain of truth in all the mythic reverence, since electrical shock can help (relieving depression, regulating heart and muscle rhythm), hinder (causing brain damage, stopping the heart), and often really, really hurt, all by a matter of degree. Further, since electricity and magnetism are directly linked, a character who, for example, can shoot lightning should also be able to wreak havoc with magnetic fields...and since the interaction of most matter is the interplay of electromagnetic fields, someone who can do that can do anything, using Hollywood logic. On the cynical end of this trope, lightning strikes can actually cause personality changes due to nervous system damage.
Electrical shocks to save a life come from a Magical Defibrillator. Not to be confused with the heroine of Final Fantasy XIII, who supposedly can also do anything. Or Lightning McQueen, the protagonist of the Pixar film Cars, who can do far, far more than a talking non-anthropomorphic race car ought to be capable of.
See also Harmless Electrocution, Energy Ball, and Green Lantern Ring. For tropes covering the do-anything properties of another scientific topics, see I Love Nuclear Power, Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything, and Chemistry Can Do Anything.
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Anime & Manga
Ginji from Getbackers can generate electricity, which he uses to aid him in fights. And that's about it. However, if he absorbs a sufficient amount (either from lightning or a large electrical source) he turns into the ''Lightning Lord" whose powers consist of Super Strength, Super Speed, Nigh-Invulnerability, electromagnetic powers, and a Healing Factor for good measure. He becomes a Flying Brick without the flight.
Great Mazinger has a weapon called Thunder Break, which serves as its Finishing Move. It is also able to be used to strike a sword for lightning rods, channeled from a sword, Shot from finger, directed with two hands, and many more uses. It says something when its the single move with most variants in the whole Mazinger trilogy.
Averted by Darker Than Black, since Hei actually follows electricity physics most of the time, and the stranger stuff all happens in an Eldritch Location. Further averted by the end of the series, when we find out that his power isn't actually electrocution, but something a lot more powerful.
Arguably one of the best examples, A Certain Magical Index's Misaka Mikoto really can do virtually anything with lightning. So far she has been shown to zap people, stick to walls by attaching herself to the steel bars inside the concrete, throw said concrete using magnetic fields, attract or repel herself to or from objects at high speeds, prevent mind control with a passive electric barrier, use steel to create shields and cover, use the small amounts of electromagnetic waves she emits to sense anything that approaches, intercept radio waves, create free form swords that function like a mix between a chainsaw and a whip from iron sand, hack or disable electronic devices from a distance, and align the electric signals of her brain to read the memories of an enemy. To top this off, her nickname in the series is 'the Railgun' given to her because of her special move that accelerates a simple coin to three times the speed of sound before firing, making her... well... a walking railgun.
Thousands of Misaka clones all use this ability to form a giant, Misaka oriented wikipedia, using their own brains as servers. In practice, they can all access each others memories on the fly. They can also attack enemies by ionizing oxygen into a highly poisonous form.
Tokyo Pig has an episode about lightning weirdness that starts when a bolt hits and disappears a weather reporter.
In Pokémon, lightning is a magical projectile that certain Pokémon can fire from themselves. Never mind that lightning usually just shorts to ground if possible, since electricity is generated from sucking electrons away from ground potential and shooting them at stuff. In Pokémon, you only need a positive source of electricity and a target.
When thrown at the Team Rocket trio, lightning is a concussive force, a big shock, or whatever the plot calls for.
"Pikachu, aim for the horn!!" And so Thunderbolt works against the immune, half Ground-type Rhydon. This becomes Hilarious in Hindsight in later games when Rhydon can have the Lightningrod ability, where electric attacks must aim for the horn, even if you're trying to hit something it'll actually work on, and it still won't do anything.
In the second movie, electricity is used as a form of communication as seen when Pikachu and Zapdos zap each other. It's possible the voltage is interpreted in a specific way by the two Electric-types, similar to how a radio transceiver interprets radio waves by frequency. Of course since this is never used again, and Pokemon can use Pokémon Speak to talk to each other normally...
The better question is how Meowth is able to understand the exchange when he's not even getting zapped.
Two Pokémon using electricity to communicate comes back in the third episode of XY Between Pikachu and Dedenne .
Subverted in Corpse Princess - one episode had a lad who thought he'd gained powers by being electrocuted, but he had actually died and become an insane Shikabane.
Fate of Lyrical Nanoha is a powerful mage with a lightning spell set. Besides the usual ones for attacking, she also has a lightning spell for tying up enemies (Lightning Bind), blocking physical attacks (Thunder Arm), and dispelling wide-scale magical illusions (Sprite Zamber). An extra comic shows Fate combing Erio's hair... and messing it up more with static electricity.
In Naruto, Lightning Release techniques have an insanely diverse number of abilities, similar to chakra natures of other elements. It it can pierce things exceptionally well, cut almost as well as wind chakra by making objects vibrate to give it extra cutting power, be ran through and around a person's body to increase their reflexes by speeding up their nervous system, increase their speed and strength by boosting their muscle power, and block or reduce damage from enemy attacks like a force-field. The one time natural lightning was harnessed for a technique, it was purely destructive in nature, and one of the most powerful attacks seen at that point in the series.
In Heroman, a lightning strike during a brewing alien invasion turns a toy robot it into a shape-shifting action hero the size of a small building. Well, it had nanomachines, other than that, still impressive.
In Air Gear the Thunder King has the power to make someone hallucinate by using electricity to mess the your brain waves.
In Voltes V, lightning powers up the titular robot's Sky Sword.
The classic Silver Age origin of The Flash (reproduced in the live-action TV show and referenced in Justice League) — has Barry Allen being struck by lightning attracted by a shelving unit full of chemicals, and Barry being struck by both lightning and the charged chemicals. Later on, he decided to illustrate his origin to his nephew Wally, complete with lightning storm outside. Whaddaya know, it does strike twice.
Some attempts to explain this over the years have claimed things like the lightning and chemicals being largely placebos, unlocking the latent abilities already there in the individuals. Much like when Marvel tried similar explanations for some of their more outdated hero origins, eye-rolling ensued.
In Crisis on Infinite Earths it was revealed that the Flash himself was the lightning bolt which struck the chemicals giving him his super speed. This was later retconned into the Speed Force, a cosmic force that grants super speed and just happens to look like lightning.
A secondary character (a police officer) gains the power of regeneration after being stabbed by a lightning dagger.
In his comic book, first season Who Wants to Be a Superhero? winner Feedback gets his superpowers when hit by lightning while holding the video game controller he was using to debug the super-vehicle he was working on.
The Malibu comic The Strangers featured a group of people who gained various superpowers when lightning struck the cable car they were riding. It was energy from a spaceship stuck in the Moon that was mutating humans, apparently trying to get someone to rescue it.
The lightning bolt, alien as it may be, threw a piece of perfectly normal metal into Night Man's brain. This granted him the 'powers' of hearing evil thoughts and not needed to sleep. Should have just went with 'Night Man's car conducted some of the energy of the magic alien lightning'.
Spider-Man villain Electro has, not surprisingly, a wide variety of electricity-based powers, including being able to shoot lightning bolts of varied levels of destructiveness, the ability to control electrical equipment, and the ability to skate along power lines. In one battle, his lightning bolts both manage to cut through Spidey's webbing and, with an errant shot, manage to turn on a huge newspaper printing press without damaging it at all.
Electro got his powers by essentially being electrocuted by a particularly nasty lightning bolt while repairing a power line. Just as Bruce Banner should have been vaporized when the gamma bomb exploded and Peter Parker should have gotten cancer from the spider-bite, Max Dillon should have been fried, but instead he gains superpowers. Hollywood Science strikes again!
Read the official data sheets. Electro is completely invulnerable to electricity (doh!), and has the power to subconsciously heal himself from diseases by "zapping" viruses and bacterias. Fridge Logic strikes hard when the "electrohealing" is able to cure cancer. But cancer is just an (abnormal) body cell, so should share the immunity...
In the Ultimate Marvel line Spider-Man attains a variant of the Venom costume that was intended to be used to cure cancer, when confronted with the Shocker and his sonic blasters Spidey just gets a comfortable massage, however when he is fighting the suit off his very skin and just "happens" to be struck by the electricity from a downed power line...
In a 1958 Batman story, the hero becomes a "human fish" due to a combination of lightning and the chemicals in his utility belt. As a result, he can't breathe air and can only survive by extracting oxygen from water.
In "The Menace of the Multiple Creature", a 1961 Batman story, the creature is created when lightning strikes a pool of water which contains waste materials from a chemical plant.
In the 1962 story, "Robin, the Super Boy Wonder", Robin is struck by lightning and gains superhuman strength as a result. Unfortunately, it also clouds his memory, causing him to turn against Batman.
The original Azrael relied on the System, a form of Mind Rape-based training that gave him Batman-level martial arts skills as long as he was wearing his costume. So of course when he changed his costume shortly before No Man's Land, he lost his powers. Fortunately a lightning bolt struck him and rewired his brain to give him access to his skills no matter what.
In SnarfQuest, Willie the dragon came to believe he was a duck after being struck by lightning.
Calvin and Hobbes plan to use lightning to bring a snowman to life, but the problem is a lightning storm is not liable to happen until spring.
Tintin The Seven Crystal Balls: In this story a ball of lightning crashes through the chimney inside the household and spins around across the room, causing grief damage to certain characters' clothers and even causing Professor Calculus to spin around too while sitting in his chair. Then the lightning ball crashes into a Inca mummy behind glass, causing it to explode without a trace.
Red Lightning: Apparently lightning can even give you superpowers.
Spoofed in MAGIC.MOV, when Twilight Sparkle attempts to bring Rainbow Dash (previously killed by Fluttershy) back to life with an electric shock. All it does is make Rainbow Dash's hair poofy from the static. And Rainbow Dash wasn't even dead. Twilight even says that bringing people back to life with lightning always happens in movies.
Short Circuit and Stealth both have computerized war machines (a robot and a fighter plane, respectively) that become sentient after being struck by lightning. You'd think that, after the former played it utterly for comedy in 1986, the latter wouldn't try to do it straight in 2005, but you'd be wrong wrong wrong. The latter movie's trailer even had the incredibly stupid line "That lightning strike rewired it somehow!". Thankfully, it was cut out in the movie itself.
In Powder the title character had a natural affinity and control over electricity in all its forms, after his mother was struck by lightning whilst pregnant with our bald protagonist. It's hinted (but never proven either way) that his condition is actually genetic and that the reason his mother was hit by lightning in the first place was because of his affinity with electricity rather then the other way around.
In Back to the Future, Doc and Marty use a lightning bolt to power the time machine in the DeLorean. In the sequel, the lightning strikes the flying car, causing it to rotate at the necessary 88 miles per hour to induce a time jump. To be fair, the lightning strike in the first movie wasn't an Ass Pull, since plutonium wasn't available in every drugstore in 1955 and the machine needed a lot of power (which lightning definitely CAN provide). The time travel was what the machine was DESIGNED to do, after all. And in the second film, the lightning didn't send the Deloarean back in time either; it just powered the malfunctioning time circuits.
Another related effect: Mel Gibson's character in What Women Want is electrocuted in a bath while trying out various feminine products. Rather than dying, as one might expect, he becomes telepathic. Fully aware of the circumstances, the protagonist later attempts to reproduce the accident in an effort to remove the ability. This time, he adds the thrill of an true-blue lightning strike. Despite astronomical odds, he gets his strike, resulting in neither normality nor a corpse. Eventually, the character's powers are removed. Per convenience (or rapidly dissolving Plot Armor), he is not required to interact with the lightning, and is merely nearby when it, instead favors a power transformer.
Near the end of Hollow Man, Kevin Bacon's invisible character gets electrocuted during a fight. Somehow this causes the invisibility process to falter slightly, making himself partially visible; his skin and hair is still translucent, but his muscle, bones and organs are visible. A Chekhov's Gun is offered earlier in the film, in which the cure for a test gorilla's invisibility only worked after the team used a defibrillator on its heart. They nearly used one on the villain while trying to cure him the first time (and before his Face-Heel Turn), but changed their minds when his vital signs stabilized on their own.
The anti-invisibility serum had been injected in the gorilla's blood, and was being distributed through her blood vessels. When the gorilla's heart stopped, the blood stopped circulating, and the anti-invisibility serum stopped making new parts of her body visible (but the already visible parts remained visible). Restarting her heart restarted the blood's circulation, making her completely visible. They later state that they had had several more successful tests; presumably, if all of them required the use of a defibrillator, they would not have considered the tests "successful".
Not exactly lightning, but certainly electricity. Ernest Goes To Jail uses bizarre electrical effects as one of its running gags, turning the title character into a magnet repeatedly, giving him the power to shoot lightning bolts, and eventually turning off gravity. He got better.
In the movie Zotz (1962 or so), Tom Posten plays a college professor who gets a magic coin which in turns gets him trouble from the rascally Russkies. Towards the beginning of the movie he has to help out a young lady who had a most unfortunate occurrence: she was struck by lightning! Not to worry the only damage it did was disintegrate her clothing otherwise she suffered not so much as a red spot. Professor Tom commented on lightning leaving some sort of distinctive scar and offered to look for it but said offer was rejected.
In The Addams Family, lightning actually helps Fester recover his memory. Justified because he is a member of the Addams Family. Wasn't deliberately trying to get zapped by lightning, or at least electrocute himself on mains current, part of Fester's schtick in the TV series as well?
In The Prestige, the big plot twist is that Nikola Tesla's artificial lightning can make a perfect duplicate of any object, even a human being. Though, to be fair, the lightning may be a byproduct of this arcane process, rather than the mechanism. After all, Tesla earlier designs for Borden (or—we're not told which—inspires Borden to build) a similar machine that just shoots lightning for no reason in order to dazzle the audience and distract them from the devilish simplicity of the illusion's prestige.
In most Godzilla movies, lightning (or electricity in some form) strikes him, either making him even more powerful, or making him as weak as a 300-ton newborn kitten, Depending on the Writer.
In Be Kind Rewind, Jack Black's character gets zapped by a transformer at an electrical plant, and becomes a living electromagnet, thereby erasing the VHS tapes in the shop, setting off the plot.
In the obscure film The Incredible Mr Limpet, Don Knotts' title character falls into a lake, gets hit by lightning, and turns into a fish. However, he did wish for it earlier, and it was accompanied by creepy singing angel voices...
According to the B-movie Squirm, when you expose earthworms to electricity, they learn to roar, and develop super-strength as well as a taste for flesh.
In How To Make A Monster, lightning strikes a video game developer's office, turning their video game into a sentient killing machine. Honestly, the film's representation of how video games are made is even further from reality.
In the 2002 Lil' Bow Wow vehicle Like Mike, the main character finds an old pair of shoes that give him superhuman basketball-related skills after they (the shoes) are struck by lightning.
In the Discworld book Night Watch, a lightning strike sent Vimes backwards in time. The fact that the lightning hit while he was directly above a magical library may have something to do with this.
The lightning strike is implied to be the same one from near the end of Thief of Time (the one that powered the clock that froze time), which causes odd things to happen all over the city. The most unfortunate being the guy who gets magnetic superpowers from the lightning, then immediately dies. (He was working in the armory when he suddenly became attractive to metal).
The sanest explanation is that Vimes and Carcer fell through the library roof and were inside L-Space at the moment the entire universe and all of history shattered. And got put back in the wrong place when it got glued back together.
In God Game, written in the mid-1980s by Andrew M. Greeley (author of the "Bishop Blackie" mysteries), a lightning bolt striking the home of a priest who is at the time play testing a Simulation Game for a relative turns the game into reality — the nameless narrator (implied to be either Greeley himself or possibly Bishop Blackie Ryan) finds himself forced to act as God (via his PC) to the inhabitants of a small but very real swords and sorcery world.
In John Christopher's Fireball two cousins are transported to ancient Rome (later revealed to be an alternate reality) by what they assume to be some form of ball lightning.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus Dr. Victor something-or-other very specifically does not reveal exactly how he reanimated his monster, but it was strongly implied that electricity (which was a new-fangled development at the time) was involved somehow.
Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, featuring the original "monster", still living in the present. The lightning which animated him gave him understanding of quantum physics, to the point where he can apply it to the macro world. Little things like stepping across the planet.
In Tamora Pierce's Shatterglass, a glassblower who'd had a small amount of glass magic gets hit by lightning, which gives him glass-magic-plus-lots-more-lightning-magic. Until he learns to control it, the result is things like a small living glass dragon that eats glass-coloring agents and spits up cool-looking debris, and several glass balls that are full of electricity which, when it eventually fades, reveals the location of the most recent murder by a serial killer who's on the loose in the city. Handy. It's stated that he probably had a small amount of lightening magic before the strike, and that was how he survived.
Though it's not the technological breakthrough that the story focuses upon, Who Goes There?, the basis for The Thing (1982), has magnets and electricity up the wazoo. The research station is there studying the electromagnetism of the earth at the South Pole. They are armed with electricity-spewing guns that can fry the alien menace. The planes to escape are disabled by shattering the magnets inside their systems. Since this story was written before nuclear power, electricity was the Phlebotinum du Jour for cutting-edge technology.
In Edgar Allan Poe's "Some Words With A Mummy", an electric shock brings an ancient Egyptian mummy back to life. To be fair, at the time the story was written, most people really did think that reanimating dead tissue with electricity was plausible and something scientists would figure out how to do soon.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, there exists a living planet named Zonama Sekot. Its largest flora, the boras trees, rely on being struck by lightning in their infancy to advance to the next stage of their life cycle.
In Robert Arthur's "Obstinate Uncle Otis", after the titular character was struck by lightning, anything he expressed disbelief in faded out of existence. (Justified because the narrator was a tall-tale teller.)
Played relatively straight in Charlaine Harris's Harper Connelly series. Harper is struck by lightning at the age of fifteen and has realistic and permanent aftereffects from this. She can also find dead bodies and tell you what they died of, which ability appeared only after the strike.
The Dresden Files: Storm Front has a warlock using lightning to supercharge his thaumaturgy. Which amounts to the ability to explode someone's heart from across the city.
Live Action TV
Subverted on Heroes with Elle Bishop, whose power is used only to shock or start fire on clothing, and who therefore suffers whenever someone adds water to the mix.
Clark's powers were transferred to someone and back by lightning strikes near some Kryptonite.
In a later episode it happens again with Clark merely copying his powers to Lana, which is convenient because if it had worked like before, Clark would have been powerless to stop Lana from taking her vengeance on Luthor.
In another episode lightning strike at a telephone pole sent Lana's phone call into the past, giving characters a handy warning that she is about to be killed. Once again, Kryptonite was involved.
Likewise, Lois and Clark had Superman's powers shared with others by lightning strikes at least twice.
The Adventures of Superman: A rescue at a nuclear facility leaves Superman contaminated with uranium. This is handled surprisingly realistically, as the radioactive material causes no miraculous effects; it just makes Superman radioactive and forces him to avoid contact with other people. Then the realism goes out the window at the end of the episode when lightning inexplicably cures him.
Lampshaded in ER. In one episode the doctors are watching a soap opera where one of the characters appears back in the series despite having been diagnosed with terminal brain tumor. One of the doctors explains that " a lightning strike cured him" and everyone else accepts it without batting an eyelash.
The miniseries Revelations featured a girl who speaks verses from the Book of Revelation after being rendered brain-dead by two lightning strikes.
Screech on Saved by the Bell acquired the ability to see the future from a lightning hit.
Getting hit turned Herman Munster of The Munsters into a normal human.
The episode "D.P.O" was about a guy (Darrin Peter Oswald) who, upon being struck, learned he could absorb and toss around lightning. It never specifies how or when he got the power. Mulder finds his name on a list of people in the town who have been struck by lightning (a disproportionate number, naturally), but that could come from someone witnessing him absorbing lightning.
Another episode ("Trevor") had someone gaining the ability to phase through solid matter during a freak electrical storm.
Naturally, there are two examples from Gilligan's Island: in "Meet The Meteor" the castaways, upon learning that a severe tropical storm is coming to their island, decide to take advantage of the lightning from the storm to destroy a meteor whose rays have been found to accelerate the aging rate in all living things around (which means the castaways themselves are doomed to be aging fifty years by the end of the week and essentially dying), and fashion a lightning rod, under the Professor's direction. The storm hits, Gilligan javelins the rod into the meteor, a bolt of lightning streaks down and strikes the rod, and the meteor is destroyed, saving the castaways from the fate of dying of old age within the week. And in "Gilligan's Personal Magnetism" Gilligan is struck by lightning, which causes him to get a bowling ball stuck to his hand. The professor's efforts to remove the ball cause Gilligan to "become invisible".
Related effect: after being hit with several thousand volts from a stage amplifier, Johnny B. of Misfits of Science became essentially a human capacitor capable of launching lightning bolts from his hands.
Home Improvement kind of hangs a lampshade on this. Or maybe subverts it. Or just parodies it. Or maybe parodies it by hanging a subverted lampshade? Anyway, in one episode, Randy badly mangles his bike while going over a jump, and asks Brad what they should tell their parents. His response: "We'll tell them it got hit by lightning!" It doesn't work—possibly because their father has had quite a lot more experience with the destructive effects of electricity than even the average handyman.
In the New Series episode of Doctor Who, "Evolution of the Daleks", lightning can even affect genetic engineering equipment. The Doctor reveals that, because he hugged the top of the Empire State (during its construction) as lightning came through, Time Lord DNA was mixed with the Dalek-Humans and gave the (now) Timelord-Dalek-Humans freedom, unlike the Dalek-Humans they would've been.
The back story of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, an attraction at various Disney Theme Parks, blames a lightning strike for everything weird about the tower. Said weirdness includes the sudden disappearance of five people and half the building, ghosts, a hallway that turns into space, and an elevator that travels through dimensions, falls down and back up again, and (in Florida at least) moves forward. And a television that we can only assume is possessed by the late Rod Serling. The movie based on the ride justified this by making it magic evil witchcraft lightning (and also drops most of the weirder effects).
In one episode of Sliders, the portal is struck by lightning just as Quinn goes through, spitting him out the other side phased between dimensions or some such — essentially, a ghost that only the Girl of the Week could see or hear.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers season 3: Rita and Zedd cross their staffs, and: "By the power and force of lightning, MAKE OUR MONSTER GROW!" Also, Monster of the Week Discordia, once giant, would summon even more lightning to power herself up whenever she got damaged. Of course, this being Power Rangers, "electricity" summoned by monsters or fired out from main villains' magic staves or weaponry probably isn't the same stuff that's running through your wall sockets even when it looks the same. Especially when it's technicolor.
In Power Rangers in Space, the Silver Ranger's morphed time was originally limited to two-and-a-half minutes, due to his morpher being constantly drained of power over 2 years while he was in suspended animation. It was eventually recharged by... you guessed it... being struck by lightning.
Mutant X: The character whose powers were lightning-based could do near anything he wanted with them. They disabled car alarms, started the car, unlocked purely mechanical locks, and anything else that needed to be done. All they needed to do was have him walk on water with the low-budget lightning effect going on around his feet, and he could have been Electrical Jesus. Those are all things you could do with complete control over electromagnetism (see Magneto and Polaris); maybe the lightning was just his way of focusing his control.
Stargate SG-1's 10th season featured an episode where Vala lost her memory after being hooked up to a device meant to probe her mind which was then hit by a zat gun.
And in the 1st season, they had to use lightning to power the gate on a planet where the DHD was busted.
The power of lightning was used again in Stargate Atlantis to power the city's shields to protect them from the storm causing the lightning.
Both of the above are justified by the fact that lightning strikes do carry considerable power, enough to light a 100 watt bulb for six months.
The zat guns are used as 'futuristic lightning' in Stargate SG-1. Apart from being weapons, they've been used for opening and closing doors, turning machines on and off, and deprogramming brainwashed children.
In The Crystal Skull, Teal'c shooting the skull with a zat gun is explained as the reason Daniel turned invisible, rather than meeting the giant aliens like his grandfather did.
In Ace Lightning (a mixed media show both live action filmed and CGI animated, so it also counts as Western Animation) the characters of Mark Hollander's video game were brought to life by a bolt of lightning. (It turns out in the end that Mark's particular game was specifically modified with advanced coding by the Master Programmer: all it needed was a boost of extreme power to start the process off, that power being the lightning bolt.)
The point of Misfits. Lightning happens, thus superpowers. It even affects gorillas, weirdly.
Unsolved Mysteries did a story on a family who, over 4 generations, has had family members be struck or nearly struck 17 times. At least 2 members died, and in one case the lightning actually struck inside the house (through the window no less). They've made a running joke on it.
Averted in Byker Grove - teenage Jemma was helping a pensioner to clear up her flooded house, and touched a faulty electrical socket (she was stupidly trying to watch TV while the house was still flooded). A matter of mere seconds and one big bang later, and Jemma was dead.
Dougal of Father Ted was apparently once struck by lightning suffering no ill effects, except that balloons kept sticking to him.
When lightning strikes Jo Min Sung in the Korean SeriesOnce Upon a Time in Saengchori it has an unexpected effect on his mathematical abilities. Later, it has an equally powerful and odd effect on his relationship with Yoo Eun Joo.
On Quantum Leap, when Sam leaped while receiving shock treatment, Al was the one who changed bodies and Sam became a hologram.
Wishbone had a very silly example of this in its Frankenstein episode. David builds a robot which comes to life and escapes his garage after a nearby lightning strike and starts running amok in Oakdale. (By running amok, we mean knocking over trash cans and the like while yammering a prerecorded environmentalist message; it's too small for anything else.)
Bleak Expectations: This is how series Big Bad Gently Benevolent comes back from the dead (the first time, at any rate), in a parody of Frankenstein. Even referenced when one of the series protagonists asks how he came back.
Mr Benevolent: (without missing a beat) Electricity.
Pippa Bin: Of course, the modern panacea.
Lightning and electricity are used to heal Prometheans. Justified in that lightning calls to the "Divine Fire" that powers Prometheans and helps to stoke it without causing it to rage out of control and hurt them (unlike, say, actual fire).
In Diablo II, the "Lightning" skill tree is the "everything that isn't fire and ice" skill tree. Teleport, telekinesis, force field, etc. all go here.
Ultima VII Part II: The Serpent Isle has various colors of magical lightning that mess things up; a storm at the very beginning swaps all your cool loot from Part 1 with random junk.
Another World starts with a particle accelerator being struck by lightning, thereby transporting the protagonist to the titular location.
In Chrono Cross, all hell breaks loose when an electric storm strikes Chronopolis, ripping control of the Frozen Flame from FATE, sending Wazuki, Serge, and Miguel's boat into the Sea of Eden, and allowing Schala's consciousness to contact Serge and the newly-released Flame. One would think the Time Research Lab would install lightning rods to avoid this sort of thing.
Chrono Trigger has nothing quite on this scale, but Crono's use of lightning spells in dual-techs include striking Ayla with lightning... which energizes her and improves her "Cat Attack". Sadly, this does not happen when Ayla gets hit by lightning from other sources.
Although it's actually a subversion since Crono's attacks are actually based on "Holy" energy and that Lightning is just censorship due to Nintendo's No Religious References policy at the time the game was released.
In Comix Zone, the opening sequence gives the impression that lightning is what brought the comic book to life in the first place.
In Mother 3, the PSI moves PK Flash and PK Starstorm are both learned when you get struck by lightning.
At the start of the first Persona, the main characters perform the Persona ritual; after seeing an apparition of a girl appearing, the main character, Nate, Yuki and Mark are all struck by lightning - while indoors - and have a dream of a butterfly while they're unconscious. This ultimately allows their Personas to awaken when they're attacked by demons at the hospital.
Conveniently, any time that Cole is required to fix some sort of mechanical problem, the problem is caused by either "Too much electricity," or "Not enough electricity."
A few of these can be HandWaved by some Fan Wank involving the use of an electric field to create a magnetic one.
That's nothing - a few years later, he'll be able to travel backwards in time using his powers. It's a one-way trip though, to before he got his powers so that he can strengthen his past self's powers and then fight himself to the death.
In contrast to the anime entry above, Electric-type moves in the Pokémon games invert the trope by being completely ineffective against Ground-type Pokémon.
On the other hand, certain Pokémon can use it to heal themselves (Volt Absorb), and boost their stats (Motor Drive, once unique to Electivire).
Lightning in Scribblenauts can jump start cars, raise the dead, and stun people, to name a few things.
Usually, Mega Man just uses the lightning attacks he copies to attack, but he has also used them to power machines and create a Super Metroid-style grappling beam.
In the Mario Kart series, the lightning power-up shrinks all competitors in front of the user. Luigi's Thunderhand, on the other hand, is only a partial example. While he can shoot it straight up in some cases and move things with a static charge., most of what he does is how electricity really behaves. It's certainly much more realistic than Mario's Firebrand.
Ky Kiske is able to use lightning to do everything from firing bolts of it, to using it to one-shot his enemies. Though it is subverted in the sense that Lightning is the hardest element to control and without his Outrage Fuuraiken he is unable to form lightning into a projectile.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening starts with a lightning bolt knocking Link unconscious and destroying his ship, leaving him stranded on an uncharted island. Doesn't seem all that outlandish, right? Until you get to the sixth dungeon, where it's revealed that what the lightning bolt really did was transport him into the mind of a dreaming whale-god.
Lightning has some very interesting properties in Minecraft:
If lightning zaps a pig, it becomes a Zombie Pigman. And in the 1.8 update, a villager struck by lightning becomes a Witch.
In the download-only Back to the Future video game, the Delorean mysteriously appears on Doc's property. Given that in the third movie, it was annihilated by a train, how can this be? Well, when you find Doc and ask him, he explains that when the Delorean was struck by lightning (at the end of the second film), it created an exact duplicate Delorean that...y'know what? Let's just say Lightning did it.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Sith Sorcerer class lives by this motto. Gameplay and Story Segregation does not apply. Someone rude? Shock him. Someone nice? Shock him. Some one in the way? Shock him. Boss fight? Shock him. Ancient Force ritual? Shock everything. Healing? Try shocking. Tornado Move? Yes, but only with lightning in it. Sith Sorcerers aren't the only ones to learn this. In Star By Star, a couple of Dark Jedi from an earlier series discover that Force lightning works just fine on the Yuuzhan Vong, who are normally immune to Force abilities. Its not as effective on them as it usually is, though whether this is their Force resistance or the fact that they have redundant nervous systems is up in the air.
And, of course, even if Lance dies by electrocution or any other means of attack in Moose's scenario, the thunderbolt can bring our hero back to life in one resurrection scene. Lightning CAN do anything, indeed.
In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Lonesome Road, ED-E can hack systems by shooting lightning at them.
Thunderstruck, as the name might imply, has this as an important plot point, lightning healing the protagonist at the very beginning and giving her lightning-based superpowers (or, rather, unlocking them).
Parodied in Roomies! when Danny and Joe finally get a hold of the first issue of comic within a comic Robovac to find out that their childhood hero's back story consists, in its entirety, of him being a regular human PI getting struck by lightning while vacuuming his apartment.
Castle Heterodyne was broken and out of power when the Doom Bell was rung. Then it said that even with its power source restored it would take years to be fully functional again. Then Agatha zaps it with the improved version of Gil's lightning stick and it immediately starts blasting enemies to bits. Justified because the problem with the Castle was that it lacked energy, and lightning has lots of that (the exact details of turning lightning into useful energy immediately is, of course, science).
Invoked and subverted in Level 30 Psychiatry. Gardevoir and Roll try it to cure Gardevoir's Hollywood Schizophrenia but all it does is make Gardevoir's hair stand on end.
Made doubly hilarious by the fact that schizophrenia is actually treated with electroshock therapy in the real world.
In Superman: The Animated Series, a bolt of lightning strikes Superman and passes to a nearby woman, turning her into the electric super villain Livewire. It appears that is was the "passing through the solar powered being" than the lighting itself.
In Tutenstein, the title character is the mummy of a 9-year-old Egyptian pharaoh, revived by lightning. Said bolt had bounced off of his magic staff.
In the Legion of Super Heroes, Lightning Lad and his brother Mekt got their powers when Lightning Beasts electrocuted them and his twin sister, in the process turning Mekt's hair white, giving Lightning Lad a neato scar, and turning his sister into an electric space cloud. She got better. Exactly what supposedly happened in the comics on which the series was based varies depending on what the current writer wants to do with the characters, but fairly consistently: lightning beast, and at least two of the three (Garth and Mekt) wind up with electricity powers. Ayla (Light(ning) Lass/Spark) has the most variable reaction; sometimes she gets electricity powers too, sometimes she gets something else like the ability to nullify gravity, sometimes she gets electricity powers and then gets them turned into anti-gravity powers. Somehow.
Static Shock. There's a reason his future self is one of the world's most powerful heroes:
Magnetism, including over non-magnetic substances like wood, rubber tires, or hot-air balloons, or through them, such as lifting out of the ground a sewer line.
Concussive or actually damaging electric blasts.The ability to supercharge anything, from Batman Beyond's exosuit to anesthetic gas.
He even used his electricity to supercharge John Stewart's power ring when it had run out of juice. Perhaps the Guardians of the Universe should look into giving their Green Lanterns a battery backup? He's also temporarily recharged the Justice League Watchtower.
He made a working phone by making an electrical display of a keypad and holding on to a telephone pole's wire.
Richie, before becoming a Gadgeteer Genius, made tracers that emit a static frequency Static can follow.
He used lightning to swing from antennas, Spider-Man-style.
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Electro is pushed against a giant screen while being zapped with "taser webbing." This somehow results in Electro's transformation into massively powerful Energy Being who controls all electricity and technology.
Used in American Dad! episode "Hot Water" where a hot tub with a stripper pole in it is struck by lightning and becomes sentient and evil.
Parodied in the pilot, where Bender couldn't exceed his programming until he was electrocuted by striking his antenna on a broken light bulb.
Bender: You're full of crap, Fry!
Bender: You make a persuasive argument, Fry!
Played straight in later episodes where electricity is shown to be something of a drug to robots.
Subverted in "Jurassic Bark".
Farnsworth: Behold, once more, the mighty Clone-O-Mat, requiring such vast amounts of electricity that we must harness the elemental power of nature itself! (Lightning strikes.) I speak, of course, of molten lava, deep within the earth's core. To the sub-basement!
In Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, the title character regains his humanity after falling through a conveniently placed electron beam (not quite lightning, but close). Doesn't really give off the impression of an overly-powerful alien host, to be honest, especially when the original took a whole multi-story car park collapsing on top of him to be defeated, but there we go.
Used against shape shifting villain Inque when freezing her stopped working. Later on even the electricity stopped working...
In "The Call" part two, Batman is being attacked while under water. So he activates a handy-dandy tazer feature on his suit, stunning the attackers in his immediate vicinity, but not one several meters away...under water. And not him...under water...and wearing a suit that's almost all wires and circuitry.
In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, lightning strikes an arcade machine Leonardo is playing, bringing the villain from the game into the real world. Somehow. Other dimensions may come into it somewhere.
King of the Hill once featured the utterly insane Larsen Pork Products man. His confrontation with Luanne took place in a pig slaughterhouse. On the conveyor belt, he was accidentally electrocuted and cured of the voices in his head. His clarity was short-lived, as he was almost immediately...well, slaughtered.
Subverted when it turns out there's one thing Lightning CAN'T do: Hurt Wonder Woman when she blocks it with her METAL BRACELETS. Immediately lampshaded by the Flash:
Flash: "There are so many reasons why that shouldn't've worked."
And one very good reason why it should have worked: they're magical metal bracelets.
The Adventure Time episode "What Is Life?" has Finn's home-made Never-Ending Pie Throwing Robot become partially functional (and sentient) after getting struck by lightning. N.E.P.T.R. isn't fully functional until he's struck by lightning again - this time provided by the Ice King.
On Jimmy Two-Shoes, long distance electrical bolts from Heloise's Brainiac Booster make him intelligent. Geinus!Beezy is even characterized by a solid lightning bolt in his head.
In W.I.T.C.H., Will and season 2 Big Bad Nerissa have what is called "Quintessence", which is shown as lightning bolts from the hands. Will can use it to make electronics come to life. Nerissa's so skilled at it, not only can she grant life to duplicates, she can raise the dead and create a new body for that dead person (in this case, her best friend which she accidentally killed, Cassidy)
Code Lyoko: XANA's attacks often are characterized through lightning effects in the real world. This seems to be only visual though; people he possess can shoot lightning, and it does nothing more than what it does in real life (in this case, hurt the main characters).
"Zap Attack": Dragaunus makes little electric creatures that multiply by splitting. Electric gremlins on speed. They can be transmitted over phone lines and radio waves.
"Power Play": Dragaunus takes his DNA accelerator and applies it to a massive amount of electricity. Cue giant electric monster.
One episode of Oggy and the Cockroaches has Dee Dee geting struck by lightning and having his strength increased. At the end it is done to Marky, Joey and Oggy as well. The cockroaches fight over their strength, and as for Oggy, guess what a cat chasing roaches or mice will be if he is really strong enough.
In the DOS game Personal Nightmare, a man is struck by lightning and turned into the devil.
In BIONICLE, the Toa Inika gained their powers when they were struck by lightning (granted, it was Phlebotinus lightning, but still). Since lightning isn't the usual Phlebotinum for Toa transformations, the electricity had a few side effects; some beneficial (like immunity to The Virus that the local bad guys were using and their abilities being infused with electrical force) and some benign (glowing faces).
In the radio show A Prairie Home Companion, a resident of Lake Wobegon was struck by lightning, giving him a variety of useless talents (such as the ability to flawlessly play one song on the guitar while singing a completely different song).
Some Urban Legends use a combination of this and Scare 'Em Straight. One story has two teens having sex on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm and getting struck by lightning, killing the girl and fusing their bodies together, leaving the terrified boy trying to call 911 with his tongue fused to hers.
One theory for how life actually got started on Earth is that lightning hit a combination of the right chemicals. This theory was once popular among scientists, but has been discredited since Science Marches On. All that was proven is that such an event can result in the chemical reactions which make up that particular step in the process, not that that's how it actually did happen with the early biosphere.
An experiment in the 1950s showed that sparks through a mixture of water vapor, hyrdogen gas, ammonia, and methane do produce chemicals involved in life. Now scale that up to (a) lightning bolts (b) a hundred times a second around the world (c) for millions of years, and we get plenty of chemicals including some rare and complicated molecules. A ball (similar to a dust ball) may attract other molecules to its surface, thereby growing. Something causes it to fragment into two pieces, both attracting molecules and growing until they fragment. The first primitive proto-life form has formed.
A page compiling true stories of bad tech support (http://www.rinkworks.com/stupid/cs_stuptech.shtml ) tells of a support technician who apparently thought lightning can do anything. A client's modem wasn't working, and he assumed it was incompatible with the OS. When she told him it used to be compatible, he guessed that it must have been struck by lightning, changing its compatibility.
Direct lightning strikes - or often even surges down power lines caused by nearby lightning strikes - have been known to create extremely unusual quirks in security systems, satellite/cable boxes, phone systems, etc.
Lightning that strikes rocks, dirt, or metal can turn them permanently magnetic. This is called lightning-induced remanent magnetism (LIRM). A popular theory is that this is how lodestones were created, the first magnets discovered by the ancient Chinese and Greeks.
Another weird thing lightning can do is create strange-looking rocks (fulgurites) out of sand. The heat from a lightning-strike on quartz sands can fuse its particles into bizarre, jagged tubes of opaque glass, sometimes branched, as deep as 50 feet below the surface. In effect, lightning fossilizes.
Ball lightning is one the least understood meteorological phenomena known to man. Essentially a ball of light that occurs during a thunder and or lightning storm, these little (or huge) buggers have been known about since antiquity. By the late twentieth century most of the scientific community had deemed ball lightning a myth, however the proliferation of color photography soon would prove the existence of phenomena, and by the early 2000s with the advent and wide use of the internet and digital photography, the scientific community had again accepted the existence of ball lightning. No body knows exactly what the stuff is though, other than a ball of light with electric properties. They are semi rare as whole, only a quarter of Americans surveyed have claimed to see it (must only claim to see when prompting though as they don't initially report the sightings for fear of being deemed crazy or a liar). Its reported characteristics very wildly, some times it can pass though people without out harming them or times they discharge massive amounts of electricity, even up to a normal lightning strike. Ball lightning can sometimes move erratically and swiftly but often seems to move slowly and lazily. These balls of light often seem to also be attracted to wires, electrical appliances, and metal. There are many theories as to what exactly ball lightning is, however ball lightning's rarity and unpredictably will likely mean that this phenomena will likely remain unexplained for several more years.