Tang Shen: Thank you, sweetie, but I'd rather not keep something Shredder offered. You can help me burn it later.
You've got some important paperwork to get rid of, and the paper shredder is not working. Or, well... it's just not symbolic enough, really. Because this paper is Very Special to you. Get the kerosene and the matches. It's time to build a fire.
Not just any fire, either. This is almost always a special Hollywood fire that knows exactly what parts of the documents that you're burning that are the most important to you. Be it a loved one's face, your own face, an important phone number, whatever — the Hollywood fire will make sure that's the last thing that burns, as the camera closes in for a nice lingering shot of the consuming flames. How the fire knows to do this is a mystery, but it is always so.
A variation on this with the paperwork is to mark up or disfigure the important picture instead of burning it. But that's sort of for wusses. We recommend you go with the bonfire.
The phrase that names this trope was coined by activist Bill Epton, who was said to have been the first person since the Red Scare of 1919 to be convicted of criminal anarchy. Supposedly for saying those three words.
- Mamimi in FLCL, watching the elementary school she was bullied in burn. Though she isn't seen setting the fire, she's the only character shown carrying a lighter.
- Fullmetal Alchemist:
- Ed and Al burn their house when they choose to leave, out of a belief that they can't call it home anymore. In the manga, Hohenheim calls Ed out on it, saying that he was running away from his crime.
- Another example would be when Mustang burns the paper that had SELIM BRADLEY IS HOMUNCULUS on it and throws the ashes in the toilet; he'd used it to work out Riza's coded message, and now that he's done, destroys the evidence.
- GTO: The Early Years: Ryuji decides he needs to let go of the past, and burns the pictures of him and Ayumi that she gave him.
- One Piece:
- The crew burns the broken Going-Merry in a Viking funeral fashion.
- The Baroque Works Officer Agents burn their orders this way after the meeting in Rain Dinners.
- Black Dynamite: Rather than risk destabilizing the black community with athletic sneaker mania, Black Dynamite burns down the warehouse full of Paul "the Pole" Monroe's branded shoes, resulting in a dramatic explosion.
- In the Love Hina cross-over fanfic Contract Labor just before Keitaro leaves for Roanapur he burns his pictures of his girlfriends Miyuki and Natsumi. Gaz (his partner) tells Seta (his mentor/friend) "Where he (Keitaro) is going, he does not want them to follow."
- Dread String of Fate: Marinette decides to burn all the pictures she has of Adrien, as despite her previous efforts to get rid of them, they seem to keep mysteriously returning and papering themselves back across her walls.
- In the Emergency! fic Lost and Found, John Gage is abducted and held captive by a deranged serial killer for 18 months. Tortured and mentally manipulated, John eventually feels he has no choice but to willingly play his captor's "game" to avoid being killed by the torture and dumped like the other victims. After his escape, he is depressed and humiliated by the fact that, among other things, he let himself be a subject in the guy's pornographic photos. He becomes desperate to destroy the photos, and despite not wanting Roy to know, Roy coaxes John into allowing him to come with. After John's injured leg stops him getting into the house, Roy goes in and gathers the photos, along with the photos of the other victims, and after helping John inside, the two burn them in the fireplace. It brings peace to John, and both men know it will prevent the other victims' memories from being ruined should anyone else get the images.
- The Night Unfurls:
- In Chapter 26 of the original, Kyril and his company set Archbishop Grishom's cathedral aflame, in order to flush the rebels in the same area, and kill them all in one fell swoop.
- Exaggerated and Played for Laughs in Chapter 28. Stacks of letters from angry noblemen are being used as kindling for the fire thanks to Evetta taking a page from Firekeeper's book, much to Grace's consternation. Eventually the flames are tended to so thoroughly that Kyril's office starts to swelter.
- In Robb Returns, Upon acceding to the Seastone Chair, Asha burns her father's plans for revenge on the North.
- At the end of The Big Red One the squad burns a propaganda pamphlet to provide light so they can give first aid to a German sergeant Lee Marvin's character stabbed. The flame is shown consuming the words saying that Germany has just surrendered and the war is over.
- In Black Panther (2018), Killmonger orders the burning of the garden of heart-shaped herbs that grant Wakandan kings the powers of the Black Panther, as he sees no reign beyond his own.
- In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, one year after T'Challa's passing, his mother Queen Ramonda burns her funerary clothes to signify that she has finished mourning him. She encourages Shuri to do the same, but she refuses. At the end of the movie, once Shuri has come to grips with not only T'Challa's passing but also Ramonda's, she burns her funerary clothes, creating the backdrop for the end credits.
- In The Bourne Supremacy, Marie has just been shot dead by a sniper. Bourne proceeds to burn her false passports in a fire. We get a lingering shot of her passport slowly burning up.
- Buffaloed: Peg dramatically burns the debt papers the cops collected as evidence, freeing thousands of people from around a billion dollars in debt.
- At the end of The Butterfly Effect we see Evan burn the time-travel journals that caused him and the people around him so much pain.
- In Citizen Kane, the last shot is of Kane's childhood sled burning. Ultra close up on the sled's name, which is Rosebud but come on, you should know this already.
- In The Dark Knight, Alfred burns Rachel's letter to Bruce (saying she was going to marry Harvey Dent, and that they can only be friends due to him never giving up on being Batman) after the police declare a manhunt on Batman.
- De Gaulle: Charles de Gaulle, having made an emergency flight to London to as for help as the French army is collapsing in June 1940, gets back to Paris and makes his way to the government quarter. He sees just how badly things are going upon his return, when he enters a government building and sees a pile of documents burning in the courtyard. He comes into Premier Reynaud's office and finds the head of the French government throwing more documents into his own fire.
- Jean Leloup, a popular Québecois rock musician, made a documentary called Exit in which he chronicled his last tour under his stage name and cool-but-fake stage persona. At the end of the film, we see him put a guitar on a little raft, which he sets on fire and casts adrift in a mock Viking Funeral. (He went on to release one album under his birth name, Jean Leclerc, before reverting to the Jean Leloup act. So much for the symbolism.)
- In the movie Hard Boiled, the police do this with the ID papers of cops who die in the line of duty (such as Tequila's partner from the opening shootout and Alan at the end of the movie).
- The letters from Hogwarts in the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone movie.
- Highlander: Conner MacLeod burns the home he shared with his mortal wife after burying her, leaving his clan sword beside the grave.
- In the movie of The Hunt for Red October Ramius burns the submarine's real orders.
- In The King of Marvin Gardens, Jason and Sally gleefully throw their winter wear into a bonfire as they plan to move to Hawaii.
- The Life and Death of Peter Sellers showed Peter Sellers burning his collection of everything from his previous movies just before making Being There. According to the BBC documentary The Peter Sellers Story - As He Filmed It, he did burn many of his home movies near the end of his life. The documentary is compiled from what he didn't burn, and as he was a serious amateur photographer from the 1940s onward, there are hours upon hours that survived. In fact, some were recreated for that biopic!
- Little Women (2019): Amy burns Jo's manuscript and the camera lingers on the firelight on her face as she does it.
- Used as Bookends in Malone (1987). The protagonist, a former CIA hitman, burns his driver's license before taking on a new identity at the start and end of the movie.
- Memento had a scene like this, in which Lenny burned some things that had belonged to his late wife, including her favorite book.
- In Monster's Ball, Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) burns his corrections officer uniform after quitting the job.
- The Monuments Men. When the Nazis destroy an art depository with flamethrowers, Portrait of a young man by Raphael is prominently displayed as it burns.
- Nightbooks: A despondent Alex attempts to do this to his scary stories at the beginning of the film, which is how he ends up in the elevator that delivers him to the apartment. Throughout the film, he resists Natacha's efforts to make him explain why he wanted to do this, before eventually explaining it was out of shame for being seen as "weird" by his classmates, including a former friend. He ultimately tosses them in the furnace after escaping the apartment in order to lure the original witch inside it. Although that was a mostly empty one, ironically the original notebooks end up destroyed by a shredder, and not by Alex's own hand.
- In Pump Up the Volume, when Mark decides to stop broadcasting as Hard Harry, he has a symbolic burning of his notes and letters that he was keeping as a pirate DJ. This is interrupted by his romantic interest, Nora, who is upset because many of the things he was burning had been written by her as "the Eat Me, Beat Me Lady."
- In The Rocketeer, when Howard Hughes refuses to rebuild his (presumed-)destroyed jetpack for the US Army, he throws the blueprints into his office fireplace.
- In The Terminator, Sarah Connor's picture burns in a symbolic manner in one of Kyle's dreams.
- The documentary Touching The Void has an interesting real-life subversion where a mountain climber falls into an ice crevasse and is believed to have died by his comrades. Turns out that he survives the fall and after crawling back to camp (on a broken leg no less!) is understandably upset to discover that they had burned his trousers in grieving.
- In The Book of Basketball, The Sports Guy says that after reading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's autobiography and gleaning all the information he needed, he set fire to the book. (helps that as a Celtics fan, he saw many NBA finals against Kareem's Lakers)
- In The Bridge of Clay the Dunbar boys take their parents' bed out to an abandoned field behind their house (their mother is dead, their father has left them and they finally get to clearing their bedroom). Their first attempt is thwarted by strong westerly wind and risk of setting the whole field on fire and they finally do it a few years later, when it becomes even more symbolic.
- The Cat Who... Series: In book 22 (The Cat Who Robbed a Bank), Qwilleran discovers a series of letters from his mother to his "Aunt" Fanny, and reads them. At the end, he discovers the truth about what happened to his Disappeared Dad. In a desperate act to get money for his family, the elder Qwilleran was shot while trying to rob a bank. Qwill angrily throws the letters into the fireplace, declaring that "The past is dead!"
- Finders Keepers: Pete's solution to his problem.
- The Grace Year: The grace year girls arrive to the camp. They find that the prior group burned anything that could have made things easier for Tierney's before leaving, likely out of spite. Before Tierney and her group leave, they only burn the punishment tree.
- Invisible Man ends with the narrator hiding in a sewer systematically burning everything he has collected during his entire life while New York is burned to the ground above him. Symbolic indeed.
- Misery has Paul setting the finished manuscript of the novel Annie forced him to write on fire... and then takes it one step further by having Paul SHOVE THE BURNING MANUSCRIPT DOWN HER THROAT. Subverted when he gets home, since he saved the real manuscript so that he can publish it.
- The Purple Cloud: Adam's main source of joy After the End is burning and blowing up the now-empty cities. He starts with London and goes on to destroy major cities all over the world. After twenty years of solitude, he destroys Constantinople, which leads to him meeting Leda, the only other surviving human, who had been trapped in a cellar before the fire caused part of the roof to collapse. Once he's no longer alone, he no longer feels the need to burn cities.
- In The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of the Pimpernel's partners tries to burn a piece of paper with his instructions by holding it to the flame of a candle. Unfortunately for him, a sneaky woman that wants to discover the identity of the Pimpernel (and who just happens to unknowingly be the Pimpernel's wife) snatches the paper out of his hands, pretending to believe he was trying to use the smoke of the burning paper to revive her from a dizzy spell.
- Angel burns the sketches he drew of Darla in a previously unseen incinerator he just happens to own. This one also counts as foreshadowing because shortly afterward he sets Darla and Drusilla alight using some motor oil and a calmly dropped cigarette. They survive.
- In another episode, Wesley attempts to burn Lilah Morgan's contract with Wolfram & Hart, but another copy appears in its place.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003):
- Upon discovering that the "promised land" is a nuked wasteland, Laura Roslin burns the Prophecies of Pythia that led them there page by page.
- Around the same time, Starbuck burns her own corpse on a pyre.
- Annie burned all her memorabilia of Owen after learning that he was her killer in Being Human (UK). Unfortunately, due to her housemates being subject to a mistaken Pædo Hunt at the same time, she caused a little panic that the house might be on fire...
- The Big Bang Theory: in The Closet Reconfiguration, Sheldon finds an unopened letter to Howard from the father who abandoned him and his mother years ago. Howard immediately burns it up in the sink insisting he has no interest in the contents. Except that Sheldon had already opened and read the letter and he has an eidetic memory. Hilarity Ensues.
- Burke's Law: In "Who Killed the Movie Mogul," the Burkes question Leo Barnett's main starlet and reluctant mistress as she puts everything Leo ever gave her into a car (which he also gave her). She then uses some of the studio's equipment to blow the car up.
- Cracker: Jane Penhaligon burns her clothes after she's been raped, causing Fitz (who's unaware of the reason) to quip that burning a bra is "a bit too Sixties."
- Fellow Travelers: In the sixth episode, after Lucy Fuller reads without permission a letter that Tim Laughlin wrote to his former lover Hawkins Fuller, she burns it out of jealousy because she hates the fact that her husband loves a man more than her. As a consequence, Hawk never knew of the letter's existence.
- In one Valentine's Day episode of Friends, the girls ritualistically burn some items from their various ex-boyfriends in a "cleansing ceremony." The fire gets a little out of hand and the fire department is called in. The firemen even comment that due to all the "Boyfriend Bonfires", Valentine's Day is their third busiest time of the year, only surpassed by the 4th of July and Halloween. The girls then dated the firemen.
- Game of Thrones: Theon is shown writing a letter to Robb about his father's plans to attack the North, but has a change of heart and burns it instead, to prove to himself that he's loyal to the Ironborn.
- Lost inverted the idea when Kate burns Joanna's passport. She purposely burns only the picture, so that she can pass herself off as Joanna when they are rescued. We get a lingering shot of the picture burning.
- In "War of Nerves" the 4077 has a "regulation bon type fire" in order to relieve some of the tension the camp was feeling.
- In one episode the gang threw Col. Potter a surprise mortgage burning party at the request of Mrs. Potter, after she successfully paid off their mortgage six months early.
- Averted in Misfits, when the long-suffering Woobie Simon had a major Freak Out and tried to burn down the (currently empty) house of the guy who bullied him through school. He started the fire but realized there was a cat inside the house. Not wishing to kill an innocent creature, he put the flames out by urinating through the letterbox. Um...aww?
- Oz: When Kareem Said finds himself falling in love with Tricia Ross, he burns a picture of her in an attempt to kill that love. It doesn't work, and when knowledge of the affair becomes public knowledge among the black prison population he's ousted as head of the Muslims.
- Spaced: In a shot similar to the funerals of Qui-Gon and Darth Vader in Star Wars, Tim burns all his Star Wars paraphernalia because he hates The Phantom Menace so much.
- In the opening episode of UFO (1970), the main character Straker is introduced as a US Army colonel with a briefcase chained to his wrist, containing unseen evidence that he shows to a British government minister en route to a conference. Their vehicle and escort are then attacked by a Flying Saucer. When the vehicle goes off the road Straker is thrown clear and wakes up to see the evidence (a photograph of the same kind of flying saucer) burning up in front of him.
- In the two-part season 5 opener of The X-Files, a man surveilling Agent Mulder's apartment from the next floor up realizes he has been found and tries to burn incriminating evidence, which doesn't work quite as planned.
- You (2018): Alluding to previous fiery crimes and coverups, Joe tells Kate a half-truth to make her trust him: he burns things as a form of catharsis. Later he sees her dramatically set an ugly painting on fire.
- Green Day, in "Whatsername":
"I made a point to burn all of the photographs"
- In the video for George Michael's "Freedom '90", one of the models sets fire to his iconic leather jacket from the "Faith" video, to symbolize that he is moving on from the image he had made for himself around the time of his first solo album. Two other items from the same video — a jukebox and his acoustic guitar — are set to explode during the chorus.
- This turned up in a KISS video. Not only did the woman burn his picture, but she flamed his car too.
- Rammstein spells this out in Benzin:
Willst du dich von etwas trennen,
dann musst du es verbrennen.
Willst du es nie wiedersehen?
Lass es schwimmen in Benzin!
- A brief scene in Van Halen's "Right Now" has this.
- Two songs, both titled "Smoke On the Water," are true stories about fires but their specific purposes are as different as their respective genres:
- The earlier of the two was a World War II-era country hit for Red Foley, and forecast fire as a means to the destruction of the Axis Powers, including Japan, Germany and Italy, and calling out their respective dictators as mercenaries of terror who would eventually be brought to their knees. In addition to Foley's multi-week No. 1 song from 1944, there was a cover version by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys that also topped the country chart, this time in 1945, just weeks before victory came to Europe.
- The Deep Purple song from 1973 is a staple of classic rock and classic hits radio. That song describes the true story of a fire in 1971 at the Montreux Casino, where "some stupid with a flare gun" fired at the ceiling, igniting a fire that destroyed the casino and the equipment of the rock band Mothers Of Invention.
- Taylor Swift:
"As far as I'm concerned
You're just another picture to burn!"
- The Sopranos has "Arson", where you must burn down Artie Bucco's restaurant.
- In The Magnus Archives, Martin burns statements during the Unknowing in order to distract Elias from seeing Melanie deliver important evidence to the police.
- In the original off-off-Broadway production of Be More Chill, Michael is shown burning old mementos from him and Jeremys' friendship with a joint right before Jeremy's dad walks in.
- In Hamilton, Eliza burns the letters she wrote to her husband Alexander during their courtship - letters that might have redeemed him following her husband's publishing of the Reynolds Pamphlet where he admits to cheating on her - in the aptly-titled song, "Burn". We don't know for certain whether the real Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton also burned those letters, but it is true that nearly all her personal letters to Alexander are lost to history.
- In Hedda Gabler, Hedda burns Lovborg's "lost" manuscript after sending him off with one of her guns to commit suicide.
- In La Bohème, Rodolfo, desperate to get a fire going in his frigid flat, decides to burn one of his plays. He and his friends reflect on the drama going up in flames, act by act.
- In the original play as well the off-Broadway incarnation of the musical Spring Awakening, Moritz dramatically burns Frau Gabor's letter right before he kills himself.
- Heavy Rain features this when Scott Shelby is revealed to be the Origami Killer and begins burning all the evidence that's connected to his killings. Just to twist the knife, the player is personally controlling Scott/the Killer as this happens.
- At the end of Episode 1 of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, Rachel burns the photo of her father because she thinks that he is cheating on her mother, throws it in a waste bin, then angrily shoves it over, starting the forest fire that is prevalent in the following episodes.
- In Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: Season Two, you can choose to burn either a drawing of Kenny's family Clem made during Season One or the photo of Lee she carries with her. If you choose to burn Lee's photo, you're interrupted before you can do so, but the significance of this is never explained.
- In Ace Attorney Investigations, part of the reason for the fires in the last case was to destroy evidence of a counterfeiting operation.
- In the last case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, Pearl Fey tries to burn the letter her mother gave her that unbeknownst to her, was used to manipulate her into helping a murder plot against her beloved cousin Maya. The attempt is less than a complete success, and Phoenix recovers enough of the letter to piece together what happened.
- Can You Spare a Quarter?:
- Jamie burns a letter from his parentnote rather than reading it.
- When he is grown up he burns most of the clothes and the backpack he used as a street child, to definitively emphasize that this part of his life is over.
- Critical Role: Vax asks Keyleth to use her flaming hands to burn the Clasp's brand from his back after cutting ties with the organisation and she obliges, covering the brand with a scar in the shape of her handprint. It hurts like hell, but Vax considers it Worth It.
- Marble Hornets starts out when Jay gets some video tapes and instructions to burn them. He decided to post them on YouTube instead. A whole lot of Jigsaw Puzzle Plot and Nightmare Fuel later, we learn that Alex actually did burn some of the tapes- judging from one that was still playable, probably the ones that showed him doing incriminating things.
- In one of Foamy's Fan Mails, Foamy gets so pissed off at all the redundant mail he gets, that he collects it all into a large stack and sets it on fire and burns down the studio as well, so he never has to do a Fan Mail episode again. Fires back at him when he has to do the next one in the burned out remains of it. The episode is appropriately named "Burn Baby Burn".
Foamy: "And what do we have here? It's a fucking pack of matches! Uuhhaaaaa..... Matches!!! Fire on a stick! Woo-hoo-hoo-hooooo!!!"
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Happened at the end of "The Beach", where Zuko burned up his childhood family pictures. The flames burn slowly until only his face is still showing, and in a nice touch, the flames mimic his scar.
- In Kim Possible, there is a scene in 'Stop Team Go' where Shego (now back to herself after being temporarily turned good) burns photo booth pictures of herself and Kim Possible with her green plasma. The timing of the scene suggests that she's doing it to make sure Drakken doesn't see them.
- In the final episode of Ren & Stimpy, "The Last Temptation of Ren", Ren burns his prized possessions after learning the error of his materialistic ways in a Near-Death Experience.
- The Simpsons: Homer torches his high school diploma after he gets accepted into college.
- In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the Beast scratches out his human portrait to make his portrait take on his current appearance.
- There's a parody of this in Discworld where the Librarian, who was transformed into an orangutan, tears out his page in every copy of his graduation yearbook he can find, leaving only the smell of bananas, so that the other wizards at Unseen University won't be tempted to look up his true name and turn him back into a human.
- Similarly, during Mufasa and Simba's funeral (though the latter survived and escaped) in The Lion King (1994), Rafiki actually scratches out the painting he drew of Simba after thinking that he, like his father Mufasa, is dead. When Rafiki finds out that Simba is actually still alive, he immediately draws another painting of Simba, but this time it's one showing him as an adult lion instead of a lion cub.
- In the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Everett casually tosses a newspaper on the nightly campfire, and as the front page burns away, it momentarily reveals an article he would have been very interested in reading.
- A rule of Military intelligence is not to let it fall in the enemy's hands, and the fastest way to ensure that is fire/acid.
- Cryptographic one-time pads for intelligence operatives were sometimes printed on highly flammable nitrocellulose, since it burns quickly and without leaving any residue.
- Spy planes have thermite igniters in case they are ever downed. Not for the crew to defend themselves with, but to burn computers and equipment that are classified. Nothing says Burn Baby Burn like Thermite.
- Un-salvageable military vehicles on the battlefield are destroyed, as described in Black Hawk Down. Accounts from Operation Iraqi Freedom identify M1A1 Abrams tanks as the most difficult to properly sanitize.
- Artists doing this when experiencing Artist Disillusionment and/or Creator Breakdown is Truth in Television- Frederic Remington, known as one of America's historical great artists for his highly detailed and life-like sculptures and paintings of the Wild West, infamously built a bonfire and torched dozens of his oil paintings experimenting with impressionism and expressionism or featuring non-western subjects, because no one seemed to care about anything but his realistic paintings of Native Americans, horses, and cowboys. Ironically, years after his death surviving examples of his experimental paintings are highly sought after because they represent a more personal facet and unacknowledged depth to Remington's artistry, as opposed to the (masterfully composed and executed) Strictly Formula work he produced for public sale.
- During The Vietnam War, anti-war protestors and draft-dodgers took to burning their draft cards, which was soon made a felony under federal law.
- In 2002, a Colorado forest ranger allegedly chose to burn some letters from an estranged husband despite a fire ban. The fire escaped the pit and resulted in the Hayman Fire, the largest forest fire in Colorado history at the time.
- The dramatic fire burning the important part of a photo last is frequently Truth in Television: the most important thing in a photo is usually centered, and paper burns from the outside in.