Follow TV Tropes


Ice Breaker

Go To

Intense cold can be just as destructive a force as intense heat. While freezing things solid may not be as pyrotechnically impressive as setting them alight or melting them into puddles, the fact remains that reducing the temperature of an object can have some interesting effects: namely, things that were once soft and pliable (like the human body) or rigid and impenetrable (like steel bars) turn brittle and hence easy to break.

In fiction, this miraculous ability of cold to turn rubber balls into shrapnel bombs is, naturally, turned Up to Eleven. Simply encasing a thing in ice or freezing it to the point that frost forms on the surface is often treated as enough to make steel bars shatter with a dramatic kick. In reality, you'd need several minutes of exposure to liquid nitrogen to achieve such a result, and touching anything that cold with bare skin would probably leave you in need of a new appendage or two. (In fact, many science class demonstrations with liquid nitrogen involve freezing a banana, then using it to hammer in a nail...the exact opposite effect of what is shown on the movie screen.)


Sometimes, this is an aversion of Harmless Freezing. Other times, a person frozen solid will be completely fine if they're thawed out, but until that happens they're vulnerable to having Literally Shattered Lives.

See also An Ice Person and Evil Is Deathly Cold.

Not to be confused with the hacking tool from Deus Ex. Or with any slang about dating. Or that brand of gum. Or those big ships used to clear paths for other ships in the northern oceans.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ranma ½, the Phoenix King Saffron's only weakness is cold. When Ranma stabs his arm with the freezing weapon Gekkaja, half of Saffron's body is frozen solid, and then his own weapon, the Kinjakan, breaks through and shatters said arm, setting him free just before the Gekkaja could turn all of him into ice. Later, Ranma turns the Gekkaja on himself to avoid death from Saffron's mountain-vaporizing heat ray, and Saffron nearly breaks him in half with the Kinjakan. The battle finally ends when Ranma, still half-frozen, delivers an attack so unbelievably cold it breaks even the ice left on his fist and instantly freezes and shatters Saffron like so much glass.
    • A comedic version of the trope occurred much earlier in the series, when Ranma contracts a super-powerful cold that keeps mutating throughout the story. At one point, Ranma is so cold he can sneeze freezing wind at Happosai, encasing him in ice and handily breaking him apart with a mallet.
  • In Saint Seiya, foes hit with Cygnus Hyoga's Diamond Dust or Aurora Execution tend to fall to pieces unless they are recurring characters. His master, Aquarius Camus, can do the same.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!'s Evangeline A K McDowell has a few spells that fit this trope.
  • In Bleach, this tends to happen to Rukia Kuchiki's enemies when she freezes them, through oddly doesn't happen when Toshiro Hitsugaya freezes them.

    Film - Animation 
  • Frozen: Elsa semi-consciously freezes metal manacles restraining her to the point where she (a fragile young woman) can break out of them by struggling hard enough. In the process the freezing also spreads over the entire dungeon cell she's in, eventually causing a large wooden beam to dislodge and demolish a wall, letting her escape.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In Batman & Robin, BINO (Bane In Name Only) slams a wall of reinforced steel with both fists but is unable to break it. All it takes is for Mr. Freeze to use his suit to freeze the water pipes and thus freeze the wall, thus making it easier to bust out.
    • Actually, freezing the pipes is pretty destructive by itself. In some comic he destroyed a wall that way. And steel does get surprisingly brittle if it gets cold enough.
  • Probably the best-known example of the trope in action: in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the nigh-invulnerable T-1000 is splashed with a tanker-full of liquid nitrogen. Its liquid metal matrix steadily freezes over until it starts shattering simply by trying to move around, until it's frozen completely solid. Then, it only takes a bullet to shatter the whole construct into itty, bitty pieces. Shame they did it in the vicinity of molten metal... A deleted scene showed that the T-1000 was still affected afterwards by its cold spell, with its mimic ability glitching and out of control, even copying the floor it was walking on.
  • The Terminator 2 scene was parodied in Hot Shots! Part Deux by President Benson freezing Saddam Hussein (and his little dog, too!) with, uh, a fire extinguisher. Wait, what?
  • At one point in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, when Balthazar is immobilized by bent metal piping, he escapes by magically supercooling the bits that were holding him and snapping them off.
  • The Mortal Kombat movie has Sub-Zero calmly freeze the muzzle of Sonya's Glock and snap it off with his bare hands when she tries pointing it at him.
  • In Pacific Rim, Gipsy Danger does this by venting its coolant onto a Kaiju's tail, freezing it solid and breaking it off.
  • In Jason X, Jason puts a woman's face into liquid nitrogen, freezing it, and then smashing her face onto the table.
  • The film Demolition Man ends with John Spartan kicking off Phoenix's head after being flash frozen with a suitable Bond One-Liner. Spartan then crashes through a gate of frozen steel bars to escape before the place explodes.
  • Scott Lang in Ant-Man manages to break into a vault by pouring water in the locking mechanism, followed by liquid nitrogen. While the door doesn't shatter, it frosts over and warps out of shape, sending bolts flying before finally falling off its hinges.
  • In Universal Soldier: The Return Luc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) does this to SETH (Michael Jai White) in the climactic fight after freezing him in a cryogenic facility.

  • The Dresden Files: in Changes Harry, after becoming the Winter Knight, covers a vampire's arm with ice, then snaps it in half. Possibly justified in that the cold is magical and Harry has superhuman strength.
  • In Shadow Ops, this is used while trying to flush a Selfer physiomancer out of a New York sewer. The team Aquamancer freezes the lock and hinges on a locked door, and then kicks the door in. Cheaper and quieter than C4, quicker than lockpicks.
  • In Blood & Ice by Robert Masello, an attempt to cure vampires Eleanor Ames and Sinclair Copley of their need for blood involves injecting them with the blood of an Antarctic fish, which acts as a substitute means of allowing oxygen to circulate in their systems, thus replacing their need for fresh blood, but at the cost of rendering them extremely vulnerable to direct contact with ice; at the novel's conclusion, Sinclair freezes and falls into a crevasse when a few flecks of snow land on his face.

    Live Action TV 
  • MacGyver (1985) did this in one episode where he was locked in a freezer. However it worked because MacGyver had gotten water to freeze in the lock. Since water is one of the few chemical that expands when it freezes, it broke the lock as it froze.
  • Confirmed by the Mythbusters: liquid nitrogen can make locks significantly easier to physically destroy. Of course, the equipment required makes freezing locks anything but subtle. Busted, however, in the case of dunking someone's head in liquid nitrogen for a few seconds and then shattering it against a table (as per the movie Jason X): as demonstrated with an artificial head analogue, the trauma would obviously be fatal, but the result as depicted would be impossible to achieve, even if the victim's head were submerged in liquid nitrogen for several minutes.
  • The episode "When Justice Fails" of RoboCop: The Series is full of this as it's centered around a cryonicatics/fuel company. First Robo's legs get's frozen and he breaks it attempting to pursue the criminal. Later he gets completely frozen in about 3 seconds but thankfully just before he's shattered into pieces he uses a plug to warm himself up (again in seconds). Then criminal slips on the ice right into a stream of liquid nitrogen freezing solid and breaking into pieces when something hits him.
  • In the Angel episode "Expecting", they defeat the supposedly indestructible Haxil beast- fire and decapitation are confirmed to be ineffective methods of killing it and the creature is very large- by tricking it into grabbing a tank of liquid nitrogen and shooting the tank so that the Haxil is doused in the nitrogen and left frozen solid.
  • Used as the murder method in the Castle episode "Food to Die For." An inventive gourmet chef who used liquid nitrogen is killed when a vat of it is poured over him. He's mostly intact, but his hand did shatter when he fell to the floor. Castle, being Castle, is thus inspired to get his own liquid nitrogen and spends some time freezing and shattering random objects at home with Alexis.
  • In Volume 3 of Heroes, Tracy Strauss, one of a trio of Ali Larter characters (though one never appears), discovers she has the power to freeze things and people, and accidentally freezes a reporter for blackmailing her over a sex tape involving her (actually Niki Sanders' Split Personality Jessica) and Nathan Petrelli. Said reporter than just crumbles apart.


    Video Games 
  • This is actually a mechanic in Dragon Age: Origins where several cold-based spells actually freeze enemies solid. A critical hit landed on a frozen enemy will cause them to shatter, killing them instantly. The animation merely shows the ice breaking and the enemy dying as they would from any other killing blow, but the "Shattered!" text appearing over them leaves no doubt as to the intended effect.
  • A subtrope of this is when a character becomes frozen, only to shatter the ice seconds later by flexing his or her muscles. Spark Mandrill of Mega Man X1'' does this every time.
    • So does Samus in Metroid Prime, if she gets attacked by an ice-based weapon.
  • Duke Nukem 3D lets you do this to enemies: Frozen enemies will shatter into shards no bigger than your fist if kicked or shot, without fail. However, if they have time to thaw they'll still somehow be able to keep fighting with one hit point.
    • Same in Hexen, but there, once an enemy is frozen, it shatters by itself within a few seconds.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker allows you to do this to enemies by hitting them with an Ice Arrow, then slamming them with the Skull Hammer.
    • Darknuts will also exhibit the second type of this trope; they break out almost immediately to prevent you from smashing them. (The key word is almost. You can still kill them with this combo if you act as soon as possible.)
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity does this in a horrifying Mood Whiplash scene. What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?
  • Freeware game ^Exit Fate has a "Freeze" status ailment: Affected characters cannot dodge and will be killed instantly by any physical attack.
    • As does Star Ocean: The Last Hope. A few Battle Trophies revolve around doing this to foes.
    • And in Luminous Arc 2, freezing works almost the same way. The only difference is that Frozen characters can't take any action whatsoever.
  • Many of Sub-Zero's Fatalities throughout the Mortal Kombat series employ this. Freezing the opponent and uppercutting him to bits; holding them over his head, freezing them with his hands and breaking them in two; ripping their skull and spine from their frozen body and shatter it by swinging the skull like a flail, you name it.
    • Oddly, Sub-Zero also subverts this trope. Later games show him fighting with his fists frozen, which apparently makes his punches stronger.
  • The Metroid series has a few variations on this. When using the Ice Beam, a creature not strong enough to survive the shot simply explodes into frozen chunks, while a stronger creature will freeze and can be shattered with a missile. Some take more than one. Other times, a frozen enemy may be used as a stepping stone to reach higher areas, and will not shatter when a 200+ pound suit of armor jumps on top of it.
  • In Diablo II any player character with an ice enchanted weapon or ice based spells could destroy enemies like this. Shattering an enemy like this leaves no corpse behind, which is helpful against Nihlathak or Regurgitators, but a hassle for Necromancers and Barbarians, who have skills that consume corpses.
  • In BioShock your ice plasmid does this. Though the damage something takes while frozen is actually separate from their regular health bar...
    • It is also mentioned by McDonagh in an Audio Log this is a major problem with living in a city under water where said water can "get colder than a witch's teet". He seems to have repeatedly told people they have to make sure their pipes stay warm or they will burst. One of the main obstacles at the beginning is finding the Fire Plasmid so you can get past a door that has been frozen over due to a pipe burst.
  • In World of Warcraft frost mages have a talent called Shatter which greatly increases their critical strike chance against frozen targets.
    • Frost death knights also get the "Brittle Bones" talent that causes creatures infected with the frost fever disease to take extra damage. This disease makes their bones easier to break by lowering their temperature and is quite survivable.
  • Sypha in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse has an ice spell that freezes enemies, who can then be shattered with her staff. It's the only way a Blood Skeleton can be permanently killed.
  • One boss in Resident Evil 4 is defeated by knocking over nitrogen tanks and shooting him while he's frozen.
  • Resident Evil 5 has nitrogen rounds for the Grenade Launcher that turn mooks in ice statues which can be shattered in a single melee hit. If untouched, they will thaw out perfectly fine in fifteen seconds.
  • Most Final Fantasy games featuring Shiva as a summon will have this — her magic encases enemies in ice; then, with a snap of her fingers, she shatters them to bits. Of course it's only a visual effect. Final Fantasy XII lacks the traditional summons, but Fran has ice-based quickenings, and her "Shatterheart" acts in the same way.
  • Getting hit by or killing a Frostie in Amorphous+ causes it to explode in an icy explosion. This freezes both you and any glooples caught in it. Getting touched by anything while frozen kills you instantly (thankfully, you can do the same to glooples once you unfreeze).
  • Mega Man Battle Network: setting your foe in ice (by hitting them with Aqua element attack while they're standing on an ice panel) will make them take double damage from Break-attribute attacks.
  • In Path of Exile cold damage can freeze enemies, leaving them helpless for a time based on the amount of damage taken relative to their total health. Being slain while frozen causes the target to shatter, leaving no corpse and suppressing some on-death effects. When using the Herald of Ice skill a shattered target will also explode into icy shrapnel, striking those nearby with cold damage.
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! adds cryo to the series' palette of elemental damage types and status effects. Cryo damage usually has a chance to freeze an enemy solid for a few seconds. Frozen targets are highly vulnerable to melee, explosives, and falling (which otherwise never causes damage); a slap in the face will often be an instant, satisfying, shatter-to-pieces kill. There is even a mission that requires you to freeze and shatter specific enemies so you can bring the chunks back. CHUNKS BACK!
  • Master Xehanort has this in a partial Cutscene Power to the Max in the Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep promo video. While both cutscenes and in game boss battles have him with massive ice power, the promo video has him Flash Freeze Ven, then throw him off a cliff. While we see this shatter Ven's mask and keyblade, Aqua manages to save Ven before he himself shatters. This is replicated as close as possible in the game proper.
  • In a non-combat video game example, Beyond the Spirit's Eye requires you to break into a barred cabinet by freezing the bar with a fire extinguisher's spray, then smashing it. Justified by a recall order in a nearby office drawer, indicating the extinguisher is defective and dangerous.
  • DOOM (2016) has an Easter Egg death sequence homaging the scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day early in the game.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang uses water to freeze a lock to let Flopsy free.
    • Justified, as mentioned above, in that water does expand with quite impressive force as it freezes.
  • Xiaolin Showdown also uses this trope. The Xiaolin Warriors and Jack are held in the dungeon. Even Dojo can't escape his cage by growing to his super size. But all it takes is for Omi to freeze the bars, and the warriors easily break free. (Omi is even able to break the bars of Jack's cell with his PINKY!)
  • Subverted in King of the Hill: Peggy tries to demonstrate the "make it brittle by dipping it in liquid nitrogen" part mentioned above on a rose, but apparently didn't hold the thing in long enough, as it easily bends when she tries to break it.
  • In Super Friends, Captain Cold was able to knock a building over by freezing and then punching it.
  • On Totally Spies!, the gadget Ice Queen Perfume/Spray serves as a sprayable Freeze Ray. Need to break something? Spray and shatter!

    Real Life 
  • Water pipes or full and tightly closed vessels made of non-elastic materials (metal, glass, ceramics, etc.) can and will rupture or shatter if the water inside them freezes, though it has less to do with them becoming brittle and more with the fact that water, unlike most materials, becomes about 10% less dense when it freezes, and thus expands with considerable force.
  • Many steels, including a lot of common varieties used to make most everything, are cold-short — that is, they become brittle when exposed to cold, generally below 50-60°C. This is why you'd need special steels for construction and machinery designed to work in polar regions; or in space, where very low temperatures can be achieved. The catch is that this cold-shortness is often caused by phosphorus, which is a common additive to make steel immune to rust.
  • The element Tin is normally found in its malleable white tin form (β-tin), but if conditions are cold enough (below 13.2°C) it transforms into the less dense and far more brittle grey tin form (α-tin) via an autocatalytic, allotropic reaction. This is also known as Tin Pest and caused many problems with tin objects in colder climates. As such, other metals are often added Tin to form an alloy, greatly lowering the temperature for Tin Pest to occur or prevent it entirely.
  • Though the freezing process tends to take longer than a quick dip, a liquid nitrogen bath can indeed cause this trope. A liquid nitrogen-frozen rose, for instance, can be smashed like sugar glass. Frozen human, on the other hand, behaves pretty much like a log.
  • While extreme cold, of itself, does not necessarily render something fragile, thermal shock - a rapid transition from hot to cold, or vice versa - can severely compromise otherwise solid material. Generally speaking,note  matter expands the warmer it gets. If a hard, poorly conductive material like glass is heated unevenly, it will expand unevenly, causing internal stress and possibly breakage. This is why you should never thaw a frozen windshield with hot water; the thermal shock would be likely to crack the glass.


Example of: