A situation wherein a character hopes to demonstrate his preparedness by showing the massive amounts of canned foods he has stocked in case of an emergency. The demonstration is ruined when he, or another character, points out that he has no can opener. This is usually played for laughs, though it can work as a dramatic situation if the characters are starving. However, the drama of the scenario is somewhat undercut by how any tin can can be cracked open by using a knife (or even a spoon) to create an opening and slice the top open. (Or even just brute force if you're really desperate/creative. Tin can lids work as chisels, by the way.)
Mostly becoming a Discredited Trope as a result of the above, and the fact that most companies are making the transition to pull-tabs on their cans. Still, enough cans remain un-tabbed that it should still be relevant for a while. As a side note, this is a bit of Truth in Television: The sealed tin can was invented in 1810, but the first tin can opener was produced in 1858, meaning that for almost 50 years, everyone had to rely on the chisel-and-brute-force method... of course, that just makes you wonder why fictional characters are so freaked out by it.
The pop-top can was invented by Ermal Cleon Fraze, in 1959, after going on a picnic with his family, and discovering that he had failed to bring along an opener for their canned soft-drinks.
- During the 1980s Cola Wars, Pepsi fielded an ad with variation of this centered around a bottle of Pepsi.
- In AKIRA, two soldiers eat food out of a can stash an old woman had. The old lady had starved to death, because she was afraid someone would steal the stash, so she wouldn't dare ask anyone for a can opener.
- Averted and discussed in the Cromartie High School episode "Joshua Tree".
Hayashida: Do we have a can opener?Maeda: Yeah, you idiots, I brought one.Hokuto: On television, most of the time, people have canned food but no way to open it. Good job, Maeda.
- During the island arc of Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, the kids discover a wreck and manage to salvage some canned goods. Deciding to "live with nature", Nadia abandons Jean and Marie and sets off into the jungle, but not before taking some food with her - only to realize too late that her "even the simplest technology is bad" mentality is far from conductive to getting any of it out of the cans. She keeps smashing them flat with big rocks.
- Occurrs in Urusei Yatsura when Ataru and company gets lost in some caves, start to starve, and stumble into a stranded UFO with a sleeping alien... and a stack of cans. Eventually they find a opener at the bottom of a shaft (although it actually leads out into the open, and Ataru steals an opener from a classmate without knowing). Then they find out the hard way the hazards of eating alien food...
- In chapter 137 of Ganso! Urayasu Tekkin Kazoku when Akane delivers a heavy stacked New Year's meal to Harumaki Sensei. She lets Jin and Fuguo deliver it instead who both end up eating it all. The two give Harumaki cheap substitute meals instead. One of them was a canned crab meat and the teacher always suffers from Perpetual Poverty, has a difficult time opening it.
- In the original Dawn of the Dead (1978), the characters discover a massive stockpile of spam.
Roger: Did you bring a can opener?
Francine: No, I guess I didn't.
Roger: Then don't knock it. It's got its own key.
- The Navigator features Buster Keaton and his girlfriend alone on a passenger liner that's gone adrift in the open ocean. Buster finds a can of milk, but he has no can opener, so he tries increasingly ridiculous tools, like an industrial drill, a cleaver, and a huge meat axe. Finally he jury-rigs a can opener.
- A guy enters a bar and orders a beer and is served a beer can. He tries to open it with a can opener until the barman interrupts him and asks if he knows the purpose of the ring at the can's top. The customer says it's for those who forget to bring their openers.
- A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded together on a desert island. Their search for food turns up nothing more than one can of soup, and they have no can opener. The physicist proposes smashing the can with a rock. The chemist avers that building a fire and heating the can would be a better first course of action. Finally the economist suggests his own proposal. "Assume that we have a can opener," he begins.
- I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: A rare effective dramatic example, as the canned goods in question are the goal of the tortuous Snipe Hunt the cast is sent on by the evil AI, and thus it makes sense that they could not be opened by brute force.
- The BBC radio Adaption actually uses the "open by other means" as a minor plot point that was absent from the book: Ted first says he's going to use the stalactite to stab the cans open, but realizes that even if they get the food, it'll have no real effect; they'll still be at the mercy of AM, so he quickly performs a Mercy Kill on Benny, leading to the finale.
- Three Men in a Boat: On a boat trip. Played very much for laughs, with what seems to be the world's most indestructable tin of pineapple. The protagonists use every implement they can lay their hands on, including, finally, the boat's mast.
We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry—but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it. There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and rowed away from the spot, and never paused till we reached Maidenhead.
- Happens on a camping trip in one of the Adrian Mole books.
- There is a short story about a family of tortoises who go on a picnic, packing a number of canned things, and forget to pack the can-opener. Being tortoises, going back for the can opener would take a very very long time.
- In Animorphs, Marco forgets a can opener after he and his family are forced to flee and hide in the Hork-Bajir valley. Fortunately, there are more than enough blades on the Hork-Bajir themselves to make it not a problem at all.
- To the Manor Born. Audrey and Marjorie are on a picnic. Audrey is a bit miffed that sardine tins don't have keys anymore, and then they discover they forgot the can opener.
- In Bottom, Richie and Eddie are forced to camp in a nasty London park for a week. Much to Richie's relief, Eddie remembered to bring his can opener. However, Richie forgot all the cans.
- Averted in The Bionic Woman where Maxmillion, the bionic dog, does not need an opener to feed himself. All he has to do is bite the can open with his bionic jaw.
- Jaime Sommers can open cans with her bionic fingernails.
- The National Disaster Survival Test was a TV movie aired on NBC on May 1, 1977. Toward the end of the show they showed a sample disaster survival kit which included, among other things, a supply of canned food that does not require cooking. They then asked what items were missing. After maybe 20 seconds of "think music", a can opener was shown as one of the answers.
- Married... with Children: Bottle opener example. The Bundys get lost during a road trip and find a bar where the drinks are so cheap Al wonders how the owners make money until he learns how much the bottle opener rent is. The Darcys eventually find them and it seems they'll fall for the same con but Jefferson brought his own bottle opener.
- Garfield: On a camping trip. Variant during a blackout. They have plenty of canned goods and a can opener, but the can opener is electric.
- Bloom County: In Steve Dallas' fallout shelter. Also in relation to the survival rations Opus packed for Cutter John's fateful wheelchair-balloon voyage. Cans of food, but no can opener.
- Liberty Meadows: While the characters take refuge from a forest fire.
- The Far Side: In a fallout shelter.
- Nethack has edible "tins," and with a tinning kit you can even make your own canned food from monster corpses. Opening them can be tricky. If you're wielding a tin opener, dagger, or axe, or if the tin is "blessed," it pops right open. If not, you spend a lot of turns—during which monsters may sneak up on you, or you might pass out from hunger—desperately trying to squeeze it open, and if you're insufficiently strong/dexterous, the can will probably remain sealed.
- The Long Dark has canned food and can openers. You can use any tool to open a can, at the cost of durability. Opening a can without a tool is also possible, but some of the food inside spills out and gets ruined, denying you precious, precious calories.
- The Wayward Vagabond in Homestuck, when we first meet him, has discovered a wide range of canned foods, but no can-opener. He attempts to open the cans with his teeth, his claws and his trusty knife, all of which are completely useless. So he declares himself Mayor of Can Town instead.
- Buni plays it straight.
- Dennis the Menace (UK): Dennis tells Gnasher a parody of Jack and the Beanstalk, where Dennis (in the role of Jack) gets a tin of beans, but can't open it because tin openers have yet to be invented. In the end, he uses his third wish from a genie to get an electric can opener, thus his family are able to dine on beans.
- Looney Tunes
- In the short "Canned Feud", Sylvester is left in the house while his owners are away. There is plenty of canned tuna, but only one can opener, and the mouse has it. Hijinks ensue. Sylvester eventually gets the can opener but finds out the cupboard door is locked and the mouse has the key.
- Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales get stuck on an island in "Moby Duck". Daffy finds a crate full of food and wants to keep it all to himself but the food is canned and Speedy is the only one with a can opener. Speedy eventually gives the opener in spite of Daffy's refusal to share the food and Daffy learns, to his dismay, that a high tide makes it necessary to swim towards the food. Ducks can swim but the water is shark-infested.
- Futurama, "Mother's Day": Subverted: After all electrical appliances rebel, Fry boasts that he can still open cans with his pocket knife. It's only when he can't that he starts to despair. Dr. Zoidberg then uses his claws to open the can.
Zoidberg: Hooray, I'm useful! I'm having a wonderful time!
- Happened in a Daria Urban Legend. Urban Legend 1950s Jake built a survival bunker, in which 1950s Daria accidentally gets trapped. She doesn't worry too much, until she realizes that the cans in the bunker are worthless since she doesn't have a can opener.
- The ending of the South Park episode "Starvin' Marvin" has Kenny's family saying grace over their Thanksgiving dinner, a can of green beans Kenny got for them in the "Canned Food Grab". After that, they realize that they don't have a can opener.
- Happens in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. The gang is lost in the woods during a camping trip. Coco hatches a ton of eggs, all carrying cans of food and dinner supplies. But she didn't lay a can opener. Don't even bother linking to Fridge Logic.
- This is also the plot of DFE's The Ant and the Aardvark short "Odd Ant Out". The blue and green aardvarks fight over a can of chocolate-covered ants, but neither of them has a can opener.
- Popeye the Sailor rarely needed a can opener to open his can of spinach. Usually he'd squeeze it open or apply another method (e.g.: a submarine propeller in "Spinach Fer Britain").