Need a light?
This trope does.
But this trope doesn't just need a light, it needs a light that stays lit when you toss it. Disposable lighters do not stay lit by design. A cigarette, cigar, or flare just doesn't fit the scene. A match might go out before it lights the fire. The protagonist (or just as often antagonist) doesn't have to be a smoker, though they certainly can be.
Often used for Rule of Cool or Rule of Drama, this trope needs something to be tossed to light something else on fire. As mentioned, it is often not fitting of the scene for anyone to be smoking, or to have a tool of fire lighting that is actively disposable on them. So what do you do? Zippo to the rescue! Zippo lighters have a distinctive design that was originally based on a similar Austrian lighter made by IMCO. It is "windproof" (as described by The Other Wiki here) and uses a wick and oil to keep the flame lit until you close the top. They have been in use for decades, but this trope seems to be relatively new.
The main reason for this trope is about the mechanics of the device and how it can keep a flame while being tossed from the hand. While the character lighting the fire could use a disposable lighter, they would have to bend down to light the flammable item on fire, and that is just not cool looking. Often this trope is used for dramatic effect as well. While the character flicks open the lighter and snaps the flame into existence, he or she can do a bit of monologuing. At the end of the scene, they toss the lighter, the flames begin, and often this leads to someone's death by fire, or a very big explosion. Equally often a character will do an Unflinching Walk as the flames rage behind them.
The main elements of this trope are:
- A clearly reusable lighter - something you would purchase for a smoker as a gift for example.
- A focus of some sort on the lighter - either by "camera" or character(s).
- A disposal of the lighter - no character reacting to the lighter being "thrown away" (unless of course it gets Lampshaded).
With these three basic elements this trope comes into play and you end up with a Reusable Lighter Toss for a cool/dramatic scene and possibly a lot of flaming chaos and/or death. Exit our anti-hero/villain toward camera... in slo-mo.
Vapor Trail sometimes leads into this.
Please no Real Life examples.
Note: As a potential Death Trope there may be spoilers ahead!
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Weaponized by Colonel Roy Mustang. After Lust manages to wet his special ignition cloth gloves which he needs to use his fire alchemy, Roy uses alchemy to separate hydrogen from water. When the room where Lust is has filled with hydrogen, Roy takes Havoc's lighter and throws it in causing a huge gas explosion. The lighter is of course ruined, and since it was a gift from his ex-girlfriend, this even gets Lampshaded by Havoc afterwards.
- In the Naruto anime, after Shikamaru managed to trap Hidan with lots of wires with explosive Paper Talismans attached (above a giant hole), he deals the final blow by throwing his dead mentor Asuma's zippo lighter (as a Revenge by Proxy), dealing nasty blow on Hidan's body and burying him. In the manga, he used a cigarette instead.
- In Black Magick #1, the man who tries to set fire to Rowan does so by tossing his Zippo into a pool of gasoline he spread on the floor.
- In Detective Comics #44, Harvey Bullock tosses a Zippo in to the spilled fuel from a wrecked vehicle to create an explosion to allow Detective Yip to fake her death.
- In the Swords Of Sorrow: Lady Zorro and Black Sparrow one-shot, Black Sparrow lights her lighter and tosses it into a pool of gasoline leaking from a wrecked car to cause an explosion to allow her and Lady Zorro to escape from the demon Shard.
- After Wolverine was attacked by a man with a flamethrower, his assailant gets his fuel tank pierced, leaving him in a puddle of fuel. Then the burned-but-regenerating Wolvie notes that even though his clothes were burned off, his Zippo still works...
- In Black Sheep (2007), the titular mutant sheep are ended via a toss of a Zippo and their own methane gas. It's an explosive combination.
- In The Blues Brothers Jake tries to use the car's cigarette lighter to light a cigarette, but it doesn't work, so he tosses the lighter out the window and uses his Zippo. He seems unimpressed by Elwood's car. Elwood then proves the car has value via speed and Jake returns with the line "Fix the cigarette lighter."
- The Butchers: After being soaked in kerosene when Kip smashes a lantern on him, the Zodiac Killer is set alight when Daisy tosses Simon JB's lighter, who ignites it and drops it in the spilled fuel.
- In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury tosses a Zippo to light up the remains of some evidence of his existence alive.
- The Crow. The titular character tosses a reusable lighter after killing one of his targets for vengeance. The flames make a crow outline.
- One of the apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes tosses a zippo (taken from a human) to incite bad relations between apes and man.
- Deadpool (2016) Uses a car lighter improperly and it gets tossed out of a guys mouth after Deadpool shoves it in his mouth and tells him "I've never said this, but don't swallow."
- In The Death of Stalin, Zhukov sets fire to Beria's petrol-soaked corpse by tossing his lighter on to it.
- LL Cool J tosses a Zippo at a gas leaking stove to blow up a super smart shark in Deep Blue Sea. "You ate my bird."
- Die Hard 2. As the jet carrying the treacherous soldiers and General Esperanza takes off, John McClane gets onto the wing and opens a gas tank valve so the plane leaves a trail of aviation fuel. After he returns to the ground, he pulls out a lighter, ignites it and drops it on the gas trail. The flame runs up the trail to the gas tank and causes the gas to explode, destroying the jet.
- In the film Fast Five, Dominique Toretto tosses a zippo on a stack of cash he covered in gas, in order to get a drug kingpin to move his cash from other safe houses.
- Fright Night 2: New Blood: A young woman is attacked by a vampire at a deserted gas station who crawls on top of her car. She drops the fuel dispenser in the process, creating a pool of gasoline which she then sets on fire with a zippo lighter after running away.
- In Jason Bourne, Nicky tosses a zippo to burn up some stuff. Though it is hard to actually see due to the "realism cam" aka shakey cam, you can hear that distinctive metal tink sound of a Zippo opening right before she tosses it.
- In KickAss it appears it will be played straight, but is averted at the last second due to the man holding the lighter getting shot. Then it is averted again when another person lights the fuel up but seems to hang on to the lighter. It is a bit hard to see however since the lights are out and the only source of light in the scene is gun fire! Seen here.
- Tossed in Kill Me Three Times to set up a death.
- Kong: Skull Island: During the fight in bone yard, Weaver tosses Conrad's lighter into the crater to ignite a gas pocket. Justified as it was the only source of fire she had available.
- In Kung Fu Hustle, the leader of the Axe Gang dramatically holds up a lit lighter as he threatens to set a woman and her son on fire to punish the denizens of Pig Sty Alley. When nobody confesses to the earlier attack on one of the gang members, Brother Sum shrugs and tosses the lighter. The Coolie steps forward to catch the lighter in the air before it hits the gasoline, and he closes the lid on-screen to extinguish the flame.
- In Rambo IV, after killing all its occupants the previous night, Rambo returns to a pirate skiff, dumps all of its spare fuel across the deck, and then chucks a beat-up old Zippo onboard to destroy the boat.
- In Showdown in Little Tokyo, Brandon Lee's character ends a fight that involves using the Miranda rights as Trash Talk by knocking his opponent into a vat, flicking on his lighter, saying "You have the right to be dead," and tossing the lighter in. It causes a violent explosion and sets off a chain reaction throughout the factory they're in.
- In the movie Survivor (2015) a generic terrorist bad guy tosses a zippo on a soldier because he is not worth a ransom.
- One of the characters in Twilight Saga: Eclipse tosses a lighter on a dead vampire to burn her up completely.
- In 2 Fast 2 Furious Roman Pierce tosses a zippo on a henchmen's car after covering it in lighter fluid in order to stop the henchmen from following him and Brian.
- At the beginning of 2 Guns, Stig (Mark Wahlberg) tosses a Zippo lighter in a diner to start a fire for a distraction.
- In The Usual Suspects, a zippo is dropped on a police car covered in flammable fluid.
- In The Windmill Massacre, Kurt sets fire to the mill by tossing Jennifer's lighter into the pool of petrol she had spread earlier. Justified as this is an act of desperation rather than any kind of gesture.
- Ice Cube finishes off The Dragon in xXx: State of the Union this way, tossing a lit Zippo through the stream of leaking flammable gas from a ruptured hose of some sort (they were fighting in a kitchen). Bonus points for both a Pre-Mortem One-Liner and using the method of death they claimed took out Gibbons - a gas explosion.
Darius: Hillbilly! You need to lighten up! [tosses the lighter]
- Agatha Raisin: Used to ignite the Letterbox Arson that destroys James' cottage in "Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage": the arsonist pours fuel through the letterbox and then drops a lit Zippo through after.
- In season 3 episode 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a zippo is left behind to blow up a building. Interesting note is it is not actually seen being dropped or tossed, but the camera focuses on it left on the floor to light the gas pool. Later in episode 6, of the same season, the scene is replayed and the zippo appears to be tossed, but again, not on camera.
- Arrow: In the episode "Burned", a pyro attempts to light someone on fire by tossing a lit zippo but Arrow in typical hero fashion fires an arrow at mid flight. It is still gone and never recovered.
- In Season 2 of Burn Notice Fiona tosses a Zippo onto a bar covered in alcohol to burn everything in the episode Hot Spot.
- Season 3 finale, Michael tosses a zippo into a van to get rid of... nothing important. tho Simon thinks he got rid of some FBI survailence
- In season 4 episode 16 Dead or Alive, Mike tosses a lighter on a pre-set line of fuel to create a ring of fire.
- In another 16th episode of season 5, Jesse casually tosses a zippo into a car filled with lighter fluid to destroy dna evidence so a dirty banker can be "dead" and disapear
- In the second to last episode of the series Fiona tosses a Zippo lighter like it is a simple match to burn down Michael's mom's place.
- In the third episode of season one of Cloak & Dagger (2018) a cleaner tosses a combustible liquid on evidence and tosses a lighter to destroy everything. including a body the assassin created.
- In the first episode, "Non Est Asylum", John Constantine tosses a lighter on a magic circle to help him trap a demon and send it back to hell. note
- The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "A Good Drop", the arsonist drops a lit cigarette lighter to ignite the Vapor Trail of sump oil he has spread over the farmer's paddock.
- Father Brown: Used by the killer in "The Lair of the Libertines" to ignite a Vapor Trail that destroys a motorbike and nearly kills Lady Felecia and Mrs McCarthy.
- Jessica Jones (2015): Will Simpson tosses a zippo with an American Flag on it to get rid of evidence including Oscar Clemons' dead body.
- Motive: In "Abandoned", the killer uses a Zippo to ignite her Fiery Cover Up: turning on all the gas in the diner kitchen and dropping the lit Zippo on the floor. Justified as a) she hadn't planned the crime and needed a source of flame in a hurry, b) she knew exactly where the lighter was kept in the kitchen, and c) it wasn't her lighter.
- Rizzoli & Isles: In "Love Taps", a woman ties her husband to a chair and soaks him in gasoline before attempting to immolate him by tossing a lit Zippo on him. Fortunately, Korsak manages to catch the lighter while it is in the air.
- In the Smallville Season 3 episode, Slumber, the bad guy of the week tries to toss a reusable lighter to light a fire that would lead to a big explosion. Clark catches the lighter before it can light anything up.
- Also in Season 3 episode, Hereafter,the bad guy of the week tosses a Zippo to light up a big fire to burn himself as well as Lana and a random other girl from the school.
- Stranger Things on Netflix has a zippo toss onto a pool of gas to light the monster on fire in the final episode of season 1 and a similar scene in the final episode of season 2 with a bigger pool of gas.
- On Supernatural the brothers use salt, lighter fluid, and a disposable Zippo so often this show might just be the Trope Codifier. They do this to properly dispose of the creatures they kill so that they don't come back. In more recent seasons they seem to be using matches more often, but typically they do so by lighting the entire book on fire and lobbing it. Perhaps it's still cheaper than buying dozens of lighters, since we never see them fishing around in the remains for the lighters.
- After a number of seasons of using a book of matches instead, season 13 episode one ends with a heartfelt moment and Dean following this trope to the letter as he tosses a zippo on a funeral pyre for Rule of Drama.
- The fifth season of True Blood: In the episode "Let's Boot and Rally," when Terry Bellefleur recalls his time in Iraq, there is a scene of him setting a pile of dead bodies on fire with a Zippo lighter.
- On The Walking Dead Carl drops one in a barn to light the walkers on fire as a distraction. I don't think anyone is going to go back for it.
- In the music video for "Another Day" by Modestep the character having a "Groundhog Day" Loop tosses a Zippo on a car about half way through the video.
- Similarly, midway the video for "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé, Jay-Z appears and drops a lighter into a trail of lighter fluid setting a car on fire before starting his rap solo.
- In the music video for the Arctic Monkeys' "Fluorescent Adolescent", a character drops his lighter to ignite a Vapor Trail.
- In the music video for Madonna's "What It Feels Like For A Girl", Madonna's character dumps a lit cigarette lighter onto spilled gasoline to cause a gas station to explode before she drives off.
- In Spy Fiction a lighter is tossed to kill the Big Bad in the True Ending, Die Hard 2 style.
- In Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, after having used it constantly in Strong Badia the Free, one puzzle in Baddest of the Bands has Strong Bad toss his lighter onto an oil spill by an old car, removing it from his inventory permanently. The car remains on fire for the rest of the episode.
- Several quests in Worldof Warcrafthave you do this, but the most memorable was one where you had to blow up a building. The reason it was memorable is because the first step was to create a trail of gunpowder using a full barrel. The trail could look like anything you wanted. Then you dropped a torch in the gunpowder...