Follow TV Tropes


Vapor Trail

Go To

A vehicle is damaged and leaking fuel. The hero (and it is almost always the hero) ignites the trail of fuel, causing a line of flame to streak after the fleeing vehicle. The fire catches up to the vehicle, ignites the fuel tank and causes the vehicle to go up in an impressive fireball.

Compare Powder Trail. Also remotely related to the one of worst problems with Stealth in Space.

Nothing to do with a lack of a paper trail where there ought to be one, or with the vapor trails from an airplane's wings. Also not to be confused with either the Rush album or the Crystal Method song entitled Vapor Trails, or the Shoot 'Em Up also named Vapor Trail.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Chaos! #3, Red Eye blows up a gas station by tossing his still-lit spliff into the pool of gasoline leaking out of the wrecked pumps.
  • In Detective Comics #44, Harvey Bullock does a Reusable Lighter Toss to ignite a trail of fuel leaking from a wrecked vehicle: creating an explosion that allows Detective Yip to fake her death.
  • Happens in DC Retroactive: Batman - The 90's when a cabbie drops a lit cigarette into a pool of gasoline leaking from his wrecked cab.
  • Jonah Hex pulls one in Hex #18, lighting the fuel with his trusty cigarillo.
  • Manhunter does this in Detective Comics #440. When Damon Nostrand attempts to run him down, Manhunter drops underneath the vehicle and rips the fuel tank open with a knife. He then tosses a lit match into the trail of fuel the car is leaking, which ignites and blows up the car.
  • Marv does this to a wrecked car in the Sin City story, Just Another Saturday Night.
  • 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 Lady Zorro to escape from the demon Shard.
  • In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the streak of flame almost catches up with Tintin's car. Then the fuel runs out. Definitely not a case of Truth in Television: The fuel-air vapor in the empty tank would actually be a lot more flammable than liquid fuel.

    Comic Strips 
  • Happens to Measles' car in Dick Tracy. For added drama, Tracy was trapped clinging to the underside of the car at the time.
  • Modesty Blaise: Modesty is caught in an accidental one after her jeep overturns in "Walkabout."

    Films — Animated 
  • In Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, sparks from the burning Ferris wheel ignite a trail of oil leaking from the barrel Selina punctured with a batarang. The flames burn back along the trail to the barrels, causing an explosion.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Happens accidentally to one team of racers in The Gumball Rally, quite possibly the Trope Codifier, at least on film. A muffler falls off a car and bounces under their van where it punctures their extra-large fuel tank. Another motorist then tosses a cigarette out his window, which ignites the trail of leaking fuel, which catches up to the van and...BOOM!
  • In Con Air, Cyrus casually flicks his lit cigarette into the mix of avgas and gasoline that Francisco Cindino is standing in after the jet crashes into the gas pumps, turning him into a Man on Fire.
  • In The Darwin Awards, Michael carries a leaking gas can from the stranded car to where Siri is trying to start a campfire. They use to gas to light the fire, which immediately ignites the trail of spilled fuel which burns back to car which blows up.
  • Done by John McClane to a jet in Die Hard 2. It's worse in this case, as the Mythbusters proved that jet fuel is actually really hard to light in a liquid state - especially in a snowstorm. Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker. They would have crashed without fuel after a while anyway, but that clearly wouldn't have been as cinematic, or cathartic enough for McClane.
  • In Even Lambs Have Teeth, Katie and Sloan soak the Pastor of gasoline and leave a trail leading away from him. They toss a lit match into the trail so he can see his fiery doom approaching him.
  • Spells the end for the racist redneck in Final Destination 4.
  • Gangster Squad: When Cohen's goon attempt to ambush the squad in Chinatown, they open the fuel tank in the truck the squad are converging on. One of the gangsters then tosses his lit cigarette into the pooling fuel.
  • During the diner fight in Iron Man 3, Tony splashes a trail of fuel towards Agent Brandt and then throws the canister of fuel at her before igniting the trail with red hot remains of his handcuffs.
  • Happens during the shootout on the construction site in Lethal Weapon 3
  • Inverted by James Bond in Licence to Kill. He's on a fuel tanker being pursued by a car with burning tires. He opens a spigot on the tanker to release fuel, and once the car hits the fuel both the car and the trail ignite. However, since Bond's still on the tanker, he shuts off the spigot before the flames catch up. The car meanwhile bursts into flames and goes off a cliff.
  • In Never Grow Old, Preacher Pike pours a trail of oil along the front of the saloon and then ignites it with a thrown flaming torch.
  • Payback: Porter (Mel Gibson) gets rid of a car full of henchmen of The Syndicate by sneaking below the car, piercing the fuel tank and letting them know they're screwed by showing up in plain view behind the car and dropping his cigarette on the trail of fuel like an unflinching badass.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toht ignites a trail of spilled booze on the bar in an attempt to incinerate Indy. The flame burns its way along the entire length of the bar and Indy only just manages to get his head out of the way in time.
    • Happens by accident during the scene with the flying wing due to a series of minor "oops"es. Indy unchocks the wheel of the flying wing to use the chocks as a weapon against a Giant Mook, and the plane starts to turn in place and its wingtip punctures a fuel truck. Next, Marion uses the plane's machine gun turret to keep Nazi reinforcements at bay and stuff catches fire. The fuel pouring out of the truck eventually reaches the blaze, Indy rescues Marion and they run for cover, and then the whole airstrip explodes.
  • The final scene of Spy Fiction.
  • In The Stupids, the pursuer shot Stanley's gas tank. Stanley proceeded to light the trail on fire, igniting the pursuer's car. Of course, he had no idea what was going on.
  • In Torque, a vapor trail chases down a bike moving several hundred mph.
  • In Train, Alex spreads fuel all through the medical carriages of the eponymous train. When Dr. Velislava tries to talk her out of it, Alex casually drops a lit match into the fuel. Only as it ignites does Dr. Velislava realise she standing directly atop the trail leading into the rest of the rain. Cue the Oh, Crap! moment.
  • In the opening scene of The Usual Suspects, a dying Keaton lights a trail of fuel leading to some tanks stacked on the deck of the ship, only for the fire to be casually urinated on by the as-yet unrevealed Big Bad. He shoots Keaton after some brief dialogue, then casually drops a lit cigarette into the fuel to set it and the ship itself alight.
  • In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wolvie ignites a spark with his claws. The fire travels up the trail of fuel leaking from Agent Zero's downed helicopter. Kerflooey.

  • One of W.E. Johns' Biggles adventures features this. An air pirate encounters Biggles' deHavilland Mosquito fighter variant (four 20mm cannon plus or minus four .303 machine guns) in place of the unarmed bomber-turned-civilian-transport he'd planned to attack. When Biggles nails his opponent's fuel tank, the fellow panics and attempts to return fire through his own vapour trail. Because he's using tracer rounds, which basically trail a stream of fire behind them for up to six hundred yards... well, you can guess the rest.
  • In the Discworld novel Snuff, Sam Vimes soaks a wooden tower in brandy and then leaves a trail of brandy leading away from it. He ignites the tower by dropping his cigar in the trail of brandy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel did this in the season 2 episode "Redefinition" with a lit cigarette; justifying a Random Smoking Scene in the process.
  • CSI-verse:
    • In the CSI: Miami episode "Dishonor," the killer ignites the gasoline-soaked victim by dropping a lit match into a trail of gasoline.
    • CSI: NY: In "Second Chances," one of the victims of the week is doused in gasoline when he is run over by a car and the fuel tank punctures in the collision. The trail of gas is then ignited by a cigarette discarded by a passerby (who is on his way to commit another crime) and burns back to set fire to the victim.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: At the start of "A Good Drop," an arsonist spreads a trail of sump from a drum in the back of his ute, then ignites it with a Reusable Lighter Toss.
  • Father Brown: In "The Lair of the Libertines," the killer punctures the petrol tank of the motorcycle being used to leave the hotel. When it runs out petrol and stalls, the killer ignites the trail of petrol with a Reusable Lighter Toss. The bike explodes, barely missing incinerating Lady Felecia and Mrs McCarthy.
  • The Flash (2014): In "Crazy For You," sparks from a fallen power line ignite a trail of gasoline leaking from a crashed car.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Crime and Punishment," the killer douses a barn in petrol and then leaves a trail of petrol leading away from the barn. The killer then ignites the trail to set fire to the barn.
  • Tested (and busted) on Mythbusters.
    • A trail of gasoline can be set on fire, but if the vehicle is moving faster than about five miles an hour, the flame will never catch up with it, and even if it did, the gas tank won't explode.
    • Fuels other than gasoline, such as diesel or jet fuel, just can't be ignited if lying in a pool on the ground.
  • The Punisher (2017). In "Home", Sarah and Zach Lieberman are handed over in exchange for Frank Castle and David "Micro" Lieberman surrendering themselves. To deter them from trying anything, Sarah and Zach are made to wear a jerry can of fuel each, which is then punctured, leaving a trail of fuel as they walk. Frank warns Micro not to freak out as the villains are just doing this to intimidate them—sure enough when the fuel trail gets lit, all Micro has to do is tear off his jacket and extinguish the flame.

    Music Videos 

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In Bayonetta, the title character slams a tanker into the defeated Cardinal Virtue of Temperance by way of another angel and creates the leak via a fountain statue that pisses the gasoline all over the poor bastard for that extra sadistic touch. It doesn't work. When the fire goes out after a brief second, Bayonetta just heaves a sigh and does it the "boring" way.
  • In Grand Theft Auto V, trails of gasoline, whether spilled from a jerry can or leaking from a vehicle, can be ignited with gunfire. The latter instance can cause the vehicle to explode, such as during a scripted scene in the early-game mission "Repossession" that serves as an introduction to this mechanic.
  • Left 4 Dead: In part three of the tie-in comic for "The Sacrifice", Louis rams a jeep that's leaking gasoline into a Tank, and Bill follows up by using his cigarette to light up the gas trail and blow up the jeep and the Tank.
  • In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, an electrical spark ignites a puddle of spilled machine oil in a gas station garage, leading to the entire station exploding spectacularly.

    Web Video 
  • Seen in the "Ticker" episode of The Hire. When the Badass Driver stops for a moment on a bridge, the Bullet Sparks from a strafing helicopter ignite the petrol dripping out of his fuel tank, but he outruns the trail of flames as soon as he drives off again.

    Western Animation 
  • On the Donald Duck cartoon "The Flying Jalopy", the villain cuts the fuel line of Donald's airplane and lights the trail in midair, which Don then tries to outrun.
  • In the Justice League episode "Fury", fallen power lines ignite a trail of spilled fuel leading to a downed helicopter.
  • The Secret Saturdays: Happens to Doyle when his jet pack springs a leak in "Cryptid vs. Cryptid".


Video Example(s):


Shootout in the Raven

Indy intervenes when the Nazis try to torture Marion and it sets out a shootout which sets the whole bar on fire.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / BarBrawl

Media sources: