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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.
Anime & Manga
- 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...
- 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.
- Three Men in a Boat: On a boat trip.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- 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 find a dog food can, and bite it open with his bionic jaw.
- 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.
- 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 one short, 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. Hijinx ensue.
- 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, and is happy about being useful for once.
- 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.