Last updated on 11/06/2019
Zippo lighters are the most well known and recognized of movie lighters used as props in movies. Zippo lighters have been used in more than 1500 movies, TV shows and plays. They are the part of a dramatic production that never gets old, never gets boring, never misses work because of personal problems and never makes unreasonable demands. In the world of movie lighters they are the preeminent star.
The Start of the Zippo Legend
Zippos were first manufactured in 1933. From the very beginning they were used in movies. The simple lines of the Zippo and its distinctive click when the top was opened gave just that much more feeling of reality to a film. It would become a trademark of certain movie characters or styles in the same way as a trench coat.
During World War II the Zippo factory channeled all its production toward the use of the lighters by military personnel. Zippos were famously used by Generals Douglas McArthur and George Patton. Like the generals, the lower ranks used Zippos for a myriad of purposes. This popularity with the WWII troops made the Zippo the required prop to provide authenticity of all movie lighters used in films about WWII.
Some examples of the use of Zippo flameless lighters are seen in the film From Here to Eternity when Donna Reed lights Montgomery Clift’s cigarette. Also Errol Flynn used a Zippo lighter in the movie Operation Burma.
As Zippos continued to be popular with service people during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, so did Zippo continue to be the choice of movie lighters used in films. A Zippo is an important component between the actors Richard Widmark and Karl Malden in the movie Sergeant Terror. Gregory Peck was depicted as relying heavily on his Zippo lighter in the Korean War movie Pork Chop Hill. Later John Wayne used the star of movie lighters, a Zippo, in his Vietnam War movie, The Green Berets. In another Vietnam War movie, Apocalypse Now, a Zippo was used in the beginning of the movie to engender an ghostly mood. In the classic TV show I Love Lucy a Zippo lighter was often a featured prop in the show’s living room.
Zippos as Stars Today
Zippos continue to be the stars of lighters in more modern movies. Michael Douglas used a Zippo to punctuate a dramatic scene in the movie, Black Rain. A Zippo helped Bruce Willis fight the bad guys in two of his movies, Die Hard and Die Harder.
The dynamic duo of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery used a Zippo lighter to escape death in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the movie Lethal Weapon III composer Eric Clapton use the click sound of the Zippo as part of the elements of the movie score.
It’s almost harder to count the films where a Zippo hasn’t been used than it is to count the times when it has. Zippos have appeared in Midnight Run with Robert DeNiro, Bird On A Wire with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn as well as Jurassic Park, Top Gun and Out of Sight.
Zippos will certainly continue to get top movie lighter billing in future films and shows.