By the Lights of Their Eyes

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We can see in the dark! ...Oh Crap, it's Batman!

"Whoa, where are we? I suddenly feel so... easy to animate."

Strong Bad gets left in the dark, Homestar Runner, "your edge".

Whenever it is pitch dark, characters' open eyes are always visible.

The same applies, eventually, to any great big teeth which something lurking in the darkness may possess. A common shot is to have a nervous character scared in the dark as a variety of seemingly glowing teeth gather around them.

In live action, it is usually used to spooky effect.

By the Lights of Their Eyes seems like it should always go with Glowing Eyes, but it really doesn't.

This is generally a form of Hollywood Darkness, and may immediately precede a Nuclear Candle as part of The Reveal.

Not to be confused with See the Whites of Their Eyes, which is a figurative expression for getting close to your enemy. Nor Eye Lights Out, which is a death trope.

Examples of By the Lights of Their Eyes include:


  • Although common enough in Disney short cartoons, this trope is rarely used in the feature films, perhaps because they generally try for a more realistic tone. A few exceptions:
    • The Emperors New Groove, when Yzma and Kronk are locked in a closet.
    • Treasure Planet, when B.E.N. accidentally cuts off the power on the ship. (justified in that his eyes are actually light displays.)
    • Alice in Wonderland (1951). When Alice is looking at the Tulgey Wood sign, a number of eyes appear in the dark above it. One pair is revealed to be a "glasses bird", which hops onto Alice's head. See it on YouTube here, around the first 30 seconds or so.
    • Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs has a rather scary example. When the titular princess runs in panic in the forest some yellow glowing eyes seems to stare at her. They actually belong to friendly cute animals but Snow White's imagination makes them look like evil and demonic.
  • In the CGI feature Robots the characters have actual headlights for eyes - possibly a Reconstruction, although it may not have been intentional.
  • A live action (sort of) example: when night falls on Muppet Treasure Island, the characters' eyes glow. As do the eyes of the wild boar tribesmen sneaking up behind them...
  • The Thief and the Cobbler: the end scene where Zig-Zag is eaten by crocodiles is a wonderful example of playing with this trope, especially the final scene, where Zig-Zag's eyes are first encircled then blacked-out by white teeth.
  • When in the sewers in the Doom movie, Goat approached a set of eyes in a dark corner after his flashlight dies, while looking for a scientist. When he asks "Doctor Willets?" several other eyes appear around the main set, revealing that not that there are more of them, but that the transformed Dr. Willets had grow several more eyes all, over his head. The creature the leaps and attack Goat.
  • Also done in Pitch Black, where it was a character point.
  • When Pee-Wee Herman ends up abandoned in the desert in Pee-wee's Big Adventure, his flashlight goes out, leaving only his eyes... then several other eyes. Needless to say, when he gets his flashlight back on, he's not met with the happiest sight.
  • In 300, the emissary of Xerxes bribes the priests of the oracle, then fades to a silhouette with only his eyes remaining.
  • Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars usually keeps his hood pulled forward enough to cast a dark shadow on the upper half of his face, but occasionally the light glints off his eyes creating a very spooky effect.
  • In For a Few Dollars More, when Manco is creeping around the room where El Indio hid the cabinet, this effect is achieved by painting Eastwood's face dark brown, so his eyes glow out.
  • The second Asterix movie had a sequence with the main characters stuck in one of the Pyramids of Gizah. When their torches go out, they suddenly turn into cartoon eyes floating in the dark (and stay that way until the dog leads them out).
  • The 1974 Black Christmas the Prowler is never truly seen out of shadow. The only scene in which you view him, is where he is peering from behind a door. Ominously, all you see is an eye, the rest hidden in shadow.
  • The Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro, whose eyes serve as headlights, and has small mice on its roof and lower body whose eyes serve as the destination sign backlights and taillights, respectively.


  • Alice in Wonderland describes the Cheshire Cat appearing first as a pair of eyes and a gigantic grin, which disappear last when he leaves.

Live-Action TV

  • Done rather creepily in the (live-action) Dune miniseries: all the Fremen have glowing blue eyes. In the sequel miniseries the brightness is pulled back a little. (In the books, the eyes of spice addicts are so dark-blue they appear nearly black.)
  • A more humorous live-action example: Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
  • Used in Sesame Street, when Maria has to go into Oscar's trash can, to hide what the actual interior looked like. Oscar's glowing eyes were identical to his normal ones, though Maria's were clearly Muppet approximations.
    • In one classic Muppet sketch, Ernie and Bert run so many appliances in their apartment that it blows a fuse, and the blackout is presented with their eyes floating around in complete darkness.
  • The South African episode of The Goodies.

Tim: "Look at those stars. They look like hundreds of tiny little eyes."
Graham: "They are hundreds of tiny little eyes..."



  • One of the early Bionicle animations showed this when a bunch of Onu-Matoran were trapped by a cave-in. Possibly a Justified Trope, since most incarnations show the characters' eyes having some sort of glow, even in daylight.

Video Games

  • At one point in the third trial of the third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, there is a power outage, and you can see Phoenix's and Godot's eyes (though, given the fact that Godot's "eyes" are an illuminated visor, it's probably justified).
    • In fact, this is foreshadowing of the fifth case, in which Godot's illuminated visor becomes vital testimony for a murder which took place in pitch darkness. Phoenix's eyes, not so much.
  • The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess: Midna tends to attract these, when the lighting is poor enough.
  • Occurs a few times in the King's Quest series.
    • In King's Quest IV, Rosella at one point must navigate a pitch-black cave with a resident troll and a chasm opening into a Bottomless Pit ... all without any light for the player to see by.
    • In the large labyrinth of King's Quest VI, one room is so dark that all the player can see of Alexander is his white eyes against the black surroundings. If the player doesn't have a source of light, rumbling noises and a growl are heard as the Minotaur enters the room, while Alexander's eyes are lifted up, shaken, and... well, that's gotta be painful.
  • In Rayman 2, there are several instances in which there are inacessable pitch-black rooms, holes in the walls and even half-closed coffins where if you look into them, you're sure to see a pair of eyes looking back at you.
  • Warcraft II uses this in the Tomb of Sargeras scene.
  • In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, ALL of the mutant's eyes glow. No matter what. Even AFTER they are dead. .
  • Kirby: Meta Knight]], while his face is shadowed by his mask, has shiny eyes.
  • Earthworm Jim. The secret level Who Turned Out the Lights?
  • Taokaka from BlazBlue has her face concealed in a hood, showing only nondescript red eyes and a crescent grin with dagger teeth.
  • In Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, one of the buttons on De Singe's Auto-Trepanation Helmet causes the entire "laboratorium" to go dark temporarily, with only Guybrush's eyes visible when he says, "Ack! I'm blind!" Thankfully the lights turn back on.
  • In The Legend of Kyrandia, stepping into an unlit room in the caves will cause Brandon's death by a horde of glowy-eyed monsters.
  • LittleBigPlanet and its sequel have a few eye choices that do this.
  • Whenever Pac-Man eats a ghost.

Web Original

  • Shows up on Homestar Runner in the Strong Bad Email your edge, providing both the page quote and an unusually detailed look at Strong Bad and The Cheat's eyes.
  • Seen several times in RWBY, most notably in the "initiation" sequence early in the first season.
    • The eyes of the creatures of Grimm glow red even in full light.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Virtually every Looney Tunes cartoon that includes a dark scene; the odds of then striking a match inside a dynamite shack are quite high.
    • A particularly notable example is the Bugs Bunny cartoon Hyde and Hare (1955), where Bugs locks himself in a dark closet with Dr. Jekyll to protect them from "the maniac". Jekyll, naturally, transforms into Hyde—and it's only seen by the animation of his eyes turning huge, red, and monstrous.
  • Likewise virtually every episode of Scooby-Doo.
  • Spoofed in an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, where Buster and Plucky get stuck in a dark pit, and pass the time by using their illuminated eyeballs to play Pong and Pac-Man.
    • The best part of that scene was when Buster and Plucky lit a match, and when the room was lit, all that remained were their eyeballs.
  • Whenever Danger Mouse was in the dark you could see his single, yellow eye (a bit creepy for a good character)
  • Lampshaded in The Simpsons episode "A Fish Called Selma" when Homer asks, "Marge, could you close your eyes? I'm trying to sleep."
    • Also spoofed in the final scene of "The Last Temptation of Homer". Homer and Marge are in a hotel room, and after he turns off the lamp for some happy time, a third set of eyes appears, those of the creepy bellman from earlier who starts cat-calling. Homer's eyes become angry and he punches the bellman, and one of his eyes disappears.
    • Another bizarre example in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XIII segment "The Island of Dr. Hibbert": Two pairs of eyes peer out from under some bushes. One pair turns into a set of fangs and devours the other pair.
    • In Mother Simpson, after the power is cut from the house, Marge scolds Homer for faking his death, in pitch blackness. Her emotions and even body language are wonderfully portrayed through only her eyes.
    • There's another episode where not only Homer's eyes are visible in the dark so are his teeth.
    • One Couch Gag showed the family's eyes rushing to the couch in total darkness, and then the lights turn on, revealing that they're all just eyes, and then the (eyeless) family joins in, at which their eyes immediately place themselves onto their faces.
  • A strange Disney example is Mickey Mouse himself in his pie-eyed days. While at face value his eyes seem to be the two black inkblots on his face, in the dark (and in the way these inkblots move around his head and in some colorations of the comics) it's revealed that they're actually two pupils in a merged set of giant eyeballs that take up half his face. Basically his design from Plane Crazy without the eyes outlined. That, or maybe they just couldn't think of any other way to make those black eyes to show up in the dark.
    • Not sure if this counts, but during one of the animated sequences in the show Fantasmic, a late night performance at one of the Disney theme parks, the character Mickey, during a voiced version of the sequence from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", goes down a whirlpool, after which you see his eyes appear in a dark place for a couple seconds as he tries to figure out where he is.
    • Speaking of which, Donald Duck does this in the more recent Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers.
    • As does Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective.
  • Parodied in the Roger Rabbit cartoon Roller Coaster Rabbit, where at one point the eyes are running around on little legs.
  • Used in Metalocalypse when the members of Dethklok snuck into a closet to eat food, since they were supposed to be on diets.
  • Disney is fond of a variation of this trope as a scene-ender. The screen fades to black, except for the animated character?s (usually a villain?s) eyes, which fade out a few moments later. This happens with the Queen-turned-crone in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, with Ursula in The Little Mermaid, and with Negaduck in the "Just Us Justice Ducks" episode of Darkwing Duck. It also turns up in the non-Disney Cats Don't Dance.
  • The eyes at the very end of the last Sonic the Hedgehog episode. True, they were only part of a cliffhanger that was never expanded upon outside of Word of God because the show was Screwed by the Network, but still...
  • In An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Fievel is chased into a hole by a hawk, and we only see his eyes...accompanied by evil glowing eyes that belong to a scorpion.
  • Seen also in the Super Mario World cartoon after Yoshi swallows Mario in the "Mama Luigi" episode. "Ugh, now I know how a meatball feels."
  • Ruby Gloom has fun with the characters' distinctive eyes. They cheat a little with Misery's inverted eyes (white pupils, black sclera) by turning them gray.
  • The Herculoids episode "The Lost Dorgyte": the eyes of the monsters of the Stone Forest.
  • Parodied in Drawn Together, when Captain Hero and Unusually Flexible Girl have sex. The lights go off leaving just their eyes visible as they go through various positions. The positions start off reasonably enough, getting more and more unusual until their eyes are going through a Newton's Cradle type motion.
  • One episode of Codename: Kids Next Door does this with the Delightful Children's eyes.
  • Superfriends (1973/74) episodes.
    • "The Power Pirate". Wendy and Marvin are trapped in a dark room, Initially all the audience can see is their eyes.
    • "The Planet Splitter". When Doctor LeBon's assistant closes the observatory's door and shuts off the outside light, we see Wendy's eyes floating in the darkness.
    • "The Shamon U". While Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog are hiking up Mystery Mountain in the dark they see two pairs of glowing eyes approaching them. The eyes turn out to belong to Batman and Robin, who were following them.
  • It happens in Jimmy Neutron when they're stuck in a tomb. You could tell which pair of eyes belonged to which character because they all looked different.
  • The opening of The Trap Door.
  • The lions in the Veggie Tales version of "Daniel and the Lions' Den."
  • Stoked Finn inside the sack being kidnapped by Reef, Broseph and Emma is decipted as her eyes.
  • Parodied in Johnny Bravo, where his SUNGLASSES glow white in the pitch dark.
  • In The Real Ghostbusters episode "Knock Knock", the Ghostbusters enter the lightless Place of Lost Souls. First we see the Ghostbusters' eyes...then we see the eyes of the dozens of beings surrounding them. We never do find out what any of them look like.

Real Life

  • This can happen when using a webcam in a dark room, when the only light sufficient enough for the webcam to pick up is bounced off the person's eyes and teeth.
  • Nightvision makes people's eyes seem to glow in the dark in an otherwise murky green haze.
  • Many animals, especially deep sea and nocturnal animals, have what is called tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue at the back of the eyeball that increases the light available to photoreceptor cells. When light hits the eye, the reflective layer bounces some back, increasing the animal's vision in dim light. This can make the eye appear to glow under certain conditions, though the pupil alone is visible.
    • Possibly inspired by this is that it used to be believed that light came from someone's eyes and that was how they saw but this an old (500 BCE old) theory.