Dull Surprise

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
A single vacant expression can convey such a wide range of emotions.

"This face intentionally left blank."

A vague, wispy look of emptiness given by a character that's supposed to convey intense emotional shock, horror, or revelation. Typically the character stands looking vacant with their jaw dropped and is supposed to look like they're astonished about something, but really looks like they've been binging on sedating narcotics for several hours beforehand.

"Dull Surprise" is used so often in cheap work because it's an easy expression to draw. A good artist can be very expensive and in the world of comic-books and animation, you typically get the quality you pay for.

Trope named for a skit in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where Mike Nelson attempts to guess the emotions portrayed by Kathy Ireland in Alien From L.A.; the correct answer for each was "Dull surprise!" See the skit here. It is also a meme in Transformers fandom, in reference to the art of Pat Lee.

The exact opposite of Chewing the Scenery. See also That Makes Me Feel Angry. Contrast Frozen Face (if the character's face literally cannot emote), Emotionless Girl, Kuleshov Effect.

On occasion, this is done intentionally, to indicate the event is not merely surprising, but genuinely incomprehensible, to the point that characters have no faintest idea how to react. This usage typically precedes or is preceded by a Flat What.

Examples of Dull Surprise include:

Anime and Manga

  • Kira in Gundam Seed Destiny sports this when Meer Campbell dies and everyone is crying and he just looks like he just smoked a bunch of pot. Considering that Kira's cry is notorious for sounding like a dying horse, the viewers got off lucky.
  • Takumi Fujiwara in Initial D gets to Ctrl+Alt+Del levels when his driving passion is awakened while watching his rival's performance during an illegal race.
    • One theory is that the artist was so good at drawing cars, he decided to use the same methods on human beings.
  • Prince Odysseus from Code Geass, to the point that his Fan Nickname is "Prince Valium". His brother Prince Schneizel is just as bad.
  • From Monster: this is the most emotion you will get out of dissonantly serene Complete Monster Johan Liebert, unless he's having a Villainous BSOD. Urasawa otherwise averts this, so in this case it's clearly an intentional choice and just makes him creepier.
  • Kyon, of the Suzumiya Haruhi series, mentally criticizes Itsuki of this in the SOS Brigade movie. Strange in that since his normal persona is at least something of an act, and a pretty good one at that. Even Kyon has trouble figuring out what he really thinks about anything.
    • In Nyoron Churuya-san, everyone except Churuya and Achakura have one same monochromic expression.
      • That is, they all look like this: -_-. All the time.
  • This happens a lot in Gantz. One the most obvious examples is this panel from chapter 303.
  • Done intentionally with Ichiro in Nerima Daikon Brothers—he's so calm and sedate that he reacts to almost everything with a blank, slack-jawed expression. Actually, it seems like most of the guys at the Host Club behave this way for some reason.
  • Shortly after the voice cast change on Pokémon, many of the new actors were subpar for a while, having been picked for their ability to mimic the previous voice cast rather than to perform for themselves. Some (most notably Team Rocket and Brock) adjusted relatively quickly. Others spent the next two seasons locked in a perpetual state of Dull Surprise before they figured out how to act. Unfortunately, the protagonist was one of the latter.
  • Every character Tsutomu Nihei has ever drawn. His most famous stoic is Killy from Blame!, who is quite well known for having the emotional range of a broken toaster.
  • Gaara of Naruto, after his Heel Face Turn, tends to embody this trope for the most part. Even when Kimimaro nearly succeeded in shoving a bone-turned-drill through Gaara's face in the Sasuke Retrieval arc. It wasn't until Kimimaro's kill-you-with-my-last-breath attack that the Kazekage at last showed shock and fear that was on-par with the other characters of the series.
  • Shaman King‍'‍s Hao Asakura usually conveyed minimal shock, fear or surprise at something unexpected happening around or to him. That is, until things got serious.
  • Many characters in Ubel Blatt look like they're in perpetual Dull Surprise, although there are a few times where they do show some emotions but that tends to be most of the older cast or when the younger cast are very angry.
  • Chief Kushima shows remarkably little emotion for a man whose arm has just been torn to shreds by a metal cable in the first episode of Real Drive, despite of not yet having a cybernetic body at this time.
  • Kotori Makino from Koe de Oshigoto! While she can simulate the proper expressions when acting, her own emotions are very rarely visible on her face. She has yet to be seen surprised, shocked or angry, which is quite a feat, considering what usually goes on around her.
  • Ulquiorra Cifer from Bleach is pretty much the physical embodiment of this trope. The closest he gets to an expression besides line face is during battles where he's shocked, which is expressed by just barely widening his eyes. If it wasn't for dramatic speed lines or speech bubbles with exclamation marks you may not even catch that his expression changed at all. Even when he's about to be nuked by Ichigo's hollow form after being caught off guard, all he does in response is stare blankly at him and say "do it".
  • Winry Rockbell's Japanese voice actor in the second anime adaption of Fullmetal Alchemist has this problem. She does fine when she is in Genki Girl mode, but it's most noticeable in the "dramatic" scenes, such as when Winry finds out who her parents' killer is, and that he is trying to kill her childhood friends, too. What should have been a Tear Jerker falls flat as the actress only gets the first emotion (shock) across, instead of also showing her hysterical when it finally sinks in and just a hint of anger in it when she picks up a gun and is about to shoot Scar.
  • Inverted in-universe with Kasuka Heiwajima of Durarara!!, who is a Master Actor even in the most camp and B-movie of roles... and has the emotional range of Rei Ayanami on valium when not acting.
  • The Medicine Peddler in Mononoke, whose reactions to the titular demonic apparitions are usually limited to phrases such as, "Oh my." or "My word." Especially amusing when the people around him are cowering and screaming in fear.

Comic Books

  • Transformers fans have used this term to describe the emotions portrayed by the characters in any Dreamwave comics drawn by Pat Lee or anyone aping his style.
    • The page image is a particularly infamous example; the expressions on everyone's faces, especially Devastator, are so bland, readers thought that it was some sort of Twist Ending, like Omega Supreme showing up to save the day, or Unicron arriving to wreck stuff up.
    • Also applicable to the low-quality Conspicuous CG in Transformers Energon.
    • And Don Figueroa's "new style" in the Ongoing tops it by giving all his Transformers (or at least the ones with visible mouths) a gnarling sneer perpetually frozen on their faces.
  • During the Spider-Man story arc "The Other," an entire issue is devoted to Mary Jane's shock and grief at Peter's apparent death. Whom did Marvel hire to draw this emotionally-charged issue? Pat Lee, who is notorious for this sort of thing. Cue 20 pages of Mary Jane looking far more stoned than grief-stricken, even if you want to believe that she was in shock the entire time her expression didn't change at all.
  • Linkara mocks an issue of Uncanny X-Men (#423) for having Nightcrawler reveal a surprising bit of info and having all the characters react in shock... "or rather with apathy, shock, confusion, boredom and surprise".
  • The Spider-Man Newspaper Comic Strip restarts Peter and MJ's marriage, hand-waving their time apart as all "just a dream". Upon the revelation that he is married to a hot nubile redhead wearing nothing but a loose bath towel... Peter gives a look like he's not sure whether or not he needs to sneeze.
  • The comic book version of Anita Blake reacts this way to everything. No matter how shocking, horrific or terrible the event, she reacts basically by opening her mouth slightly and looking perturbed.
  • At one point in in the "ill-conceived" DC series Amazons Attack, Batman looks down and frowns slightly while saying, "An Amazon attack, a deadly bee weapon. Bees. My god." Made into a running joke by Linkara.
  • Despite the arc being drawn by what's often considered the best artist from the series the Sonic Adventure adaptation of Sonic the Comic suffers from this. Amy and Tikal in particular have dull expressions.

Fan Works


  • The Graduate. Everyone save Mrs. Robinson. However, this is the rare positive case in which that was exactly what was intended by Mike Nichols. It's the entire point.
  • Fifty years ago, critics would probably be praising his "manly restraint" or some such, but it can be argued that actor Keanu Reeves has this in all of his movies, but it's most noticeable in The Matrix trilogy (which is apparently why the Wachowskis hired him).
    • For the scenes within the Matrix, this was done deliberately by all the actors at direction from the Wachowskis to help create a sense of disconnect caused by Morpheus and the others knowing the Matrix isn't real. Admittedly this is somewhat undermined by the whole "Your mind makes it real" speech.
    • Try watching Bram Stoker's Dracula, where Keanu's trying to conceal his Dull Surprise at the supernatural events around him and keep up his painful Fake Brit accent.
      • Especially obvious since everyone else is gleefully hamming it up.
      • The worst instance of this is when he is waiting for Dracula's carriage to show up, and before it does, finds himself surrounded by rather hungry looking wolves. By looking at the "fear" on his face, you'd think he was surrounded by pigeons. Also, "BYUUUUDAPEST."
    • In Johnny Mnemonic he alternates between this and Narm, though that's probably more the fault of the script than anything.
    • And yet, he has no signs of this in Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure. So, yeah, he can do things besides Dull Surprise... or at least he used to.
      • Reeves playing a stoner? May be a case of typecasting.
    • Reeves' best acting ever may have been in the otherwise not great 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still: he plays an alien whose affect is chilly and inhuman, and is wonderfully natural in the part. Readers may draw their own conclusions.
    • Never more obvious than when he played the good guy in The Devil's Advocate, next to Al Pacino playing Satan. How can you root for the hero when the villain cares so much more?
    • Used pretty well in Speed, where he reacts to each new piece of danger with chilly competence, only to completely lose it when his partner is killed.
    • On John Wick and its sequels Keanu has learn to emote more convincingly for the actual emotional scenes, but since he spent most of those movies as a Roaring Rampaging Machine full of cold fury and not really reacting to the increasing outrageousness of the contract killer world, his dull surprise is more than warranted.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose most notable roles are an emotionless robot, an emotionless (ex)soldier and an emotionless warrior. Really, Schwarzenegger is the best when he can play a killing machine (either literally or figuratively). Honestly, you do not want to see him try to act emotions. It can alternate between bad acting (Jingle All the Way), weird facial expressions (Kindergarten Cop, Total Recall), or overacting for the sake of it (Batman and Robin). His best performance ironically came in a parody film: Last Action Hero. He actually shows some emotional depth in the film.
  • The Room, with Tommy Wiseau. It is not difficult to imagine every line of his in the script, except questions, ending in a period, given his flat, mostly-unaffected delivery. He sounds bored even when his character is supposed to be outraged.

Johnny: Oh, HI, (fill in the name)! (Endlessly. Even to a dog.)

Johnny: "I did not hit her. It's not true. It's bullshit. I did noooooooot. Oh, hi, Mark."

  • Selma Blair maintains this expression at all times in the film version of Hellboy, possibly justified by her staying at a mental health facility and very likely medicated the entire time. She gets out-acted by a fish man, a giant red demon, an insane Russian necromancer, a wind-up Nazi and a German man made of smoke. The fact that she was pregnant would explain why she's more lively in the second movie.
  • The 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice had Matthew McFayden as Darcy doing this.
    • Mister Darcy has a consistent problem with this in various film versions of the book. The reason seems to be that in the book, he starts out disdainful and cold to the point of rudeness, and different actors struggle with how to play him so that he can be accepted by the audience in a romantic role despite coming off as a jerk less than an hour ago.
  • Natalie Burke in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumnus Warrwilf Werewolf. All together now: "Tis is ebsolutly fescinatung".
  • Jennifer Lawrence does "dull surprise" extremely well in both Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games, although to be honest, it's kind of in character and can also be translated as "grim concentration" in both cases.
  • Sterling Hayden in Suddenly.
  • Nicolas Cage alternates between Dull Surprise and being a Large Ham. Usually switching at the wrong times.
  • Alicia Silverstone in Batman and Robin.
  • Thandie Newton in Mission Impossible II.
  • Téa Leoni's performance in Deep Impact just screams this. Or rather, vaguely suggests it.
  • Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth from Superman Returns.
    • This seems to plague both Routh and Bosworth in all of their roles.
  • Tim Roth in Little Odessa.
    • It seems Tim Roth is better at reading expressions than making them. At least he does ok as a chimp.
    • He can do expressions just fine: see Four Rooms. "The Misbehavers" segment averts this trope hard.
  • Just imagine the number of sedatives the cast of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats must have been on while making the movie. There is a scene in which a man's hands get burned off and he doesn't seem to mind. You've probably made a bigger reaction to losing your keys!
  • In the Twilight film, Bella certainly has a collection of such emotions.
  • Jason Statham has two distinct moods: Scowling while beating people up, and scowling while beating people up with his shirt off.
  • Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III. From the amount of emotion in her dying "Dad?" you'd expect she wanted to ask Michael to pass the orange juice.
  • Moonraker: Doctor. Holly. Goodhead. Really, my dear, if you're facing the end of humanity by toxic freaking nerve gas, would it kill you to at least sound kind of interested?!
  • Hayden Christensen in almost everything he's ever been in, but especially in the Star Wars prequels.
    • Ironically Darth Vader has more range and expression than Anakin, and he is sealed in a suit where no one can even see his face!
    • Many of the actors in the prequels were accused of this - the Comic Irregulars even said the Serkis Folk are more expressive.
      • Although most people acknowledged it wasn't completely the actors' fault. Quite a few critics admitted at least part of the problem was being forced to work for most of the movie against a green screen. Having scenes and props to work with greatly helps with emoting, whereas having to act terrified of a garishly-painted wall makes things difficult. Considering they turned Oscar-winning Natalie Portman into a mannequin, putting all the blame on the actors is a little unfair.
      • There's also the perils of George Lucas dialogue —for some reason, it seems that his issues with writing realistic lines grew in the decades between the prequels and the originals.
  • Christian Bale seems to have a variety of facial expressions comparable to a marble statue. This is largely due to his method of playing sociopathic and/or emotionally disaffected characters. Several of his films feature bipolar performances swinging between Vulcan-like emotional coldness and sudden, manic frenzy.
  • Intentionally invoked in Napoleon Dynamite.
  • Dorothy Parker once said that Katharine Hepburn ran "the gamut of emotions, from A to B."
  • Orlando Bloom. Although he'll probably strike a heroic pose at the same time, just to mix things up. The one time Bloom showed genuine emotion is his grin when Jack Sparrow commented "Nice Hat" to him in Pirates of the Caribbean.
    • Early into Kingdom of Heaven, Balian murders a priest (his own half-brother in the extended version) in the heat of the moment. Even during this act of passion, Bloom's facial expression is that of mildly confused curiosity.
  • Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter - but he definitely improves as the movies go on. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!!!"
    • Particularly notable in Philosopher's Stone when Hagrid tells him "yer a wizard". He might as well have said "yer a Pisces".
  • Edward Burns in A Sound of Thunder. Just check the pictures of this recap (who describes him as "only slightly less stiff than the fossilized bones of the dinosaurs they hunt").
  • Deliberately played with in Scanners, where the protagonist has literally no personality, and delivers all his lines in a Creepy Monotone. This makes Stephen Lack's performance easily confused with simple bad acting - his roles usually have more emotional range to them.
  • Clive Owen wears the same dully surprised face for the entirety of King Arthur.
  • In 12 Monkeys, this trope is well Justified Trope because Bruce Willis' character is either heavily sedated or mentally traumatized for most of the movie. In addition, this provides a perfect counterweight to Brad Pitt's maniacal bombast.
  • Steven Seagal. In Italy, and possibly, elsewhere, TV advertised a series of Steven Seagal films with this line (translated):

"His facial muscles are firm, but leg and arm muscles moves like lightning".

  • Zooey Deschanel. For example, in Tin Man and in The Happening (with one reviewer describing her performance in the latter film as being that of "a perpetually surprised lemur"). The Happening even gives her the line "I don't like to show my emotions," which many suspect was a desperate attempt to make her lack of any performance work. This culminated in her role as the title character of (500) Days of Summer, where her emotionally mute acting style worked great as an emotionally dead character to explain why the main character, obviously hoping she'd be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, had such a terrible relationship with her.
  • William Hurt in the 1998 Lost in Space movie. The robot displayed more emotion than him. Hurt's dull performance could be summed up in just one line:

"I love you, wife."

  • And when his family is killed by the planet debris, he's so dull the music has to do the acting for him.
  • Actually, almost the whole cast suffered from this, save Gary Oldman's Dr. Smith, Lacey Chabert's Penny, and the robot.
  • Rooney Mara in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Several reviewers unfavorably compared her with the much livelier and more emotional Decoy Protagonist played by Katie Cassidy, who was the POV character for the first third of the movie.
  • Harrison Ford's terrible narration in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. It was added due to Executive Meddling, and it really shows, since the rest of his acting is fine.
  • Hurd Hatfield in the 1945 The Picture of Dorian Gray. The voiceover is saying he's seized with terror and panic, and he just looks kinda bored. Even when he murders Basil, he seems like he's thinking about what kind of sandwich he wants to make later.
  • Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Their roles could have been played with cardboard cutouts and tape recorders and nobody would have noticed the difference (at least one reviewer said the special effects are more animated than Tatum).
  • Robert Hines in Hellraiser.
  • Fireproof manages to make this look natural with Kirk Cameron's character. As a volunteer firefighter, Caleb tends to automatically swallow his emotions in a crisis, leading to vacillating between Dull Surprise and completely exploding.
    • Fred Clark, at Slacktivist, has credited Cameron's acting style to his having learned to act as a child actor in a family sitcom: child actors in such shows learn, primarily, a) to mug and b) to wait until someone else has delivered a line. "Watch CamCam's reaction and see if you can spot one. CamCam isn't talking, so CamCam isn't acting."
  • According to Sergio Leone, in the '60s, Clint Eastwood had "two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it". His acting style evolved a lot since then.
    • Legend has it that Leone once explained Eastwood's appeal by saying that "when Michelangelo looked at a block of marble, he saw David; when I looked at Eastwood, I saw a block of marble." Leone was initially drawn to Eastwood by his restrained performance as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, and the two men worked hard to perfect this for A Fistful of Dollars. His character's trademark wardrobe - the poncho, the cheroot, the hat - were all intended to de-emphasise the character's humanity, and of course he had no name. Except for Joe.
  • M. Night Shyamalan' The Last Airbender. Every child character, for every situation, in every scene throughout the entire movie. Especially Aang/Ong. His reactions are so incredibly mild, that he might not have enough emotion to qualify for this trope.
  • Kill Bill - This is precisely the expression that Uma Thurman had upon waking up from her coma, so shocked that she sat straight up in bed, emphasized by the freeze-frame.
    • Daryl Hannah isn't exactly well-known for emoting in her acting. However, this works for her character in Kill Bill because this makes her a lot more ruthless and threatening. An example is her apathy to Michael Madsen's death by black mamba (the snake, not the Bride)
  • Malin Akerman in the Watchmen movie. Her reaction to being teleported to Mars is remarkably sedate.
    • She, in fact, took this to the meta level by requesting that the filmmakers cut anything that might add characterization to Laurie outside of acting, such as her smoking, profanity, stammering, etc. Dull Surprise applied to thematics as well as delivery is a terrible thing to behold.
    • Matthew Goode, as Ozymandias, provides a more mild but still persistent problem. In particular, the comic's ebullient "I won!" (accompanied with raised fists and a shot of Alexander The Great in the background) is replaced with a near-whisper indistinguishable from any of his other lines.
    • Dr Manhattan has this tendency in-universe.
  • Kevin Costner, in most of his roles. Waterworld ("My boat") perhaps has a justification, as his character shuns and is shunned by society, and he rarely interacts with people out on the open ocean.
  • As an example of Tropes Are Not Bad, Javier Bardem exhibits little to no emotion as the ruthless Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Naturally, he's a lot more intimidating, and won an Oscar for his performance.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow in Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, everyone else in the movie had fun with their role but not her.
  • Thora Birch in Dungeons and Dragons. The best demonstration is the discussion between her and Jeremy Irons, who is Ham and Cheese incarnated in that film.
  • Elizabeth Moss in Get Him to The Greek. Justified Trope: she's clearly using it to portray her character - an intern - as so overworked and drowsy that she cannot express emotions normally.
  • Paul Walker had always used this as his backup mode of acting, but nowhere was this more evident than in the 5th The Fast and the Furious. He reacts to the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant with an expression of "meh, that's good too." A pity, because the acting of the cast all around has improved somewhat (especially Vin Diesel, who is now able to show emotions!)
  • Michael Pitt in damn near everything.
  • Sam Worthington is infamous for this. He was commended at one point for his acting in Terminator Salvation. Then Avatar and Clash of the Titans rolled around, and people realized that he wasn't doing a brilliant role as an emotionless robot, he was trying to act normally. He does a lot better in The Debt.
    • It's worse when you learn his character in Terminator Salvation wasn't supposed to be a emotionless robot.
  • Possibly every role ever played by Camilla Belle. Her entire acting range is a blank stare... and nothing else.
  • Mia Wasikowska in Alice in Wonderland. Justified in that she's a British girl who for most of the film thinks it's All Just a Dream.
  • Emily Browning in Sucker Punch - though mostly justifiable in that she's clearly scared or baffled through the major part of the film.
  • Played to great effect in the 1979 ghost story "The Changeling" and George C. Scott. He's seen so much weird shit by the time he's in the well that he seems almost bored when the medal makes its appearance.
  • Justin Timberlake spends most of In Time with the same grumpy facial expression. May be justified, but it's really not due to having taken a lover while all the chaos happens in the movie.
  • Pia Zadora's acting career in the 1980s failed because of her having Dull Surprise as her standard acting mode, as exemplified on The Lonely Lady.


  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Hagrid is exposed by Rita Skeeter as a half-giant, Hermione isn't as shocked as Harry or Ron, because she feels it makes perfect sense. She explains she always doubted someone as big as Hagrid could be fully human but knew he couldn't be a true giant, seeing as they are about 20 feet tall.

Live-Action TV

  • Kristen Kreuk's Lana Lang in Smallville. From finding out she's pregnant, to finding out about Clark's superpowers, to overwhelming joy, to anger and so on and so on (her other expression is the eye-roll-and-vague-smile combo). Except in the earlier seasons, when she would make a face like a squirrel instead.
    • She does much better as Scotty's cheating girlfriend in Eurotrip, even though she only shows up for 2 scenes.
  • Ashley Scott in Jericho. Sometimes she tries to cover this up by holding her hands over her blank face. With mixed success - many times this has simply ended up looking like she's sniffing her fingers, not a major improvement.
  • Ghost Whisperer. Watching Jennifer Love Hewitt do this has been the source of many a narmy moment. It really doesn't help that they end about half the scenes with a nice big close up of her so desperately struggling to make a facial expression, any facial expression.
  • The principle of Adam Westing, which Adam West himself did the whole time in Batman, when he didn't sound drunk that is.
    • To be fair, West was a) acting with a mask hiding most of his face; b) supposed to be the straight man to the massive hams who played the villains; and c) as Batman, supposed to take all this stuff in his stride. He memorably averts Dull Surprise towards the end of the film when Catwoman's mask comes off.
  • Anna Torv in Fringe. Considering that she shares scenes with one of the Largest Hams known to mankind, which is sure to emphasize any poor attempts at more subtle expressions in others. She's gotten a bit better with it though.
    • She finds out her boyfriend is a double agent, then sees him get killed, then he packs his suitcase and moves into her brain. Later she finds out that she was a Tyke Bomb guinea pig in Walter and William Bell's drug experiments. If she had a normal emotional range it would be a miracle.
    • But then, it's called subtlety (it's all in the eyes, baby!) It works very well for a character as subdued as Olivia, but viewers have become so used to actors Chewing the Scenery that it's probably hard to recognize and not mistake for woodenness.
    • On the other hand, her emotional problems are a plot point in Season 2. The trauma of being a human guinea pig wrecked her emotionally and taught her to channel any fear into anger. We meet an alternate universe version of Olivia who is much more emotional, confirming that it's a deliberate acting choice.
    • This is more a problem with her co-star, Joshua Jackson, who literally has two modes: Deadpan Snarker, and just deadpan. This is especially visible in Season Three, when his character has to deal with a whole bunch of emotional problems about half-way in.
  • Milo Ventimiglia, who played Peter in Heroes. About the most "emotion" he shows is a slight curl of his lip, but that's actually a result of partial face paralysis.
    • It's glaringly obvious when he's in a scene with someone who can actually act—Jack Coleman, Cristine Rose, Christopher Eccleston, Zachary Quinto, David Anders, Hayden Panettiere, and on into the sunset (fortunately he never had a scene with Mr. Muggles). Watching his interactions with his on-screen brother Adrian Pasdar is especially painful. One comes across as dangerous, calculating and creepy, the other appears lobotomized. Oooooh dear.
    • He simply inherited it from his on-screen father, Robert Forster, who apparently decided that Arthur Petrelli was too powerful to have any emotion on his face or in his tone when delivering his dialogue. He doesn't even seem bored, just... monotone.
  • Often turns up as part of the Stylistic Suck that forms Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. Liz in particular seems susceptible to it:

"That's strange. That cat just told me to leave."

  • Kim Kardashian playing an accused murderer's girlfriend on CSI:NY. Borderline Narm.
  • Elisabeth Rohm, when she was on Law and Order, was given the derisive nickname "Rohmbot" because of this.
  • The entire cast of Sunset Beach veered from this trope to Large Ham.
  • Ellen Muth (Georgia Lass) in Dead Like Me, in every scene. Serves perfectly to define Georgia Lass character.
  • A bizarre case is the usually-good Joanne Froggatt in Robin Hood. Her character Kate spends most of her time with her face screwed up due to her constant scowling, crying and whining, but when she's faced with an actual crisis such as a threat from her brother's murderer or the dead body of one of her comrades, all she can muster is a blank stare.
  • It was a point of some parody (including a Mad TV sketch) during the popularity of The X-Files that both David Duchovny and, to a lesser extent, Gillian Anderson would frequently react to mysterious or horrific events with deadpan near-monotone exclamations (since their acting was just fine when the other's character was in danger, though, one could assume that they've become a bit jaded). There was even a joke about it in the first movie:

Scully: I saw your face, Mulder. There was a definite moment of panic.
Mulder: You've never seen me panic. When I panic, I make this face. [Remains expressionless.]

  • Almost the whole cast of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
  • On one episode of Frasier ("The Late Dr. Crane"), Niles is talked into getting a botox injection. Due to the paralyzing nature of the treatment, a revelation causes him to exclaim "Oh my God!" without moving a single muscle above his mouth.
    • Martin once gave a similar (non)-reaction after returning from the spa. When asked why he didn't smile or anything after receiving good news, his response was that he thought he was smiling.
  • The Camden twins, Sam and David, in the later seasons of 7th Heaven, were a particularly awful example of this trope. Everything they said came out in an almost robotic monotone.
  • Lampshaded on House in regards to Foreman's character:

Taub: Here's my impression of Foreman on the happiest day of his life. (dons a completely flat expression) Now on the saddest day of his life. (does the same face)

  • Ellie Spicer, the abducted little girl in the Criminal Minds episode "The Longest Night", seemed to unintentionally smirk through a lot of scenes in the episode, regardless of the situation.
  • The Olsen twins, sharing the role of Michelle on Full House, were at times painful when they got old enough to have actual lines. In all fairness, they were very young at the time, but it went on to dog their later work as well, and was a major contributing factor in the complete failure of their one and only theatrical starring feature, New York Minute,[1] which only grossed $14 million dollars during its whole box office run. Both twins, now adults, have turned to other careers.
  • One of the many, many problems with the recent UK remake of The Day of the Triffids. Dougray Scott as the hero was a particular offender, delivering lines like "we have to warn everybody" with all the urgency of someone reminding their wife to pick up milk on the way home.
  • Firefly: Mal's reaction to finding out Doctor Simon Tam's luggage is a crazy naked girl reads "I wasn't expecting that. I'll get back to you with an emotion later."
    • The fact that it would be completely in-character for him to actually say that suggests this may have been deliberate.
    • Nor will this be the last time he opens a package to find it contains a body.
    • This is definitely atypical for Nathan Fillion, who can (and does) act a wide range of emotions. Even his normally dull expression in Drive is revealed to be an act (you do not want to meet the real Alex Tully).
  • Justin Bieber's acting on CSI.
  • Jason London as the titular character in the Hallmark miniseries of Jason and the Argonauts. From being told that his uncle killed his father to nearly drowning, he has the same nauseated look.
  • Played for laughs in Scrubs. Somebody knocks into Jordan, who has just got botox. It is justified. Her face was literally paralyzed like that, like all people when they first get botox.

Jordan: Oooow, the pain, it's excruciating. (all grumbled with her mouth barely even moving)

  • The same thing as the Scrubs example happened in an episode of Psych with a rich widow being told something shocking. Her reply is "I'm shocked" with a blank face. When the others look surprised (and suspicious), she explains that she has had botox done and can't show emotion.
  • The main cast of Stargate SG 1 criticized themselves for the ending to "Thor's Chariot," where they only seemed mildly intrigued by the sight of a ship the size of a city appearing and eliminating an entire Goa'uld army in seconds. In behind-the-scenes interviews, they explained that none of them appreciated just how impressive (or big) the ship would look in the finished episode, so they did not think to put more awe or fear into their expressions.
    • Interestingly, despite Teal'c often trying to be emotionless, it was often clear from his face alone what he was feeling at the moment. Also, as seen in interviews, Christopher Judge is much more lively off-screen (described by Amanda Tapping as a "jackass").
  • Adorably subverted on Fox's Raising Hope. Typically TV babies just stare or appear agitated, bored, and fussy, but the twins playing Hope always seem to be genuinely fascinated by what's going on around her (them). Their reactions always seem to fit the scenes.


Professional Wrestling

  • When Christian returned to the WWE on an episode of ECW in 2009, Todd Grisham sounded... less than enthusiastic.
  • A certain 2009 promo featuring both Drew McIntyre and John Morrison. Just knowing those two are going to be talking in the same promo is basically "assume crash positions".
  • Melina Perez as a Face. As a Heel, not so much. You'd think your face would be more expressive.
  • Announcer Scott Stanford has yet to sound not monotonous even when he's annoyed.
  • Texas Dingo. He puts absolutely no enthusiasm into this interview to the point that it's So Bad It's Good. Made even more hilarious by the fact that his opponent is a Large Ham.
  • Many people would argue that Randy Orton's "Going to that other place" expression is like this.
  • John Laurinaitis reacted to CM Punk's GTS the same way he does everything, by staring blankly at what's directly in front of his face.
  • John Cena. Let's face it, every one of his post Pretty Fly for a White Guy promos has been utter devoid of enthusiasm.

Video Games

  • One of the few real faults of Dragon Age Origins is how wall-eyed the Warden is to just about everything - which is especially disturbing considering that a great deal of work went into the facial animations of the Companions, and compared to the rather animated Hawke in Dragon Age II.
  • Shadow of Destiny has fairly limited facial animations, so most of the characters look like this at some point, but Eike spends virtually the entire game in a state of Dull Surprise. It doesn't help that his English voice is fairly monotone.
  • Silent Hill characters have this tendency given the limitations in the graphics; many fans consider the fourth game's protagonist Henry Townsend to be the worst offender.
  • The limited engine of Deus Ex, combined with acting that ranged from ridiculously over-the-top (and borderline racist) to the flattest line readings imaginable lead to Dull Surprise in more than a few situations. The creators of the game actually stated that this was done intentionally, to have the player produce the emotions instead of them forced on him.
    • JC Denton's deadpan delivery is a constant source of (intentional) hilarity, producing some immortal lines in the process:
  • Several of the bad endings in the original School Days game end with Makoto staring blankly at whatever gruesome scene has just happened before him.
  • Despite being an expert at Parrot Exposition, Solid Snake (of Metal Gear) is usually expressive enough with his face and body to avoid this even with graphics limitations - except in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, which had really freakishly awful facial expressions. Snake's gormless, changeless expression in that game is referred to by fans as 'Mildly-Annoyed Confusion', and combined with his mindless repetition of things that other people say, and with his 180 IQ which is repeatedly mentioned in the manual and never demonstrated in the canon ever, it hits legendary levels. Mind you, 'Mildly-Annoyed Confusion' pretty much sums up Solid Snake's personality for 90% of the game.
  • The main character in Knights of the Old Republic always looks sort of mildly interested in dialogue mode, complete with nodding or raising an eyebrow occasionally, which works for much of the time but not when something dramatic is going on.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the Spy is the class most likely to be incinerated by a triggerhappy Pyro. Thus, one might expect the Spy to fear his natural enemy. However, where the others might bawl out "I'M BURNING!" and "ON FIRE!" at the top of their lungs with expressions of obvious distress, the Spy's response? Just him with practically the same unperturbed expression he usually exhibits, coupled with an extremely blasé "I do believe I'm on fire," or "I appear to have burst into flames."
    • He's just unsurprised because it happens to him so often. And he's far too suave to panic about it.
    • However, all of the classes (even the Pyro, whose face is obscured by an all-encompassing gas mask) are very expressive with their feelings, their emotions ranging anywhere from sadistic glee (when they're doing well) to Oh Crap (when they aren't).
  • Your Mission Control in Persona 3, Fuuka Yamagishi, narrates pitched battles in an incredibly flat, stilted manner. She's a bit better outside of combat, but there are still times where her voice actress is clearly valiantly struggling to keep the emotion down.
    • Happens again in Persona 4. Shadow Mitsuo's voice is flat and stilted. Mitsuo's shadow is intended to represent his inner emptiness. Unlike the previous game, it's perfectly justified and not at all due to the failings of the VA.
  • X does this in the opening cutscene to Mega Man X 8. Facing down an army of shapeshifting Reploids should yield a stronger reaction than, "did I leave the oven on?"
  • Dr. Hanson in Star Craft 2. Even the sight of Infested Terrans gets a painfully unconcerned response.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, all of Shadow's sprites are like this, including his laughter and surprise graphics. Partially justifiable in that he's wearing a mask and he has "killed his emotions", but you can still see his eyes—in a game where just about everyone's eyes are clearly visible and show obvious emotion during laughter and surprise.
  • Magus in Chrono Trigger has sprites like these, with a contrast similar to that of Shadow's in Final Fantasy VI mentioned above. He actually doesn't even have a surprise animation (He has an animation, but it's a deep scowl rather than a look of shock like everyone else).
  • Nearly everyone in the first Baten Kaitos game, thanks to the phoned-in voice acting. Xelha, in particular, seems to have trouble expressing any strong emotion.
    • Similarly, Arc Rise Fantasia. Special mention to the character whose voice actor seems to have put his full emotive talents into sounding vaguely Brazilian, resulting in a sort of silly-clearly-fake-accent-monotone.
  • In Killer7, Mask de Smith says things like, "Yeah, I'm here to kill Mr. Fukushima" with all the gravity of, "Yeah, I'm here to do the dishes". This was probably intentional, given that Mask, like the rest of the Killer7, is a professional assassin.
  • In Dead Mountaineer's Hotel, Alec Snevar sounds like his actor was literally reading the script; there is basically zero effort put into making the character sound realistic.
  • Infamously, Samus from Metroid: Other M speaks in a monotone throughout the entire game.

Web Animation

  • From RWBY, when Blake is revealed to be a cat Faunus, it isn't that much of a surprise to her friends, mainly because they already know she's a faunus at that point, just not what kind. When Penny casually mentions a detail she noticed that they didn't ("The cat ears?"), Ruby remembers how much Blake likes tuna. To be honest, the team seems to be stunned at just how they failed to figure it out from the clues they already had.

Web Comics

  • Ctrl+Alt+Del: The internet term "B^U" is frequently used by detractors to describe the lack of facial expression (everyone evidently usually looks slightly slack-jawed) as well as everyone looking really similar. It's also become shorthand for "Tim Buckley", who has his own unique set of emotional cripplements.
    • In a tutorial on drawing facial expressions, Tracy Butler of Lackadaisy specifically included a "Buckley face" as an example of bad art.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob: Bob's standard default expression is eyes wide with his mouth in a tiny O shape. This perhaps reflects the fact that he's constantly encountering new weirdnesses, but has become too used to it to ever look more than mildly startled.
  • Frank from Two Guys and Guy.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Pretty much anything produced by Filmation.
  • My Little Pony: Once Upon A My Little Pony Time. Slightly more emotional than most of the examples here, but only in the sense that the ponies' expressions, in emoticon terms, are limited to "happy" and "sad".
  • Squidward in SpongeBob SquarePants sometimes is like this - for example, while there are vikings thrashing the Krusty Krab. But he usually doesn't care too much unless it's directly affecting him.
  • Mildred from Scaredy Squirrel.
  • A great example in The Justice League comes from The Joker of all people. When an explosive he had planted in Las Vegas seemingly fails to go off, The Joker watches a video replay in super slow motion that reveals that The Flash had carried the device to the outskirts of town while it was exploding. The Joker's only reaction was uttering a subdued "Huh."
    • This is justified as the bomb isn't his real plan.
  • Zigzagged in The Powerpuff Girls episode "Him Diddle Riddle". Him's initial reaction when Bubbles scores perfect on the SAT test (after appearing to simply wing it by arranging the answers to look like a flower) is, "Well I'll be darned." However, then he collapses into demonic rage and threats before calming down long enough to state the next challenge.

Real Life

  • Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was specifically groomed throughout her life to be this way —she strives never to show emotion in her face. See also Stiff Upper Lip.
    • Also the palace guards are supposed to be this way, and are often goaded by tourists hoping to get them to break face.
    • And if you piss them off, indeed they just might "break face".
  • The fourth cartoon on this page shows South Africa's ex-president Thabo Mbeki in a range of emotions, though yet to show even one.
  • A running joke concerning many Finnish athletes, who apparently have hard time showing emotion even when they win something big. A good, notable example is the F1 driver-turned-rally-driver-turned-F1-driver-again Kimi Räikkönen, parodied here. Another one is ski jumper Janne Ahonen, the only man ever to win the 4-hills tournament five times. He even got a dubbed nickname, "The Mask", from the German press due to this.
    • After Ahonen won the 4-hills for the 4th time, he was keeping his regular stoic face on during celebrations. A German reporter asked him to smile, just a little, for the camera. His response? "I am smiling."
  • A lot of athletes come across like this when they give interviews, since they are taught (at least indirectly) not to show much emotion. Athletes are taught to maintain a poker face and avoid showing pain or distress since that might give their opponent an advantage. That tends to creep into their personality as well.
  • A meme floating around the internet since the introduction of the Twilight series (as described in the film section) "Still more expression/emotion then Kristen Stewart" pointing out her various roles where little expression is shown.
  1. (they were billed below Steve Guttenberg and Kirstie Alley in 1995's It Takes Two)
  2. If that's the kind of thing he has to put up with through the whole game, though, then it's no wonder.