The Un-Smile

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"We're here to see Koothrappali, not kill Batman."

Natalie: You're freaking people out!
Monk: No, they'll just think we're in love.
Natalie: You don't look like you're in love. You look like the victim of an industrial accident.


Those characters that never show any emotion? Or, if they do show emotion, it's always anger and/or despondency? Yeah, every single one of them was at one point told to "cheer up a little". The result? Horrible. It can range from merely discomforting to downright Squick, as they just don't get it. Expect more or less horrified reaction from their friends. Sometimes appears alongside Ha Ha Ha No when they're especially not buying it.

This trope is always played for laughs. And no, no amount of Genre Savviness will protect you from it. Not to be confused with Stepford Smiler. Compare Slasher Smile, for when the smile goes from merely creepy to horrific. See also Technically a Smile. Contrast When She Smiles, where a smile is especially nice for a character.

Examples of The Un-Smile include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • In Pearls Before Swine, Rat's attempt to smile actually caused him to literally explode.
  • A Calvin and Hobbes strip has Calvin's mom ordering him to smile for a photograph. He made a hideous face that was technically a smile, since his mouth was upturned.
    • Calvin's done that a number of times for photos. One of them was a strip Bill Watterson said he laughed out loud at. Needless to say, these smiles are always fantastic.
  • During Kurt Busiek's run on The Avengers, they become a UN organization, and have to get new photo IDs to go with the change of status. Vision's attempt to smile for his photo at Wasp's urging is priceless.
  • The Smiler from Transmetropolitan. He spends most of the series showing his teeth, but The Unsmile really comes to a point of fracture in the finale where at one point his face is split in two separate panels, one showing a perfect smile and one a pair of eyes clearly set on murder.
  • Not from a character known for never smiling, but a scary-as-hell fake smile nonetheless: Seth from 9 Chickweed Lane, suddenly caught discussing sex around a group of children, responds with an "innocent smile" that looks like it was copypasted from SMILEDOG.
    • Pretty much every character in this strip looks like some sort of horrifying deep-sea fish when they smile.

Fan Works

  • Fun was had at the end of the Pegasus arc in Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series where Kaiba is genuinely smiling when his Morality Pet little brother is freed and they go home. The parody has everyone stating that this is creepy as hell.

"Every time Kaiba smiles, a puppy dies."


Amanda: She's scaring me!

  • Happens in Hancock, where he makes a weird grimace-like smile asked to for a fan, which was good for a laugh. Then he does the exact same thing to a camera, and it goes into hilarious.
  • In La Femme Nikita, Nikita does an awkward grimace in the mirror when told to smile.
  • One 1925 Buster Keaton comedy, Go West, has Buster (who's not called "The Great Stone Face" for nothing) being told to smile at gunpoint. He reluctantly pushes up the corners of his mouth with his fingers.
    • Keaton borrowed that gesture from Lillian Gish, who uses it in Broken Blossoms (1919) when her character is ordered to smile by her abusive father.
  • Alien Orphan in The Specials. Subverted in that he's not averse to smiling; he just hasn't quite got it down yet.
  • Displayed by Smith in The Matrix Revolutions, right after he absorbs the Oracle.
  • As the Theater section below mentions, Malvolio (the pompous and priggish head servant in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night) is often played this way. In Trevor Nunn's movie of it, Nigel Hawthorne does an excellent version of a forced smile by a man not given to smiling.


R. Daneel smiled. The gesture was sudden and surprising. His lips curled back and the skin about either end folded. Only the mouth smiled, however. The rest of the robot's face was untouched.
Baley shook his head. "Don't bother, R. Daneel. It doesn't do a thing for you."

    • He is trained to chuckle several millennia later in Forward the Foundation. And it took what appears to be weeks of coaching to actually make it seem genuine.
  • In The Wheel of Time they mention that Mazrim Taim never smiles... although he has a kind of half-smile that is almost but not-quite one.
  • In The Silver Chair, when Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum were trying to think of a way to leave Harfang without being caught, part of the idea was to put them off their guard by pretending that they love being there and are looking forward to the Autumn Feast. To this end, Puddleglum tells them they've got to be "gay". During his demonstration, "he assumed a ghastly grin."
  • Discworld:
    • Otto Chriek tries to photograph Nobby Nobbs in The Truth:

Otto: Smile, please.
Nobby: I am smilin'.
Otto: Stop smiling, please.

    • Rincewind often does this intentionally:

He had put a lot of thought into that grin. It was the sort of grin people use when they stare at your left ear and tell you in an urgent tone of voice that they are being spied on by secret agents from the next galaxy. It was not a grin to inspire confidence. More horrible grins had probably been seen, but only on the sort of grinner that is orange with black stripes, has a long tail and hangs around in jungles looking for victims to grin at.

The station manager, a portly little man in wire rims, crept timidly from the office. ‘Everything all right, gentlemen?’ he asked, more hopefully than sternly.
Sabbath and the Doctor both beamed at him. The station master didn’t really find this a reassuring sight.

  • Albreich in the Heralds of Valdemar is warned not to put on a false smile. He's scary enough when he is while scowling.
  • In Mortal Engines, Katherine Valentine thinks that Magnus Chrome's smile looks like someone who had read a book on how to smile but has never actually seen one in real life.

Live-Action TV

  • A fantastically memorable one occurs in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, where Ray tries to get his equally (if not more-so) mopey and pessimistic cousin, Gerard, to smile. The result is hilariously terrifying.
  • In The Addams Family original series, Lurch's attempts at smiling were only out-creepied by his attempts at flirtation.
  • The Big Bang Theory, episode "The Griffin Equivalency": Sheldon, both with and without teeth. But don't take our word for it, see the page picture.
  • In one episode of Black Books, Manny attempts to turn the small secondhand bookshop into a chain bookstore and encourages Bernard to smile, so as to appear more friendly and approachable to customers.

Manny: A bit more - wider - wider...
Bernard is pulling a horrific face.
Manny: No, that looks nasty...

Random woman: He bared his teeth at me!

  • On Reba, Van's "charming smile", which he believes is warm and inviting, is anything but.

Reba: Van, that's not a killer smile, that's the smile of a killer.

  • In the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, Jeremy Brett's Holmes rarely grins at all. Whenever a situation calls on him to smile, Brett twitches his mouth muscles for a hair of a second. "A" for effort, Holmes.
    • Like the canonical Holmes, however, Brett is capable of a genuine smile. Except when he does, it usually bodes badly for somebody.
  • In one episode near the beginning of Stargate SG-1, Teal'c tries to smile under duress. You will either wet yourself laughing or be very afraid.
  • Whenever Data tries to smile on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he really shouldn't.
  • Same goes for Seven of Nine of Star Trek: Voyager.

New Media

  • In Descendant of a Demon Lord Celes has tried smiling a few times and it tends to freak people out. One time she decided to channel her demonic energy while doing so and lost her eyes. She can still see just fine, and has a glowing spot in each of her eye sockets like some undead. Still, she smiled so bad she can no longer pass herself off as human (which strange hand aside, she used to be able to do before just fine. That's what gloves are for anyways).

Newspaper Comics

  • In this Pearls Before Swine strip, Rat's attempt at a "charming smile" doesn't go well.
  • Beetle Bailey normally has no trouble smiling, but this appears once when he's depressed. The camp psychiatrist first tells him to smile, but seeing the result asks him to go back to looking sad.


  • Malvolio from William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is usually treated this way, after being told in a letter (supposedly from his beloved) that his smiles become him.

"Jove, I thank thee: I will smile; I will do everything that thou wilt have me."

Video Games

  • In Kingdom Hearts, when Sora felt down, both Donald and Goofy forced him to smile. "Turn that frown upside down!"... it didn't work very well.
  • Believe it or not, the infamous Final Fantasy X laughing scene was actually made for the lulz. The voice actors sound like they're doing a bad job, but it's intentional.
    • Played straight after Operation Mi'hen. "Kimari practice smiling."
  • Agent Francis York Morgan is a nice enough guy, if extremely weird, but his smile is permanently caught somewhere between "electrocution victim" and "serial rapist."
  • Commander Shepard seems to have this effect during an infamous scene [dead link] from Tali's romance.
  • Suikoden V has Sagiri, who was abducted by the assassin group Nether Gate as a child and trained to smile disarmingly all the time. Their logic was that a pleasantly-smiling girl would put their victims off-guard. It worked so well that, until the end of the game, she's incapable of doing anything but smiling.

Web Comics

Mordecai: Am I doing it now?
Viktor: No.
Mordecai: Is this it?
Viktor: Maybe happier, little bit.
Mordecai: How is--
Viktor: NO. Vorse. Dark look like Valentino is different from dark look like, ehh, I vill like to murder your family... vith ice pick, probably.

Your hide will make a fine poncho!

  • Bloody Urban: Murray tries smiling for a change with horrifying results.
  • In Blip, a very androgynous stranger on the bus gives K a beaming smile. K panics, and gives a half-smirk in response. "Just smile back, smile back... Yeah, that's natural."
  • Something*Positive: You know how Davan never looks happy? Maybe it's better that way...
  • Three Panel Soul: "Giving someone a story to tell is easy. All it takes is a smile."
  • Amber from Shortpacked is told to smile for the customers. Her horrible grimace is, as Ethan sourly remarks, about how much smile they're paid for.
  • Krom from Dark Legacy Comics doesn't smile often. He has a good reason.
  • Florence, the anthropomorphic Bowman's Wolf in Freefall, has to be careful to smile without showing teeth to avoid doing one of these. Of course, sometimes she does want to...
    • She's absolutely right when a nice, big smile makes people more civilized. They do not want things to be uncivilized.
  • One of the advertisements for Our Little Adventure has Lenny, Angelika and Rocky each doing one for Julie who was complaining about them not smiling for the ad. When she sees these horrid smiles, she tells them it's okay to go back to frowning.
  • From Concession, Joel.

Western Animation

Robin: See what I mean about him acting strange?... He's smiling.

    • Yeah, well at least he wasn't laughing. Poor Harley, all she wanted to do was impress Mistah J....
    • Even Batman: The Brave And The Bold runs with this. The episode he smiles the most in is the one in which he's become a vampire planning to devour the Justice League.
    • Oddly enough, Bruce Wayne smiles a lot and quite convincingly. It makes you wonder if his Bruce/Batman dichotomy is just one chemical dip away from a mental breakdown...
  • Ren, of Ren and Stimpy, gets one of these after donning the Happy Helmet in "Stimpy's Invention".
    • The cartoon is the poster child of Deranged Animation, so when he smiles... FACES SHOULD NOT BEND THAT WAY!
  • Raven from Teen Titans is a Perpetual Frowner. The one time she tried to force herself to smile, it was... ugly; the sounds of previously unused facial muscles stretching could clearly be heard as she struggled to pull her lips into position. However, there have been instances where she genuinely smiled and it wasn't so bad.
    • There's also Robin forcing a smile on his "date" with Kitten. This would be the one that made a noise like bones cracking.
  • Has happened at least twice with Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. First was when he was running for mayor, and he's being shown an artists rendition of his political ad where he's standing tall on a mountain top. He asks "Why are my teeth showing like that?!" to which his advisor responds "Because you're smiling!" Mr. Burns commends him for producing the sort of trickery they were being paid for. Later he actually smiles, and it causes him physical pain to do so.
    • In another episode he bets his fortune to the Rich Texan over who can get a photo with a kid smiling. He loses because he is so creepy when smiling that all the town's children (and Otto) cry when standing next to him.
    • Moe.
    • Rex Banner, the no-nonsense police officer trusted with keeping Springfield dry when it briefly enacted Prohibition. He tries to laugh at some point, but he just can't bring himself to do so.
  • Lemongrab of Adventure Time does this in Too Young. A perpetually bitter, angry sourpuss, he assumes that a harmless prank was some kind of personal attack. Once he was informed that it was a prank, he tries to understand what a prank is. Not entirely grasping the concept of a joke, he smiles a very quick, little goofy smile... then starts Laughing Mad in a Ha Ha Ha No sort of fashion. Then he sends everyone in the room to the dungeon.
  • Happens in Time Squad when the characters have to get Leonardo Da Vinci to paint Mona Lisa's portrait. He encourages her to smile, but it turns out she has really bad teeth.
  • The "Super Evil" episode of Making Fiends has Vendetta attempting to smile like Charlotte after an evil magazine quiz they took rated Charlotte as more evil. After several pained struggles, she finally manages a smile. A Slasher Smile.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Beezy gives a very forced one when having to pretend to be best friends with a weavil, whom he has serious Fantastic Racism toward.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has Azula. She can smirk without a problem, but sincere smiling?
    • Interestingly, she can give a real smile, after she practices a bit. She used a charming smile on a hapless party goer later in the evening, to great effect. Then she went on a tangent about how she and the partygoer would rule the world (in typical Azula style), which ruined the whole effect, and sent the poor guy running for the hills.
  • The Brain's smile, at least in one episode. A character actually identifies him his best-effort smile.
  • Occurs in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, "Lesson Zero", when Twilight Sparkle has a psychotic breakdown. She starts smiling in a manner somewhere between "Cheshire Cat Grin", "The Grinch", and "utter disconnect from reality".

Real Life

  • Fun fact: You can subliminally tell if someone is faking by their eyes, not their mouth. In a real smile, the eyebrows lower and the cheeks will rise, narrowing the edge of the eye—some people (especially people with wrinkles) get "crow's feet" at their eyes if it's real. In a fake smile, the lips will widen, but the cheeks won't rise and the eyebrows don't lower; thus, no crow's feet.
    • Unless of course they've learned how to make a convincing fake smile, which is quite easy to do with a little mirror practice.
    • It's not even necessary to know how a "natural" smile works. It's enough to think of something that elicits a smiling response from you. It should be enough to fake a smile, because our facial expressions are a (relatively) simple response. In other words: if you have to pretend to smile, just pretend to have something to smile about. Amazingly, your brain will believe you.
  • Seems to be standard for official pictures of the female members of the United States House and Senate.
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Gordon Brown had a perfectly respectable "dour Scot" thing going on, but then his PR people must have decided he wasn't warm enough, because he suddenly started doing THIS all the time. *Shudder*
    • Alan Davies summarized the Gordon Brown smile's creepiness by saying "you can see him DECIDE to smile, which really ruins any smile."
  • Richard Nixon. Whatever his mouth was doing, those two beady little ferret-eyes were always lurking right above it...
    • Why must you defame ferrets in such a way?
    • The man was an extreme introvert, and absolutely hated dealing with people on a personal level. It shows.
  • Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) heads sculptures contains a fine example making this (at least!) Older Than Radio
  • Part of being Miss California is having a winning smile, So why does Carrie Prejean not have one?
    • This trope is ubiquitous among pageant girls. Disturbingly so.
      • Especially the children.
  • There is something sincerely disturbing about Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff's smile. The Liberals were really out of options when they settle on the guy with Canada's most prominent rape face.
  • Nazi Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment Joseph Goebbels. Eep.
    • Of course, knowing who he is adds to the creepiness, but still...
  • Some people's natural smiles are closed-mouth. At some point, it is inevitable that a photographer will order them to "really" smile and show their teeth. The end result is a fake grin that would do Shere Khan proud.