You'd be lost without the captions. note .
"This face intentionally left blank."
A vague, wispy look given by a character in response to something that, theoretically, should produce a more intense or specific expression of shock, horror, or revelation
. Typically the character looks vacant with their mouth opened, supposedly astonished about something, but it really looks like the tail end of binging on sedative narcotics. The trope is often used to describe the "wide" range of emotions a given actor may use for a role, and one of the staples of lazy character design and artistry. "Dull Surprise" shows up so often because it's a simple expression to perform or draw.
On occasion this is done intentionally. An entire branch of acting called "minimalist" goes on the assumption that reining in your performance is the truest form of the craft, as it's actually much easier to overact and it creates a greater contrast when they do flip out. Clint Eastwood
is one who has perfected that art. In specific roles and scenes, using this look may indicate the event you are responding to 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."
. It may also be done intentionally to show that the character in question is utterly unflappable
, even in the face the most astonishing events, or has gone through the wringer one time too many
And from a different perspective, the lack of expression is vastly preferable to hamming up the performance to the point of absurdity
and Milking the Giant Cow
. The tone of the work itself may be intended towards a quiet, passive experience. For actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger
or Nicolas Cage
, the times they actually show emotion tends to make for hilarious YouTube
Very much Truth in Television
. People's faces often betray very little emotion — especially if they don't think anyone's watching them.
Trope is 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!" It is also a meme
fandom, in reference to the art of Pat Lee
Compare That Makes Me Feel Angry
, Frozen Face
(if the character's face literally cannot
emote), Emotionless Girl
, Kuleshov Effect
, Dissonant Serenity
Contrast Chewing the Scenery
(and all its Sub Tropes
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Due to the simplified style and reliance of stylistic cues that amount to outright writing what the character is feeling in many manga works (sweat drips, tears, shadow lines, sound effect that basically write things like "shocked" in the air be characters), trying to imitate the overall visual style of the source material often turns animated adaptations into this. Even original works frequently make strong stylistic choices, sometimes with a single characters, involving fixing facial elements that in real people change quite constantly to convey expression. Most commonly, the problem centers around the eyes, where they're drawn big and wide in the standard cartoon exaggeration, but don't shrink, grow, and change shape in similar cartoon fashion because the animator feels that would cross some sort of line on realism.
- One particularly intense example is probably Attack on Titan, where the mouths are also simplified and follow words rather than expressions and the 'clean' style leaves the faces with no reference marks for expression whatsoever. This leads to some rather Narm -ish moments in the earlier episodes where characters are screaming at each other and trying to chew the scenery and 'emotional' reaction-shots are spammed... with every character bearing exactly the same facial expression as the 'peaceful times' illustrating dinner scene from the first episode.
- In the same manner as Moe Stare, fanart and promotional art for anime/manga often uses this as a generic cute expression. Here's some examples.
- In Battle Royale Kiriyama's facial expressions are hard to illustrate other than using question marks for confusion.
- Kira in Mobile Suit 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 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.
- Haruhi Suzumiya:
- Kyon 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.
- In Pokémon, Certain animators drew like this, particularly Yusaku Takeda◊.
- 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 the physical embodiment of this trope. Most of the time, 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. However, his repeated encounters with Ichigo leads to a prolonged Villainous Breakdown, because Ichigo's refusal to give up starts to get to him. When he transforms into his true super form, the fact that Ichigo still won't stay down pisses him off to the point that he starts shouting at him. He later manages to recollect himself, and 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". Of course, since he's the Anthropomorphic Personification of nihilism, this is to be expected.
- 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 eponymous 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.
- In the Sailor Moon anime, the Senshi tend to have this reaction to Minako's craziest antics, as they're used to them. Also makes the watchers wonder what Minako usually does when they react the same way to her outrunning a car after having her Pure Heart Crystal extracted (everyone else who had the Pure Heart Crystal extracted fainted without energy, and was in danger of losing their life).
- Daily Life with Monster Girl: in chapter 20, Zombina stumbles onto a fight between Kii, a dryad mutated by illegal toxic waste, and Suu, a slime grown to giant size by the same waste. The two lose their balance and topple directly toward Zombina, who reacts with a blank expression and a deadpan "Uh..." before she's smashed flat. A glorious example of this trope used intentionally.
- Ginga Densetsu Weed tries to animate wild dogs talking, as in real proportioned ones rather than Petting Zoo People. The result is that aside from numbers of time the characters growl, little indicates their emotions aside from their voices.
- During the Spider-Man story arc "The Other," an 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". He also mocked the Quasi-Trope Namer seen above.
- 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 artist was probably going for a sort of non-verbal Flat "What.", especially given that Peter has literally just woken up, but... yeah.
- The comic book version Anita Blake reacts this way to everything. No matter how shocking, horrific or terrible the event, she reacts by opening her mouth slightly and looking perturbed.
- At one point 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. The fact that the dialogue only uses periods only underscores the fact that Batman seems to flatly declaring this without any emotion whatsoever — given the bee-themed superweapon he's discussing, under the circumstances the reader would have probably forgiven an exclamation mark or two.
- Despite the arc being drawn by what's often considered the series' best artist, the Sonic the Comic adaptation of Sonic Adventure suffers from this. Amy and Tikal in particular have dull expressions.
- X-23's abusive upbringing has left her with a poor understanding of how to deal with her emotions, so she generally only has two reactions to things happening around her: blank and seething rage. Anything more tends to be very subtle variations thereof. When she does visibly emote you know whatever caused it was a big deal. When she finally gets fed up with her abusive pimp, Zebra Daddy, the typically Large Ham gangster can only manage a subdued, "Aw, man," when she impales him through the back on her claws.
- Used to creepy effect in the last arc of Runaways where, after an excess of Inelegant Blubbering, Klara is put under a "Settle Down" spell. When a bunch of gun-toting mooks show up, she sics her plants on them, all while wearing an expression that conveys maybe mild curiosity.
- In the 1956 movie adaptation of The King and I, Deborah Kerr tends to stare with her mouth slightly agape in response to anything that calls for powerful emotion.
- 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.
- Keanu Reeves, outside of over-the-top roles such as Bill & Ted.
- 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.
- In Johnny Mnemonic he alternates between this and narm, though that's probably more the fault of the script than anything.
- Reeves' best acting ever may have been in the otherwise not great 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008): 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 Devils 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.
- In A Scanner Darkly, his narcotized acting style works well when he's playing a drug-addicted double agent slowly losing his mind.
- Reeves as John Wick successfully employs his scowl as Tranquil Fury, given it's a Roaring Rampage of Revenge film of The Charles Bronson kind.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose most notable roles are an emotionless robot, an emotionless soldier, 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 (1990)), or overacting for the sake of it (Batman & Robin) or for fun (True Lies). 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.
Oh, HAI, (fill in the name)! (Endlessly. Even to a dog.
"I dihdt naht
hit her. It's nawt true. It's bowlschit, AH dihdt naht hit her. AH DIHDT naaaaaaght
. Oh, hai, Mark."
- Selma Blair maintains this expression at all times in the film version of Hellboy, possibly justified by the fact that her character tends to blow things up when she gets too emotional. Liz also spends a significant part of the film pretty heavily medicated.
- The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice had Matthew McFayden (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.
- Nicolas Cage alternates between Dull Surprise and being a Large Ham. Usually switching at the wrong times. Case in point: Knowing, where he spends most of the film running around looking bewildered.
- 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 he had no name. Except for Joe.
- M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender: the child characters often use this reaction when they are awed or overwhelmed by something.
- 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 here 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)
- Also the daughter of Vivica A Fox's character reacting with slight disappointment at her own mother's death.
- Malin Akerman's 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. Opinion varies on whether this is necessarily a bad thing, however; to some people, it comes off as Ozymandias being so overwhelmed by the fact his plan actually worked that he's just plain incapable of emoting.
- Dr Manhattan has this tendency in-universe. Though he has an excuse.
- 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 & Dragons. The best demonstration is the discussion between her and Jeremy Irons, who is Ham and Cheese incarnated in that film.
- Elisabeth Moss in Get Him to the Greek. Justified: she's clearly using it to portray her character - an intern - as so overworked and drowsy that she cannot express emotions normally.
- Paul Walker 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 improved somewhat by then (especially Vin Diesel, now able to show emotions!)
- 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 an 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.
- Lampshaded in ''The X-Files: Fight the Future." While doing a bomb search in Dallas, Scully tries to trick Mulder by saying the door to the rest of the building (they're on the roof) is locked. She teases him about panicking.
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 completely passive)
- In the movie McBain, Christopher Walken reacts to everything this way, starting with his Duel to the Death in 'Nam and ending with his assault on the palace and evil army of The Generalissimo. Hey, even shooting a fighter pilot in the head across two cockpits doesn't faze him! Given his overall lack of screen time (considering he's the title character), it's possible nobody told him he's even in a film and that a Bowfinger sort of situation might be occurring.
- Iron Man 2: The emotionally withdrawn Natalie Rushman, as she's actually the undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. super-assassin Black Widow. Appears to be deliberate as when she reappears in The Avengers she's far more expressive.
- Michael Madsen has one permanently plastered to his face regardless of his role. In the Bloodrayne movie, he looks bored out of his mind even as a sword is rammed through his chest.
- The Avengers (1998): John Steed and Emma Peel spend the film reacting politely and bantering during dangerous situations instead of getting excited or freaked out by any of it.
- The characters did much the same in the original series, but the actors appeared to be enjoying it.
- One critic attacked Daniel Craig's performance in Quantum of Solace as an emotionless Robo-Bond, especially after his lauded performance in the previous film. However this was likely intentional, seeing as everyone in the film (M, Mathis, Camille) calls Bond out on his cold demeanor in the wake of Vesper's death.
- TRON: Legacy: Jeff Bridges has a blank, slack-jawed expression in scenes that are supposed to be emotional. It doesn't help that his evil digital doppelganger actually shows more emotion.
- Batman: The Movie: Frank Gorshin's famously hyperactive Riddler provides a surprisingly good example. The manic, perpetually giggling supervillain can't enter a room without laughing or push a button without a flourish, but when he checks his skywriting missile and discovers that it's sent the Batcopter into an unrecoverable fall, his immediate reaction is to stop giggling, shake his head and blink. Upon looking again and confirming, he shrieks "Look!" to get Catwoman's and Joker's attention, but as they begin to laugh and cheer, Riddler just stares at nothing and quietly mutters, "I got them. I got them."
- Star Wars: Yoda pretty much always looks and sounds extremely bored all the time, even when he's fighting for his life, and whenever he is surprised it's shown very subtly. As the Jedi Apprentice books put it:
"His heavy lidded eyes blinked slowly, making him appear bored, but his long ears twitched. Qui-Gon had come to recognize the sign of the Master registering surprise"
- Godzilla (2014):
- Aaron Johnson as Ford Brody was criticized for this by many viewers and reviewers, though as a bomb tech just back from 14 months of presumably harrowing duty, trying to deal with mounting tragedy over several days both personal and generic, it makes sense.
- It must run in the family, as his six year-old son Sam Brody doesn't make a strong expression toward anything, even Godzilla or his mom appearing after San Francisco.
- Much of Heather Langenkamp's acting in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors with her character Nancy Thompson is unjustifiably like this. It is absolutely strange for someone who's a) featured as the main protagonist, b) has actually encountered Freddy before (so she knows how he works) and takes the initiative to find out how to at least defeat him temporarily and c) converses in dialogue with which she downplays the peril through being entirely unconvincing in a film featuring a burnt serial killer that picks off teenagers dealing with him in their dreams who are institutionalised for being considered delusional for thinking he exists. You'd think a horror film where teenagers are terrified of the unpredictable attempts (and some of them downright aren't) on their life within their dreams by a killer madman who enjoys murdering youths would have instilled fear in Nancy, not least for having gone through it herself. On top of this, she has to cope with the fact that these teenagers are being locked up and sedated because of the belief of their mental state, which is the opposite of a good idea taking into account the circumstances, so I'm sure her dialogue could have been injected with a little more genuine empathy and worry (her previous experience should have paid off in this regard).
- X-Men: First Class:
- Riptide creates a tornado with his mutant ability, and Colonel Hendry asks in a bland tone, "What the hell did you put in my drink?"
- Also, Emma Frost does this to just about everything.
- The characters in Bradleys Summer have a lot to be surprised about, considering that it's not every day you find out that your butler is a terrorist leader who plans to blow up your house during a party held by a congresswoman, and the plot was just stopped by kids. And the way they find out is by seeing a bomb go off when the kids threw it in a lake. The average real-life parent whose kid got in trouble at school for something minor would have a stronger reaction than these adults do.
- In The Scribbler, lead character Suki arrives at Juniper Towers (a high-rise halfway house for mental patients) just as an apparent suicide victim crashes to the pavement at her feet, splashing her with blood. She barely blinks. Much later, she looks in the mirror and sees the blood - cue Vomit Indiscretion Shot.
- Into the Woods:
Red Riding Hood: "Oh dear. How uneasy I feel."
- Tara's reaction to the giant tidal wave in When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. He just stares blankly wide-eyed at it with an expressionless mouth.
- Big Hero 6's Baymax can only react to incoming danger with a monotone "Oh no." Justified, given that he's a robot with two Black Bead Eyes making up his face.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Pretty much Oz's whole bit. The minute he sees Buffy stake a vampire, he brushes it off and says it "explains a lot."
- 7th Heaven: The Camden twins, Sam and David, in the later seasons, were a particularly awful example of this trope. Everything they said came out in an almost robotic monotone.
- Batman: The principle of Adam Westing, which Adam West himself did the whole time, when he didn't sound drunk that is. Part of this was intentional to have him play the Straight Man to the crazy villains, and he memorably averts Dull Surprise towards the end of the film when Catwoman's mask comes off.
- Criminal Minds: Ellie Spicer, the abducted little girl in the episode "The Longest Night", seemed to unintentionally smirk through a lot of scenes in the episode, regardless of the situation.
- CSI: NY:
- Kim Kardashian playing an accused murderer's girlfriend. Borderline narm. Borderline?
- Reed, whose sole expression was one of annoyed petulance.
- The Day of the Triffids: One of the many, many problems with the UK remake. 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. One could have put it down to merely staying true to the spirit of the original book (John Wyndham's dialogue sometimes suffers from the same problem) if it hadn't been a considerably looser adaptation than the 1981 series, which averted this trope rather thoroughly by the way.
- Dead Like Me: Ellen Muth (George Lass), is like this in many scenes, being a depressed Deadpan Snarker. Britt McKillip (George's sister, Reggie) is even more like this. She spends pretty much the whole series carrying a dull expression even when Reggie's sister dies, her parents get divorced, and her dog gets hit by a car.
- Doctor Who: Karen Gillan had several instances of this, especially during her first season. She gradually improved over her run, however.
- Father Ted: Played for Laughs in one episode, where a bunch of priests are hiding in the women's lingerie department of a store and need to leave without being seen, and then it turns into a Vietnam war patrol. Ted asks for the guy with the most boring voice, to fake an announcement that will send all the shoppers away from the exit. Briefly interrupted by a priest asking if he needs a dramatic, exciting voice, the boring priest delivers a monotonous drone that works perfectly.
- Father Stone is also this. Answers every question with a deadpan "No, I'm fine" even when he's struck by lightning.
- Flight of the Conchords: The dull despair of our heroes is one of their defining traits, used to show how utterly unlucky they are. Misfortune comes their way so often that all they can manage anymore is a small sad 'Oh.'
- In the episode "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.
- Anna Torv. 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.
- 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 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.
- Full House: The Olsen twins, sharing the role of Michelle, 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 Minutenote , which only grossed $14 million dollars during its whole box office run. Both twins, now adults, have turned to other careers.
- Garth Marenghis Darkplace: Often turns up as part of the Stylistic Suck that forms this show. Liz in particular seems susceptible to it:
"That's strange. That cat just told me to leave."
- 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.
- What with it being Jennifer Love Hewitt, try to guess what the other half of the scenes had a close up of.
- Milo Ventimiglia, who played Peter. 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.
- House: Lampshaded 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)
- Jason and the Argonauts: Jason London as the eponymous character in this Hallmark miniseries. From being told that his uncle killed his father to nearly drowning, he has the same nauseated look.
- Jericho: Ashley Scott. 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.
- Law & Order: Elisabeth Rohm, when she was on this show, was given the derisive nickname "Rohmbot" because of this.
- MADtv: This style of acting is parodied in another sketch, "One True Impact". It is a spoof trailer uniting Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal in a dramatic film about two brothers reuniting to cope with the impending death of their terminally ill father. Considering these two action stars' limited dramatic range, you can probably guess how this turns out. The trailer's narrator describes it as "a sensitive story about feelings and emotions never before captured on film". And he was right:
Steven Seagal: [bored monotone] I'm your brother. Why don't you believe me?
- The X-Files:
- Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager was noted for having the emotional range of a tree stump under most circumstances. Robert Beltran actually can act; he just didn't like his role much, and didn't want to waste too much effort on it. Harry Kim could also be a bit immobile, but according to Garrett Wang the producers told him to underact.
- In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), the other Special Children stand quietly with their eyes wide and their mouths open after Sam chases off a demon.
- In Dennis Potter's much-derided 1987 series "Blackeyes", Gina Bellman plays a beautiful but vacuous fashion model, a blank slate with no emotions or ideas of her own, except under the influence of predatory males - when she temporarily becomes their sex fantasy, Zelig-like. Possibly justified in that she is a story within a story by second-rate writers...who are themselves products of another writer, written by a fictionalised version of Potter himself. Unfortunately when Bellman tried to act in other serials, she had the same blank quality.
- In one Garfield book, a feature at the beginning of the book shows Garfield's expression during different emotions. His expression is always the same.
- Similarly, one strip of The Far Side shows the various moods of an Irish Setter - same expression for everything from Happy to Suicidal.
- In Professional Wrestling, this was a stereotype directed at Canadians at least until the efforts of Owen Hart. Even then, Test was given the affectionate nickname of "The Charisma Black Hole". It should be noted Canadians also had the stereotype of superior Wrestling Psychology and true amateur mat skills, it was supposedly when they had to do anything else that was the problem.
- Kevin Nash coined the term "Vanilla Midget" as a shorthand for talented wrestlers who lacked much physical presence and charisma. Given Nash thought Eddie Guerrero was one such vanilla midget, most people dismiss his opinion but the term has endured nonetheless, Chris Benoit and Bryan Danielson (prior to his Acquired Situational Narcissism in Ring of Honor) being held up as more accurate examples.
- When Christian returned to 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 "assume crash positions".
- 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, El Diablo Fuego, is a Large Ham.
- Many people would argue that Randy Orton's "Going to that other place" expression is like this. His harshest critics state Randy Orton's EVERYTHING is like this. Contrast to how he was earlier in his career.
- 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, making his reaction to being knocked out less Oh, Crap and more Here We Go Again.
- Most of his critics point out that Rob Van Dam's major failing is that almost every interview, regardless of context, has all the emotive strength of a stoner asking if he and his buddies should go on a snack run. Which is appropriate, since he is The Stoner in character and in Real Life.
- One of the few glaring 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.
Love Interest: "Heart-felt words of how they have a connection, and that they might be falling in love with The Warden"
Warden: "Understanding nod."
- In Mass Effect 3, people tend to have this reaction to Javik outside of his recruitment mission. Javik is the last Prothean, who haven't been around in 50,000 years and serve as the game's Precursors, so his very existence is a pretty big deal. Nonetheless, Javik tends to elicit the reaction of "cool" and "can I put him in my movie?" from the average person. Granted, the Reapers have invaded and people are dying in the billions, so the resurrection of a Prothean is probably the least weird thing going on in the galaxy at the time.
- 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.
- 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.
- The issue was fixed in School Days HQ.
- 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. 'Mildly-Annoyed Confusion' sums up Solid Snake's personality for 90% of the game.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, the main character 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." Hitting him with Jarate, on the other hand...
- He does shout the same "Fire, fire, FIRE" that all classes share, but he really sounds more like he is just letting his teammates know than feeling actual panic at being on fire.
- 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).
- The 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 X8. Facing down an army of shapeshifting Reploids should yield a stronger reaction than, "did I leave the oven on?" He didn't even know they were shape-shifting reploids when he made that face the first time. He thought they were a dozen Sigmas. Seeing how one Sigma is already an unstoppable destructive force that can corrupt billions of reploids and rain down space colonies to destroy the planet, X should have been crapping his pants if that were possible.
- Dr. Hanson in StarCraft II. Even the sight of Infested Terrans gets a painfully unconcerned response.
- The English voices for Will and Chloe in Tales of Legendia perform in a spectacularly unemotional manner. This is particularly bad for Chloe, who is supposed to be an emotional character, and many of her scenes throughout the game therefore come off as laughable due to her voice's monotone not fitting the situation.
- Milla in the English dub of Tales of Xillia has the same problem. Apparently it was an intentional choice on the part of the VA, but it drew a lot of scorn.
- 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 reading the script; there is zero effort put into making the character sound realistic.
- Samus Aran from Metroid: Other M keeps up a dull and monotonous Inner Monologue throughout much of the game (though she's quite expressive when she actually talks to other people, despite what Memetic Mutation and the Internet Backlash may have you think). This was meant to portray the effect her past trauma and mercenary work have had on her psyche (which many felt was, among other things, exactly what was wrong with the game).
- Fighting Knuckles in Sonic Adventure has him utter an extremely dull "Oh no" every time you hit him. It has become a Narm Charm to many people.
- Most of the voice acting in King's Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder! consists of this, due to the voice cast consisting of members of the dev team. Hilariously inverted in one instance, where if you examine the empty pouch in Graham's inventory, the narrator proclaims "The pouch is empty!" in a voice of utter shock.
- At one point in Borderlands 2, Sanctuary is being lifted into the air while being bombarded by Handsome Jack's satellite. Just as he thinks victory for him is assured, Lilith, who he had thought to be dead, finishes charging up and teleports the entire city to safety. Jack's reaction? A mildly surprised and disinterested, "Huh."
- Handsome Jack is an intentional parody of this trope, being literally a faceless villain with his features frozen in place. His relative mildness in the face of setbacks and his usual business (including the gruesome murder of the player character) is also intended to provide contrast for when you find out what he really, actually cares about.
- Lilith also has a measure of this, following up various feats of day-saving with a stoic "'sup" and a nod at the PC.
- Deus Ex: Invisible War had this as one of its many flaws. The protagonist can learn about ancient conspiracies and be a part of events that will alter the fate of all mankind forever, ushering in the singularity. Or they can be responsible for human extinction, the reign of a benevolent omnipotent conspiracy, or a new age of bigotry and zealotry. And every step of the way, his or her facial expression and tone of voice will be the same as when he or she talks to coffee shop managers about their coffee. Then again, it seems almost everyone in the world talks and acts this way. Spoilers ahoy, but you can see just how bad it is here.
- In the American version of Final Fight, when you destroy the car in the car destroying minigame, the owner of the car will come out and say "Oh, my car.", which he's supposed to be yelling, judging by the Japanese version's "Oh! My god!" and the subtitles "OH! MY CAR"(the font may not contain lowercase however so it might be "Oh! My car") which lack a second punctuation mark in both versions.
- Kingdom Hearts:
- Riku, after he's just been possessed by Ansem in the first game. Half the time he's not even listening to Sora, and the other half he just sounds rather bored.
- Speaking of Ansem, this is his default expression up to the point when you finally confront him in his own form (rather than borrowing Riku's). After that, he goes to the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
- When the Big Bad of XenoSaga, Wilhelm, gets a wrench thrown in his plans by the main characters, he reacts with a simple, bored-sounding gasp. For that matter, his only reaction to being stabbed in the back by his dragon was to comment on it in the same voice he's been using to comment on everything else. Possibly justified in that he tends to be The Stoic in general, hardly ever showing emotion beyond commenting on how he feels about certain things (in the same bored voice as always), possibly due to the fact that his plan involved him reliving the entire lifespan of the Universe, potentially hundreds of times- you'd be bored, too. In addition, an Alternative Character Interpretation for him, even receiving a bit of support from Word of God, is that his plans getting foiled is exactly what he wanted- it meant humanity was ready to find their own way to move past the end of the world without him having to reset time anymore. No wonder he didn't particularly care.
- 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".
- The Transformers were originally this, due to cheap animation and being robots. As the series became more profitable, the animation got better, but the comics have remained pretty bland.
- 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. And yes, it's just as prevalent with the human characters as it is with the robots.
- 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. Why is everyone staring openmouthed?! "Because Pat Lee can't draw any other expression" proves the answer. Schedule Slip made it worse; people waited months to find out what caused the Mass "Oh, Crap!" and there was much discussion over it. And then the next issue comes and the situation hasn't changed at all.
- Especially 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.
- 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. Ironically, if you look at the series as a whole he has more variety in facial expression than any other character.
- A great example in 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.
- 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.
- Babies tend to make this expression a lot, since they're constantly encountering things that make no sense to them yet.
- People with severe Alzheimer's Disease show a lot of Dull Surprise for the same reason.