Milhouse: What are they saying?Characters being able to understand what others are saying by reading their lips. Usually an ability of deaf people, though anybody with good eyesight at least can have it. However, this ability is greatly overstated in fiction where the deaf are concerned, since it's fairly difficult to master and not all deaf people can do it, and even those that can are never perfect. In English, less than half of spoken sounds can be seen on the lips; the rest rely on the throat and tongue movements. That's how we get the joke about how "olive juice" looks exactly like "I love you." This trope is arguably similar to how so many blind people in fiction have Super Senses, in that it introduces a character with a disability while minimizing the issues such a person would realistically face. Can be used when two characters want to communicate silently. Alice wants to give Bob a message, so she mouths it to him. If Played for Laughs, then Bob will reveal that he can't read lips, making the whole thing pointless.
Bart: I'm not sure.
Milhouse: I thought you said you could read lips.
Bart: I assumed that I could.
Bart: I'm not sure.
Milhouse: I thought you said you could read lips.
Bart: I assumed that I could.
— The Simpsons, "Lemon of Troy"
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Anime and Manga
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: in one episode, a Tachikoma reads the lips of the Major and Batou as a Shout-Out to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Subverted because they know they're being watched and have their conversation via wireless communication with their cyberbrains and have a fake conversation for the Tachikoma to lip read leaving them falsely reassured that The Major was merely chewing Bateau out for being too much of a Drill Sergeant Nasty and the Tachikoma weren't being decommissioned.
- Soul Eater: Justin Law can read lips, which is good considering he has ear phones on most of the time...but he can't understand Shinigami (without removing his earphones), thanks to his mask.
- Gangsta features the deaf mercenary Nicolas, who can use his lip reading skills to understand what his targets are saying from a mile away.
- Golgo 13: In "Melancholy Summer", Duke Togo reads the lips of a woman who's been waiting for her husband to return for six years. Unfortunately the man is Togo's target, and Togo reads his Famous Last Words through the scope as he's shot while calling out to her.
- There's a chapter devoted to Hayate trying to eavesdrop on Saki during an arranged marriage meeting in Hayate the Combat Butler. Even as good as Hayate is at most things, he can't actually read the conversation nearly as well as he thinks. His attempts to interpret what's going on end in disaster.
- In Avengers Academy #1, Finesse reads Speedball's lips and learns that the students are there because they are the most likely to become supervillains.
- Superman used a viewer that gathers "light rays" to see past. As it's all light, superman had to use lipreading to see what was spoken. There was some oddities like blank talk bubbles from some people facing away from viewpoint. How would he know those people were speaking in first place?
- Occasional Avenger Echo can read lips as part of the implication that she's a deaf counterpart to Daredevil. However, the realistic limitations of this skill are still explored, since she has trouble communicating with heroes whose costumes cover their mouths like Spider-Man or Iron Man, and she obviously can't respond to someone if her back is to them and she doesn't know they're talking.
- In the Matt Fraction Hawkeye, Hawkeye who was deaf as a child loses his hearing again and is shown reading lips. Is a bit Trope/Truth in Television since it shows blanks on words he cannot fully read and him guessing words based off context
- In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave and Frank lock themselves in a soundproof pod so they can safely talk about the project computer, HAL, who seems to be acting strange. It doesn't occur to them that HAL can read lips...
- Dr. Richardson teaches Belinda the deaf-mute to read lips in Johnny Belinda. As usual in fiction, she gets unrealistically good at it.
- Two movies in which Charles Bronson plays a hitman — The Mechanic (1972) and The Evil That Men Do (1984) — have the Villain Protagonist discovering information about the mark by watching them through a telescope and lipreading their discussion with another person. The latter movie foreshadows the skill by having a woman complain to her friend how Bronson's character never smiles. Bronson (who's across the room) picks that moment to smile at her, apparently disproving her point. She just says sourly that she knows he can read lips.
- McCall shows that he can use this in Metro when he relays the conversation between his would-be partner and the chief to them after they had it behind soundproof windows. He gets use it again during the climax when he has to cover Scott during a hostage exchange.
- Casino. The FBI are shown using lipreaders to put surveillance on mafiosi who hold their meetings in the open, paranoid as they are about bugs and wiretaps.
- Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon. Detective Dee puts this skill to use when he first arrives in the city, to uncover a kidnapping plot.
- Species has a scene where Fitch says "Tomorrow Night We'll go back to the Club". Sil is in a car down the street lip reading him. She'd learned to do that in her Glassy Prison at Fitch's lab.
- In Wild Wild West, one of Dr. Loveless's female assistants is the aptly-named Miss Lippenrieder, who is able to do this quite effectively with a spyglass even in darkness.
- In See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Gene Wilder's character Dave Lyon is deaf and reads lips. However, this only works when people are facing him, which led to his retirement from acting due to missing cues when other actors turned away. He also confuses "shit" for "ship" and (Ayatollah) "Khomeini" for "comedy."
- Encyclopedia Brown realizes that the thief who "overheard" the owners of a barber shop could do so while sitting under a hair dryer because she could read lips.
- In the classic Sci-Fi novella E for Effort a couple of guys invent a machine that films historical events (like Napoleon at Waterloo); they hire expeert lipreaders to figure out what exactly the people they film are saying - it comes without audio.
- In Judge Dee, Tao Gan mentions that among his many skills of questionable legality, he can read lips (it's easier on children and women than on bearded men).
- In the book A Maiden's Grave, a girl only realizes she's going deaf and reading lips to compensate when she "mishears" "Amazing Grace" as "A Maiden's Grave".
- At one point in The Malleorean, the heroes have to come up with fairly elaborate ways to hide what they're saying in a city of spies; they've learned that some of the spies are deaf and read lips, so just masking their voices isn't going to work. They take to meeting at night.
- In one WW2 prisoner of war novel whose title escapes me, the protagonist is warned that some of the German guards have lipreading skills.
- During The New Rebellion both Luke and Leia prove to be able to do this.
- In Galaxy of Fear, Tash tries her best to make Zak understand that they're inside a biological weapons plant, but even when she mouths it slowly, he doesn't get it.
- The titular character of Harry Potter regularly does it. However, the lines he "read" are often the most obvious and logical in the given situation, so he may just predicting what the other person will say instead of actually reading the lips.
- Nick in The Stand is deaf and mute, but his ability to read lips allows him to understand anything people are saying as long as he's looking at them. Unfortunately, for much of the story he's traveling with Tom, a mentally retarded man who can't read. While Nick can understand him just fine, he can't communicate anything complex to Tom.
- Mike Hammer keeps bumping into a deaf man outside the DA's office, and eventually works out he's being used to pass on information on impending raids from a Dirty Cop who's under surveillance.
Live Action TV
- One episode of Monk involved a murderer who could read lips, which is how he managed to "eavesdrop" on a trader in a building from afar.
- Epic Fail version in Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse: when Natalie talks to firefighter Joe Cochran about the death of Cochran's dog Sparky, Monk stays back because Cochran is feeding some cats and he has allergies. He says he can lip-read, but when he is asked if he got everything, what he claims to have heard is nothing like the conversation.
- The Seinfeld episode "The Lip Reader" centered around this. Jerry was dating a deaf woman who misread his saying "six" as "sex."
Jerry: So we'll swing by and pick you up. How about six? Six is good. You got a problem with six? ... What? What?
- Kensi from NCIS: Los Angeles
- In The Pretender episode "Flyer", the hero takes lip-reading lessons from a deaf woman in order to be able to figure out a conversation on a piece of surveillance footage.
- The Wire has a few scenes with a lip-reader — Herc manages to plant a camera overlooking Marlo's preferred meeting-spot but not a microphone, so he brings one in to tell him what Marlo is saying.
- Scrubs: JD zones out and tries to recreate the lip motions so that they can be read.
- In The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries episode "Silent Scream", a deaf girl finds out about a Las Vegas bomb plot by reading the lips of a man in a phone booth.
- The deaf characters in Switched at Birth are proficient at this- namely, Daphne, Emmett and Melody.
- Sue in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, who is Deaf, uses her lip-reading abilities to do surveillance work for the FBI. The show is loosely based on the real-life Sue Thomas, who was the first deaf undercover investigator for the FBI.
- Played for Laughs in Sonny with a Chance where Grady tries to read Chad's lips. His translation is probably as accurate as he could make it in real life.
Chad: I'm getting a limo to take us at eight o'clock to a nice dinner.Grady: He's getting a pillow, two steaks plus, he ate a sock, and a rice dinner.
- Warehouse 13: Pete Lattimer can read lips because of his deaf sister. Proved useful when they used an artifact that could create soundless projections of past events.
- Done more realistically in Burn Notice, where Michael is trying to spy on a guy at a party. His voice-over explains that true lip reading is unreliable and is best paired with being just close enough to sort of hear the conversation and use lip reading to fill in the blanks and confirm what's heard.
- The Doctor Who episode "Under the Lake" features ghostly apparitions which appear to be silently speaking. Cass, one of the people trapped by the manifestation, is deaf, and is able to read their lips. It is shown not to be perfectly easy, with some words taking her several attempts to figure out.
- Starblazer Adventures, based on the 1970's-80's British science fiction comic book. The Lip Reading stunt allows you to do this.
- Dungeons & Dragons: the 2nd Edition Player's Handbook introduced the Reading Lips non-weapon proficiency.
- This is the general principle behind Bad Lip Reading - they read lips, badly, and then put the resulting "lyrics" to music (generally; some shorts based on footage of the 2012 presidential candidates was just read back verbatim, instead). Hilarity ensues.
- Julian Smith as the Bad Dad of "Reading Lips" claims he can do this, but it's incredibly clear he's just making up whatever the subject in question is saying.
- In practice, lipreading is fairly difficult skill, with around 25-50% success on identifying words; the rest is using logic to fill in the blanks. Not all deaf people can lipread, as some would assume, and to top it off, it also varies depending on the individual deaf person's hearing level. And to add to mess, it also depends on the person speaking, especially if the person mumbles, has a strong accent, or has facial hair that covers the lips. Generally, deaf people have a much easier time understanding someone they know personally—family and friends—than complete strangers.
- At least one deaf basketball team has won this way, as the rival team spoke their plan out loud since they weren't worried about being overheard, unaware that the deaf players could also read lips.