A sign that a character is absolutely terrified is if the eyes are wide open and the irises and pupils are shrunken to minimum, or even absent. Gives the impression that the character is screaming inside, even if they are silent with shock. It comes across as striking and, if done well, can even be scary. Often a warning sign that the character is about to freak out. May also involve Tears of Fear.
Can also happen if a character is injured. It's a good way of illustrating shock.
Bonus points if the scene cuts away to a Scream Discretion Shot.
It can also happen if a character is very, very angry.
If this only happens to one eye, it is a case of Mad Eyes.
See also Oh Crap, and Open the Iris for the trope's physical opposite.
A very minor case of Artistic License - Biology: while the pupil inside the iris can indeed shrink during moments of fear, the iris itself does not. Regardless, most artists consider it an Acceptable Break from Reality (see Open the Iris for reasons why).
Not to be confused with Sphere Eyes.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Most characters on Higurashi no Naku Koro ni do this when they're really scared, but Satoko has a habit of giving particularly haunting moments. One of these is Satoko's reaction to Keichii standing by her best friend's corpse in Tatarigoroshi-hen. Satoko freaks out, believing that Keichii was responsible, and while doing so, gives a picture perfect demonstration of the trope. Her reaction upon getting out of the river and returning to her school and finding her friends dead elicits this reaction from her as well, and it is also the expression her classmates are wearing. Gives a truly ghoulish impression. Keichii does it a few times as well.
It's also used fairy often to show a character is going Ax-Crazy, to the point that most instances of Nightmare Face in the series include this.
Happens on a regular basis in the Bleach anime, usually when one character is impressed by another character's power/abilities.
And Arisawa does this in chapter 410 when Aizen states he intends to kill her and draws his blade.
Inverted by Maka and sometimes Black☆Star in Soul Eater; their pupils are invisible unless they're particularly shocked or angry. Everyone else in the series plays this straight.
Most Code Geass characters do this, resulting in some pretty disturbing faces.
Occurs often in One Piece- in Oda's art style, the shrunken irises are often split into two half-circles with a tiny dot in between for the pupil.
Most others get a mix between anger and fear, but Luffy's is almost always rage when this happens.
This notably happens only for the male characters. The female characters (and sometimes Chopper) avert this trope, because even though their eyes widen, their irises (which gain thicker outlines) and pupils stay the same size. In addition, their irises become white (only in the manga. In the anime, their irises gain a lighter shade of their regular eye color) and lose their shine. For example, here's an image of a very angry Nami◊.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has some moments with this trope, especially when Shinji freaks out in End of Evangelion, upon seeing Asuka's dismembered Eva Unit . Epic Freak Out ensues.
And again shortly after, upon seeing the Giant Naked Rei/Lilith.
Tista's eyes do this whenever she has a Flash Back.
Shaman King characters tend to do this, along with sporting white-colored irises for that instant.
Part of an Oh Crap moment for the villain of Domu by Katsuhiro Otomo. Reaches epic levels insofar as it is a silent panel the size of an entire two-page spread.
Naruto. Since most of Kakashi's face is permanently hidden (usually just the one eye is left clear), this is what allows us to notice he's having an Oh Crap moment.
Naruto himself gets a noteworthy set of these when Hinata gives him her Anguished Declaration of Love just before almost getting killed by Pain. Notable in that they are not momentary; he is so shocked, he has them for the ENTIRE SCENE. And then he, quite understandably, goes berserk. Oh boy, does he.
In Death Note, Light does this several times - most noticeably after he realises the titular notebook is for real.
Accelerator of A Certain Magical Index does this quite a lot (because of his insanity) but the most prominent is when Amai Ao is about to shoot him in the head and he knows he won't be able to deflect it.
Most Fairy Tail characters inverts this for their pupils are usually invisible unless shocked or angry.
Saionji does this in Revolutionary Girl Utena during a duel, not to indicate fear or shock, but focus on defeating his opponent. The quick shift makes him appear deranged and potentially murderous.
Yuno Gasai has some horrifying examples in the anime version of Mirai Nikki. Bonus points when she's smiling or laughing maniacally.
This happens on occasion in Axis Powers Hetalia, such as when Germany sees that the invading aliens have rendered his tanks useless in The Movie.
In Digimon Tamers, Guilmon is a childlike, friendly dinosaur Mon. He's also crazy powerful by Rookie-level standardsnote Actually common in Tamers, where Rookie Digimon are quite capable instead of Sleep Mode Size; even Terriermon, who is the size of Digimon Adventure rookies, is a Pintsized Powerhouse who can clobber you with a frikkin' tornado. and when in a battle mindset can be feral and scary even to his friends. The signal that you should stop d'awwing over him and get out of his way in a big hurry is when his pupils suddenly shrink to pinpoints.
Qwackerjack in the Darkwing Duck comic, after the Crimebots mention Negaduck.
Shadowcat busts this expression out for a full four panels in X-Men Forever after Wolverine, who is supposed to be dead, ends up impaling her with his bone claws from the back.
In a Ghost Rider tie-in to World War Hulk, Doctor Strange gets these when the Ghost Rider spirit takes over from Johnny Blaze. Blaze might have defeated the Hulk and saved the Illuminati, but the Ghost Rider decides Hulk is in the right and rides away.
This happens in Godzilla Rulers of Earth when Godzilla sees a Destoroyah juvenile kill a man in front of him.
Thane's eyes in Mass Effect end up looking a bit like this while he's having a flashback - it likely just has that effect due to the fact that his flashbacks are the only times his irises are easy to make out.
In Street Fighter IV, activating a Super Combo or Ultra Combo will make the screen darken and the action slow down. This is not terribly different from conventional 2D Fighting Games using 2D graphics, which usually darken and go slow-motion/pause for super moves as well. A nice touch that is different in this game (which uses 3D graphics) is that you often get to see the other fighter’s eyes slowly do this as they get that gut feeling that their opponent is about to open a biiiiig can of whoop-ass....
This happens a lot in the Joe And Mac series. It occurs whenever Joe, Mac, the enemies, and even the bosses receive damage. It's especially funny in Joe & Mac 2 considering that the dinosaur bosses in that game look more realistic compared to the other entries in the series.
In the animated short Night of the Werehog, a tie-in to Sonic Unleashed, when Sonic notices the full moon, the camera pans in close to his eyes, and we get a shot of his pupils shrinking in both fright and shock... you know, before the painful transformation into a werehog kicks in.
Used to hilarious effect by Ludger in Tales of Xillia 2, after he tests out a mind-reading device on Musee and learns that she's a lot wackier then she lets on; the accompanying dumbfounded facial expression making it all the more priceless. However, it's also used in a serious fashion throughout the game, often as a result of a mortal wound.
Male characters in the original Tales of Phantasia on the Super Famicom spot funny popping eyes when they take damage.
The "Shocked" expression for characters in Final Fantasy V have notably small eyes with wide open mouths.
Souls in Jack have teeny irises, if they are unjudged or hellbound. Once they are judged ready for heaven, or if the hellbound seek redemption, the characters' irises get even bigger and more expressive than when they were alive. Corpses' eyes look like this as well.
Black Mage does this a few times in 8-Bit Theater, though given the fact that his eyes glow like two little lights under his hat, its hard to really say if he's a true example, even if his eyes do visibly shrink.
Annie gets her turn on the last page of chapter 36.
When Tanna of Ears for Elvesfirst sees Rolan (who is moving at high speed), her widened eyes, tiny irises, and high arched eyebrows indicate her suprise/shock. The black and white explosion-style background also shows suddenness.
The characters of Total Drama Island tend to do this during Oh Crap moments, the most prominent examples being Tyler and Noah due to their very visible brown irises becoming black circles when horrified.
One of Chuck Jones' trade mark gags in his Looney Tunes shorts, some notable examples are in "Rabbit's Feat" before Wile Coyote gets hit by the train and Marc Anthony the bulldog when he fears for Pussyfoot's safety in "Feed The Kitty”.
A rare realistic depiction in Paranorman. Norman gets a vision of the famous witch trial of Blithe Hollow, in the position of the accused. Norman tries to defend himself, until he hears someone behind him, crying. His irises narrowing◊ in shock is a nice touch to The Reveal that the "witch" was a little girl who talked to ghosts.