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Dull Surprise

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You'd be lost without the captions.

"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 situation gives the vibe that the actor or character should be surprised in some way, but their vacant gaze and lolling jaw is hardly what you'd call emotive. 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. Part of the "joke" is that the expression is extremely versatile, a standard movie poster look that never looks silly or awkward in a freeze frame, but often feels wrong in context. It can be Truth in Television as some people's faces can betray very little emotion when they don't think anyone's watching them.

That said, the trope does have its uses. An entire branch of acting called "minimalist" goes on the assumption that it's actually much easier to overact, and underplaying a performance can create more emotional peaks and valleys for the character to express. In specific scenes this look may be used to convey a sense that the character is experiencing something genuinely incomprehensible, where they don't have the faintest idea how to react (i.e. nonplussed). Or that the character in question is utterly unflappable, even in the face of 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 if the works is 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 compilations. This also sometimes results from an Acting in the Dark situation, the actor is unaware of how spectacular a visual effect is going to be because they are starring at a green wall.

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 in Transformers 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, The Stoic, Kuleshov Effect, Dissonant Serenity, Flat Joy, and Tranquil Fury.

Contrast Chewing the Scenery (and all its Sub-Tropes) and Wangst. See also Cold Ham, where emotionless tries to be Hot-Blooded; and Shrug Take, where a character starts to have a normal reaction, but then simply chooses not to.


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    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 character, 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.
  • Fanart and promotional art for anime/manga often uses this as a generic cute expression. Here's some examples.
  • 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.
  • In Battle Royale, Kiriyama's facial expressions are hard to illustrate other than using question marks for confusion.
  • 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.
  • EX-ARM's anime adaptation engages in this a lot, due to the 2D Visuals, 3D Effects being inconsistently applied to the character designs (some being CGI creations and others made using 2D drawings). Thanks to the animation, the expressions of the characters are pretty much nonexistent. Some of the main characters get away with it due to being androids, and (logically) having no face musculature with which to emote. Most of the human characters... Have less justification.
  • Ginga Densetsu Weed tries to animate wild dogs talking, as in real proportioned ones rather than Funny Animals or. The result is that aside from numbers of time the characters growl, little indicates their emotions aside from their voices.
  • Gundam:
  • 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, Achakura, and the dust bunnies have one same monotone expression. That is, they all look like this: -_-. All the time.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid:
    • Kanna Kamui always has a deadpan expression on her face, regardless of whatever emotional state she's in.
    • When Kobayashi first sees Tohru in all her draconic glory, she's reduced to staring vacantly and mentally cataloguing facts about dragons while looking directly into the dragon's teeth. In this case, it's because she's got the mother of all hangovers and isn't sure whether she's dreaming or not.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Monster Musume: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Osomatsu-san: In Episode 5, Osomatsu and Todomatsu respond to Karamatsu's kidnapping with a very indifferent "What should we do?" Choromatsu is not pleased.
  • Two variations in the adaptations of Overlord (2012), where the main character is a lich and thus has a Skull for a Head: not only is he incapable of showing emotions apart from his glowing eyes flaring up, his undead body actually suppresses his stronger emotions (which is invaluable when he wants to keep up his inscrutable chessmaster facade in front of his minions). In the manga, his reaction to uncomfortable situations are shown by his entire body going into a Super-Deformed artstyle and the emotion suppression thing isn't really shown, while the anime shows a shimmering light when his emotions are dampened and instead has him think in his higher-pitched human voice instead of the Evil Sounds Deep audible voice.
  • In Pokémon: The Series, certain animators drew like this, particularly Yusaku Takeda.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • The voice acting in Tamagotchi's Australian English dub, which has more emotionless voice acting in comparison to the Japanese original, can lend itself to this. In particular, in episode 6a, Mametchi reacts with genuine shock at realizing his friends never stopped caring for him and just wanted to throw him a surprise birthday party, but the way he voices his emotion in the dub is casual enough that it's jarring he's supposed to be feeling shocked at all.
    Mametchi: Oh nooo. I made a terrible mistake, you guys. Gosh, what was I thinking?
  • Many characters in Übel 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.

    Audio Play 
  • In the Dramatic Audio version of the Left Behind book Glorious Appearing, Nicolae Carpathia's mentor Viv Ivins is killed by a hailstone during one of the Lord's judgments upon the earth, and Nicolae casually shrugs off her death like it was nothing.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man: During the 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 - in fact, he's the indirect Trope Namer due to his work at Dreamwave. 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.
  • 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 Amazons Attack!, Batman looks down and frowns slightly while saying, "An Amazon attack, a deadly bee weapon. Bees. My god." The fact that the dialogue only uses periods only underscores the fact that Batman seems to flatly declare 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.
  • While most of the art in the first issue of X-Men: Red looks pretty good, Jean Grey's face looks completely bland in almost all panels. Just look at this panel. She's supposed to be giving a passionate speech to the UN, but that face is so bad you can't tell what emotions she's supposed to have.
  • In the Superman storyline Reign of Doomsday, when Doomslayer cruelly and easily tears Eradicator apart, the Superman Family is supposed to look shocked and horrified. Nonetheless, Kenneth Rocafort gives them empty, barely-reacting "Oh. That happened" expressions.
  • Transformers: Generation One was particularly infamous for how its characters displayed nothing but slack-jawed looks that make them look like they're only pretending to be shocked at whatever game-changing event is going on. Heck, the page image is drawn from this comic for this reason alone!
  • Played for laughs with Herbie. His face rarely ever changes to indicate that he's perceiving things in front of him, let alone has opinions on them, and his dialogue is written to suggest the flattest monotone imaginable.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Garfield book, a feature at the beginning of the book shows Garfield's expressions for 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.
  • Spider-Man 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Empath's Wedding", when Empath's bride-to-be Smurfette has been spirited away by Chlorhydris right before the wedding starts, and Empath meets up with her again at Chlorhydris' observatory, Smurfette greets him with this kind of response, which makes Empath think that something isn't right with her.
  • The fic Genderswapped Nations ends with a huge battle between the gender bends and the Big Bad's army wherein one gender bend is murdered and another is in critical condition after having been tortured. A piercing shriek sounds near the end of the battle, and Italy's gender swap worriedly questions if someone's been hurt. Canada's gender swap simply replies with a deadpan "Probably."
  • Homestuck high features a text version; the characters all respond to the completely bizarre happenings involving magic and demons with nothing more than "oh okay".
  • In Worlds Apart, in keeping with Oz's usual role as The Stoic, where the rest of the gang are all shocked when Buffy reveals that Angel's returned from Hell, Oz shows no greater reaction than possibly a deeper crease between his eyebrows (and even then Buffy isn't sure).
  • In Mauling Snarks, a Worm fanfic, the Hebert and Dallon families have been through so much weirdness that suddenly seeing escapees from a supermax prison on their doorstep warrants nothing more than mild curiosity. Miss Militia is much the same, and when asked about her non-reaction, replies that compared to learning that Slaughterhouse Nine, the most infamous group of serial killers around, are actually the good guys secretly allied with PRT, this barely registers on her radar.
  • Kyril from The Night Unfurls. Not only is he utterly unflappable, especially in situations where shock would be appropriate (e.g. witnessing a Body of Bodies crawling out of the sky), his visage is perpetually blank due to him wearing a bandanna almost all the time, even during indoors.
  • Thomas Joshman and the Mirror of Dreams has elements of this. After the second of Thomas' friends dies under mysterious circumstances, he shouts at his friend Tim:
    Tim was worried about failing in Potions Class but Thomas then shouted “TIMOTHY WOOLUSTUC!!! OUR FRIENDS ARE DYING!!!!” Tim stared for a second and continued writing ways to not fail potions.
  • Lack of punctuation causes this in the works of ultamite nineball: "Ahh he yelled as he slashed him his blood hit the floor."
  • Ultra Fast Pony deliberately does this as a joke. Some background characters, and almost every crowd, have completely flat voice acting—whether they're screaming in panic or shouting for joy. It contrasts with the very expressive animation these characters have.
    Background pony: Someone help. My baby's about to die. That really cheeses me off.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • The Emoji Movie: Purposely invoked with the Meh parents, as they hardly even raise their voice beyond the level of sounding perpetually bored.
  • In Incredibles 2, hypnotized people repeating the Screenslaver's words speak without any expression and with minimal emoting in their voice.
  • The Lion King (2019) is somewhat infamous for putting a greater emphasis on realism than character expressiveness. The animal models can barely emote any stronger than "mouth open/closed". It's particularly noticeable (and silly) in scenes that are intended to be dramatic and moving, like Mufasa's death.
  • Shrek: When Fiona transforms into an ogress in front of him during the climax, Shrek, who had previously thought she had insulted him the night before, quips with a look of mild surprise on his face, "Well... that explains a lot."
  • Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back: The guys who accidentally run over Zartog with their car and Titan upon seeing Zartog is back.
  • Done accidentally in The Christmas Tree. None of the characters are animated with any kind of emotion on their face most of the time, and the lackluster voice acting doesn't help.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Done rather strangely in the opening scene of Halloween (1978). A young Michael Myers walks outside in a trancelike state after brutally murdering his older sister. Despite finding their son in his costume standing outside holding a bloodstained knife, Michael's parents treat Michael's presence as more like a minor act of child misbehaviour rather than the horrific experience it is.
  • Done masterfully in Spider-Man: the Green Goblin's reaction to his impending impalement via his own glider are slightly raised eyebrows, a blank expression on his face and a matter-of-fact "Oh."
  • 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.
  • Kid Detective (2020): Caroline, the client, spends most of the time with her mouth open and her eyes blank. Abe, the detective she hires, speculates that this is a delayed emotional response, as the reality of her boyfriend's murder hasn't yet sunk in.
  • Independent film Fateful Findings is slowly threatening to make writer/director/star Neil Breen the next Tommy Wiseau. At one point, finding out his friend has taken his own life, he cradles the body and delivers a truly epic dull surprise moment as his tone of voice sounds more like a tired parent who just found out his kid still hasn't cleaned his room.
    "I can't believe you committed suicide. I cannot believe you committed suicide. How could you have done this? How could you have committed suicide?" How many times do I have to tell you, don't commit suicide!
  • The Graduate. Everyone save Mrs. Robinson, although this was the director's intention.
  • Keanu Reeves, outside of over-the-top roles such as Bill & Ted.
  • 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), 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 (2003), with Tommy Wiseau. It is not difficult to imagine every line of his in the script, except questions, ending in a period, given his flat, mostly-unaffected delivery. He sounds bored even when his character is supposed to be outraged.
    Johnny: Oh, HAI, (fill in the name)! (Endlessly. Even to a dog.)

    Johnny: "I dihdt naht hit her. It's nawt true. It's bowlschit, AH dihdt naht hit her. AH DIHDT naaaaaaght. Oh, hai, Mark."
    • This is best demonstrated in the sequence right before his last scene, when he trashes his apartment while wearing the same blank expression he'd been using the entire movie in a clumsy attempt at expressing Tranquil Fury.
    • In his short film The House That Drips Blood on Alex, he plays the titular role in the exact same fashion. Special mention goes to his portrayal of Alex's corpse which is both realistic and completely natural.
  • Selma Blair maintains this expression at all times in the 2004 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.
  • In Big Game, Hazar is usually rather emotive, but he's oddly unconcerned when the other half of Big Bad Duumvirate, Morris, suddenly shoots two of his faithful mooks.
  • Pride & Prejudice (2005) has 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.
  • The films shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are notably prone to this, since they tend to be cheaply made and many good actors are expensive, while (usually) good actors who are slumming it for a quick buck generally don't bother putting in the effort to emote:
    • Natalie Burke in Werewolf (1996). All together now: "Tis is ebsolutly fescinatung."
    • The Trope Namer described at the top of the page, Kathy Ireland in Alien from L.A..
    • Dr. Ted in The She-Creature is so bad at seeming alive that Mike and the Bots did a skit on the "actor's" non-acting style, with Tom and Crow criticising Mike for seeming too animated or paying too much attention to everyone else.
    • Tony Cardoza has exactly one scene in The Skydivers where he emotes, and it's not the one where he realizes his wife is cheating on him or the one where he realizes his parachute has been sabotaged and he's about to die.
  • 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. If one sees any of her interviews this is obviously just an acting choice, as both Silver Linings Playbook (where her character has serious emotional depth) and American Hustle (where her character is very over the top) prove.
  • Very common among sportspeople in acting roles, such as Michael Jordan in Space Jam, who has a stilted and unimpressed performance who reviewers likened to reading from off-screen cue cards.
  • 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. He has been in roles where he emoted properly and convincingly, enough to bring into question if his bad acting was intentional.
    • Though in the case of one scene in Con Air, it's justified and lampshaded as the events of the plot inured Poe to the point that seeing the rope he'd tied to keep the plane grounded had managed to snag Malloy's car and is towing it in the air only elicits a Seen It All response about the day's events.
  • Thandiwe Newton in Mission: Impossible II. Barely changes her expression whether trying to convey seduction, loyalty, betrayal, etc.
  • Just imagine the number of sedatives the cast of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats must have been on while making the movie. There is a scene in which a man's hands get burned off and he doesn't seem to mind. You've probably made a bigger reaction to losing your keys!
  • Twilight may be a world of dull surprise.
    • Bella certainly has a collection of such emotions.
    • Robert Pattinson. While many think his body is made of marble, others think it's just his expressive-as-stone face. He's hinted, though, that he's intentionally phoning it in. Parodies of Twilight tend to portray him and Bella as The Comically Serious as a result.
    • Taylor Lautner seems to possess only two emotions: bored and constipated.
    • Jackson Rathbone, not only in Twilight, but The Last Airbender too. However, Rathbone proved he could emote when he was on Criminal Minds.
    • Cuckoo at least shows that Lautner has some level of emotional range, and the same applies to Stewart in The Runaways.
  • Jason Statham has two distinct moods: Scowling while beating people up, and scowling while beating people up with his shirt off. It can take several viewings of a Statham movie to even figure out what's supposed to be motivating the character because of this, leading to his characters' behavior being seemingly random in his unfortunately common appearances in spy movies, where the main character's emotional state driving him to choose between conflicting duties or alliances is the whole plot. Transporter 3 is the worst offender.
  • Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III. From the amount of emotion in her dying "Dad?" you'd expect she wanted to ask Michael to pass the orange juice.
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Kirk, Bones and Decker standing on the Enterprise saucer without spacesuits. It was a tense situation but you’d think somebody would have looked around in awe.
  • James Bond:
    • Moonraker: Dr. Holly Goodhead. Really, my dear, if you're facing the end of humanity by toxic nerve gas, would it kill you to at least sound kind of interested?!
    • All of the Bond Girls during the Roger Moore era, with the possible exception of Maud Adams. Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only averts this trope and justifies it: She's on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and is one of the most badass, cold Bond girls, but one who shows quite a lot of emotion during scenes with Bond.
    • 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.
  • Christian Bale seems to have a variety of facial expressions comparable to a marble statue. This is largely due to his method of playing sociopathic and/or emotionally disaffected characters. Several of his films feature bipolar performances swinging between Vulcan-like emotional coldness and sudden, manic frenzy. Which makes Rachel's comment about Bruce Wayne's Millionaire Playboy act being the mask and Batman's permanent scowl and emotionless deadpan voice his real face intriguingly meta, really.
  • In-Universe in What Price Hollywood? with Mary. She is incredibly stiff and unnatural when she's supposed to be shocked from seeing a dead man.
  • The titular protagonist of Napoleon Dynamite has one facial expression throughout the whole movie, conveying moderate annoyance at the world in general. His friend Pedro is only slightly more emotive.
  • Dorothy Parker once said that Katharine Hepburn ran "the gamut of emotions, from A to B."
  • Orlando Bloom. Although he'll probably strike a heroic pose at the same time, just to mix things up. The one time Bloom showed genuine emotion is his grin when Jack Sparrow commented "Nice hat" to him in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
    • Early into Kingdom of Heaven, Balian murders a priest (his own half-brother in the extended version) in the heat of the moment. Even during this act of passion, Bloom's facial expression is that of mildly confused curiosity.
    • His gleeful hamming in The Three Musketeers (2011) and Sympathy for Delicious have shown that he's thankfully rid himself of this.
  • Harry Potter:
  • Edward Burns in the film version of A Sound of Thunder, where he doesn't change expressions in spite of any drama or shock that appears in front of him.
  • Deliberately played with in Scanners, where the protagonist has no personality, and delivers all his lines in a Creepy Monotone. This makes Stephen Lack's performance easily confused with simple bad acting - his roles usually have more emotional range to them.
  • Clive Owen wears the same dully surprised face for the entirety of King Arthur (2004).
  • In 12 Monkeys, this trope is well justified because Bruce Willis' character is either heavily sedated or mentally traumatized for most of the movie. In addition, this provides a perfect counterweight to Brad Pitt's maniacal bombast.
    • Starting around 2018, this became Bruce's default performance. Sadly, this was due to his worsening memory issues; he was diagnosed with aphasia in 2022, and retired from acting shortly after.
  • Steven Seagal. In Italy, and possibly, elsewhere, TV advertised a series of Steven Seagal films with this line (translated):
    "His facial muscles are firm, but leg and arm muscles moves like lightning".
  • Zooey Deschanel. For example, in Tin Man and in The Happening (with one reviewer describing her performance in the latter film as being that of "a perpetually surprised lemur"). The Happening even gives her the line "I don't like to show my emotions," which many suspect was a desperate attempt to make her lack of any performance work. This culminated in her role as the title character of (500) Days of Summer, where her emotionally mute acting style worked great as an emotionally dead character to explain why the main character, obviously hoping she'd be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, had such a terrible relationship with her.
    • All the characters, aside from the one crazy lady at the end, from The Happening suffer from this. In a film about a supposed terrorist attack, which causes mass suicides, you would think people would be a bit more emotional; but no. Instead the most emotional scene in the film is when they get upset over the lead character's wife having dessert with a co-worker.
  • Almost the whole cast of Lost in Space suffered from this, save Gary Oldman's Dr. Smith, Lacey Chabert's Penny, and the robot.
    • William Hurt is the biggest offender. The robot displayed more emotion than him. Hurt's dull performance could be summed up in just one line:
      "I love you, wife."
      • When his family is killed by the planet debris, he's so dull the music has to do the acting for him.
      • Funny thing is, he's played other roles where he actually emotes, like General Ross and William Marshall, so he has the skill... Maybe he also knew the film would suck but just went and acted the opposite direction of Gary Oldman.
    • Matt LeBlanc was like this too. In his interview on the DVD extras, he looks incredibly bored.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street:
    • 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 a) is 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 her dialogue could have been injected with a little more genuine empathy and worry (her previous experience should have paid off in this regard).
    • Rooney Mara in the 2010 remake. Several reviewers unfavorably compared her with the much livelier and more emotional Decoy Protagonist played by Katie Cassidy, who was the POV character for the first third of the movie.
  • Harrison Ford's terrible narration in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. It was added due to Executive Meddling, and it really shows, since the rest of his acting is fine. Ford has rejected the oft-repeated suggestion that he deliberately did a poor job to sabotage the voice-over. He insists he did the best job he could with badly-written narration which he felt had no place in the film. However, some fans enjoy it because it informs the character as a burnt-out cop who has no feelings for anyone anymore, especially since the theme of the film is learning to develop emotions, for the Replicants as well as Deckard himself.
  • Hurd Hatfield in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). The voiceover is saying he's seized with terror and panic, and he just looks kinda bored. Even when he murders Basil, he seems like he's thinking about what kind of sandwich he wants to make later. That's the point in Dorian Gray.
  • Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller in GI Joe The Riseof Cobra. Their roles could have been played with cardboard cutouts and tape recorders and nobody would have noticed the difference.
  • Channing Tatum in general has two modes of acting: Dull Surprise and Pretty Fly for a White Guy.
  • 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.
  • 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-emphasize 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 Vernita Green's daughter Nikki reacting with slight disappointment at her own mother's death.
  • Watchmen:
    • Malin Åkerman'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. (Akerman would later admit she was way out of her depth in a cast of well-trained actors, leading her to then avoid projects "where I feel like I'm the weakest link in production")
    • 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.
    • Even worse is his delivery of the line, "Maybe, I don't know...", in Man of Steel. In the hands of a better actor, that line could've conveyed so succinctly Jonathan Kent's concession to Clark that he doesn't have all the answers. Defenders of this movie often point to Costner's reading as being responsible for a large amount of the hatred towards it, as it makes Superman's dad sound like a freaking psychopath.
  • 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 (2000). 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 Fast Five. 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!)
  • Turned into an art by Robert Bresson, who incorporated it into his mature, minimalistic Signature Style. He believed that acting is not cinematic, as the camera could capture the slightest bit of artifice in a performance, so he used nonprofessional actors after his second feature and directed them to only display physical motion. Sometimes he would do multiple takes of a scene, even fifty of them, so it would become rote for the actors.
  • 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 (2010). 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.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Michael Madsen has one permanently plastered to his face regardless of his role. In Bloodrayne, 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.
  • 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"
    • This is an oft-quoted criticism of the Prequel films. With few exceptions, the denizens of the Galaxy seem to treat the Clone Wars and some shady Sith as if they were business as usual.
  • Godzilla (2014):
    • Aaron Taylor-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 strong expressions over anything, even Godzilla or his mom appearing after San Francisco.
  • 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 Bradley's 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.
  • Rhodie of Scream Park reacts to everything, including the killings, with the same dull expression and monotone voice.
  • EVERYONE in the cheesy sci-fi movie R.O.T.O.R. acts this way, but Dr. Corrine Steele tops them all. Her "My God" is so flat you'd think she was reacting to not getting ketchup for her fries and not the murder of an innocent civilian.
  • Superman wears this expression for most his scenes in the trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not so much in the actual movie, though some people might have preferred him being this way.
  • Robert Redford at times does a variant of this in which he appears stunned and focused at the same time. Watch The Oner scene in All the President's Men where he has the phone conversation with Ken Dahlberg; and in several scenes in The Natural. Reviewer Roger Angell said Redford appeared "stunned by meaning and afraid to spit."
  • In Frostbite an old woman's dog gets eaten (or rather drunken) by a vampire right in front of her eyes. She just blankly looks at the vampire.
  • Nick O'Bannon from The Final Destination reacts to anything Death throws at him with a dull, tired-looking expression, including being impaled and witnessing his friend's death.
  • Just about everybody in the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four, allegedly because director Josh Trank told them to give the flattest performances possible. Even Victor Von Doom comes across as a Cold Ham at best.
  • Played for laughs in Help! - when The Beatles fall victim to a hand-dryer trap, Ringo declares "There's more here than meets the eye!" Over the caption "Everyone laughs at Ringo's sudden apprehension", John and George exchange a long run of flat ho-hos. They all retain this quiet reaction to most every bizarre event through the movie.
  • Tom Cruise maintains this as his default expression for much of Eyes Wide Shut. Whether reacting to his wife confessing she once considered having an affair, a ritualistic sex cult meeting, or learning that a person he met the night before is HIV-positive, he looks like he's trying to remember whether or not he forgot to buy milk. Even a mask can't hide the blank look.
  • Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is intentionally drawn this way. Due to the way her face looks, she doesn't have that wide of a range of expressions.
  • The Lord of the Rings: In The Unfinished Spelling Errors of Bolkien, comedian Martin Pearson observes that Frodo wanders through most of the three movies looking like a startled bush baby: a description that is hard to argue with.
  • Invoked in Alita: Battle Angel, with Nova constantly speaking in a cold, detached monotone that makes him sound more robotic and inhuman than any of the actual robots, emphasizing his disconnect from humanity. Any character who’s body he controls takes on the same emotionless monotone while he’s controlling them, which leads to a bit of Black Comedy towards the end when Alita brutally stabs Vector to death; Nova’s controlling him at the time it happens, so “Vector’s” only response to dying is a casual “Well that looks fatal.
  • Hercules (1983) had this as the default for pretty much every character.
    • Hercules had the same expression when he was grieving for his slain parents, winning a tournament, and facing off against giant mechanical monsters. The only time it was reasonable was when Cassiopeia removed her veil, and the entire audience (male and female) joined him in being simply stunned at her beauty.
    • Cassiopeia had the same expression when she sees Hercules perform amazing feats of strength, when she is in prison listening to her captors explain their Evil Plan, and when she is being lowered to her death.
    • Daedalus as she (even though Daedalus in Greek mythology was a human male, here she is played as a female god) creates monsters to assist King Minos, and watches them all go down to almost immediate defeat by Hercules, doesn't ever change her expression.
    • All of the Greek gods: Zeus, Hera and Athena. Their plots succeeded and failed without the slightest trace of reaction.
    • The only characters who did act in the slightest way were Adriana and the narrator.
  • At the end of The Loved Ones, Brent's mom sees him with several signs of torture in his body, including a hole in the skull and the only thing she does is hug Brent with a dull expression. She doesn't seem to look shocked, scared or even worried.
  • Used to tragic effect in Galaxy Quest. Alexander and Qwellic have just finished saving the Thermians who were being suffocated, all of whom praise Jason Nesmith for it. Alexander sighes, then turns to Qwellic. There's a blaster noise, and Qwellic quietly notes, "I've been shot." Then he falls to the deck, dying.

  • ALiCE (2014): By the end of the book hardly anything fazes Christopher anymore. The townspeople don’t react to his being there without any explanation, except Matthew excitedly asking him questions about the outside world.
  • Discworld: Death has a permanently baritone voice (described as lead slabs falling down in an underground crypt), a Skull for a Head and a fatalistic outlook on things due to existing everywhere at once including the end of time. Despite this, he's able to communicate quite a range of emotions.
  • Luna Lovegood's reactions are usually described in this manner, like in this excerpt from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
    Ron froze, his eyes wide; Ginny stopped trying to stamp on her Slytherin captor's toes; even Luna looked mildly surprised.
  • Marty Pants: Mr. McPhee's expression never seems to change. When Marty said his reaction to his class actually liking his novel was a smile, we're shown a picture of what looks like his usual expression.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Brazil, a benchmark for this was Ricardo Macchi in a 1995 soap opera, to the point that the country still uses the name of his character ("Cigano Igor" - "Igor, the Gypsy") as shorthand for bad acting.
  • 7th Heaven: The Camden twins, Sam and David, were a particularly awful example of this trope in the later seasons. Everything they said came out in an almost robotic monotone.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Grant Ward's ability to emote in early episodes was rather limited. This stopped when he revealed himself as The Mole in the season finale, showing that it was an act on his part.
  • Arrow:
    • Laurel Lance's default expression. Even when she's meant to be angry, she looks like she was just slapped in the face with a fish.
    • This is an early plot point, when Oliver finds out that Laurel and Tommy slept together when they thought he was dead.
      Tommy: At least Ollie took it well.
      Laurel: That's because he already knew.
      Tommy: What!?
      Laurel: Did you see his face when Thea told him? He didn't even blink! He knew.
  • Batman (1966): 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.
  • 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.
  • Breaking Bad: A trademark of Mike Ehrmantraut, Gus Fring's and later Walt's right-hand man. No matter whether he's chewing out one of his idiot underlings or facing down sniper fire, he's perpetually stone-faced, since Mike has Seen It All and very little surprises him in his line of work anymore. When he actually shows any kind of surprise in his face, it means something seriously unexpected has happened, like when Walt managed to trick him into allowing Jesse to kill Gale Boettecher. This is also the last expression on Mike's face after Walt shoots him, since he's Defiant to the End.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine has Capt. Ray Holt, whose defining character trait is his enduring stoicism. Other characters frequently have a hard time figuring out if he's in a bad mood or good mood, as his demeanour is the exact same either way. Even when injured he remains stone faced, as when Boyle, who previously suffered a gunshot wound and was given a motorized scooter to help with mobility, is careless with it:
    Holt: Ouch. ...He ran over my foot. I am in incredible pain.
  • 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." It's probably for the best, as his Not So Stoic moments are downright scary.
  • 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.
    • Reed, whose sole expression was one of annoyed petulance.
  • The Day of the Triffids: Dougray Scott as the hero was a particular offender, delivering lines like "we have to warn everybody" with all the urgency of someone reminding their wife to pick up milk on the way home.
  • 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.
  • Father Ted:
  • 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.'
  • Frasier:
    • 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.
  • Fringe:
    • 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: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, 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.
  • Game of Thrones: A portion of the fanbase is very critical of Emilia Clarke for this reason (at least when she isn't hamming it up), feeling that her attempts to convey Daenerys's Tranquil Fury and Tough Leader Façade just come off as wooden and monotone, though many contend that the often uninspired writing for the character doesn't help, nor does the fact that her storylines often have her surrounded by charismatic, scene-stealing actors that make her stick out even more. Season seven had a stand-out scene, in which Daenerys watches one of her beloved dragons get shot, crash onto ice, die, and sink down into a frozen lake. Throughout the whole thing she looks more bored than anything else. It's obvious that the intention was shock, but the mark was missed by quite a bit.
  • Garth Marenghi's 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.
  • Heroes:
    • 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. Thankfully, Ventimiglia got better.
    • It's glaringly obvious when he's in a scene with someone who can actually actJack 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)
    • Olivia Wilde in most scenes she's in, including finding out her character has Huntington's.
  • 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 (2006): 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 Röhm, 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?
  • Mr. Bean: Many bystanders are surprised and astonished at Mr Bean's antics. However, occasionally the other characters barely react at all to Mr Bean's mayhem, not even with facial expressions:
    • When Mr Bean takes an exam, he tries all sorts of tricks to cheat and look at his neighbour's paper. The invigilator is completely unphased, and merely stares at him.
    • When Mr Bean has an itchy foot, he takes off his shoe and sock and puts them on the roof of a car, which then drives away. Mr Bean hops to a nearby shoe shop, and is greeted by a helpful salesman who has a complete non-reaction to Mr Bean hopping about, or trying to buy just one shoe.
      Salesman: Yes? Can I help you, sir?
      Mr Bean: (handing him a shoe from the display) Could I have this, please?
      Salesman: Certainly, sir. (Enters shop, leaving Mr Bean hopping, and returns with a pair of shoes)
      Mr Bean: No, I only want the one.
      Salesman: No no, I can only sell them as two shoes.
  • In the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "Mr. Neutron" from the final season, the title character as played by Graham Chapman is a superhero parody who lives a thoroughly mundane life in the middle class London suburb of Ruislip. Chapman delivers all of his lines in a bad fake American accent and bored monotone to convey a sense that Mr. Neutron is making a very awkward attempt to pass himself off as a normal human being. This being Python, none of the other characters notice how unnatural he sounds.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the Trope Namer, giving us a delightful host segment in "Alien From LA" where the bots play a game with Mike. They give him scenarios faced by the movie's main character and quiz him on which emotion she would feel. The answer to every one is dull surprise!
  • MythBusters: In one episode, Jamie is asked to emote. Much fun is had at his expense when each photo comes out the same way. Jamie later admitted to doing this intentionally.
  • Shaw of Person of Interest states that she has an axis-one personality disorder; her reactions are often notably this, whether she's being shot at, actually shot, or witnessing the death of her father. Since Sarah Shahi is actually quite bubbly, this is clearly the role, not the acting.
  • Jayden from Power Rangers Samurai is rather dull, due to his "I must not fail"-type personality and the fact that the delivery of his lines come off as rather shallow.
  • Troy from Power Rangers Megaforce seems incapable of emoting in general. After Robo Knight joined the team, fans were quick to point out that an actual robot showed more emotion.
  • Brody from Power Rangers Ninja Steel, while not as robotic as Jayden or Troy, is still very wooden. Especially when he calls something "epic" (and being a catchphrase, he says it a lot).
  • Psych: This happened in one episode with a rich widow being told something shocking. Her reply is "I'm shocked" with a blank face. When the others look surprised (and suspicious), she explains that she has had Botox done and literally can't show emotion.
  • Raising Hope: Adorably a Subverted Trope in this Fox show. Typically TV babies just stare or appear agitated, bored, and fussy, but the twins playing Hope always seem to be genuinely fascinated by what's going on around her (them). Their reactions always seem to fit the scenes.
  • Revolution: This is many people's impression of Tracy Spiridakos, otherwise known as Charlie Matheson. Can't forget Graham Rogers as Danny Matheson, either, although he's less Dull Surprise and more completely flat-lined. However, in their defense, both of them were under 20 years old when the show started airing, and this show was the first time either of them got be main characters, so they needed experience. Besides, sometimes understated acting is more effective than hammy acting.
  • Robin Hood: A bizarre case is the usually-good Joanne Froggatt. Her character Kate spends most of her time with her face screwed up due to her constant scowling, crying and whining, but when she's faced with an actual crisis such as a threat from her brother's murderer or the dead body of one of her comrades, all she can muster is a blank stare. Contrast this with her role as plucky head housemaid Anna on Downton Abbey, and be amazed.
  • RuPaul's Drag Race UK: Discussed in a stand-up comedy challenge when a queen said, "You say my acting is flat? This morning I had to pretend I knew who [guest judge] was!" This confirmed what many fans had suspected throughout the entire franchise: when Ru announces the guest judge of the episode, sometimes the queens have never heard of that person and are merely feigning excitement for the camera, leading to a tepid reaction compared to when it's a megastar like Whoopi Goldberg and they all lose their shit.
  • Scrubs: Played for Laughs. Somebody knocks into Jordan, who has just got botox. It is justified. Her face was paralyzed like that, like all people when they first get botox:
    Jordan: Owww, the pain, it's excruciating. (all grumbled with her mouth barely even moving)
  • The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Almost the whole cast.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The main cast criticized themselves for the ending to "Thor's Chariot," where they only seemed mildly intrigued by the sight of a ship the size of a city appearing and eliminating a Goa'uld army in seconds. In behind-the-scenes interviews, they explained that none of them appreciated just how impressive (or big) the ship would look in the finished episode, so they did not think to put more awe or fear into their expressions.
    • Richard Dean Anderson and Christopher Judge later commented that they fell into this trap again in "Prometheus", not realising how impressive the effects would be, making them appeared remarkably bored by the massive Cool Starship taking off right in front of them.
    • Interestingly, despite Teal'c often trying to be emotionless, it was often clear from his face alone what he was feeling at the moment. Also, as seen in interviews, Christopher Judge is much more lively off-screen (described by Amanda Tapping as a "jackass") — which comes across in the episode where Teal'c and O'Neill switch bodies.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: Played with in Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of Spock. As a character who actively suppresses his emotions, and who generally considers outward displays of emotion distasteful, Spock's reaction to surprising events is normally extremely muted. Even so, it's never actually difficult to tell when Spock is surprised. For Spock, a cocked eyebrow and flat "Fascinating" can often carry the same weight as a startled or horrified shout from any other character.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "Future Imperfect", the alien Barash as Jean-Luc Riker within one of his holographic fantasies sees his "father" Commander Riker awaken from a coma brought on by a virus that wiped out part of his memory, and all he could greet him with is a very casual "Hi, Dad" like he just came home from work. Justified, as Barash had been without contact with his own people for a long time and would not know how to properly interact with humans.
    • Star Trek: Voyager Chakotay 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.
    • Star Trek: Picard:
      • In "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1", most people would freak out when they see a Borg Cube approaching, but Rios responds with a flat, "That's unexpected."
      • Later in the same episode, after activating the long-range sensors of the Artifact, Raffi and Rios react in a very muted fashion considering how dire the situation is.
        Rios: How many?
        Raffi: Uh, 218 warbirds.
        Rios: Oh, 218.
        Raffi: Mm-hmm.
        Rios: That's not so bad.
        Raffi: True. We only really have to worry about the first 109.
  • 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.
  • The X-Files:
    • It was a point of some parody during the popularity of this show that both David Duchovny and, to a lesser extent, Gillian Anderson would frequently react to mysterious or horrific events with deadpan near-monotone exclamations (since their acting was just fine when the other's character was in danger, though, one could assume that they've become a bit jaded).
    • In "Squeeze", Mulder tries out Fingertip Drug Analysis on a puddle of monster slime:
      Mulder: How can I get this off my hand without betraying my cool exterior?

      (Despite the lampshade Mulder actually averts the trope, since his voice wobbles in the middle of his sentence.)
    • Parodied in the comedy episode ”Jose Chung's "From Outer Space"; a guy who's a bigger conspiracy nut than Mulder claims the FBI duo are aliens themselves, and described Mulder as being completely without emotion except for the moment where he sees an alien corpse. Flashback!Mulder then lets out an excited shriek without changing his flat facial expression one bit.


  • A badly applied Perishing Alt-Rock Voice can cause this.
  • Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" mentions this:
    Their small-town eyes will gape at you
    In dull surprise when payment due
    Exceeds accounts received at seventeen

  • The relatively low-budget CGI and voice work in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Stern) makes April constantly sound rather unemotional. Best shown during the introduction to "The Wrath of Krang", where she reports on Krang rampaging through the city, looking and sounding mildly annoyed at most.
    "Isn't there anyone who can help us?"
  • The reporter who narrates most of Godzilla (Stern) consistently uses a dry, detached tone in dialogue, even when he's describing monsters emerging to battle for the fate of the Earth or expressing astonishment during multiball modes.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The Trope Codifier during the NWA's heyday was Dick Hutton, a three-time NCAA Wrestling Champion handpicked by Lou Thesz himself to succeed him as World Heavyweight Champion. Hutton was indeed a great wrestler, but when even the Canadians think you lack charisma, you're not leaving much of an impression.
  • 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. Lance Storm could very well be the poster-boy for this.
  • The supposed dullness of Canadians, at a time it would have otherwise been a discredited stereotype, was one of the sticking points in Petey Williams's interactions with Austin Aries in Ring of Honor and Scott Steiner in TNA. Whether or not these programs actually helped him becoming more charismatic or not is a matter of debate. Half the crowd agreed with Aries in ROH.
  • 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.
  • A common criticism of Kenny Omega early in his career, and one of the reasons ROH was initially reluctant to use him(the other being he lied about a foot injury one time they did try to book him). Though it is a criticism that is hard to remember after his run in Dramatic Dream Team (one of the promotions used the lie to work for), especially after his Tag Team run with Kota Ibushi. He's been criticized for emulating the Ultimate Warrior (mostly by non fans since DDT is supposed to be a parody of American wrestling), and "becoming an anime character" in New Japan Pro-Wrestling (even by people who appreciated it in DDT, given NJPW is not a parody promotion) but nothing he's done since has been dull.
  • In ROH fandom, Eddie Edwards is the gold standard by which all others are measured. Like most examples, he is talented in the physical aspects of his trade and he's expressive enough to convey convincing emotion while in action, but talking is not his strong suit at all. Thus even when not teaming with Davey Richards he usually doesn't go long without some kind of second.
  • Radiant Rain is the rare wrestler who seems to seesaw between scenery chewing that makes Eddie Guerrero seem subtle and dull promos that make Eddie Edwards sound engaging, with very few showings that fall in the middle. Frustration, fear, surprise are among what she consistently does well. Attempts to be intimidating, serious or convey resolve are where Rain doesn't shine.
  • TNA's financial backers go out of business, Jeff Jarrett makes a deal with Panda Energy that involves making company heiress Dixie Carter owner, Jarrett figures out how to turn a profit with a Spike TV Television deal, Dixie Carter decides she wants to be on tv too and shows none of her excitement on camera...she was a mixed blessing.
  • 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.
  • Speaking of In Name Only ECW and McIntyre, Tiffany is perhaps the most infamous female example in the English market. Unlike most charisma pits, it's not a lack of conviction in her voice but rather as much-enthusiasm-given-to-each-and-every-word-as-possible-often-with-a-static-expression-that-makes-her-promos-look-and-sound-forced. Indeed "dull" surprise may not be the right words to describe her, but Tiffany's body is an incredibly inefficient machine when it comes to transferring that energy to an audience. Taryn Terrell spoke a little better in TNA, with it having less scripted promos, but in physical action she still seemed pretty automated when doing anything other than wrestle, such as her referee stint.
  • WWECW in fact used the dull Canadian stereotype for heel heat with the Hart Dynasty, as Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith could do their talking in the ring well enough but insisted on subjecting people to Natalya Neidhart's cliche, lackadaisical promos first. Though they were at one point contrasted against another Canadian, "Captain Charisma" Christian. It didn't work as well when the three turned face in response to yet another betrayal of Bret Hart and then had to feud with the more charismatic Usos and Tamina Snuka, but they still managed to do their talking in the ring well enough.
  • 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.
  • The Minnesotta Stretching Crew, Shelton Benjamin and his protege Brock Lesnar. Physically there seems to be little either one of them can't do, verbally they tend to get into trouble very fast. Benjamin was a decent talker in the Dog Pound alongside Rodney Mack, The World's Greatest Tag Team alongside Charlie Haas and Black Dynamite with Montel Vontavious Porter, but otherwise was better off with a manager... and Lesnar was worse than Benjamin, aside from a UFC press conference where he finally managed to cut a decent promo at the one time management didn't actually want it.
  • Taylor Made of The Chicago Girls, Made In Sin and the various incarnations of Valkyrie. She is very expressive visually; verbally is a whole different story. Her promos can be quite clever but her delivery makes it hard to appreciate, hence most of her heel career is spent playing off more charismatic partners like Nikki St John or Allysin Kay.
  • Roman Reigns of The Shield and The Authority is like a male Made, only he's big enough not to need to be expressive. His laconic contributions to promos served him well enough alongside the insane Big Bad Wannabe Dean Ambrose and gleefully obnoxious Seth Rollins, and might have even done him well on his own. Still someone either insists or has somehow convinced the man extended promos are something he should be doing, no matter how many times audiences lets him know otherwise.
  • Jim Cornette has accused Johnny Gargano of this, stating that he only has two facial expressions: Normal and selling. To this day he derisively calls him "Johnny Sameface."

    Tabletop Games 

  • The Transformers: The Toys Transformers Legacy Titan-class Cybertron Universe Metroplex figure has his face stuck in this expression. Given that the figure is enormous (roughly 22 inches tall), this is much harder to miss than it would be on a smaller figure. Transformers fans were quick to point out that his face looks like it was drawn by Pat Lee.

    Video Games 
  • Baldurs Gate 3: While most characters in the game have highly detailed facial expressions, Tav, the "default" player character reacts to virtually every situation, whether it's recieving a sudden love confession from a party member or stumbling upon a scene of grisly murder, with an expression that could be most accurately described as "mild bemusement."
  • BlazBlue: Chronophantasma brings us Bullet, a character completely incapable of expressing either of her two emotions without first prefacing it with "dull". Calling her "butt floss" will elicit dull anger; just about anything else will evoke dull surprise instead.
  • 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. Granted, the lack of speech doesn't help.
    Love Interest: *heartfelt words of how they have a connection, and how they might be falling in love with The Warden*
    Warden: *understanding nod*
  • 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.
  • Shadowverse: has Arisa. Many of the "uh" and "oof" sounds she makes upon being hit sound less like she's hurt and more like's she's disinterestedly mocking you for dealing so little damage.
  • Silent Hill characters have this tendency given the limitations in the graphics; many fans consider the fourth game's protagonist Henry Townshend to be the worst offender. Travis Grady of Silent Hill: Origins has also notably been criticized for this, but there's a compelling theory that his lack of reaction to the horrors of the town is due to him being a serial killer, which is implied throughout the game and explicit in the bad ending.
  • 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.
    • JC Denton's deadpan delivery is a constant source of hilarity, producing some immortal lines in the process:
      Jock: Oh my God, JC! A bomb!
      Denton: A bomb.
    • Or after a girl's father's been shot dead:
      Sandra: "Oh my god, daddy!"
      Denton: "What a shame..."
    • Deus Ex: Invisible War isn't much better about this. 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.
  • 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'; 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. Similarly, there's Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, where his one facial expression was this. It's somewhere between terrified, baffled, and annoyed.
  • 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 trigger-happy 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).
    • BLU Heavy in the Meet the Spy video has this reaction when a BLU Soldier blows BLU Spy's head off on suspicion of being an enemy in disguise. While the Scout is appropriately freaked out, the Heavy just looks at the Spy's bleeding neck stump and says, "Oh..."
  • 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?" Worse yet, 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.
  • Tales Series:
    • Both Farah and Keele in the English dub of Tales of Eternia react to everything with the same monotone regardless of the situation they're in.
    • 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. On the non-vocal work of Tales of Xillia, Jude tends to not show any emotion when seeing whatever hijnk Leia has come up with.
  • 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 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).
  • Much of the dialogue in Sonic Adventure suffers from this; while it's justified when Sonic and Tails try (and fail) to yell angrily while being sedated with knockout gas, it's less justified when Amy gives a heartfelt speech about the nature of friendship and love with all the emotion of someone who was just given a 15% off coupon for a store they've never heard of before. Infamously, the boss fight against Knuckles has him utter an extremely dull "Oh no" every time you hit him. It has become Narm Charm to many people.
  • The range of expressions in the human characters of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is non-existent, and the full extent of the non-human characters' emotional expression is to slightly lower the eyelids to convey something resembling dismay. Rouge's voice-acting stands out as being bereft of evident effort; the sound of her falling to her death is equivalent to that of someone mildly burning themself on coffee.
  • 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.
  • In the American Super NES 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" which lack a second punctuation mark.
  • 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.
  • The "Blind Idiot" Translation of Final Fantasy IV resulted in an unintentional example of this. When the undead form of Scarmiglione (translated as Milon Z in the game) is defeated, his reaction is the rather underwhelming, "What? You beat me twice."
  • Super Robot Wars V is yet another example of this caused by "Blind Idiot" Translation. When Black Noir, a higher dimensional being, reveals that it was responsible for all the past tragedies in the various heroes' lives, they all react with shocked silence... At least, they did in the original Japanese version. But in the English translation...
    Banjo: Oh?
    Kappei: Oh.
    Shinn: Huh.
    Kira: Hm.
    Setsuna: You don't say.
  • Sands of Destruction normally has emotive voices and at least gets its character sprites Going Through the Motions as they talk. However, at the end of the game, Kyrie proclaims that he won't destroy the world because he has people he loves now, and they love him. Morte's text response has an exclamation point and her sprite animation seems embarrassed, but her face portrait is neutral rather than lovestruck and her voice is about the same as one you'd use to ask him to pass the salt at dinner.
  • Carl Denning of The 11th Hour is supposed to be an incredibly popular field reporter for in-universe show Case Unsolved, but it's hard to see why, given how catatonic his personality is in the game proper. He barely even registers the fact that he's experiencing a real haunting, let alone looking for his ex-lover in the middle of said haunting. Stauf can give it an accidental lampshading if Carl messes up a puzzle:
    Stauf: What's the matter, Carl? Can't function without your cue cards?
  • Benny of Fallout: New Vegas is supposed to take the Courier's arrival at The Tops casino as a moment of shock and surprise but due to his voice actor (Matthew Perry) it comes across as rather flat. Even his dialogue of when Benny and a female Courier "get busy" is unintentionally funny due to this. His "Hello" is more of a casual greeting and not a jokey comment during sex.
  • In the bonus chapter of Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek, the player character (a different one from the main game) falls into this when he finds his girlfriend's possessions in an abandoned cottage. The subtitles make it clear that his response is an emotional one, but the voice acting... not so much.
  • Ride to Hell: Retribution has this when it comes to the "sex scenes", where some of the characters' facial expressions barely register any emotion during the fully-clothed intercourse going on.
  • In Only the Brave Can Rescue the Kidnapped Princess, the King's vocal delivery while singing "I Love My Food" is very lively and expressive. The animation that accompanies the song, on the other hand, mostly consists of him either staring at the camera with a completely emotionless expression or dancing with a bored one.
  • Super Smash Bros.: Ike's infamous "I fight for my friends" became a meme because, on top of being massively cliché, he states it in a dorky, casual monotone.
  • Used intentionally in Gadget: Past as Future where nearly every character will discuss topics such as being brutally tortured, fearing the dictatorship of the Empire where they live, and plans to save as many people as they can from an incoming asteroid, all the while having wall-eyed expressions that occasionally come across as melancholic. The game's creator, Haruhiko Shono, once stated that this was not only a result of technical limitations of the time but was something that the developers embraced in order to show the effects of the authoritarian government they are subjected to, leaving them unable or afraid to show emotion out of fear of judgement from others. The one character to avert this, Paulo Orlovsky, has a perpetual Psychotic Smirk on his face, as he is the root cause of all this oppression. The doll-like rigidity of the characters helps contribute to the unnerving Uncanny Valley atmosphere the game is going for.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Season 2, Episode 3
      Penny: I'm not... a real girl.
      Ruby: ...Oh.
    • Promptly lampshaded in the next episode.
      Penny: I don't... um... you're... taking this extraordinarily well.
    • Of course, this may have something to do with the fact Ruby doesn't actually care that much, which is oddly heartwarming.
  • In GoAnimate videos, thanks to the Text-To-Speech programs used to vocalize characters, most emotions are conveyed in this manner. For instance, someone could have been gotten hurt and all they'd say is a flat "Ow."
  • The Blinking White Guy meme is so popular, since it is just the blank face of Drew Scanlon who only reacts with a blink of his eyes and a slight shake of his head.
  • The Most Epic Story Ever Told in All of Human History: Epic Robot Guy seems rather bored and disinterested in performing the "epic" trailer. This is a big contrast to some of the other characters who are taking it way too seriously.
  • asdfmovie5:
    "I wonder if my pony can fly."
    Pony rises into the air and offscreen
  • "Murder Drones": Uzi has a moment of this when N talks after she tries to whack him with a severed robot arm.
    Uzi: Holy crap, it talks.

  • Ctrl+Alt+Del:
    • The Internet term "B^U" is frequently used by detractors to describe the lack of facial expression (everyone evidently usually looks slightly slack-jawed) as well as everyone looking really similar. It's also become shorthand for "Tim Buckley", who has his own unique set of emotional cripplements.
    • In a tutorial on drawing facial expressions, Tracy Butler of Lackadaisy specifically included a "Buckley face" as an example of bad art.
    • Buckley, for a time, seemed to be deliberately sticking to this art style just to spite his detractors. However even he has managed to start avoiding this facial expression of late... usually.
  • Our Valued Customers somehow manages to out-B^U Ctrl+Alt+Del, giving this expression to every single character in every single illustration (to make it easier to laugh at the customers for being stupid).
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: Bob's standard default expression is eyes wide with his mouth in a tiny O shape. This perhaps reflects the fact that he's constantly encountering new weirdnesses, but has become too used to it to ever look more than mildly startled.
  • Most Problem Sleuth characters constantly wear this expression, as Andrew drew them deliberately badly in the first place and then only very rarely redrew their base figures. Occasionally he lampshades this, for example in the first Problem Sleuth book:
    Allies are united for the first time on the material plane. You eye each other with suspicion.
    Andrew's notes: Note how my keen artist's hand adroitly renders the suspicion on their faces. The tension in the room is palpable.
  • In How I Became Yours, this is a recurring problem due to how much copying and pasting there is; a character might be speaking normally in one panel, and then shouting or breaking into tears in the next with the same expression.
  • This Full Frontal Nerdity mocks Keanu Reeves about this trope.
  • Girl Genius: While Dimo is usually quite expressive when he is laying on the floor getting his bearings and realizing that the recent explosion did not kill him he calmly states: "Huh. Howzabout dot. Hy is not dead. Dot is verra sooprizink."
  • El Goonish Shive: The page picture for Magic Is a Monster Magnet shows someone amazingly calm about how they're responsible for a demon attack, especially given the emotions their thought bubble is trying to express.

    Web Videos 
  • Benrey of Half-Life but the AI is Self-Aware reacts to almost everything with bored apathy, even when he's in the middle of a firefight or murdering random civilians. It's actually deconstructed, since it's one of the many signs there's something deeply wrong with him.
  • Suburban Knights: "Dude, that's my heart."
  • Kevin Baugh of Kickassia, by virtue of not being an actor at all. Arguably makes it funnier than if he'd tried to be over the top. Apparently it was even at least somewhat intentional, in order to contrast with how hammy everyone else was.
  • In his review of Golden Girl, The Cinema Snob realizes he doesn't know a good quip after he hears one of the doctors' names is Doctor Who, so he calls up Linkara for help and tells him the movie he's watching. Linkara's only deadpan response is "Of course you are..."
  • The Nostalgia Chick is like this sometimes. Justified by the fact that she's trying to act like she's too intellectual to enjoy the things she reviews.
  • Halifax's city flower is the broad-chested rose. Its city emotion is mild surprise. "Oh. Haha a puppy."
  • "nnnNo..." sums up YouTube user TedCrusty's videos. Occasionally he does throw in an "OH JESUS" though.
  • YouTube Let's Players often get requests to play various Jump Scare games. Those who are not easily spooked respond to the game like this as a result.
  • Not usually one for this, being an either good or hammy actor usually, but Doug Walker as the Plot Hole in "The Review Must Go On" just sounds really condescending and bored instead of the wise he was probably aiming for. It's an Acting for Two scene, so he must have spent all his energy on getting Donnie's rage at the situation across. This may be intentional; the entire episode is meant as a Reality Subtext of throwing something together at the last minute to wrap up the series and bring back the Critic, and the presentation can be read as part of the reason Donnie is so mad.
  • Red Guy of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared has almost no inflection in his voice, even when he's supposed to be singing, creating a humorous contrast to the more excitable characters like the time-obsessed Tony the Talking Clock.
  • This is a defining trait of John Wolfe, as compared to other Lets Players who make a career out of reviewing horror-themed games. While most of the more famous Lets Players are known for loud and bombastic reactions to Jump Scares, often even chewing the scenery to the point it's ludicrous, John tends to react with nothing much more than a perked eyebrow, dry sardonicism, or in a few cases just being silently agape. It's not to say he's entirely stone-faced, and he has genuinely cried out from a good scare (the Interrogation Room Licker being a prime example), but they are unbelievably rare and even then are pretty downplayed.

    Western Animation 
  • 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".
  • Transformers:
    • Patrick Lee's artwork for Transformers: Generation One often uses the same open-mouthed stare to represent different emotions. This (combined with the next issue getting delayed for a month) resulted in several fans mistakenly believing the fourth issue has a Twist Ending where a very tall character unexpectedly shows up and everyone has a Mass "Oh, Crap!" reaction, as multiple characters on opposing sides look up and all have the same vaguely shocked expression.
    • The later installments of the Unicron Trilogy use cel-shaded CGI models of the robots instead of Transformers: Armada's hand-drawn animation. Said models tend to lack any facial animation beyond characters opening and closing their mouths, with Transformers: Energon occasionally pulling off more complex expressions by animating them in a heavily shaded, hand-drawn style that mimics CGI. Transformers: Cybertron does marginally better by having more appropriate expressions be a character's default, like Starscream smirking... but occasionally an episode gives the cast a much wider range of expressions and more accurate lip-syncing in closeup shots.
    • While the characters in The Transformers: Combiner Wars are capable of showing facial emotion when silent, they are usually restricted to mouth flaps when talking. This results in things like Windblade having a blank expression while talking to Optimus, sneering between sentences, and going back to the blank expression when she starts talking again while still sounding angry.
    • Don Figueroa's "new style" gives all his Transformers (or at least the ones with visible mouths) a gnarling sneer perpetually frozen on their faces.
    • The Transformers' inconsistent and rushed animation results in several occasions where characters react to situations with rather vacant expressions:
      • "More Than Meets the Eye, Part 3" has a scene where Ravage is allowed to escape captivity as part of a gambit by the Autobots; when Optimus responds to news of the escape with "Perfect", the four characters who told him all react with bored, open-mouthed looks on their faces.
      • Ironhide also reacts this way in "Starscream's Brigade" to the news of Powerglide having spotted Jazz and Cliffjumper's whereabouts after they get kidnapped.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • Squidward 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.
    • The "DEUUEAUGH" scene from Something Smells, in the Greek dub.
    • "All That Glitters": Squidward when he receives the order for a Monster Krabby Patty, even though everybody around him (except for the customer) is horrified to even hear of its name.
  • Justice League: A great example comes from the Joker, who is ordinarily notorious for a very different kind of facial expression, in "Wild Cards". When an explosive he had planted in Las Vegas seemingly fails to go off, the Joker watches a video replay in super slow motion which reveals that the Flash had carried the device to the outskirts of town while it was exploding. The camera cuts to the Joker just in time to catch a subdued "Huh."
  • A justified example in the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Knight Time", when Brainiac the emotionless android/supercomputer learns who is really wearing that Batman costume.
    Brainiac: Kal-El. This development was highly improbable.
  • Used constantly in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., which combined with the odd editing style and good voice acting, gets pretty jarring at times. Characters will either look enraged or annoyed during completely calm situations, and all that really takes to change their expression is raising or lowering an eyebrow, or dilating their pupils. Ultimate Spider-Man (2012) and Avengers Assemble had the same problem, which was only slightly bettered by the characters posing in more dynamic stances rather than just standing around with their arms crossed.
  • Having some of the same boarders and animators as Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., Young Justice (2010) suffered with this for some time too, such as having Aqualad after being told he's the new leader (seconds after a failed mission) blink and stare at the ground like he's just entered a state of catatonic shock.
  • There are many times in Jem where characters facial expressions don't quite match the mood or their voices. For example when Jerrica's sister gets thrown off a horse Jerrica screams but has a rather neutral expression.
  • Futurama: Scruffy the Janitor's tone of voice doesn't change whether he's reading porno magazines or has a gun pointed at his head. There are exactly two times Scruffy shows any emotion. And the second time he gets over it pretty quickly.
    Scruffy: Scruffy's gonna die the way he lived. (flips magazine page)
  • Love, Death & Robots: In "Ice Age", Gail and Rob are surprisingly blasé about discovering a miniature civilization in an old fridge, a discovery that would have most questioning the entirety of existence.
    Rob: Huh!
    Gail: Yeah.

    Real Life 
  • Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was specifically groomed throughout her life to be this way — she strove never to show emotion in her face, which is to say, in public. See also Stiff Upper Lip. Also, the Royal 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. Occasionally, though, athletes will let their real emotions come to the surface during play, or after other highly emotional moments. Chuck Norris addressed this during an interview early in his acting career, commenting on how it was difficult at times for him to show emotion during filming. A former Karate champion, a regular part of his training was stoicism and simply not showing any emotion or pain at all, in order to not give anything away to his opponents.
  • 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.
  • This is the basis for what's known as the Kuleshov Effect, an experiment of editing in film. It consists of an actor's blank, expressionless face being juxtaposed with several different images in order to derive more meaning from said expression. The audience sees hunger if paired next to food, or sadness if paired next to a funeral, etc.
  • A lot of people with Asperger Syndrome end up like this, or on the complete opposite they overcompensate and ham it up a lot.
  • Recent studies have found people who've undergone Botox treatment lose the ability to express certain emotions; they've also suggested that being unable to express an emotion dulls the ability to even feel it.
  • Sports commentator Joe Buck is famous (And infamous to some) for his rather...understated approach to sports commentary. Most famously during the vaunted play known as "The Catch".
  • Newscasters are also notorious for this, reporting on wars and disasters with the same tone that they would use to announce the traffic or weather. Vox commented on the phenomenon of even-keeled news coverage when politics had apparently gone off the rails in the Trump era.
  • Having facial paralysis such as Bell's Palsy, which prevents one from moving the muscles on one's face definitely, can cause this.
  • One struggle that comes with anyone who works in front of the camera (actors, politicians, newscasters) is that they become afraid of looking odd, silly or unattractive by accident. To avoid nervous tics, unflattering angles or unattractive expressions (e.g. Inelegant Blubbering) they instead project a more neutral face and rigid posture.
  • Violet Jessop, a stewardess/nurse who survived the RMS Titanic sinking, recalled in her memoirs that, when the ship first hit the iceberg, there was a loud crash and groaning, crunching noise that filled the hall, before it became eerily quiet as the engine stopped. She then looked to her roommate, who very calmly commented, "Sounds as if something has happened." Jessop then burst out laughing at the sheer understatement — though she admitted she didn't realize just how much of an understatement it was until she was in a lifeboat, and looked back to see half of the Titanic underwater.
  • Victims of abuse often end up like this, due to being punished for having emotions. They may even be misdiagnosed as autistic.


Danny Plays Sick

Ever seen a car puke oil? Now you have.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

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