It is common in all forms of animation, as well as in live-action media, for a character to tilt their head sideways in confusion. In anime, this is often accompanied by a "..." while it is more often accompanied by a "...huh?" in western animation. A raised eyebrow is common in every genre.
Common in Animal Reaction Shots, especially with dogs (although animals who behave like dogs may do it too), accompanied by a Quizzical (or Disapproving) Whimper. Also a common mode of silent expression for The Speechless or The Voiceless.
There's a good biological reason why this trope applies in Real Life: when listening to sounds, brains determine which direction they come from by which ear hears the noise louder and a tiny fraction of a second earlier than the other. If a sound's point of origin is hard to pinpoint, tilting the head and turning the neck moves both ears into new positions, providing additional data from which to triangulate and determine an ongoing or repeated sound's source.
- The old RCA Victor ad had a dog with its head tilted quizzically as it listened to a phonograph record play, with the title "His Master's Voice◊". The trademark was also used by the EMI-owned His Master's Voice Records in Europe, Oceania and most of Asia and the Japanese Victor Company in Japan.
- The famous trademark image comes from a painting by English artist Francis Barraud, A.R.A. and titled "His Master's Voice". The original title of the painting was "His Late Master's Voice" (and this phrase appears on many of the original RCA Victor labels), but the concept was considered too depressing for most of the public's tastes, and certainly for an image used as a means to put the consumer in the mood to buy. It was acquired from the artist in 1899 by the newly-formed Gramophone Company.
- The logo remains in use today by the British music store HMV, whose name is an acronym of the slogan.
- Bleach: When Yoruichi first meets the newly-recruited Soi Fon, she does this out of mild confusion over the latter's struggle to be on a casual First-Name Basis with her.
- One Piece:
- Later seven other pirate captains pledge their crews to Luffy. When he refuses his explanation leads all seven to tilt their heads in confussion.
- Nia in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann tilts her head when she sees Lagann in a garbage heap.
- In Durarara!! Celty and Shizuo do a simultaneous version, which goes to show their Like Brother and Sister bond, in addition to being absolutely adorable.
- Used by Yuki in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya when Haruhi tells to use her "magic powers" to zap Mikuru during the production of their student film. Considering how Yuki is the epitome of the Emotionless Girl, this is her equivalent of a stunned gasp (particularly how she does have reality-warping powers of her own).
- Naruto does slight head tilts early on in the show when he doesn't understand a concept or isn't familiar with something (which, being Naruto, happens quite a bit). An example is when he first hears of the Chuunin Exams from Konohamaru.
- Pokémon the Series: Diamond and Pearl: In "Mastering Current Events!", surprisingly, the usual happy-go-lucky Gliscor did one when the Air Battle Master accepted Ash's offer to battle him.
- In Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun, both Iruma and Ameri tilt their head to the side with a confused expression when Opera tells them they don't understand the concept of cooking.
Opera: Don't tilt your heads at me!
- A Big Blue House in Tall Pine Grove: Treelo cocks his head curiously when Bear informs him that there's an otter pond at the new house, just like there was at the old house.
- Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): In this Godzilla MonsterVerse fanfiction, MaNi/Elder Brother tilts his head in such a way, when Vivienne saying a particular word in a particular context that's relevant to Ghidorah's backstory triggers a slight Ignored Epiphany in MaNi.
- Child of the Storm has Maddie pull this in the sequel, when Harry surprises her. Since her job title is literally 'Hound', and she has some dog-like personality traits (as well as some cat-like ones), it's strangely appropriate.
- Observed as an intriguing, if foreign, gesture that humans often do in the Mass Effect fic, ''First Contact.'' The fact that it's almost ubiquitous amongst both dogs and humans is just one of many things that drives home the fascinating dynamic humanity has with dogs and cats (to the point of major coevolution that continues to this day).
- Elise the Indominus rex pulls this multiple times in It's not the Raptor DNA, often in response to something that confuses/bewilders her.
- Used several times in Kyon: Big Damn Hero:
- Tsuruya when Kyon received a greatcoat as a gift from Mikuru, and realized it's the same coat she saw him wearing some weeks ago.
- Mikuru when Haruhi is explaining her plan for a relationship between Kyon and the girls in the brigade.
- In the Ma Fille chapter "Aunt Laura", Von Kaiser tilts his head in confusion when Joe and Katrina arrive at his home, asking for somewhere to stay for the night.
- A frequent aspect of the writing in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines.
- Ash and Red in The Road You Choose tend to do this.
- In Chapter 2 of Skylanders: Return to the Ruins, Spyro cocks his head in curiosity/confusion when he finds an abandoned railway in the Chompy Cavern.
- In Star Of Wonder Star Of Night, Lala tilts her head in response to Hummy mistaking her for an elf.
- Steel Soul Saga: In "Steel Soul", when Rarity doesn't hear what Sweetie Belle's saying:
Sweetie Belle was asking her something.
She tilted her head, not comprehending.
- The Iron Giant: The titular giant tends to tilt one side of his head when he's confused about something.
- Kung Fu Panda 3: After Kai declares thunderously that he HAS RETURNED, the two previously scared egg-less farmers tilt their heads and ask, confused, "Who?"
- Moana: The ocean itself does this to demonstrate its sapiency, tilting a wave in a head-like manner at a young Moana when she encounters it.
- Mune, the title character of Mune: Guardian of the Moon, quizzically tilts his head throughout the film, along with a chirping noise.
- Emma: As Mr Elton reveals the elaborate frame of Harriet's portrait, Harriet and Emma tilt their heads sideways simultaneously, each in the opposite direction.
- The Fifth Element: Leeloo gives a tilt of her head to General Monro before breaking through her "unbreakable" container and taking from him the key to opening it.
- Jason Voorhees several times throughout the Friday the 13th series.
- First instance comes in Friday the 13th, Part II when Ginny mimics Jason's mother and tilts her head in an effort to lower his defenses and then kill him.
- In Part IV he is confronted by Tommy who has made himself appear as Jason as a child.
- In Part VI when he sees some Don't Come A-Knockin'-business going on in an RV.
- In Part VIII when he sees a billboard for a hockey league which features a hockey mask similar to his.
- Jason tilts his head in surprise in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday when he finds out that he can see his true self in a mirror while possessing some else's body.
- George of the Jungle: In the Animated Credits Opening, when Baby George tries to play fetch with Shep, the elephant ends up bringing back a crocodile instead of the stick. George does a cute head tilt in reaction.
- In Halloween, Michael Myers tilts his head when he's examining Bob whom he has just pinned to a wall with a kitchen knife. It becomes a trademark habit, with practically every subsequent movie having him tilt his head at least once.
- One of the alien invaders tilts their head upon seeing Steven Hiller and David Levinson in one of their ships in Independence Day.
- Jurassic Park:
- Jurassic Park: Rexy gives Gennaro one just before eating him. The Dilophosaurus gives several to Nedry while it's sizing him up before it strikes.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park: During its rampage in San Diego, the bull T. rex tilts its head sideways when Ian and Sara use the infant T. rex to lure its daddy back to the docks. Its expression just screams "You two again?".
- In Jurassic World, Charlie the Velociraptor tilts her head when she encounters Parental Substitute Owen in the firefight. Until this point, it appears that the raptors have betrayed their alpha and sided with the I. rex, but Charlie is visibly conflicted and chitters at Owen instead of attacking him. It gets her killed by the mercenaries.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Wanda Maximoff subtly tilting her head is usually a prelude to a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Jac Schaeffer, the Show Runner of WandaVision, referred to it as "her big power... that scares everyone and is so amazing", while one Redditor called it her "iconic 'I'm about to f*ck you up' head tilt".
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron does this as he listens to Pietro's story, and Wanda reacts in this manner to Klaue's initial "cuttlefish" comment during their conversation.
- In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor does this when Surtur tells him that Odin isn't on Asgard anymore. And Thor's theatre actor does this when the real Thor exposes Loki's deceit.
- Helmut Zemo does the exact same thing as Wanda whenever he's attempting to manipulate someone, as shown in Captain America: Civil War and very much lampshaded and described by Sam in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as his "stupid head-tilt thing." Evidently, it's a stupid head-tilt thing inherent to Sokovians.
- In The Mask, Stanley's dog Milo tilts his head the first time Stanley turns into cartoon Mask, the title character.
- Trinity during the Club Hel fight in The Matrix Revolutions. When one of the Merovingian's gravity-defying guards dodges a kick by leaping onto the ceiling, she tilts her head — then does her signature midair pose and kicks him so hard he's embedded in the wall.
- Godzilla (2014): Hokmuto gives one and then has a Delayed "Oh, Crap!" after his and his mate's nest has been blown up by Ford.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters: Ghidorah's right head (Ni) notably does this when Ghidorah and Godzilla are facing off in Antarctica, as if sussing their old enemy out for strengths and weaknesses. In the Fenway Park scene, Ichi (the middle head) turns his head from one side to the other when all three heads spot Madison, right before giving her a Death Glare.
- Redwood Massacre Annihilation: When Max is pretending to be the killer in his home to Tom, he cocks his head to the side.
- Saw V: Hoffman tilts his head towards Strahm while inside the Glass Coffin.
- Starman has Jeff Bridges' character tilt his head quizzically for most of the movie — but that's because he was a non-human life form from outer space learning about the human experience as he went along, so everything was new and confusing to him.
- Star Wars:
- A New Hope: Luke tilts his head when he finds Princess Leia in the Death Star detention center, and right before she asks him "aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?"
- Return of the Jedi: The Ewok whom Princess Leia befriends headtilts at her when she tries to talk to him. The child actor (Warwick Davis, in fact) who played the Ewok stated that he purposefully modeled this behavior from his own pet pooch.
- The Force Awakens: Kylo Ren headtilts when he asks Rey "you still want to kill me?" after she wakes up in the Finalizer's interrogation room.
- In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, after the T-X is repeatedly hit in the head with a fire extinguisher (even doing a 360 spin), she tilts her head with a disapproving expression — in a clear homage to the T-1000's Finger Wag. The T-850's face afterwards just screams "Oh, Crap!".
- Les Tontons flingueurs: This is Raoul Volfoni's initial reaction to Fernand singing "Happy Birthday to You" (in Gratuitous English) with no further explanation. That is, before the incoming punch from Fernand.
- Wild Wild West: A "blink and you'll miss it" Shout-Out occurs when "Bloodbath" McGrath is lying on the ground and a dog comes up and does the "His Master's Voice" bit while looking at McGrath's ear trumpet.
- Karou of Daughter of Smoke and Bone tilts her head frequently, in a manner described as a "quick birdlike tilt". It's one of the first things Akiva notices when he meets her, as it reminds him of his deceased lover Madrigal which makes sense, as thanks to Reincarnation they're the same person.
- In The Dresden Files, Harry's dog Mouse tends to tilt his head when Harry explains something to him. This is Mouse's version of being a smartass, since he can understand Harry perfectly.
- Stick Cat: Stick Cat does this in each book in the series.
- In A Tale Of Two Kitties, when Edith is stuck in the hole between her and Stick Cat's apartment, Edith asks "Can we just get me out of here?". In response to this, Stick Cat cocks his head to his right.
- Stick Cat tilts his head to his right in Cats in the City when he sees Edith produce two cloth napkins that she intends to use as a parachute to get to Hazel's apartment.
- Sticks Cat tilts his head quizzically twice in "Two Catch a Thief". First when Edith tells him she's getting tired from being stuck in the hole between the bathroom cabinets. He does it again when he asks Edith what she said while Tuna Todd is stealing Edith's daily collars.
- Stick Cat does it FOUR TIMES in "Two Cats and a Baby" when asking Edith what she meant when she said "They were really good" in relation to sausage links (that are missing from his bowl at the time). He did it again later on when Edith states she was talking with Millie. He does is a third time when asking Edith why she's flushed the toilet before (because she was getting rid of gifts from Edith she didn't like). He does it a fourth time on page 181 when he gets a spark of an idea and asks Edith to repeat her statement.
- Stick Cat tilts his head to his right in "Two Cats To The Rescue" when asking Edith if something's wrong near the start of the book.
- Stranger in Town: Private detective Michael Shayne shows up unannounced at a doctor's office to ask the doctor some questions. The nurse at Dr. Philbrick's office "tilted her head slightly on one side as she looked" at Shayne, before asking him what he wanted.
- Illyria on Angel seems to be doing this the entire damn time. Usually it signifies the person she's looking at is about to get Punched Across the Room.
- Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer tilts his head very often. In fact, his head's default position seems to be tilted. He has the Quizzical Tilt, the intimidating tilt, the "I'm about to bite you" tilt, the arrogant tilt, the tilt of sexy... well they're all pretty sexy, so that should probably be renamed the tilt of "I'm going to shag you right now."
Buffy: So, how does the water buffalo fit in again?
- In the second season episode "Reptile Boy", Buffy tilts her head when she, Willow and Xander are watching the Bollywood movie:
- Farscape: One of Chiana's frequent Character Tics is tilting her head from side to side. This actually arose due to Gigi Edgley trying to see out of the black contact lenses she had to wear which severely limited her vision. The lenses were eventually switched to a less restrictive pair but the movement was so firmly established that she kept doing it.
- In the episode of Friends, Monica gets a job catering a party for an old family friend, Dr. Richard Burke, played by Tom Selleck. Since Richard was just divorced, the girls ask him how he's doing, tilting their heads. He mentions that everyone who asks about the divorce tilts their head when asking. He mentions that he responds with the "I'm OK" head-bob.
- The Observers in Fringe head-tilts a lot in response to human behavior. September's actor Michael Cerveris got the idea from watching his dog. The series later provided an in-universe explanation for it in the final season, the subject of an epic The Reason You Suck speech delivered by Nina to the Observer commander, Captain Windmark. The Observers are hyper-evolved Transhuman Aliens from 600 years in the future, whose brains have been enhanced to reality-warping levels by sacrificing the regions of the brain responsible for emotions. The Observers repeatedly say they feel that regular present-day humans are animals compared to them. As a final screw-you before he kills her, Nina points out that the Observers tilt their head in that way because it's an atavistic trait: reptiles and lower mammals have an instinct to tilt their head to change the angle at which sound hits their eardrum, when they hear a noise they are unfamiliar with. Modern-day humans evolved beyond this rudimentary trait. So for all of the Observers' talk about how they are superior to regular humans, they're just walking science experiments, who even accidentally spliced back in a few behavioral traits from junk DNA - and like reptiles, they also spliced out their capacity for love, wonder, or the ability to appreciate "beauty".
- Game of Thrones:
- Kurt from Glee is good at these, but they tend to be somewhat less inquisitive and somewhat more interrogative. As in "we-have-ways-of-making-you-talk" interrogative. Especially when the frosty eyebrow lift and serial killer Death Glare get in on the act.
- Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "The Thing Lay Still", Louis de Pointe du Lac tilts his head◊ after he notices that Daniel Molloy is distracted because the latter was staring at Rashid, who is chatting on his cell phone while standing in sunlight. Louis is wondering why Daniel is now engrossed by Rashid when he wasn't before.
- Det. Goren tilts his head while interrogating a suspect, in the intro to Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and repeats the gesture fairly often through the series as well.
- Legion: In "Chapter 26", a baffled Charles Xavier tips his head to the side because he can sense that there's something very wrong with the caged monkey, but Amahl Farouk greets him before he can investigate further.
- In Season 2 of Luther, a woman walking down a dark alley realises there's someone following her; a man in a hoodie wearing a Punch mask. Punchface tilts his head as if sizing her up, then we cut to her being murdered on the sidewalk.
- The New Adventures of Old Christine: New Christine hurts her neck, but everyone just assumes she's just tilting her head, wondering at various stuff.
- Teal'c from Stargate SG-1 typically paired it with a Fascinating Eyebrow when something about Earth culture confused him in the early seasons.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Spock makes considerable use of headtilting, as well as the Fascinating Eyebrow (and sometimes both at once).
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data quizzically tilted his head every ten seconds or so. It was so distinctive that Riker was able to notice it in a completely different individual thirty years later.
- Star Wars: The first episode of The Mandalorian has the title character do this when he sees The Child a.k.a. Baby Yoda. Since the Mando wears a Cool Helmet that completely covers his face, it's a good way of expressing his curiosity about the tiny alien he's been hired to find.
- There's an episode of Will & Grace where Jack says 'reluctant pivot, inquisitive head tilt' as response to Will.
- WandaVision, "The Series Finale": After Hex Vision restores White Vision's memories, the former tilts his head, curious over whether it worked or not... and White Vision does the same thing, revealing they are now sharing quirks.
- The West Wing: on the third season episode "H. Con 172", a former staffer at the White House has written a tell-all book about his time there, and it's riddled with errors (though Sam, for reasons of his own, is treating it as Serious Business), and Larry reads an excerpt from the book out loud, C.J. has this reaction:
Larry: "Bartlet was playing a round of golf with Toby Ziegler, the prickly, mumbling Communications Director whose inner, bitter darkness spelled the breakup of the one marriage we know about."note
C.J.: It was miniature golf, wasn't it?
- Bassist Charlie Haden can be seen tilting his head on the cover of Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music.
- Dwayne Johnson: The Rock sometimes tilts his head. Though it's usually accompanied with getting someone else's ass kicked. He would also say it during interviews or when one of his promos were interrupted, usually followed by...
Rock: ...and just who in the blue hell are you?
- Kane, in his masked period, often performed a quizzical head tilt.
- In an episode of "WWE's Most Wanted Treasures", Glen Jacobs (Kane) revealed that he had copied this gesture from his dog.
- Head-tilting seen here by the referee as two hockey players demonstrate some impromptu yoga. (San Jose at Phoenix, 4/15/13.)
- Mass Effect 2 includes a scene where Joker tilts his head after EDI cracks a hilarious, albeit very poorly timed, joke.
- Near the end of Kirby: Planet Robobot, Susie tells Kirby he'd never understand how great it is to work in a perfectly controlled environment, followed by Kirby adorably tilting his head in confusion. Given that Kirby is a Waddling Head, this essentially means he's leaning over.
- Emperor Palpatine hilariously tilts his head when accessing Imperial security panels in LEGO Star Wars.
- In Kingdom Hearts coded, Data-Sora, Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Jiminy all perform one together as Data-Riku explains the nature of his existence.
- Tales Series: When something about normal life confuses Sophie in Tales of Graces, she tilts her head sideways.
- Team Fortress 2's "Meet the Pyro" has him tilt his head to the enemy Sniper. In his mind, everything is a happy Sugar Bowl of rainbows and sparkles, so he just doesn't understand why the Sniper is begging for help just before he's burned to death.
- Done by multiple characters in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, but is most notably used by Hydreigon, who in a moment of Leaning on the Fourth Wall, seems to direct one at you (As in, you, the player). Having the 3D effects enabled makes the moment especially amusing, as he shoves his face in the camera before he does so.
- In Pokémon X and Y, Pokémon will imitate your facial expressions and head movements to a degree while in Pokémon-amie. This includes a tilt of the head, which can look comical and/or adorable depending on which Pokémon is doing it. Recreating the aforementioned Mystery Dungeon example is very much possible and no less amusing than before.
- In the opening cinematic to Diablo III's expansion Reaper of Souls, the rogue angel Malthael gives a slight one when he is confronted by Tyrael, who has turned from angel to human since they last saw each other.
- Characters in Animal Crossing do this accompanied by a sound effect and question mark visual.
- The Plain Doll in Bloodborne will sometimes give the Player Character a confused tilt of her head if they perform a gesture in front of her.
- Michael Myers' victory animation in Terrordrome the Game: Rise of the Boogeymen has him tilting his head to the side as he looks down on his opponent as a reference to the first Halloween film.
- As a reference to the films featuring him, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th in Mortal Kombat Xtilts his head as his post-round taunt, and after doing his Slasher throw, understandably confused that his opponent is getting back up after being violently impaled on a machete.
- The Warrior of Light in Final Fantasy XIV will do this with an interesting level of frequency, both during and outside of the main quest line. Despite this, it's not a user-accessible emote for now.
- Florence Ambrose from Freefall often does a quizzical tilt whenever she's puzzled. Being a Bowman's Wolf, it's particularly fitting. And, given the amount of research put into the comic's scientific aspects, most likely intentional.
- Grrl Power: Lampshaded, of course.
Sydney: [thinking] Hmm. Going to need a proper thinking tilt to figure this guy out.
- Housepets!: Sasha in this strip, mathematical equations and all, upon trying to convert human social boundaries into dog Blue-and-Orange Morality.
- Hyperbole and a Half illustrates the Simple Dog's usual method of dealing with a confusing situation: she tilts her head at an increasing angle. She will do this until the head-tilt has solved the problem or until she tilts her head so far she actually flops on her back. (She usually flops on her back.)
- Marble Gate Dungeon: Wispy, a ghost, makes an exaggerated head tilt when asked about what Unfinished Business she could have, showing that the question seriously confuses her.
- A Grey staple in Trying Human. Usually done in response to show incredulity towards some odd human statement or behavior, and notable in being one of their few physical expressions of emotion.
- In The Whiteboard the girls do this when it's revealed that Doc has The Star Wars Holiday Special on LaserDisc.
- Cute Overload calls tilting one's head sideways the "baroo", after the sound dogs (supposedly) make along with it.
- A disproportionate amount of Slenderman-related media portrays him as having his head habitually tilted to one side.
- When Linkara of Atop the Fourth Wall joined The Nostalgia Critic to review Superman IV, this was his reaction to Supes' "repair The Great Wall of China vision".
The Critic: Does Superman have wall-repairing ability?
Linkara: [quizzical tilt] ...not in any comic I've read.
- On the vlog Vlogbrothers, Hank composes a song from weird noises sent in by nerdfighters to get his brother's dog to tilt quizzically. It works
- In the Adventure Time episode "The Chamber of Frozen Blades" Dr. Princess head-tilts sideways in reaction to Finn, Jake and the Ice King acting like ninjas.
Dr. Princess: What am I... looking at here, exactly?
- Family Guy, Stewie's reaction to Brian's "this has turned his life upside down face" comment.
- Mabel tilts her head in the Gravity Falls episode, "The Hand that Rocks the Mabel" complete with a doglike "Aroo?"
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Sounds of Silence", since Kirins don't talk and show little emotion, the one most common bit of body language they demonstrate is a curious head tilt.
- The Simpsons, "Sweet and Sour Marge":
Marge: Don't you have any sense of corporate responsibility?
Garth Motherloving: [tilts head, confused puppy-dog whimpers]
Marge: Hey! [claps twice, and Garth snaps back to attention]