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Smarter Than You Look

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"Yes, we resemble beasts. Yes, we are savage. Neither of those things makes us stupid. That often comes as a surprise to Humans. Invariably it is the last thing that ever surprises them."
Beastlord Grakkle, translated from the Beast Tongue, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Old World Bestiary — A Compendium of Creatures Fair and Foul

So you're watching your favorite high school drama. In comes the cheerleader, as bubbly, bright, and ditzy as ever. Everything about her, from her Valley Girl vernacular to her superficial interests and appearance, tells you that this is the classic mold of The Ditz.

That is until the episode goes on.

This young woman is revealed to be a straight-A honors student. She is a master when it comes to hacking computers, or has a wealth of talent in dealing with mechanical things. Her knowledge of things both vast and obscure makes the viewer do a double take in their perception of her. There's a sort of cognitive dissonance that goes on, juxtaposing the character's appearance against their actual intellectual ability. This character makes you say "Huh... you're Smarter Than You Look".

This character is not simply the Genius Ditz or the Idiot Savant, for those characters are sharply skilled in a single area while remarkably hindered in others. The Smarter Than You Look character has true vast and all-encompassing intelligence. They just look stupid, through mannerisms, vernacular, or visible appearance, while actually being quite smart. The key to being Smarter Than You Look is the distinct and clear appearance of stupidity.

This is not to be confused with Obfuscating Stupidity, where a character consciously plays dumb either to avoid responsibility or for some other reason. This trope has no intention of appearing to be unintelligent; they simply can't help the appearance of stupidity they have.

The Bunny-Ears Lawyer can overlap with this, but the difference is in the appearance of the character. The Bunny Ears Lawyer appears strange, but it doesn't take away from his intelligence. He is typically known to be a genius. The Smarter Than You Look appears stupid, and this appearance conflicts with their actual intelligence. A genius professor who always wears a wizard's hat to class and only answers to "Merlin" is a Bunny Ears Lawyer; one who can't read and has poor pronunciation skills would be a Smarter Than You Look.

Sometimes, the appearance of stupidity or ditziness is compounded by the presence of Unfortunate Implications, particularly racial or gender-related stereotypes (this can be particularly true for those who are Pretty Smart For a Hottie, where beauty can belie a character's knowledge).

To an extent, this trope is subjective based on what the viewer (or the rest of the cast) views as unintelligent. In many cases, though, the character is consciously designed to have this appearance, to teach the audience An Aesop of never judging a book by its cover. Sometimes as tropes evolve the subversion can actually become the rule; for instance, many modern viewers have grown to expect a character like the Valley Girl mentioned at the start to fall under this (because the "surprise" has been used so often) and are thus themselves surprised when the character turns out to be genuinely ditzy.

The Smart Guy may start out as this, or he may stay as this. The Absent-Minded Professor is often a subtrope of this. If the character is (or seems to be) from the Deep South, you've got a Southern-Fried Genius. If the character is assumed to be stupid because he looks like Dumb Muscle, he's a Genius Bruiser. (This may be compounded by the character having a case of Face of a Thug.) This trope is to intellect as the Old Master is to strength, or as the Killer Rabbit is to danger/terror. It's also a very close relative of Ditzy Genius, but differs in that the Ditzy Genius actually is pretty stupid/inept/Cloudcuckoolanderish sometimes, whereas the Smarter Than You Look character just has a ditzy personality.

Dumber Than They Look is the complete opposite.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Despite being somewhat of a cheerful ditz, Mira of Asteroid in Love is genuinely very knowledgeable about astronomy, especially as the series goes on, enough that she gets accepted into the very competitive Shining Star Challenge. Yuu comments on this during the thirty-third chapter, when she goes on for several in-universe minutes on the fundamentals of asteroid discovery. Since she always has a ditzy image around her, Yuu is so thrown off balance that the latter says Mira's being "sneaky".
  • Gauche Adlai from Black Clover. He may be a thuggish siscon most of the time, but according to the Volume 9 Questions Brigade, he's the smartest Black Bull, and the Guidebook rates his Cleverness as a 5/5. He rapidly comes up with a new magic theory in the midst of battle to develop a new spell that duplicates others.
  • Bleach:
    • Orihime Inoue may be a Cloudcuckoolander, but she also gets the third-highest grades in her class. She's also perceptive enough to notice that Ichigo, whom she's only met recently through their mutual friend Tatsuki, isn't acting like himself on the days leading up to the anniversary of his mother's death, something that took Tatsuki a while to notice.
    • Ichigo himself generally comes off as a delinquent, but he's quite studious and gets surprisingly good grades for having to skip school to save the world now and again. In the Distant Epilogue, he's taken over the Kurosaki Clinic.
  • In Bloom Into You, Manaka Yoshida, one of Touko and Sayaka's two recurring friends, is a rather cheerful and energetic person who comes off as ditzy comic relief. A bonus feature included in the seventh volume lists the student cast's grades, and Manaka has the fourth highest grades, after Touko, Sayaka, and Maki. The comments attached to her stats note that "Everyone's always shocked by her grades."
  • Plain and socially awkward Machiya from DEAD Tube can tell when fairly convincing footage and photos have been manipulated by just looking at them; this dooms an entire group of people who have been pretending to be his friends to have him killed later. Machiya keeps being his awkward self, but is always quick to revert any situation when someone he tried his hardest to trust turns out to be some manipulative person who is out for his neck.
  • Taichi Yagami from Digimon V-Tamer 01 is a happy-go-lucky eleven-year-old boy who happens to be good at geometry and somewhat versed in biology.
  • Dragon Ball Z: All incarnations of Majin Buu display this at one point or another, and it leads to the biggest blunders anybody opposing them makes in assuming that they're entirely stupid:
    • Fat Buu is always aware that Babidi needs him, and plays along until he gets tired of it and easily outwits his "master". That is also the moment the watchers realize that his stunts that could have got Babidi killed by "accident" were actually him deliberately trying to off Babidi while pretending they were accidents, as he hadn't yet figured out how to prevent him from casting the sealing spell.
    • Super Buu is probably the best example, as he deliberately acts like a simple-minded thug to get others to get overconfident with him, even managing to fake his fight with Gotenks as serious when in reality he's waiting for Gohan. Funnily enough, his plan to wait for Gohan, goat Goten and Trunks to fuse again and absorb Gotenks (for his power) and Piccolo (for his intellect) shows that he not only has a thirst for power, but also intelligence.
    • Even Kid Buu gets in on this, quickly realizing that Goku won't throw the Spirit Bomb since Vegeta is in harm's way, and parking himself right on top of the felled prince to render Goku unable to move as he'd drop the Spirit Bomb, but also unable to throw it, leaving him at Buu's (lack of) mercy.
  • Gaoh of Eyeshield 21 comes very close to being the monster version of this trope. Only the quarterbacks, Hiruma and Kid, notice that he might be a 7-foot raving dinosaur that can lift a car with ease, but he'll never, ever break the rules of football. His strategy is to break the enemy quarterback's arm, and if the quarterback doesn't have the ball, they'd get a severe penalty. Thus, he'll come to a screeching halt, even if he's tongue distance away from the quarterback, if they manage to throw the ball away at the last second.
  • Akira from Family Complex has doe eyes and a laidback demeanour that makes him look rather slow, especially when compared to his more charismatic older brother. When he starts attending his older brother's alma meter, Harumi's former school mates immediately judge him as plain and slow. However, he turns out to be very intelligent, athletic and is good at managing people, and by the time he shows up in the Sequel Series, Princess Princess, he's one of the most respected students of the school, with even the seniors referring to him as Sakamoto-sama.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: 2nd Lt. Heymans Breda looks like a big dumb grunt, but he's actually pretty bright. Our first glimpse of him comes as he's gloating about winning at Shōgi for the 47th time in a row. The end of the flashback chapters about the war note why Mustang took on the subordinates he did. Breda's in the group because he's smarter than he looks.
  • The prince in Goddess Creation System looks like a selfish, whimsical buffoon, but he's actually quite astute, and even much of his seemingly stupid behavior actually does make sense: When he saves Xiaxi from drowning he expects her to throw herself into his arms and sleep with him like some storybook nonsense, but only because he assumed it was a fake drowning and no more than an attempt to seduce the crown prince. He's just happy to play along until it turns out she isn't interested, at which point she actually begins, of all things, to teach him mathematics and responsibility.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, the Genei Ryodan are all Genius Bruisers. Even the two brutes Uvogin and Franklin, who both look like Dumb Muscles, are very smart and have broad knowledge. One of them has even occasionally outsmarted the Evil Genius Sharnark. The Ditz Shizuku is also a Genius Ditz.
  • Kira Kira Pre Cure A La Mode: When strong and loud rocker girl Aoi Tategami reveals that her grades in school are among the top in her class, Ichika is surprised and says "I thought you were bad at school like me!"
  • Nanase-sensei of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! is a bit of a Sensei-chan, but Yuuta notes that she can be quite cunning, as shown when she plays along with Rikka's delusions while the latter submits her club formation form for her "Far Eastern Magical Nap Association".
  • Alibaba from Magi: Labyrinth of Magic seems to be just a typical greedy shounen protagonist, but he is able to read and use complicated sword techniques, things that a common person wouldn't be able to do. He also tends to think and plan before taking action.
  • Shiro Kabuto from Mazinger Z and its sequel Great Mazinger. He does not come across like very smart, and in fact during his first few appearances, his acts make him look like Too Dumb to Live (for starters, while Koji is horrified by the Iron Mask, especially after killing it, all Shiro says is that Koji is so cool for killing him). Later on in the series, he's shown to be more mature than his older brother, proves that he is knowledgeable about things the teenagers around him are completely ignorant of, learns to pilot the Pilder in a relatively short time (bonus points since unlike Koji, he has practically zero experience in piloting the Pilder, while Koji mentions that the control is similar to his motorbike), and pulls a Big Damn Heroes several times, which really says something. Of course, he is a member of the Kabuto family; his grandfather and his father were excellent scientists, and even his Idiot Hero brother can be very clever when he uses his brains, so you can tell it's in the blood.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Katsuki Bakugo is a smug, temperamental, foul-mouthed grade-A asshole who at first glance looks like the guy who skips class for fun and beats up nerds for looking at him funny. He's actually a Genius Bruiser who has the third best grades in his class (higher than Midoriya and Todoroki) and is only behind the class representatives themselves, all due to the fact that he wants to be the greatest hero ever and refuses to let himself half-ass his work. Although his temper sometimes gets the better of him (especially in the early arcs), anyone who judges him to be your average Leeroy Jenkins is going to pay.
    • Present Mic, Yuuei's teacher/DJ/pro-hero, is one of these. He's the Life of the Party who just can't sit still and shut up, but he's a teacher for a reason and there's actually a keen intellect behind the silly, exuberant behavior. He's the first one to cotton on to the probability of there being a traitor at Yuuei.
    • Tomura Shigaraki comes off as a temperamental and impulsive Psychopathic Man Child at first glance, but he has a score of 5/5 in Intelligence. He uses his intelligence to notice some of the weaknesses of Aizawa's Power Nullifier Quirk, as well as to steal Overhaul's Quirk-destroying bullets and exact revenge on him.
  • Naruto:
    • Ino Yamanaka appears to be the outgoing, bubbly rival and has tendencies of a Dumb Blonde. However, in the first Naruto databook, it is revealed that Ino has the best overall grades in the Academy.
    • Deidara has all the subtility and grace of a Mad Bomber and appears not very bright. His tactical skills are nothing to scoff at and the Naruto databook rates him a 4.5/5 for intelligence, making him smarter than geniuses like Sasuke and Neji.
  • Penguin Brothers: Koshiba has long, bleached hair and multiple piercings, making him look like a troublemaker/delinquent. To Hina's shock and mortification, he's an academic genius who has the nation's highest scores on exams.
  • Many, many characters from Ranma ˝. The most notable is Shampoo, whose good looks, poor Japanese (in Chinese she's actually eloquent to the point of being archaic), and tendency to bust through walls makes her look like a Brainless Beauty who just happens to have Super-Strength — she's actually a manipulative No-Nonsense Nemesis with great intelligence and Ranma's equal in terms of technique (as Akane learns the hard way when she challenges her and gets her memory wiped through a rather complicated move), who just happens to stay in a land whose language she doesn't speak well and doesn't understand why one should take the long way when they can break through walls.
  • Hayato Gokudera from Reborn! (2004) looks and acts like a delinquent (he is in fact a mafioso), but he reaches high score grades easily and he's The Smart Guy of Tsuna's guardians.
  • In Roll Over and Die, it is easy to dismiss Milkit due to her being a slave with no education, but she quickly proves to be quite adept at learning after Flum gives her some lessons in reading and writing.
  • Sailor Moon has two examples:
    • Minako Aino is a lazy teenager with poor grades whose only notable quality seem to be her athletic skills (Artemis said so when he first saw her). As the series goes on, it becomes clear that she's extremely intelligent, as shown by the immense array of skills she has picked up off page and the ones she picks up on page with extreme ease, and can do anything, and that her poor grades are a combination of her finding school boring and, when it comes to English, being too good (it's heavily implied that she spent a large part of her childhood abroad and learned English there — and thus is unable to get good scores in a system that favors rote memorization).
    • Usagi Tsukino, being an Expy of Minako, is a ditz and gets grades just as poor as her (in the manga at the start of the Dream Arc, Minako even jokes that she's happy to go at the same school as her because otherwise she'd feel lonely — without a failing student ally), to the point where many are actually surprised that she passed the high school entrance exams. She's actually fairly intelligent outside of school, and even there there's the fact that she got into a fairly high-level school.
  • Pretty much any apparently stupid Saint in Saint Seiya. There's a fairly good reason: with the infernal training they went through, they had to become strong and smart to survive.
  • Kanon in Servant × Service. Despite her being the show's Token Mini-Moe, her cute looks belie a smart, perceptive mind. She can fix her father's stuffed bunny avatar rather easily, having spent her childhood watching her mother do it, and also instantly deduces from Touko's statements that her brother and Chihaya are dating.
  • In Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Connor Kluff, Lag's fellow Letter Bee, doesn't seem particularly bright at first glance, due to coming off as laid-back and obsessed with food, but there are moments when he's more insightful than he lets on. In the Honey Waters arc, he notices that the so-called Spirit Amber that Sarah is using is not the genuine article, because it doesn't emit the same sparks that the real thing does when firing a Shindan. During the race against the Letter Pigeons in the anime, he waits until the road workers take a lunch break so he can go past them on the more direct route to the goal. His patience and intelligence allows his team to regain the lead from the Letter Pigeons.
  • Between his large, muscular build, extreme bloodlust, and collection of scars (including a pair of slightly disfiguring scars on his face), Thorgil from Vinland Saga looks like your average Dumb Muscle thug. It can be a serious mistake to make that assumption, however, because in addition to his build and talents in battle he possesses a vicious cunning that allows him to see through Canute's plot against his family. He's also a capable tactician on the battlefield, and when put into a blatantly unwinnable battle he correctly sees the one possible weakness he can exploit to defeat his enemy and does it brilliantly, coming within a second of pulling off a Decapitation Strike.

    Asian Animation 
  • Careless S. from Happy Heroes is well-known to be very forgetful and makes a lot of hiccups based on this, but he's quite skilled in the art of making and using weapons and can still be strong in a fight... as long as he remembers to load the right kind of ammo into his weapon, assuming he even remembers the ammo at all.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • Bane at first glance, with his hulking strength and luchador mask, may appear to simply be The Brute. In reality, he is an extraordinarily intelligent individual thanks to his photographic memory and sheer dedication to self improvement. He is a master of several martial arts and sciences as well as a brilliant strategist with excellent deduction skills. He is arguably Batman's most dangerous enemy on a purely physical level for this combination of raw strength and cunning, with their first encounter ending with him both deducing his identity through simple observation as well as breaking his back. In addition, he is seen by Ra's al Ghul as both a Worthy Opponent and one of the only men on Earth worthy of potentially replacing him.
    • A frequent realization made by both his friends and his enemies is that the Conner Kent Superboy is actually surprisingly observant and cunning, in spite of his highly immature exterior. More than once, his Let's Get Dangerous! moments are heralded by him dropping his trash talk, going completely serious, then surprising an opponent with creativity and decent tactics.
    • Harley Quinn is one of the biggest Perky Female Minions in fiction, and is usually portrayed as a ditzy oddball in whatever criminal antics she gets in, so it's easy to forget the big fact in her backstory that she was a graduated psychologist (or psychiatrist, Depending on the Writer) before she became a supervillain. How intelligent and capable she is as one varies between continuity (usually based around whether her ditziness is genuine or some kind of put-on), but it's almost a Running Gag between writers across all media to periodically remind the audience that she has a PhD and at least some expertise on dealing with mental health, even if her own is in serious question.
    • Power Girl often has people assume that she is a Brainless Beauty. Not only is she a computer expert and businesswoman, but she is also very cunning in battle when she needs to be. This is a lesson the Ultra-Humanite learns the hard way when she foils his plan and escapes his trap despite having her strength and Eye Beams neutralized.
  • Marvel Universe: When you think of smart members of the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards is normally one's first and only thought. However it is easy to forget that The Thing, Ben Grimm, also went to the same school as Reed and Doctor Doom, and to be a test pilot and astronaut as he was you require two masters degrees or a PhD minimum. He can often translate what Reed is saying in techno-babble and can create tech just as easily. All this despite looking like a brutish rock monster. This is something that is often missed by writers, but ironically not the first Fox-produced films.
  • Bunnie Rabbot from Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) can be an example of this. With her thick country accent and naïve optimistic attitude, you'd never expect her to be so technologically skilled and resourceful. Granted, she's never really shown to have vastly diverse intellect, so she may fall somewhere between this trope and the Genius Ditz.
  • Happens multiple times in The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, although some cases (such as Rodimus) are more Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Swerve, the Motor Mouth bartender who spends his time playing pranks and making puns, is a trained metallurgist — which, given that Cybertronians are made of metal, makes him both an engineer and a medical professional. It's mentioned that during the Great War he treated some of his own wounds, unfortunately including the one that full Autobot doctors would have recognised as containing a "bullet" of top-secret data from a deep-cover spy.
    • Tailgate consistently comes across as naive and childish, and it turns out that prior to his trip on the Lost Light, he only had two weeks of living experience. He also manages to recall the entire text of the Tyrest Accord verbatim, while dying, in order to save the rest of the crew.
    • Whirl is a Death Seeker and Blood Knight who has, underneath all of that, the delicate touch of an engineer even with his claw hands (a legacy of his life as a watchmaker); at one point he manages to perform the Cybertronian equivalent of open-heart surgery, in a janitor's closet. He also exhibits remarkable insight into the psychologies of the people around him, and manages to figure out how Cyclonus can cure Tailgate's cybercrosis.
    • Spinister looks and acts like a dangerous lunatic and does things like sort random items into "goodies" or "baddies" based on punch sounds. He's a brilliant surgeon.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Carol isn't generally assumed to be precisely stupid, but a lot of her peers see a teenager with blonde hair, blue eyes, and curves, and don't think beyond that. Even those who do just think that she's a hot-tempered young woman — a talented athlete, but not much more. She's actually acutely insightful and a very canny strategist, identified as such by the Winter Soldier and Dracula themselves. The former identifies her as the primary threat when she's surrounded by three Persons of Mass Destruction and a Lightning Bruiser and "merely" boosted to Super-Soldier strength. The latter is actually genuinely impressed by an off-the-cuff escape plan from one of his traps, and accords her a degree of Villain Respect as a result. It makes sense, since Carol is the great-granddaughter of Genius Bruiser Steve Rogers.
    • Harry, meanwhile, is also not thought to be stupid, but Hot-Blooded and impulsive. As Jean-Paul notes in the sequel, it is very easy to forget that he's actually got a very sharp deductive mind — he figures out that Jean-Paul is protecting someone important (Clark), and then who that is, simply based on rough location (Kansas) and working out why he wouldn't say something (though as he admits, the fact that Clark looks startlingly like him helps). He's also an increasingly skilled manipulator, and after a brutal reality check early in the sequel, a highly accomplished and unconventionally flexible tactician.
  • In the Total Drama fanfic Courtney's Crusade for Redemption, Lindsay, of all people, who's pretty much the definition of Brainless Beauty in canon. In this fic, she actually shows a lot of insight at times, giving good advice to the other Heroic Hamsters and, generally speaking, helping them to do better than in canon.
  • In Hogwarts is a Strange Place, Hermione initially dismisses Harry as unintelligent because of his rural speech pattern and dress due to having spent most of his childhood on a farm in Iowa, yet he loves books and is well-read enough to quote poetry to her. His explanation of it is, "There's just too damn much work ta be done on a farm to waste time in front of a TV. Most folks I know would rather read a book than let some piece of gadgetry do their thinkin' for them."
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku is described by the Villain in Mt. Fuji as "someone who exhibits no signs of culture and refinement". Despite this, Izuku is worldly enough to recognize obscure pieces of opera music like "The Cunning Little Vixen" by ear, know slang words used around the world like "schway", and commit entire backstories to memory.
  • Misty's Psyduck, in contrast to his scatterbrained canon self, is this in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, picking up things like his trainer having a crush on Ash. He's also a much better battler than he looks at first glance, intentionally hitting his head to trigger his stronger attacks.
    • The Rookie Crusher looks like a unpleasant overweight man, but he is a clever trainer whose been crushing rookies at the Indigo League for twenty years without losing to a single rookie before Ash defeated him. He's also the only person to cotton on to the idea that Ash isn't a Instant Expert prodigy trainer without any context that Ash might be a time traveler. While everyone else thinks he's a Sore Loser, Ash and Pikachu are well aware he's not wrong and admit it to themselves.
  • In the Our Miss Brooks story The Reunion Assembly, honour student Brains Snodgrass bears a remarkable resemblance to his dimwitted grandfather, Stretch Snodgrass. Walter Denton, Stretch Snodgrass's best friend, considers Brains to be "spooky" — an unnaturally intelligent duplicate of Stretch as a teenager.
  • While generally applicable to loopers due to the sheer time scale available to them, both Yang Xiao Long and Sun Wukong of The RWBY Loops deserve special mention. While they outwardly portray themselves as fun-loving brainless beauties, both of them are quick to pick up on emotional distress, have had philosophical ponderings on the nature of looping and personality, and have taken full grasp of the chance to improve their skills — notably, Yang is a fully capable surgeon.
  • Maria Campbell of the Astral Clocktower: Katarina is generally dismissed as an airhead at best, albeit a nice one. But the truth is she just doesn't pay attention to things that she doesn't think are important (such as schoolwork and people being attracted to her). She actually planned out most of her life from when she was eight in order to avert a number of potential doom scenarios, including diligently learning farming and training with the sword. She also knows everything about everyone she meets, including the servants, and greets everyone by name. Part of the problem is that she's reincarnated in a world she remembers as a game, so she's approaching everything from a very strange angle that no one else can understand. She's the first one to notice that Anne is sleeping with Alice, Maria's mother, and uses that fact without revealing it to everyone when someone's life needs to be saved.
  • Fate/Black Avalon: Morgan is surprised when Shirou catches on rather quickly that something strange is going on with her. She mentally notes that she should have known better; he tends to get hyper-focused on a goal, but this is a boy whose primary ability is Awesomeness by Analysis. He is good at noticing small details and putting them together quickly.

  • The Hudsucker Proxy: Norville Barnes, who keeps showing people a picture of a circle and saying, "you know, for kids!" Turns out he thought up the hula hoop. When the Big Bad is choosing a proxy (i.e. patsy), he interviews Norville because he doesn't look too smart. Turns out, he is a college grad voted Most Likely to Succeed. He is pretty dense and "a bit of an imbecile", but it stems more from his guilelessness and small-town naivete than actual stupidity.
  • The Incredibles: Bob's Heroic Build, Lantern Jaw of Justice, and Super-Strength are stereotypical of Dumb Muscle, but in reality he's anything but. As Mr. Incredible, he demonstrates a quick wit and tactical acumen, at work he learns the loopholes in Insuricare's bureaucracy to help his clients, and at home he learns the concepts of "new math" in a single night so he can teach it to his son (though he's not happy about it). He also adapts rapidly when fighting the Omnidroid (v9 and v10), finding ways to penetrate its armor and put it down for good.
  • Legally Blonde: The main character, Elle Woods, ultimately proves to be this — she still maintains some of her ditzy qualities (such as printing a résumé on scented paper), but she ends up becoming a highly self-sufficient and skilled lawyer. Overall, she shows remarkable intelligence (especially in the first sequel), one example being how she's able to get accepted into Harvard Law School (which is consistently ranked as being one of the top ten law schools in America) with just one point shy of a perfect score on her LSAT-exam on her first try. Her Jerkass ex-boyfriend, who also went to HLS, had to retake the exam just to get in.
  • Me, Myself & Irene: The triplets are a great example. They have all the vernacular and visible qualities of gangster-wannabes (because they grew up watching stand-up comedy from guys like Richard Pryor), but are all complete geniuses (because their real father, it turns out, wasn't bluffing about being in MENSA).

  • Rachel from Animorphs may count. She's a major shopping enthusiast, blonde, beautiful... and a straight-A student who also happens to be a Blood Knight. The Ditz and Blood Knight aspects of her personality are even split at one point.
  • Discworld:
    • Keith from The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a stupid-looking kid. He is not stupid, and he doesn't appreciate Maurice assuming that he is.
    • Samuel Vimes doesn't consider himself very bright, and he looks the part of a Dirty Cop (which he isn't) from the Wrong Side of the Tracks (which he is). While not especially educated (and, as one character observes, sensitive about it), his Street Smarts, eclectic and surprisingly extensive knowledge base, and thorough understanding of human nature make him a dangerously cunning opponent.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry Dresden is a tall, dorky Pop-Cultured Badass who usually speaks quietly, never meets anyone's eyes for too long, and wears some strange jewellery. However, when danger looms, it turns out that he's as much badass as he is pop-cultured, his voice rises to a Baritone of Strength, that height gives him an edge in a hand-to-hand fight, and that jewellery has some pretty useful magical functions. Oh, and while he seems (mostly to himself) to be a bit slow, his ex-girlfriend (a top-quality journalist and eventually skilled guerrilla fighter/espionage agent) points out that he's only slow in the short term and figures everything out eventually — this includes the plans of high-end schemers like Mab. This difference between behaviour and capacity is even lampshaded by one of his friends, who plays this trope pretty straight herself:
    • Karrin Murphy may be a hair over five feet and resemble a cheerleader/someone's favourite aunt, but she's also a master hand-to-hand combatant, markswoman, and strategist.
  • Count Glossu Rabban, "the Beast" of Dune's House Harkonnen, is a dumb brute, but there are several points in the original novel where he suggests or asks things that implies that he's not as dumb as he looks. Among other things, he's one of only a few characters to both realize that the Fremen are dangerous and suspect that there might be more of them around than is commonly known.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Rita Skeeter is an Immoral Journalist who seems more annoying than threatening, but she was able to successfully become an Animagus, which requires significant skill in Transfiguration and Potions, and can result in permanent half-animal mutations if done incorrectly. She can turn into a beetle in order to spy on her targets and write slander about them.
    • Peter Petigrew was painted as a poorly-skilled wizard, much like Neville Longbottom, who needed to rely on his friends to scrape by in school. However, he becomes an Animagus with help from his friends and keeps the disguise for twelve years (as Scabbers, Ron's pet rat), he creates a blast strong enough to blow apart a busy street and kill twelve Muggles in the process, casts a fully-functional Killing Curse with Voldemort's wand, can cast non-verbal magic, and brews at least two incredibly difficult Dark potions to keep Voldemort alive and help him regain his body, respectively. In general, he actually seems to be a pretty skilled wizard despite his reputation. James and Sirius, despite seeing him as a friend, tend to look down on him and belittle his slow-wittedness, which became part of the reason Peter sold out James and Lily to Voldemort. His moment of triumph against Sirius by framing him had shades of Who's Laughing Now?, with Sirius realizing too late that Peter is smarter than he gave him credit for.
    • Because House-Elves tend to be subservient to their masters, many wizards and witches tend to see them as gullible and easy to manipulate (including Hermione, who sees them as “brainwashed and uneducated” to like being subservient), but the fifth book shows that this isn’t true. The House-Elves working at Hogwarts easily see through Hermione’s attempt to trick them into freeing themselves, and Kreacher manages to use Exact Words by deliberately interpreting Sirius’ Get Out! command as an order to “get out of Grimmauld Place”, allowing him to conspire with the Death Eaters.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • Despite his craziness, tendency towards accidentally stabbing himself in the foot, and ego the size of a small country, Iskaral Pust is actually quite bright and, at times, surprisingly effective. A High Priest of Shadow is a big deal — and he's outwitted his fair share of god-like Ascendants like the ancient Ryllandaras.
    • After listening to Udinaas for a while, Fear Sengar has to reevaluate his opinion of the former, nondescript slave as just capable of menial work. When he tells Udinaas he should've been a king and not a slave based on his intelligence and vision, Udinaas just curses him for his trouble.
  • Myth Adventures has more than a few characters along the way:
    • Guido looks like dumb muscle. He has a degree in business, even if he had to take Economics 101 three times. He just prefers hands-on kneecapping to the cruelty of slowly sucking out someone's life in a business environment.
    • Nunzio is Guido's bookend-matching cousin. He's taught kindergarten, requiring a four-year degree in many dimensions, and was an animal trainer at one point. Gleep considers him slightly more intelligent then most of Skeeve's friends. This opinion occurs after Nunzio gets Gleep — a baby dragon — to "sit" by stopping him cold in full run with his hand on his nose.
    • Chumley hails from Trollia, is huge with different-sized eyes, and can troll-speak with the best of them. He's also a vegetarian and speaks in a refined manner and accent in private. He can discuss learnedly on many of the subjects that come up through the books, and tell what damage his sister is doing in a bar fight just by the resultant sounds.
  • Siegfried from The Sleeping Beauty looks like your standard muscle-for-brains Barbarian Hero, but he's smart enough to excel at the Engagement Challenge tournament with his outside-the-box thinking and to figure out some of the intrigues and secret identities involved.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Adolin is much sharper than his foppish pretty boy warrior prince appearance would suggest. Every suspicion he has in the books is founded to some degree. Sadeas is plotting against them. Amaram's reputation is too good to be true. And there is something unusual about Kaladin.

    Live Action TV 
  • Better Off Ted: Phil Myman somewhat fits this, in that he is often bumbling and emotionally off, sometimes coming off as a bit slow, despite being a head scientist and a described genius.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Cordelia Chase, though at least part of it is Obfuscating Stupidity to stay popular. As she says, "I test well [...] What? I'm not allowed to have layers?" She drops the obfuscating part and becomes a full example in Angel.
    • Buffy herself is not only in the same AP classes as Willow, despite filling most of the Valley Girl stereotype to a tee, as well as the impact that slaying has on her schoolwork. However, she's a highly capable tactician, strategist, and, when not cracking under pressure or depression (a.k.a. part of Season 6 and part of Season 7), leader. More to the point, she gets 1430 on her SATs on what is presumed to be a possible 1600. That puts her in the 97th percentile nationwide.
    • Xander, despite being a self-proclaimed slacker, was in those same AP classes, tested well enough to stay in them, and became a highly competent carpenter and builder, ending up as site foreman at a construction company by his early 20s — a position usually held by people much older.
    • Anya is strange and has No Social Skills thanks to being Really 700 Years Old (she was a demon for most of a thousand years). She's also a competent swordswoman and magic user, and an exceptionally competent businesswoman.
  • In Series 5 of Doctor Who, Rory Williams initially looks like the dim, dreary sort-of boyfriend Amy will happily ditch to go travelling with the Doctor. Then you realize that, while the whole of Leadworth is outside taking photos of the sun apparently going out, Rory — the nurse — is paying attention to the coma patient out walking his dog, and taking photos of that. That's right, Mickey Smith 2.0 just identified Prisoner Zero all on his own with no help from the Doctor, and did the one thing that would let the Doctor give the Atraxi all the information they needed to catch it. There's a reason the Doctor beams at Rory like he's just got a new crush at the end of their first conversation. Rory's first time venturing into the TARDIS also has him completely non-fazed with it being Bigger on the Inside, explaining that he's read up on all the latest scientific theories since they last met.
  • Jayne Cobb from Firefly. He's a hard-edged, rough-hewn, semi-literate thug, but he's actually pretty skilled in areas that matter to him: fighting, tracking, planning crimes and interrogation.
    Dobson: Okay, I can see you're not as dumb as you look.
    Jayne: I wish I could say the same, Larry, but this is just disappointin'.
  • Glee: Quinn might be expected to be the dumb, beautiful, bitchy head cheerleader, but it turns out that she only fulfills three quarters of this. She seems pretty intelligent for most of the series (except, y'know, the whole teen pregnancy thing) and is mentioned at one point as a straight-A student. Her boyfriend, stereotypical non-Jerk Jock Finn, is correspondingly dumb. Early on in season 3, which is considered to be the height of her stupidity decision making-wise, it is revealed that she was on the honor roll with a straight 4.0 GPA during her teen pregnancy, and that she's been accepted early into Yale, despite the fact that she by this point has a history of playing truant. She's also been known to use a varied and polysyllabic vocabulary, and she has given some insightful, wise, eloquent advice to Rachel/Santana/Mercedes.
  • Intelligence (2014) has a really good perception example. Gabriel doesn't want a handler, so he's basically harassing Riley Neal through her digital footprint to get her to go away. He mentions her low SAT scores and she says defensively that she doesn't do well on tests and he sort of brushes off that answer. In that same episode, she corrects his digital interface Mandarin and A) proves (through simple logic and deduction) to his boss, Lillian Strand, that Strand does actually believe the same things as Gabriel (his wife was an undercover agent who seems to have turned on her country and died. Gabriel believes that she's alive and loyal) and B) actually sort of talks Strand into taking action to help Gabriel when she was previously telling him to forget about the issue. Two things Gabriel hadn't managed to do himself even though he had all of the facts of the situation and Riley didn't.
  • Eliot on Leverage, as The Big Guy, is often not seen as useful for his intelligence. However, he is also a Chef of Iron and learns quite a lot from his various girlfriends. It is even a Mad Libs Catch Phrase: "I've dated a lot of [insert useful profession]". He's also occasionally taken over for Nate. His intelligence is even lampshaded by Nate, when Maggie mentions that he's smarter than he seems in "The Zanzibar Marketplace Job" and Nate says that it's kind of the point. It comes all the way back around with Sterling.
    Sterling: Your friends' lives hang in the balance and you're going to take your cues off a punch-up artist instead of me?
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: On the surface, Tamar comes across as the stereotypical dumb bully who taunts the main characters just because, but he has enough Hidden Depths to prove he is fairly smart. He is charismatic enough to make the people listen to his speech against Miriel and act as an Agent Provocateur for Pharazôn, and when Halbrand suddenly offers drinks for everyone, he notices is all an act for Halbrand to steal his guild crest.
  • Patty the Daytime Hooker from My Name Is Earl can speak multiple languages and got 1500 points on her SATs.
  • The Other Kingdom: Brendoni is a troll in both terms of the word, and naturally he's a goofball and has got a handful of traits that you'd expect from a Dumb Muscle such as constantly making a mess wherever he goes, and not understanding basic math. However, he's proven that he can be quite crafty and intelligent when the time calls for it. Aside from being a master prankster, he's skilled with crafting troll potions, knows a lot about plant life and a good ecosystem, knows a bit of Chinese, is an incredible chef, is able to catch onto Hailey's plans to make Tristan jealous, and knows how to craft a believable lie. He may be a jokester, a troublemaker and a slob, but he's far from an idiot.
    Brendoni: (after speaking and translating Chinese) What? There's more to me than just outrageousness.
  • Lister from Red Dwarf often demonstrates that he's actually a great deal smarter than Rimmer, but their personalities and dress sense would indicate otherwise. The only reason Lister is a lower rank than Rimmer is because he's perfectly happy being a Brilliant, but Lazy slob.
  • Schitt's Creek has Kindly Vet Ted Mullens, who is ridiculously good-looking, affable, and makes a lot of silly animal puns. However, he's also a graduate of veterinary school, runs a thriving practice, and is awarded a prestigious research fellowship in the Galapagos Islands.
  • Scream Queens (2015):
    • Jennifer tends to be dismissed because of her candle obsession, but she's smart enough to have the political situation in the sorority pegged down to the last detail and can be a cunning enemy when provoked. Also, when Grace and Zayday set up a sleepover so they can play "Truth or Dare" to find out if any of them know anything about the Red Devil, she's the only one to question why someone wouldn't just lie after picking "Truth".
    • Chad James is a complete and utter moron... academically, at least. When it comes to actually solving the murders he's the closest to solving the mystery by himself besides Grace and correctly deduces that Boone wasn't murdered as well as how there are at least two murderers when both Caulfield and Sam are murdered in a situation where it would be impossible for one person to perform the killing. He's also the elected leader of the Dickie Dollar Scholars because he's the smartest member (which really should tell you how stupid most of them are).
  • Supernatural: Junk dealer Bobby Singer lives in his salvage yard, always sports a trucker hat, speaks in a folksy drawl, and likes to drink. He's also highly knowledgeable about ancient lore and is the Winchester brothers' mentor and go-to source for deep research. Bobby owns an extensive rare book library, speaks multiple languages fluently, and can read cuneiform.
  • Bubbles of Trailer Park Boys looks like a "googly-eyed bastard" and doesn't come off as particularly bright at first glance, given that he lives in a shed and doesn't have a job. When the Bible Pimp comes to visit, he assumes that Bubbles is either mentally deficient or just plain stupid. Ray retorts that Bubbles is the sharpest guy in the park, proven when Bubbles' distrust of the Bible Pimp is right on the money.

  • Howard Stern: Despite having plenty of toilet humor and naked women on his show, Stern is a graduate from Boston University and is well-versed in current events.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Orks of Warhammer 40,000 look at the first glance like a barbarian horde who have very little grasp on anything beyond hitting things, using rikety weaponry and vehicles just as prone to malfunctioning as they are to functioning, but underneath that exterior they have a brutal society where Might Makes Right, an economy based entirely around teeth (which they produce at a steady rate, and if you need more, just punch another ork's face in and take his) and their science, while crude, still allows them to do things like strapping engines and weapons to a meteor and using it as a functioning spaceship - even if their preferred tactic is Ramming Always Works, it works.
    Solar Admiral Spire: "From long experience have I learnt that underestimating the greenskins is a fast route to the grave"


    Video Games 
  • "John Doe" of Batman: The Telltale Series is childish, playful, spiteful, and irreverent to any serious consequences. At the same time, in true Joker fashion, he's a Gadgeteer Genius, can plan and manipulate people on the fly, and easily deduces both Lady Arkham and Batman's true identities from very disparate clues. He's also much stronger than he looks, and Bruce even gravely warns Catwoman at one point to not underestimate him for even a second.
  • Although he seems like a big fat musclehead with a very stereotypical lower-class British football hooligan accent, Attikus from Battleborn is actually way smarter than he looks thanks to the side effects of the Hedronic Collector grafted on his right arm. In fact, he's way smarter than the few Thralls who appear to have some inkling of intelligence.
  • You will find yourself on the receiving end of this quite often In Bethesda games such as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. No matter how much of a genius your character is, a lot of NPCs tend to treat you as if you were a complete moron and using the trope by name is the closest you'll get to them complimenting you.
    • One instance happens in Fallout 3 where an NPC alludes to their former superior as acting like Captain Ahab and you can play an Intelligence Option and make the full analogy to it in that the individual will eventually get killed by their white whale.
    Defender Morgan: Huh? And here I thought we had the only remaining copy of that...
  • Makoto Nanaya of BlazBlue gives the appearance of a bubbly and scatterbrained squirrel beastkin with more exposed skin than working intellect... until a flashback in Noel's story mode reveals that she, a mere commoner among individuals of more prestigious families, was attending the NOL Military Academy entirely on scholarship. Were that the extent, she wouldn't qualify, but an ivory tower environment like a classroom is a poor place for her to apply her immense street smarts, yet work in the Intelligence Division under Captain Hazama and as a Double Agent slash The Mole for Sector Seven is. Continuum Shift in general, especially Slight Hope , is a demonstration of her prowess as an Intelligence officer — put short, had Makoto known that she had fallen into a timeline where Noel never existed and her activities in Slight Hope were interfering with his plans, Hazama would be treating her as something much worse than a mere Spanner in the Works.
  • Disgaea:
    • Disgaea: Hour of Darkness:
      • Flonne is a ditzy Love Freak Otaku angel, but she's shown to be more with it than you'd suspect (Laharl even says so at one point). In fact, she has the highest base intelligence stat out of the main trio.note 
      • Laharl is a bratty, selfish, violent demon, but has been prone to making cool-headed judgement. When he issues out a challenge for the title of Overlord, the Prinny commentary on the DS version shows surprise at Laharl's skill at calligraphy... because it didn't know Laharl could spell.
    • The hot-blooded fist fighter Adell from Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories. When a Geomaster presents a nightmarish geopuzzle to the group (essentially a large multicolored checkerboard with symbols tying effects into each other), one of the other party members comments that their opponent has attacked Adell's weak spot: his inability to think. Adell takes one good look at the puzzle and (correctly) announces that taking out the red geosymbol will unravel the whole thing. When the others express stunned disbelief, he points out that he only prefers to take things on with brute strength because it's usually faster.
  • In EarthBound (1994), Apple Kid comes off as a bit of a slob, so you may assume that investing in his inventions is a waste of money. It turns out that you'll need his help to finish the game, from removing pencil and eraser-shaped barriers to traveling to the past.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, Frankenstein's Monster, one of the game's summonable Berserkers, despite largely expressing herself in moans and head shakes, is actually completely capable of speaking in full sentences and sharp-witted enough to shut down her creator with a few choice words, realize from the very start that Ishtar is up to something, and manipulate Archer of Shinjuku, James Moriarty, by appealing to him as a Morality Pet into giving her a serious upgrade, promoting her to the Saber class. It's just that thinking exhausts her, and being as obsessed as she is with conserving energy, she rarely uses her brain to its full potential.
  • Final Fantasy X has Rikku. Despite having a somewhat naive bubbliness, being a bit clumsy, and overall having many mannerisms of The Ditz, she is a crack mechanic, skilled chemist, and master thief; talented with computers and machinery; and shows significant emotional and intellectual depth.
  • Comes up a lot with the Horny Vikings in For Honor, mirroring how real-life Vikings were actually a highly advanced civilization for the era despite pop culture's habit of depicting them as dumb unintelligent brutes:
    • Both Apollyon and Mercy note that the Warborn make use of rather ingenious technology for simple raiders. They have impressive feats of engineering including a mountainside elevator, grappling hook launchers, and advanced siege weapons.
    • Apollyon also notes that the Warborn have an elaborate network of alliances and friendships between clans despite being such a violent society, and a vast trade and farming network that moves food to safe winter storehouses during the freezing months. She attacks the final Warborn fortress with a gigantic battering ram that takes a fortnight to construct because she wants to capture the fort immediately; if it took any longer than a day then the entire Blackstone Legion would be overwhelmed and crushed by hordes of viking warriors sailing down the rivers to reinforce their brethren.
    • In multiplayer maps, the ones that often have the most sophisticated-looking siege engines or defensive layouts are the Viking-themed ones. High Fort is a massive castle built in Valkenheim that rivals any of the ones the Legion or Dawn Empire built in their heyday.
  • Grand Theft Auto V: Trevor is a filthy, drug-addled lunatic who lives in a crappy trailer, but he's also a surprisingly intelligent and clever guy. For example, when he tagged along with two friends going to a drug deal, he quickly became suspicious when the seller gave the sample himself instead of letting them take one and demanded another sample from the other side of the brick. Sure enough, it turned out the seller was trying to scam them.
  • Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn is a brave and beautiful huntress who also happens to be a Genius Bruiser. At one point in the story she is able to impress a scholar by deducing that the world is round because that is the shape of the shadow the Earth leaves on the Moon during an eclipse. She inherited her intelligence from her "mother"/clone source, the long-dead scientist and mastermind behind the Zero Dawn Project, Dr. Elisabet Sobeck.
  • Nugget from Kindergarten is a Cloudcuckoolander who looks the part, with Fish Eyes and a bit of drool coming out of his mouth. However, he's one of the characters who can read and write (which is more impressive than it sounds, given that he and his classmates are kindergarteners), and he knows how to make poison and control its potency.
  • One would be forgiven for being surprised that Tsuruno Yui from Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story isn't that intelligent. Iroha was caught off guard by the revelation she was the top of her class, and the girl repeatedly showed it isn't just her being book smart throughout the game with several showings of deductive reasoning, good planning, and people reading. It's just very easy to not expect intelligence from a girl who spends most of her time speaking really fast, shouting loudly that she is the mightiest magical girl, and otherwise being a Genki Girl. The fact that a lot of that enthusiasm is a front for her own worries about her family isn't apparent at first glance after all.
  • Mass Effect:
  • While Marco Rossi from Metal Slug may look like your typical Action Hero, supplementary lore reveals him to be a surprisingly skilled computer hacker who creates computer viruses for fun. This side of him gets particular attention in Metal Slug Attack, where one of his creations, an Artificial Intelligence named MS-Alice, appears.
  • Prayer of the Faithless: Despite looking like a delinquent and having a brutish fighting style, Aeyr is surprisingly perceptive. When he visits Luke's house to gather information, he realizes that the place is so unkempt that Luke is most likely about to skip town to flee persecution for being an Infused.
  • [PROTOTYPE 2] features James Heller, a Marine who can rip the turrets off tanks and finds every opportunity to slip in a curse in every sentence. However, he definitely has a sense of humor (if a little dark), has a keen knowledge of tactics, and the collective knowledge of several doctors all contained within his mind.
  • Slime Rancher has BOb, a "character" who consists of nothing more than a bunch of Pink Slimes stacked on top of each other in a fedora and trenchcoat. The fact that they're intelligent enough to do this, use the Range Exchange, and order chickens over it (albeit in horrible grammar and spelling) already reveals that They Can Think, but BOb takes it a step forward by being a colleague of Viktor (and it's implied that he created the Chicken Cloner) and apparently being smart enough to write his own loading screen flavor text, again, to ask the player for chickens.
  • Team Fortress 2:
  • Ox in Visions & Voices. He's a generic farmer who talks in a country accent and is the party's Mighty Glacier, yet if you talk to him you'll find that he's actually very intelligent and loves books. Perceptive players will notice right off the bat that his secondary stat is even the game's spellcasting stat, to further reinforce this.
  • In The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Letho of Gulet is a massively muscled Witcher described as a "mountain of meat" that is generally seen as another brute. However, he proves to be legitimately cunning and capable of competent schemes that outplay various other characters. Assuming he survives to be in the third game, Geralt once again gets embroiled in another one of his schemes (though this time he's just trying to survive).

    Visual Novels 
  • Masque in Fleuret Blanc at first appears to be taciturn Dumb Muscle, but his text messages reveal that he is actually quite well-spoken when he has to be, and he is also skilled at investigation. He also has an academic interest in masks and cultural history, probably enough to catapult him into full Genius Bruiser territory.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: Despite her own assumptions, Makina is not stupid. She actually has a photographic memory, and it's hinted that she could potentially be an outright genius.
  • Tojiko in Kara no Shoujo looks pretty dumb and is rather easy to tease, but she actually gets good grades and is a publishing author.
  • Komari from Little Busters! doesn't have much common sense, is almost ridiculously idealistic, and can be rather childish in her love for things like fairy tales and picture books, but she's also a very good student who regularly gets high grades.
  • Rosa Ushiromiya from Umineko: When They Cry has been frequently insulted and disrespected by her own family (especially by her older sister Eva) since she was a child, who pointed to her as the stupid one only because she is The Baby of the Bunch among the parents (even without Rosa herself saying or actually doing something that is classifiable as stupid). However, it is soon shown how Rosa can be not only very intuitive, insightful, and, in certain cases, the Only Sane Woman of the group, but also a dangerous Manipulative Bitch who would not have the slightest qualms about not only going against her siblings and their families, but also other innocent people if she can earn a profit.

  • The main character of Blade Bunny acts very much like a stereotypical Dumb Blond ditz. But she's a highly-skilled ninja who, on a second or third read, is clearly thinking about five steps ahead of her opponent.
  • In order to remain active in human space, Sam Starfall in Freefall got shoved into a cartoony-looking spacesuit to hide his Eldritch Abomination features (and give him a way to breathe). This is to the detriment of the humans on Jean, who have since learned that he's a very intelligent menace to society, albeit more playful than harmful.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Vanamonde von Mekkhan. His grandfather kind of names the trope. Most of the time, he is comparing flavors at the coffee shop (it's unclear whether he has an actual job there). But when the city is attacked, oh my.
    • Agatha admits that Tweedle is smarter than he looks, but that she is too. When Violetta says that Agatha looks pretty smart already, she immediately realizes that that was what Agatha was actually going for.
    • Zola. She's blonde and pink, giving a great Valley Girl impression, and, in front of Gil, is constantly a Damsel in Distress. But she packed a small personal arsenal into Der Kestle, killed at least one person in cold blood as a warning, and showed herself to be a cunning, ruthless, and strong fighter. She also outwitted Lucrezia!Other!
  • Used for a gag in Grrl Power, where an extremely Dumb Blonde-looking porn actress squees at the thought of alien hunks watching her work. And then gives a summary of how the substantial increase in audience will impact the industry.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!:
    • Both Jean and Voluptua have said this about Bob, AKA the world's most average man, at least in terms of Simpleminded Wisdom.
    • The trope is even more true of the minor character Derpwell, a cross-eyed waiter prone to saying "Hyuk hyuk derp!" a lot who turns out to be a TV Genius who just happens to be cross-eyed and have a speech impediment.
  • The Order of the Stick:
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Pretty much the entire company, but Tagon tops the list. He prefers to solve problems by shooting things and he surrounds himself with literally the smartest people in the galaxy (making him look stupider by comparison), but he is a tactical genius and an excellent leader. On multiple occasions he has managed to outsmart the enemy simply by using common sense when they expected him to be too stupid to rub two sticks together.
    • Schlock as well. He's a hyperactive Adult Child who looks like he barely evolved past pond slime, but he also has perfect memory, Super-Senses, and is strong enough to fight someone wearing Powered Armor. He's just usually Brilliant, but Lazy.
    • Even Nick, one of the stupidest members of the company, can fall into this, especially in regards to things directly related to his job, like weapons.
      Kathryn: You're faster than you look.
      Nick: I'm also smarter than I look, but the Captain says that's because of a really low bar somewhere.
  • Done in an odd way in Sluggy Freelance, maybe subverted, with Clem. Zoë meets up with him for the first time in years, after he supposedly dropped out of high school. He's dressed like a janitor, has a "dumb" accent, and walks around holding roadkill in his hand. It turns out that he didn't drop out of high school so much as advance much faster than everyone else and is now a professor at the local university, and the roadkill (reportedly) is for stem cell research. The possible subversion is that he's still a moron with a dumb accent who walks around holding roadkill. His intelligence is intentionally left on the level of Informed Ability.
  • Reynir from Stand Still, Stay Silent: He's a stowaway who has lived a quite sheltered life by the cast's standards, which results in him being quite naïve and lacking the self-confidence to put his foot down about anything. However, when tagging along with the crew's two scholars making a technically unauthorized investigation of an abandoned fort, he's the only one who notices signs of animals avoiding the building that the two others entered a little earlier (there is a small layer of snow on the ground, and it brutally moves from being covered with overlapping tracks to completely undisturbed a few meters away from the building), and becomes hesitant to approach. Later, he manages his first functioning anti-ghost rune from switching things around from a rune used to keep sheep close to the farm he remembered seeing in his home. The ghosts for whom the rune is intended are a previously unheard of phenomenon, and Reynir has nobody actually teaching him runic magic.
  • Unordinary: Despite Blyke being a hothead, he's actually somewhat intelligent at times. Isen even outright admits that Blyke has good intuition. This is seen particularly when he starts to piece together Joker (John)'s way of fighting, and begins to suspect something about John after seeing how muscular he is despite supposedly being a cripple.
  • Weak Hero:
    • Wolf is quickly established as a bloodthirsty maniac who seems to care little for anything besides a decent fight. What's more, most of his arc is seen from the perspective of his conniving second-in-command Jared, who manipulates both Wolf and an opposing faction so that they'll end up fighting each other. However, at the very end of the arc, Wolf demonstrates a surprising keenness when he's able to pinpoint Jared as the one behind everything, based only on minor clues like Jared mentioning a detail from documents he shouldn't have been able to read, and his lack of injuries when he was supposed to be in a fight. In the next season, whenever Wolf isn't overcome with bloodlust, he shows a deft understanding of what kind of person Donald is, and what kind of business deals are happening between Yeongdeungpo and Mapo.
    • While Hugo is one of many two-bit thugs in the story, he's actually very book smart, a fact he lords over Wesley when the latter starts acting too cocky.

    Web Original 
  • In a CalebCity video of a hero matching wits with a criminal mastermind, the "Legendary Thief" comments that the hero is "smarter than you look". Except the thief is the same performer with a deep voice and a black hoodie, so in what's otherwise not remarked upon, the hero mutters that that line doesn't really work here.
  • Some of the Cream Heroes cats fall into this.
    • Lala might come across as the diva of the group with her sassy attitude and tendency to punch any cat who annoys her (including kittens, but she's shown a high amount of awareness, responding to her name and, when some other South Korean cat-tubers try to feed the gang, she tries to pass herself off as fellow white cat Coco in hope of getting extra food.
    • Nana initially came across as a Naďve Newcomer, not really knowing how to handle being in a new house with seven strange cats while caring for her kittens. However, it soon became apparent she's on par with DD in terms of intelligence. She learned her name very quickly, stole a bird toy so she would have something to play with while nursing and has been the only cat who has stolen food without being caught.
    • Lulu has shown this in more recent videos. Not only has he walked around on three legs to try and procure treats from Claire, the one time Claire tried to use a big basket of snacks to lure him into the bathroom, he quickly smelled a rat and made a run for it. (Although he didn't resist the treats for long.)
  • Solid jj: Hulk in "The Avengers Interview Hulk" is depicted speaking in Hulk Speak and looks like a brute as usual, but then Hulk reveals that he has PhD from being a nuclear physicist in his "spare time" and even decides to sue for unfair hiring practice when rejected instead of getting angry.
  • This is a standard warning at the beginning of all Endbringer fights in Worm: "The Endbringers may look like giant monsters, but they are not stupid". They still frequently get underestimated. Leviathan and Behemoth both appear to just be giant beasts, but they're capable of strategy and tactics, using the terrain to devastating advantage, and even faking being hurt in order to draw their opponents in and lower their guards. It even applies to the Simurgh, who looks pretty smart to begin with and is notorious for brilliant long-term plans that nobody even realizes are in play. It's part of their general strategy for lowering human morale: they hold back their greatest abilities and intelligence in their fights, then every time humanity looks like they might have gained a small advantage, they expose just a little bit more of their true power to invalidate humanity's tactics.

    Western Animation 
  • 2 Stupid Dogs: Downplayed with the Big Dog. He is a large sheepdog with a deep Simpleton Voice, and he is stupid, but he's surprisingly marginally smarter than the Little Dog, inverting Shorter Means Smarter. This means that he serves as both the brains and brawn of the duo.
  • Ed from Brandy & Mr. Whiskers looks like a totally goofy otter with More Teeth than the Osmond Family, but when he opens his mouth, he's usually quite intelligent.
  • Clam of Camp Lazlo is dopey-sounding and monosyllabic on a good day... on a bad day, he'll only mirror other characters' dialogue. Despite that, he's the Genius Bruiser of the camp who often bails his friends out with his quick thinking, strong grasp of physics, and surprising strength. That's not even getting into his various artistic pursuits.
  • Skeeter from Doug (particularly in the Nickelodeon episodes) always seems to be easily confused and is, at times, rather goofy. It's later revealed, much to Doug's surprise, that he has a genius IQ. His intellect is played up more in the Disney episodes.
  • In Dragons: Riders of Berk Dagur the Deranged is, well, deranged and a Blood Knight, but he's also capable of being surprisingly sneaky and clever, which he uses to depose of Alvin as the Big Bad halfway though the second season and hang onto the title thereafter.
  • Malina of The Emperor's New School is a straight-A student who's also considered a "Hottie-Hot-Hottie" by Kuzco.
  • Stewie from Family Guy: Simply because he's a baby, he's assumed to be unintelligent, until you find out about his plans for world domination, mastery of multiverse theory, and so forth.
  • Cave Guy, one of the many adversaries of Freakazoid!, looks like your basic caveman, but is actually very intelligent, articulate, and speaks with a highbrow sounding voice. In the first episode, he mentions that he subscribes to The New Yorker.
  • Futurama's Amy Wong generally comes off as a ditzy Upper-Class Twit, even with shades of Asian Airhead and Brainless Beauty sometimes. While she's introduced as an engineering student, this is rarely mentioned in early seasons. However, in the post-revival seasons, she's finished college and obtained a doctorate, and starts being portrayed more as a Ditzy Genius instead of just The Ditz.
  • Harley Quinn (2019): Harley spent years as a Perky Female Minion who was easily manipulated and fooled by the Joker, but Harley was a genius psychiatrist and proves to be quite clever after she finally dumps him.
  • Vivian Porter in the Kim Possible episode with the robot rumble. She's blonde, tanned, gorgeous, apparently ditzy, and even voiced by Shawnee Smith, a well-known ditz player... except she's the foremost robotics scientist in the world. She even made an artificial "boyfriend" created specifically to provide an alter ego because she thinks her looks will prevent people from taking her seriously.
  • Looney Tunes: Cecil Turtle has a Simpleton Voice and Dreary Half-Lidded Eyes, but he's also a shrewd Manipulative Bastard and the only character in the franchise to have a perfect record against Bugs Bunny.
  • The Loud House:
    • The Lad-ette jock Lynn has demonstrated moments of impressive intelligence throughout the show. For example, she has the same cunning and planning abilities as Lincoln as shown in "Friendzy", when she beats him to the idea of playing the friend card to get privileges in the house. She's also smart enough to defeat all her siblings in a variety of different board games in "Lynner Takes All", as well as devise strategies to win in bouts where she's theoretically outmatched (like being able to talk Lincoln into being too nervous to think straight when playing an Ace Savvy question game). Then of course, there's the time she aces mathematics when she actually puts work into it. In general, her competence at all the different sports she plays would require certain types of intelligence. All in all, it is probable that she's not as dumb as some people think.
    • Luan may be a silly teenage girl with a penchant for puns and clowning, but she has years of experience in pranking, including smashing pies in the face of a mailman when she was only a year old. In fact, in "Fool Me Twice", when her family hires stunt doubles in an attempt to get out of being pranked for April Fool's Day, Luan is impressed, but not easily fooled by what are essentially clones that have even the slightest deviation from the original.
  • Mission Hill:
    • Jim, Andy's best friend, doesn't seem all that smart; he's a slow-talking, monosyllabic guy who is implied on more than one occasion to be a stoner. But apparently, he's also a total computer whiz, and paid very well for it by an ad agency. Andy isn't even aware until Jim tells him. His more unintelligent traits is implied to be caused by his use of marijuana, among other things. In the unproduced "Supertool", Andy tells him to "break through the fog for once".
    • Andy as well. People take him for being stupid because he's a slacker, when time and time again he proves himself to be Brilliant, but Lazy. He's aware of the works of Franz Kafka and correctly uses phrases like "Kafkaesque" in a way to parody people who misuse the term (something that even Kevin failed to grasp), correctly uses terms like "bourgeois" to insult people, quickly states the simple solution that they could simply let Ron's car get stolen or destroyed to recoup their lost money, and generally is rather quick-witted when it comes to solving problems or accomplishing tasks when he's interested enough in them. And, while it was a rather trashy party college called "Borchmore" (that had more fraternity drinking deaths than all the Ivy League schools put together, and that doesn't include hazing deaths), he does have a post-secondary education.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Pinkie Pie. Her happy-go-lucky Genki Girl personality and cloudcuckoolander tendencies might make you think that she's very dim-witted and naive. However, a lot of episodes have actually painted her as intelligent, like having a Photographic Memory of everyone's birthday. In other words, she's goofy but smart.
  • The Owl House: Luz Noceda. At first glance, she appears to be a frisky airhead with poor social skills, but she has actually proven herself to be quite intelligent. Not only is she an abstract thinker and planner, but she can also outsmart her enemies by evaluating their weaknesses.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Barney Gumble may be a drunkard and lazy, but he's been shown to possess exceptional talent when it comes to the arts:
    • Burns says this of the oafish Homer Simpson in "Homer's Odyssey":
      Burns: You're smarter than you look. Or sound. Or our best tests suggest.
    • In "Curse of the Flying Hellfish", the big guy, named "Ox", has a stereotypical stupid guy voice and is the one who explains the concept of a Tontine to the others.
      Burns: Well put, Oxford.
    • In "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", Springfield passes a prohibition law, which Homer defies by bootlegging liquor to Moe's. When Marge finds out, she's horrified until she hears how intricate Homer's bootlegging operation is, and she's so impressed by how well-thought it is that she starts supporting him (and learning how much money he's making certainly doesn't hurt her opinion either).
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "The Gungan General", the clones come to appreciate Jar Jar's quick thinking and ability to find ways for the group to survive, and while they still realize that his clumsiness can make him a liability, they find that they underestimated his intelligence.
  • Padparadscha of Steven Universe is an excitable, but defective Sapphire who lacks the ability shared by her kin to see into the future, and is instead only able to see into the past. 95% of the time, this is basically a disability as she has a perpetual Delayed Reaction to everything, putting her at great risk of present dangers she isn't able to react to on her own, so it's easy to write her off as an ineffectual load. However, there are instances where her "past sight" comes in handy that demonstrates she's in fact fairly intelligent and emotionally aware — while she isn't at the same pace as everyone else, she ends up noticing mistakes and suspicious behavior that others fail to notice, and she's socially aware enough to point out to Garnet — while she's gushing about the Off Colors, who don't understand how sincere her compliments are — that she's "going to make everyone uncomfortable."
  • In Superman: The Animated Series, after they first meet and she tries to blow him off, only for him to succeed in out-scooping her, Lois quickly learns not to underestimate Clark Kent.
    Lois: I take it back. You're not the rube hayseed I took you for.
    Clark: Thanks... I guess?
  • Stated word for word in Yin Yang Yo! by Yin when Yang not only provides a good plan, he explains that he does learn things, but slacks off so less is expected of him.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pretty Smart For A Hottie, Smarter Than They Look


Jamal Wallace

A kid from the Bronx shows up an arrogant professor by naming the quotes of several famous authors and gets booted out of class for it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / SmarterThanYouLook

Media sources: