Let's say one character, particularly The Hero, is a newcomer. They make a good impression with everyone and is well-liked as a result. But one particular person doesn't seem to like the hero that much for whatever reason and treats them coldly or disdainfully whenever they get the opportunity. Then the hero does something so remarkably great that others cheer and sing their praises, except, of course, for the dissenter. Wait, they're smiling at the hero? Well it appears they now likes (or at least respects) the hero now.
When developing characters who are cold, cynical, haughty, or just straight up hostile towards a particular character, one of the ways to do this is by having them smile at them for doing something that warranted their approval. It can be when the character doesn't notice it or it can be directly at them. Usually, the character will remain silent if they're too proud, embarrassed, or grudging to compliment them, and only one smile is only enough to let them know they got their respect. If they decide to speak, their smile will follow up with a half-hearted compliment. A single smile can be one step for a character to become friends with the hero, though expect them to be a begrudging sort if they still don't think too highly of them. This is the general sign that a character is turning into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
A variety of characters can display this trope. An aloof or critical parent will show a smile at their child to show how proud they are of them; bonus points if the character they're smiling at is a "Well Done, Son!" Guy. A Defrosting Ice Queen will smile at the one character she has been initially rejecting, finally reciprocate his feelings. A Tsundere will smile at the character they're secretly in love with when they're not around them (and if they are, they'll frown all over again and start berating him). An Arch-Enemy or The Rival will elicit this to express how impressed they are of the hero's abilities or after the hero defeats them.
Can overlap with When She Smiles when a character who's usually unapproachable shows a smile which is pleasant to see; this trope focuses on a character who smiles at someone they initially disliked after they did something that was worthy of their respect. May be coupled with a thumbs up. Contrast Smug Smiler if the smile is full of disdain and arrogance. Often done after a Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving moment.
Anime & Manga
- In Dragon Ball Z, after years of Vegeta being unable to stand Goku and wanting nothing more than to best his The Rival in combat, Vegeta finally has an epiphany in the Majin Buu Saga where he openly acknowledges Goku as being better than him and cracking a smile while he does so.
- In Girls und Panzer, Shiho, Miho's mother, disapproves over her daughter and was going to disown her. After Miho was able to win the tank tournament by defeating Kuromorimine, Shiho gives a small smile and claps for her daughter.
- Knuckles in Sonic X is shown to harbor resentment towards Sonic for causing the group to be transported to an alternate world. In "Cracking Knuckles", he gets into a fight with Sonic after Dr. Eggman states that he's trying to keep others from returning to their world. After realizing that Eggman lied to him, Knuckles helps Sonic defeat Eggman's robot to save their friends trapped inside. In the ending, after being rescued by Sonic from being blown away from the exploding machine, he looks at Sonic with a frown before smiling at him, developing respect for him.
- The Return-Remixed ends with one. Kelly Kelly got nothing but disdain and contempt (and a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown) from the Diva Army's Drill Sergeant Nasty, Jazz throughout, but when Kelly wins the big battle royal to become Divas Champion, Jazz finally smiles at her, addresses her by name instead of calling her "Blondie" and salutes her.
Film - Animated
- The Army colonel that had Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Little Creek cornered is obliged to tip his hat and smile as both horse and rider make an insane leap to freedom. The colonel even prevents his sergeant from shooting at the fugitives out of respect for a Worthy Opponent.
Film - Live Action
- In Three O'Clock High, Jerry beats up Buddy. After this, Buddy returns some money so that Jerry can get out of a theft charge. He even gives Jerry a faint smile before walking off, showing that Jerry gained his respect for standing up to him.
- Thor: Ragnarok: Loki smirks with pride◊ witnessing Thor unleash the "biggest lightning blast in the history of lightning."
- Whiplash: After an entire film's worth of torment and cruelty for not meeting his impossibly high standards, Fletcher finally, genuinely smiles (he's fond of The Un-Smile in normal circumstances) at Andrew after his stunning performance. However, this is much more ambiguous as opposed to the usual positive use of this trope, as Fletcher is such an evil bully that it seems Andrew would genuinely be healthier if he broke free of wanting Fletcher's approval.
- The Stone Sky has a Tear Jerker example: when The Archmage Essun and her estranged daughter Nassun fight over control of an apocalyptic Amplifier Artifact, Essun realizes she's outmatched, and when Phlebotinum Overload petrifies her, she dies smiling with pride at how amazing her daughter has become — the first time in their lives that she'd smiled at her. It convinces Nassun to use the artifact to save the world.
- In Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
- Liberal use of these marks Holt as a Defrosting Ice King towards every member of the 9-9, except Terry, who he smiles at more readily. Notable examples include his smile when he's told that Jake beat up his homophobic idol and when he leaves the Nine Nine at the end of Season 2.
- Despite the fact that they're very much in love, Holt's husband, Kevin, is also not at all demonstrative, but he gives Holt a genuine smile like this when Holt reads out romantic wedding vows during "Boyle-Linetti Wedding".
- House of Anubis: At the beginning of the show, Patricia was an outright bully towards Nina, which included forcing her into a fake initiation ceremony. Part of this ceremony involved stealing the attic key from Victor, which Nina pulled off. However, a few episodes later, Victor noticed the key was missing, and demanded the culprit confess. Nina stepped up and admitted she took the key to avoid anyone else being punished, after which an I Am Spartacus ensued. Patricia joined in, despite her rocky relationship with Nina, and gave Nina a smile afterward, showing she respected and appreciated her willingness to take some blame.
- Justice League: In Part 2 of "The Brave and the Bold", the heroes are captured by a group of gorillas, and get accused of being spies by one of the gorillas. When a barrage of missiles approach Gorilla City, the League offers to help the gorillas, much to their surprise. After the league prevented the missiles from destroying Gorilla City, the gorilla citizens cheer for them. One of the gorillas who interrogated them earlier smiles at them, showing how impressed he was with them.
- Thomas the Tank Engine:
- In "Thomas to the Rescue", Diesel, who has shown to be prejudice towards steam engines, pushes Thomas under the quarry hopper, covering him in stone and then calls him a "stinky old steam engine". After he and the other diesels break down because their fuel had been contaminated with water, Thomas is sent to deliver clean diesel fuel. As all diesels are refilled with clean fuel, the Fat Controller commends Thomas for being a credit to the railway. Diesel then gives an almost smile to Thomas, agreeing with the Fat Controller's statement.
- In The Adventure Begins, Gordon has shown to look down on Thomas throughout the special, but after hearing that he rescued James from the accident, he gives him a slight smile at the sheds, citing respect for him.