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Technically a Smile

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Linton: At least he's smiling.
Lottie: That's not a smile. That's the face you get when somebody says "cheese"...then takes two minutes to work out how to use the camera. That hurts.

Technically a Smile is when the narration (or narrator, in the case of first-person) notes that the mere fact of baring one's teeth doesn't necessarily make a "smile", in the sense of an expression designed to convey friendliness, happiness or harmlessness.

Humans are one of the few creatures to bare their teeth as anything other than a threat; this trope comes into play during those times when a "smile" conveys something more... animalistic. Look for the phrase "didn't reach their eyes" to appear.

Obviously, this is far more common in print media. In comics, film and TV, the expression doesn't have to be described because the audience can see it right there.

This is probably the trope that inspired a classic series of humorous posters a few decades back (often seen in libraries and such) showing scowling animals, each one with the caption "I am smiling."


Super-Trope to:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Played with in Negima! Magister Negi Magi When Big Bad Fate attempts an Evil Laugh, it seriously freaks out Asuna, because "it doesn't touch his eyes".
  • Kiyo in Zatch Bell! frequently smiles when he's not at all happy with a situation; it's more of an indication of altogether irritation and/or embarrassment, and is usually accompanied with Mind-Control Eyes. Other characters, like Folgore and the mangaka himself, are almost always drawn with that kind of smile, though.
  • Bleach
    • Whenever Combat Medic captain Retsu Unohana smiles, that is usually because someone has ticked her off and they best stop whatever they're doing or else.
    • Kensei trying to comfort Hisagi in the Turn Back The Pendulum arc.
  • Black Lagoon's Balalaika does this occasionally. It is on those occasions that the audience is reminded that, despite her affability, she's still a ruthless mass murderer.
  • It is noted about Sesshoumaru from Inuyasha that if he ever smiles, it is generally not a good thing.
  • The Millennium Earl from D.Gray-Man always smiles, which is creepy enough. When he gets really, really angry, his smile gets very frightening.
  • Sunako Nakahara from The Wallflower, when she is asked to smile, smiles like this.
  • Durarara!!:
    • Izaya Orihara. It is noted occasionally in the graphic novel that his smile "doesn't reach his eyes".
    • When Akane first meets Shizuo, she gives a smile that's compared to the sort a child would make while stomping on ants. Then she attempts to kill him.
  • When Ren of Skip Beat! gets angry, he doesn't shout or frown. Instead, he smiles. He smiles so hard that the Bishie Sparkle can blind onlookers. Kyoko and Yashiro find this to be incredibly terrifying.
  • Kuyo Suo does this in the 10th Haruhi Suzumiya book. Kyon calls it "a perfect simulation of a smile".
  • Sasasul in A Centaur's Life makes an attempt to smile like a human, but since she has a giant snake head the act of showing all her teeth makes Himeno pass out.
  • The Abh in Crest of the Stars. The narration points out that while it looks like a smile, in their culture, it's a sign that they are going to destroy you. Lafiel displays it at one point to Baron Febdash after he really pissed her off.
  • Joey Wheeler from Yu-Gi-Oh! sometimes makes a creepy grin which the internet has dubbed "Joey Wheeler's Creepy Chin" whenever:
    • Someone pulls off an awesome move in the card game
    • Someone beats him in a game or insults him (basically an intimidation tactic or sign of anger)
    • When trying to make a point
    • Or for absolutely no reason at all
      Kaiba: [referring to Noah] Oh my god! What's wrong with his face? Guys, are you seeing this? What the hell's wrong with his face?!
      Joey: [has the Joey Chin expression] I fail to see the problem!
      Kaiba: What the hell is wrong with everybody's face?!
    • In times Joey is unavailable to grace the screen with his winning smile, such as when Yugi and Kaiba are about to potentially end Dartz, because his soul was already stolen prior, Tristan is more than happy to fill in. In fact, when Joey is available, they sometimes come in twos.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of G.I. Joe Special Missions, the Joes go to a rural house to rescue a family from terrorists. They see one guy who always has a crazy-looking grin on his face. They initially assume that he is one of the terrorists. Turns out he's one of the hostages, a Marine vet who took shrapnel to the face in Vietnam. This left him with a rictus, a facial spasm that causes a permanent teeth-baring grin.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin does a grotesquely awful/hilarious one for a photograph. (Think "Fire Marshall Bill" from In Living Color!)
  • Garfield:
    • Once when Garfield is on a diet and grumpy about it, Jon keeps urging him to smile. Garfield finally agrees... and grabs the corners of his mouth to twist them upward into a "smile", while still flashing his "angry eyes".
    • Another has fun with this trope, when Garfield demonstrates two smiles; one with rectangular teeth, and one with triangular, serrated teeth. Naturally, Jon becomes noticeably alarmed at the second one.
    • This Sunday comic from 2003 has Jon complimenting Garfield's enormous smile, saying "it's nice to see you in a good mood for a change!" In this case, the "smile" is a grimace of agony from sitting on a mousetrap.
    • Even Jon had this [once, as Garfield asked for "service with a smile" and Jon's creepy expression made him fear for his meal.

    Fan Works 
  • Arba, Magi's resident queen of the Nightmare Face, gives one when the Djinn Paimon arrives to rescue Hakuei from Arba's Demonic Possession in Maelstrom:
    The witch grins, her face remembered, but it is a cruel mockery, not only of Paimon but of the very concept of a smile.
  • come as you are: When Steve Rogers has some FBI agents sent to spy on him trussed up and is standing over their kneeling, ziptie-restrained forms totally not waving his gun at them, one of the agents tells Steve he's crazy. Steve responds to this with a smile, "feeling his face stretch back over his teeth".
  • The Touhou Project fandom has the infamous "false smile"; a serene and disarmingly terrifying smile that does not show teeth and does reach the eyes of whoever's smiling but has a blatantly false pleasantness about it, usually accentuated by the smiler's face receiving some omninous shading. It's most commonly seen either gracing the face of Byakuren Hijiri, whenever her saint-like, motherly patience is starting to wear thin, or Yuuka Kazami, whenever her patience has run out. In the former case you may consider yourself very, very lucky as you're likely "only" in for a scolding. In the latter case you may consider yourself very, very lucky if there's enough of you left to send home to your family in a match box.

    Films — Animation 
  • Lilo & Stitch franchise:
    • In Lilo & Stitch, 626 (Stitch) bares his teeth in the most humorously creepy way when he says "Hi!" to Lilo in an attempt to show friendliness and to get her to adopt him. Considering what happens from there, you could say that it worked.
    • In Leroy & Stitch, when Leroy disguises himself as Stitch to talk to Lilo via intergalactic video chat, he gives a toothy grin while pretending that he's his much friendlier twin brother. It's not very convincing (and considering what the shape of his and Stitch's teeth are like, a bit disturbing as well), especially when Lilo then notices that "Stitch" isn't wearing his tiki necklace.
  • Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon attempts to smile when Hiccup smiles at him. It comes off as more endearing than scary though, because Toothless is Ugly Cute.
  • In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Lumiere attempts to coach the Beast in order to help him win Belle over, "Give her a dashing, debonair smile. Come, come, show me the smile." The Beast tries, but the result mostly involves baring a mouthful of very sharp fangs and is not remotely dashing or debonair. Mrs. Potts, who is also trying to coach him, is aware, however of what it looks like, and quickly warns him not to "frighten the poor girl."
  • A scene late in The Jungle Book (1967) has Mowgli running away in disgust after both Bagheera and Baloo tell him it's time to leave the jungle. He eventually finds himself wandering through a bleak wasteland that's dangerously close to Shere Khan's territory. A quartet of vultures who look a lot like The Beatles (and sound like them, too) befriend Mowgli and try to cheer him up - but Mowgli is so miserable that when one of the vultures says: "Give us a smile," all he can do is halfheartedly curl up one corner of his mouth.
  • In The Pagemaster, Horror "smiles" to show he's actually very friendly. Unfortunately, he has bad teeth, thin lips, and an ugly face to boot, so it comes off as frightening/hideous anyway.
    Fantasy: Aw, look, he's smiling!
    Richard: That's a smile?

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Wednesday in the film Addams Family Values makes a pseudo-smile after an attempted brainwashing by being subjected to Disney movies. It's incredibly creepy.
    Amanda: She's scaring me!
  • Terminator:
    • In the Director's Cut of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John Connor tries to teach the title killer robot to smile. The results are horrifying enough that John abandons the attempt.
    • Done again in Terminator Genisys. This time Sarah Connor tries teaching him to smile with horrendous results. Majority of his attempts freak-out/disturb any of the witnesses. Later, this smile ends up on the T-850/T-800's mugshot, much to the police's confusion.
  • When Hancock is beginning to reform, he gives an imitation of a smile at a press conference. It looked more like a snarl.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade features one from Elsa, after she "helps" Donovan choose the "right" grail.
  • Michael Keaton's Batman smiles a couple of times. It's easily the scariest expression he's got.
  • The same goes for Pierce Brosnan's James Bond, who only ever smiles sincerely when he is murdering human beings.
  • In Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Pedro the pitbull makes a snarling-like face that many say is a smile. Many characters in the film either show disgust, fright, or exasperation towards this, especially since this got him kicked out of the dog show. Later on, he uses it against robbers, saying "This ISN'T a smile!"

  • Invoked verbatim when describing Duv Galeni when pushed to his breaking point in the Vorkosigan Saga.
  • Seems to occur about once a chapter throughout The Wheel of Time series, with the phrase "didn't reach his/her eyes" attached about 80% of the time. In the latest book, one of the Wise Ones makes a comment about Aes Sedai and smiles to show she's joking. The narration notes that she only succeeds in baring her teeth.
  • Discworld:
    • The books have this from time to time, usually with werewolves and vampires, but sometimes with Vetinari, and once even with Vimes.
      Vimes' smile was as funny as the one that moves very fast towards drowning sailors. And has a fin on top.
    • Rincewind does it at least once too — in his case, it's a rictus grin of sheer terror.
    • And Granny Weatherwax, who has the "corners of her mouth turn up slightly when something bad is about to happen to someone she thinks deserves it".
    • The Librarian (a three-hundred-pound orangutan) smiles a lot. Or at least, his lips turn up showing lots and lots of big yellow teeth.
    • Implied with Death, who is said more than once to not have much other choice than to grin. Skeletons do technically smile all the time.
    • Inverted with Nobby, who is quite cheerful, but as a result of his general Nobby-ness has to be asked to stop smiling when having his picture taken.
  • A staple of Larry Niven's Known Space books. Kzin are predators, born and bred. So when you can see all of their teeth, this is not a friendly expression. Likewise, humans dealing with Kzin are well-advised to keep their mouths closed when they smile — they may be blunt little monkey-teeth but baring them is still a threat/challenge.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Sansa Stark immediately notices that Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish has this kind of smile when meeting him for the first time.
  • In American Gods, Wednesday has a habit of grinning without a hint of amusement or kindness, and it doesn't take long before Shadow is reminded of chimpanzees baring their teeth to show hostility.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In White Night, Marcone is described as making a facial expression where the corners of his mouth turn up and he shows his teeth, but doesn't smile at all.
    • Harry himself is also prone to a rather shark-like Slasher Smile when he's about to set someone on fire...
    • Kincaid is prone to this as well. At one point he's described as having "the kind of smile that would make dogs break into nervous howls."
  • From Charles Stross' short "The Concrete Jungle":
    [Angleton] smiles, and despite all the horrible sights I've seen today so far, I hope most of all that I never see it again before the day I die.
  • In Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, human Lije Baley asks humanoid robot Daneel Olivaw, "Can you smile?" Daneel can, technically, but it doesn't reach his eyes and Baley finds it more unnerving than reassuring.
  • Javert from Les Misérables. "Would you like my hat?"
  • Morrachane, an awful woman in one of the Circle of Magic books, has such an unnatural-looking smile that it takes the main character a second to figure out what her face is doing.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: One of the few signs that Ford is a Human Alien.
    Perhaps it was that he smiled slightly too broadly and gave people the unnerving impression that he was about to go for their neck.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • X-Wing Series: Wedge Antilles sometimes wears a smile that's pure predator. As he gets older it becomes even more so - in Legacy of the Force he once flashes a smile at someone "like he was a rancor, and they were made of meat."
    • A good deal of the works, particularly that which took place during her political career, depict some variant of the sentence "Leia grinned, showing teeth," giving the notion that the gesture is not particularly friendly.
    • In Shatterpoint, Mace Windu makes at least one attempt to smile, something that he hasn't done in over ten years. He quickly stops trying.
  • In Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, the title character is described at one point as a "tallish, blond pale man who only ever seemed to deploy a smile as an offensive weapon."
  • Quite commonplace in the Honor Harrington universe, with Exact Words eventually showing up when things get really nasty. See the quotes page. Also fairly common in the Safehold series by the same author.
  • The Abh are described as having elevated this to an art form in Crest of the Stars. When it was animated the version Lafiel gave was... pretty intimidating.
  • In Roald Dahl's The Witches the first witch the protagonist encounters is described thusly:
    When most people smile their lips go side-to-side. This lady's went up-and-down, showing lots of her teeth and gums.
  • Mentioned in Danny, the Champion of the World. A "mouth smile" without an "eye smile" is said to look disturbingly wrong. Therefore, the protagonist's father skips the mouth smile entirely, smiling only with his eyes.
  • Nacht, in the Whateley Universe, has a smile. Well, in a sense, anyway. It's never accurately described, but it's been used quite successfully as an interrogation technique.
  • In The Fifth Season:
    • The Stone Eaters are (occasionally) human-shaped creatures of living stone whose imitations of humanity usually fall straight into the Uncanny Valley. When they bare their teeth, it's as a threat display to each other, enhanced by the fact that their teeth are diamonds.
    • The Guardians are Empowered Badass Normal Mage Killers implanted with a shard of the Evil Earth's core, who go through the motions of smiling simply because it releases endorphins that ease the constant grinding pain of what's been done to them.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the nascent Humanoid Abomination Padan Fain is often described as baring his teeth at people, both because he's usually trying to threaten them and because Sanity Slippage from being Mind Raped by the God of Evil and then fusing with a ghost of pure Hate Plague has left him with very little awareness of normal human behaviour.
  • In Kate Daniels, when a shapeshifter smiles with all their teeth showing, it's less "friendly" and more "look what I'm going to rip your throat out with".
  • In Xandri Corelel, a prominent Last Hope for Humanity terrorist is described as having "the sort of oily smile that clung to your skin, but never reached his eyes."
  • 2666: Azucena Esquivel Plata doesn’t even attempt to hide her bitterness and resentment.
  • In Colin Fischer, Colin notes that the look in his cruel classmate Rudy's eyes never seems to change, no matter what his mouth is doing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Michael in Burn Notice often laughs and smiles, but rarely conveys actual warmth, having great difficulty showing emotion thanks to his abusive childhood and training as a spy. Notably, his fake smiles when dealing with his family are much more obvious than the ones he uses to deal with criminals, due to their somewhat strained relationship. Some of his antagonists have similar mannerisms. Take a good look at Victor's smiles sometime; he looks like he wants to bite out your throat.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show: "Honey, your teeth are showing, but your lips are tense."
  • Hilary Briss is always doing this on The League of Gentlemen. The bottom half of his face is split in an enormous Slasher Smile, but his eyes remain the same. Actor Mark Gatiss must have spent a lot of time in front of the mirror practicing, because it's creepy.
  • Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory cannot smile (or laugh) to save his life. As Leonard put it: "We're here to see Koothrapali, not kill Batman!"
    • When he does smile it ends up looking like the Grinch's evil grin.
  • Cromartie's attempts to smile in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles are not convincing.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Terry and Jake walk into a defense attorney party sporting the most forced smiles imaginable.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy meets her mother's surprise romantic interest Ted, and says she's okay with it with a pasted-on smile — Gilligan Cut to her whaling on a vampire viciously enough to make Giles cringe.
  • In one CSI episode, Sara Sidle is investigating a boxing death and has to examine the dead boxer's spit bucket which is full of bloody saliva. Saliva really grosses her out, but when Warrick Brown notices she's smiling, Sara explains that smiling suppresses the gag reflex.
  • In Xena's second appearance on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, while she's still a cold-blooded warlord leading a band of marauders, Salmoneus briefly takes over as her P.R. manager and suggests that she smile more. For a brief moment, you can see her trying it as a smile passes over her face. It looks very out of place.
  • Lampshaded in How I Met Your Mother when Marshall shows a blown-up photo of "The Captain" smiling. He points out that the bottom half of his face is happy, the top half, including the eyes "wants to kill you". He's not exaggerating and "The Captain" often "smiles" like that. Ted is genuinely afraid "The Captain" might kill him.
  • Kamen Rider Gaim: Mitsuzane Kureshima was a sweet, happy kid before he got caught in a Cosmic Horror Story. His smiles went from normal to empty to dead eyed grins more akin to the rigor mortis of the victims of Joker's laughing gas as his sanity was slowly drained by the events.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Parado reacts to most things by smilling, which naturally creates a wide variety of uncanny expressions. The less scary ones are a genuinely happy expression, but with all the front teeth barred in a predatory way. They usually appear in reaction to watching people try to murder each other or trying to do the deed himself. The more uncanny ones are of the dead eyed, teeth barred variety and have nothing to do with actual smilling or the usual reason for. None of this still covers how bad things are when he drops the act alltogether in favor of straight Death Glare.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this golden moment between Gul Dukat and Weyoun, after a nasty barroom brawl between Cardassian and Jem'Hadar soldiers:
    Weyoun: Our men need to know we are still allies. Smile!
    [Dukat grimaces]
    Weyoun: Dukat...
    Dukat: [through clenched teeth] I'm smiling...!
  • Kaamelott: Léodagan is said to have an extremely disturbing smile, as does his daughter.
    Arthur: You have your father's smile.
    Guenièvre: Really? [smiles]
    Arthur: Yeah, don't do that, it's unsettling.


    Pro Wrestling 
  • TNA Impact had a genuinely terrifying example in 2011, when Kurt Angle was forced to serve as the best man at the wedding of his ex-wife Karen and his archenemy Jeff Jarrett. After smashing Karen's face in the wedding cake just before the ceremony, he appeared to have gotten all the anger out of his system and came to the ring for the ceremony with a big smile on his face - only it was obviously faked, and seemed to be creepily frozen on his face. Once the ceremony had concluded and Karen and Jeff had left the ring, Kurt's rage erupted again and he destroyed the entire set erected for the wedding. (Incidentally, this was one of the rare times in Professional Wrestling history where the violence occurred after the newlyweds had left the ring.)

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy X, Kimahri attempts to smile once. Tidus' response is "Sad."
  • In Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, Raven attempts to smile during one of his support conversations. It hurts his face to do so.
  • Civilization IV: In the event that Montezuma is furious with you (a very common occurrence unless you happen to follow the same religion he does), he'll spend his diplomatic meetings baring a grin that could crack a sink, teeth grinding the whole way until he loses patience and screams in frustration.
  • Baraka from Mortal Kombat always seems like the cheerful type, but that most likely comes from having More Teeth than the Osmond Family.
  • This was implied in Sonic Unleashed where one of the NPCs asked Sonic why he doesn't smile in his Werehog form and wants him to do it. Sonic does so (albeit offscreen) and the NPC was startled by the discovery, regretting that he asked.
  • There are about three instances where Atsuki Saijo smiles in Lux-Pain. The first is when he fights with Mika over the strawberry shortcake. The second one is forced on him by Akira in archive 1. The third one, which is the most disturbing of them all is Atsuki loses it when Edward calls him a hypocrite. Not only does he smile, but he laughs similar to Light...
  • Sans the skeleton from Undertale is... well, a skeleton. As such, his face is stuck in a permanent smile. Thankfully, Sans is a silly, fun dude, so the constant grinning is usually genuine. But on those rare occasions that he's being serious (such as if you kill his brother, or murder every single monster in the Underground), then the effect is really chilling. It also gives a lot of weight to the description that "He looks happy." when looking at a photograph he holds onto, especially when you know that there's more to his outward demeanor.


    Western Animation 
  • The Joker's gas victims. They die with a smile on their faces. After laughing uncontrollably. In pain.
    • To be precise, it's the uncontrolled laughter that kills them.
      • It's worth noting that even the producers and writers thought it was probably more horrifying than simply killing someone with a gunshot.
  • Octus gives his best go at a full grin on Sym-Bionic Titan. It's quite off, but he really does mean it.
  • In one episode of Hey Arnold!, Arnold is forced to pair up with Willie the Jolly Olly Man, an ice-cream man who happens to be an intense Child Hater and a Talkative Loon for Career Day. To help him keep his job, Arnold tries to make him smile to appear friendlier to his young customers, but his grimacing teeth-baring grin just sends the kids running off in terror. By the end, he learns to do a proper smile.
  • The prehistoric episode of Spongebob Squarepants has Patar give what might be a smile, but just looks disturbing.
  • In an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Buster and Babs are both working at Weenie Burger. The whole time, their manager keeps reminding them that they have to smile. During the course of the episode, the smile becomes more and more forced to the point where it's just their mouths stretched wide while showing a lot of teeth, especially since one of their customers is Montana Max.

    Real Life 
  • We humans are the only species on Earth who have turned toothed smiling into a sign of joy. If an ape or a monkey grins at you, it is conveying either aggression or submission. When you show your teeth, you are doing what translates as "bare your weapons" in animal language. In fact, this may be why it became a friendly gesture in humans in the first place; when you express friendliness or happiness, you are advertising that you do not want any trouble.
  • There are several accounts of dog owners getting growled at or attacked by their pets after producing toothed smiles. Dogs are really just defending themselves because they feel threatened upon seeing teeth.
    • Dalmatians can approximate a smile, usually done so if they know they're in trouble or are just very happy. It looks like a snarl, but they do not show their back teeth, and they're usually wagging their tails.
    • Most of the retriever-type breeds are capable of smiling (it goes along with the "soft mouth" that's essential for returning a downed game bird to the dog's master undamaged). Labradors and Goldens are particularly known for it.
    • Some Jack Russell terriers can do it too.
    • A mutt, half beagle and half schnauzer, may be capable of doing this.
    • Technically, many canines can "smile" to some degree. What most can't do is produce a "friendly" looking gesture with their teeth close together. Canines have little incentive to open their mouth and not their teeth as well, since constant panting is usually necessary for regulating body temperature.
  • A "wolf grin" is a wolf's way of showing the observer it does not mean them any (serious) harm, and is so named because to a casual observer, it does not look anything like a grin. Once one has seen a wolf flash its teeth in a truly threatening manner, however, the "wolf grin" becomes a welcome sight. Foxes are also capable of smiling, and in fact look happier when doing so than wolves, since their eyes briefly become slits in a similar manner to a truly happy smiling human. However, a fox smile still happens to make their rather prominent canines visible.
  • Horses can be trained to do this, based on a horse's natural response to help them identify a scent. Some humans can find this a bit disconcerting, however.
  • Due to the shape of their mouths, dolphins have what looks like a "smile" on their faces regardless of their mood. This "smile" makes it very easy to assume that dolphins are nice and gentle. The truth is that they are not.