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The Wilhelm Scream

Updated on September 20, 2014


I enjoy watching movies like most people do. I especially enjoy watching movies with my two boys. I like to show them some of the movies that I enjoyed as a kid, such as the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones triologies. While watching Star Wars IV recently I started thinking about the sound effects in the movie.

It is amazing to hear stories about how sound effect people come up with some of the noises we hear in films that we watch. I noticed in Stars Wars IV there was a familiar scream that I had heard in other movies.

Upon researching this scream on the internet, I was amazed that sound engineers actually had a name for this particular sound effect. Yes folks, this now common sound effect is called The Wilhelm scream. Today The Wilhelm scream can be heard in recent movies such as Iron Man 2, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Inglourious Bastards. The Wilhelm Scream can also be heard in over 50 video games including the Lego Star Wars and Grand Theft Auto series. The Simpsons, and Toy Story are some cartoons that have used this popular sound effect.

In the following segments we are going to explore in more depth about The Wilhelm Scream. What movie did The Wilhelm scream orginate from? How did it become popular?


This sound effect originated from the 1951 film Distant Drums. If you have ever seen the movie-- Remember the scene when the soldiers are wading through a swamp in the Everglades. One of the soldiers is bitten and dragged underwater by an alligator.The scream for this scene was recorded later in a single take as well as five short screams . The fifth scream was used for the soldier n the alligator scene, but the 4th, 5th, and 6th screams recorded in the session were also used earlier in the films. Takes 4 to 6 are the most recognizable, but all the screams are referred to as "Wilhelm" by sound effects people.

The actual name Wilhelm came from a character in the western movie The Charge at Feather River, a 1953 theatrical release. The character Private Wilhelm was shot by an arrow and the sound effect scream was used. Benjamin Burtt a pioneer of modern sound design is credited with naming the sound effect after Private Wilhelm. Burtt discovered the original recording of the scream when he found a studio reel labeled "Man being eaten by alligator." This was the second movie to use the sound and its first use from the Warner Brothers stock sound library.




Benjamin Burtt is also the one who really popularized The Wilhelm Scream.Burtt has worked on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies as well as many other George Lucas and Steven Spielberg productions. He is responsible for a lot of the sound effects in the original Star Wars trilogies movies such as RD/D2 beeps and whistles, the light sabre hum and the blaster gun sound. Burtt first incorporated The Wilhelm Scream in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Just before Luke Skywalker and Leia swing across a chasm, Luke shoots a Storm trooper who screams as he falls down the chasm. Over the next decade Burtt used The Wilhelm scream in most of the projects he was involved in. Soon other sound designers picked up on the effect and its use increased.


It is said that Sheb Wooley, best known for his novelty song, "Flying Purple People Eater" in 1958, is likely to have been the voice actor who originally performed the scream. Wooley played the uncredited role of Private Jessup in Distant Drums, and was one of the few actors assembled for the recording of additional vocal elements for the film. Wooley performed additional vocal elements, including the screams for a man being beaten by an alligator.


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