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The Most Famous Movie Scream Ever!

Updated on January 15, 2015

The Wilhelm Scream

If you've ever watched a science fiction, action, or horror movie, you've heard it. It's the most famous movie scream ever, more famous than "KHAAAAN!" or "THIS IS SPARTA!" It's The Wilhelm Scream.

You probably know it as the Star Wars scream, because George Lucas' sound editor Ben Burrt is hooked on it (Left: Return of the Wilhelm in Return of the Jedi).

I started paying attention to it when it popped up in Lord of the Rings: "Waaaaitaminute. Did that elf falling off Helm's Deep just scream like a Star Wars extra?"

i knew it was a canned scream, a stock sound effect being recycled by movie sound editors. I had a hunch there was story behind it.

There was. Thanks to TV Tropes, a fun site for wasting oodles of time, I finally learned its origin: The Wilhelm Scream. If you're a movie buff, you probably already know about it.

Wilhelm Scream Compilation (Warning: includes violence, but mostly just goofy)

AAAAAAAaaaaaaaargh!!!

The Very First Wilhelm Scream - ...Was Not Screamed by a Guy Named Wilhelm

Despite its nickname, The Wilhelm Scream did not originally come from Wilhelm of The Charge at Feather River (although he was the first to repeat it). Instead, it first screamed by an Unknown Wilhelm in an old Hollywood western, Distant Drums (1951).

Yes, that's Gary Cooper carrying an apparently water-soluble female lead. The no-name soldier gets no star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but his (dubbed) scream will live forever.

(Warning: His fate, like that of most Unknown Wilhelms, is not a happy one.)

Who Was the Man Behind the Famous Scream?

Who Was Wilhelm, If He Wasn't Wilhelm?

According to Star Wars IV: A New Hope sound editor Ben Burrt, who first nicknamed it the Wilhelm Scream, it is likely the voice of the inimitable Sheb Wooley. Burrt found the original Warner Bros. studio recording of it, and other takes, which you'll hear below.

If it is indeed Sheb Wooley's voice, he has provided two treasures of pop culture: the other is his hit song, "Purple People Eater."

-- Source: "Sound Effects - The Wilhelm Scream" on Hollywood Lost & Found

Alas, poor Wilhelm, we know him well. Actually, we don't, but he started the fine tradition of emitting this scream while being shot and/or falling off of something. This mashup begins with the Wilhelm scene from The Charge at Feather River which gave its name to the meme.

It's surprising how often the scream gets repeated several times a movie. They missed one of the biggies, though: I seem to recall Han Solo himself letting out a mighty Wilhelm right before jumping down the trash compactor chute in Star Wars Ep IV.

Poll: Do You Like "The Scream"? - Yea or Nay on Overused Sound Effects?

So what do you think of the Wilhelm Scream?

See results

The History of the Wilhelm Scream - And the Original Sound Studio Recording

You'd think there wouldn't be that much to say about a scream, but it's a piece of Hollywood history. Here Steve Lee of HollywoodLostandFound.net discusses it. Skip to 2:35 for the original studio recording of the scream, with a few tries before our Unknown Wilhelm nails it on the fourth take. (The other takes also pop up in films, but not quite as often.)

Where to Get the Wilhelm Scream

It's a Stock Movie Scream Sound Effect... Is It Available?

Only a few movie studios have a master copy, including Skywalker Sound (surprise, surprise), but lesser copies of the stock sound are ubiquitous. The Internet Archive has the Wilhelm Scream available in a variety of formats:

Poll: Best Use of the Wilhelm Scream - What Would You Do?

How should we use the scream, now that its secret is out?

See results

© 2011 Ellen Brundige

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Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    duncan-macrae-16 5 years ago

    Oh my lord this has been bothering me for a while now, it's also in the new Hobbit movie and others i can't remember.

  • Tennyhawk profile image

    Tennyhawk 5 years ago

    I was just thinking there ought to be a lens on the Wilhelm scream. Nice take on a Hollywood classic.

  • Hypersapien2 profile image

    Hypersapien2 6 years ago from U.S.

    Nice lens! The Wilhelm scream has been used in everything from westerns to sci-fi to horror flicks!

  • TheGutterMonkey profile image

    The Gutter Monkey 6 years ago

    Love the Wilhelm Scream. It's a classic.

  • profile image

    Heard_Zazzle 7 years ago

    Fun lens.

    "Kahn" a good scream. :)

  • profile image

    moonlitta 7 years ago

    Hm. I love screaming though my family doesn't...so

    i have to restrain from doing it.

  • TreasuresBrenda profile image

    Treasures By Brenda 7 years ago from Canada

    Fun lens. Now instead of singing 'Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah' (which I have been singing because of the lens I have been working on) I can spend the day screaming. Not sure which my family will prefer...

  • FlynntheCat1 profile image

    FlynntheCat1 7 years ago

    Hahahah :D Me and my coworkers 'rediscover' instantrimshot.com/ every couple of months and have great fun playing all the sounds, including this one!

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