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The Most Famous Movie Scream Ever!
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.
Wilhelm Scream Compilation (Warning: includes violence, but mostly just goofy)
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?
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?
The Wilhelm Scream: Notable Links - More Famous Than Most Movie Stars
- Sound Effects - The Wilhelm Scream
Surprisingly excellent article on the Wilhelm Scream at Hollywood Lost & Found.
- Instances of the Wilhelm Scream
217 films/tv shows/video games and counting, this list is also maintained by Hollywood Lost & Found.
- RIMSHOT! (Free sound effects)
Press the big red button for drum rolls, trumpet calls, and a few famous and random sound effects.
- Sheb Wooley's Official Website
A surprisingly fun website about the life and career of Sheb Wooley, possible voice of the Wilhelm Scream. Don't miss rare video and amusingly serious TIME/Life article about the Purple People Eater (click the critter)
- YouTube Video: The Howie Scream, AKA "Youraaagh!"
A video compilation of the Howie Scream or "Youraaagh!" scream. VIOLENCE/LANGUAGE WARNING: It tends to accompany more violent, less campy moments than the Wilhelm Scream. Sometimes known as the TIE fighter scream, although I'm not 100% it's the same
© 2011 Ellen Brundige