Filmmaking & Videography

Whether you’ve heard of the Wilhelm Scream in film or not – you’re in for a fun story! Stick with us to hear all about the stock sound that became famous in its own right – from its conception to how it was named and what films it has featured in. Let’s get started!

What Is The Wilhelm Scream?

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The Wilhelm Scream in film is essentially a stock sound effect that has received a lot of use in the last 60+ years. The scream itself is commonly used when a character is shot, falls from a great height or is thrown aside by an explosion. Chances are that you’ve heard the scream tons of times and not realized!

The Wilhelm Scream’s Conception

Despite being named after another movie, the Wilhelm Scream actually debuted in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums. This now iconic yelp originally featured in a scene in which a soldier is dragged underwater by an alligator (yikes!), and the rest is history! The scream then became a regular part of Warner Bros. sound library, and was titled the original ‘Man Being Eaten By Alligator’.

In the early 1970s, sound designers studying at USC Film School were the first to recognize that the scream kept appearing in numerous films. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first film that they recognized it, the Western film The Charge At Feather River. In the movie, a character named Private Wilhelm screams after being shot in the leg by an arrow – hence it’s name!

The Wilhelm Scream In Film & Popular Culture: How It Grew In Popularity

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The sound effect eventually became an icon in pop culture and a movie in-joke when it was revived in the 1970s – popping up in hundreds of films. From Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings to Toy Story and Titanic, the sound effect has definitely done the rounds on both large and small screens. So, how did it get there?

Well, after the group of USC students noticed and named the scream, they began slipping the sound effect into their student films as a joke. One of these students was the future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt. He was eventually approached by fellow USC alumni George Lucas to work on the sound design for Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt added in the classic scream, and continued to use it in ventures such as Indiana Jones and every other Star Wars movie.

Since then, the scream has become a movie in-joke and a nod to Burtt, being used by directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson as well as countless sound designers.

Who Voiced The Wilhelm Scream?

Although it hasn’t been confirmed – it looks as though the most likely candidate for voicing the scream is Sheb Wooley. He played the uncredited role of Pvt. Jessup in Distant Drums, and his name was also found on a Warner Bros short list for actors scheduled to record miscellaneous dialogue and vocal elements for the movie. This was supported by a 2005 interview with Wooley’s widow, Linda Dotson.

What Has The Scream Been Used In?

To see the scream in action, check out this compilation here:

To name a few, the Wilhelm Scream has been used in:

  • Star Wars
  • Indiana Jones
  • Up
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Monsters University
  • Titanic
  • Toy Story
  • Cars
  • Aladdin
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Video Game ‘Red Dead Redemption’

Final Thoughts

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There you have it, The Wilhelm Scream! It is a truly fascinating study on stock effects and use of Foley sounds within film – and I bet nobody expected the sound to blow up in the way that it did.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out our articles on Sound Of Metal’s Sound DesignOur Top Sound Design TracksTop Movie SoundtracksAdding Music To Videos With Mark Wallace and Audio Engineers! Also, don’t forget that Audiosocket always want to help filmmakers in any way we can, such as with finding music for your films, trailers, websites and more!

If you are looking for authentic, top-quality music for your films, why not check out Audiosocket? Your films deserve the best, so sign up today and access tens of thousands of songs to bring your vision to life! You can access Audiosocket’s music catalog for just $10 a month as a Personal creator. Not only that, but this allows you to license an unlimited number of tracks at no additional cost. Talk about win-win!

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