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Wilhelm scream

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Audio sample of the Wilhelm scream
Complete recording session of the Wilhelm scream

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in countless films and TV series, originating from the 1951 movie Distant Drums. The scream is usually used when someone is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion. The sound is named after Private Wilhelm, a character in The Charge at Feather River, a 1953 Western in which the character gets shot in the thigh with an arrow. This was its first use following its inclusion in the Warner Bros. stock sound library, although The Charge at Feather River was the third film to use the effect. The scream is thought to be voiced by actor Sheb Wooley. It was featured in all of the original Star Wars films.


The Wilhelm scream originates from a series of sound effects recorded for the 1951 movie Distant Drums.[1][2] In a scene from the film, soldiers fleeing a Seminole group are wading through a swamp in the Everglades, and one of them is bitten and dragged underwater by an alligator. The screams for that scene, and other scenes in the movie, were recorded later in a single take. The recording was titled "Man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams." The fifth take of the scream was used for the soldier in the alligator scene.[2][3][a] That take, which later became known as the "Wilhelm scream", is thought to have been voiced by actor Sheb Wooley (who also played the uncredited role of Pvt. Jessup in Distant Drums).[4]

Because the costs of creating sound effects were high at that time, the scream was reused in a number of other Warner Bros. films in that era.[5] In addition to The Charge at Feather River (1953),[6] other films using the scream include A Star Is Born (1954),[3] Them! (1954), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), The Sea Chase (1955), Sergeant Rutledge (1960), PT 109 (1963), The Wild Bunch (1969),[7] and The Green Berets (1968).[3]

The Wilhelm scream became iconic in popular culture when motion picture sound designer Ben Burtt, who had come across the original recording on a studio archive sound reel, incorporated it into the scene in Star Wars (1977) in which Luke Skywalker shoots a Stormtrooper off a ledge. The effect is heard as the Stormtrooper is falling.[1][8] Burtt named the scream after Pvt. Wilhelm, a minor character from The Charge in Feather River who appears to emit the scream, and adopted it as his personal sound signature.[3] Burtt also found use for the effect in More American Graffiti (1979); and over the next decades he incorporated it into other films that he worked on, such as Willow (1988),[3] Gremlins, Anchorman, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Lethal Weapon 4, The Fifth Element[5] and several George Lucas and Steven Spielberg films. Notably, the rest of the Star Wars films made under Lucas[1] and all the Indiana Jones movies included the effect.[9][1][b]

Following its use in Star Wars, other sound designers have picked up and used the sound effect in works. Inclusion of the sound in films became a tradition among a certain community of sound designers.[12]

As of mid-2023, the scream had not been made available in any commercial sound effects library.[9] The entire collection of original sources of the sound effects made by Sunset Editorial, which includes the Wilhelm scream, was donated to the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1990.[13] In 2023, Craig Smith released a copy of the complete recording from the original session on Freesound on behalf of the USC under the CC0 license, along with the rest of Sunset Editorial sound effects.[13] On May 20, 2023, the entire collection of Sunset Editorial SFX was mirrored in the Internet Archive (also under the CC0 license) for the purpose of enabling a wider distribution, especially thanks to its BitTorrent support.[14]

Voice of the scream[edit]

Research by Burtt suggests that Wooley, best known for his 1958 novelty song "The Purple People Eater" and his character of American Indian scout Pete Nolan on the television series Rawhide, is likely to have been the voice actor who originally performed the scream. This has been supported by an interview in 2005 with Linda Dotson, Wooley's widow.[4] Burtt discovered records at Warner Bros. from the editor of Distant Drums, including a short list of names of actors scheduled to record lines of dialogue for miscellaneous roles in the movie. Wooley was one of a few actors assembled for the recording of additional "pick-up" vocal elements for the film. Dotson confirmed Wooley's scream had been in many Westerns, adding that he "always used to joke about how he was so great about screaming and dying in films."[2][9]


The voice of the scream, Sheb Wooley

In films[edit]

Since the late 20th century, the Wilhelm scream had been used in numerous films. The National Science and Media Museum says the yell has been featured in more than 400 films.[15]

Sound designer Gary Rydstrom included the effect in his 2006 directorial debut, the Pixar short film Lifted,[1][16] as well as Toy Story (1995), Hercules (1997), and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003).[3] The sound effect is heard in Reservoir Dogs (1992),[3] Super Mario Bros. (1993), Avatar (2009), Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003),[3] Inglourious Basterds (2009),[17] Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019),[18] Troy (2004), Django Unchained (2012), The Man With the Iron Fists (2012), Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005), Flushed Away (2006), Twilight: New Moon (2009), Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), Kung Fu Panda (2008), The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017), Deadpool 2 (2018), F9 (2021), Venom (2018), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Lightyear (2022), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023),[19][20] and throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Transformers and The Hobbit franchises.[1] The effect has appeared in many animated Disney and Pixar films, such as Toy Story,[1] Cars franchises, and A Goofy Movie (1995).[1] Weddington Productions—that employs such sound directors as Mark Mangini, David Whittaker, Steve Lee and George Simpson—and is owned by Burtt's friend and colleague, Richard Anderson, have used the effect in productions of Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Broken Arrow (1996), The Fifth Element (1997), The Majestic (2001), Just Visiting (2001), A Man Apart (2003), and Tears of the Sun (2003).[citation needed] Anderson also incorporated the sound effect in to Poltergeist (1982), Batman Returns (1992), Planet of the Apes (2001), Agent Cody Banks (2003), and (2005). Director Joe Dante, beginning with his first major film, Hollywood Boulevard (1976), included it in his later films Explorers (1985), Spaceballs (1987), Gremlins 2 (1990), The Second Civil War (1997), Matinee (1993), Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), and Ratchet & Clank (2016).[3]

In TV[edit]

The Wilhelm scream has made its way into television series, such as The Boys, Chuck, Maverick, The X-Files, Angel, Family Guy,[3] Naked City, Game of Thrones, Once Upon A Time, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, Littlest Pet Shop (2012), Adventure Time, Regular Show, American Dad, Steven Universe, Sweet Tooth, The 100, Clarence, Lizzie McGuire, Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure, SpongeBob SquarePants, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years, The Loud House, The Casagrandes, The Fairly OddParents, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, Wander Over Yonder, Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, Amphibia, The Simpsons, Futurama, Invader Zim, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, The Powerpuff Girls (2016), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), Star Trek: Enterprise, The Venture Bros., BoJack Horseman, Pink Panther and Pals, American Dad!,[3] Glitch Techs, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Monster High, Primeval, Transformers: EarthSpark, Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben 10: Omniverse, Hailey's On It!, Fast & Furious Spy Racers, Red vs. Blue, Stand Up and Away with Brian Regan, One Piece (2023), LazyTown, What We Do in the Shadows, The Righteous Gemstones, Psych and every episode in the first season of Killer Karaoke.[citation needed]

Other media[edit]

Video games have made use of the scream, as it is heard in video games such as Red Dead Redemption (during gunfights),[21] The First Templar, Rayman Origins, LittleBigPlanet, Riders Republic, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo: Reach, Grand Theft Auto V, The Witcher 3, Mass Effect 2 (during a cutscene of the DLC Zaeed - The Price of Revenge), Midnight Club, Mechwarrior 3 (during the intro cinematic), Baldur's Gate 3, Borderlands 3, Bendy and the Dark Revival,[citation needed] Song of Nunu, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (during the intro cinematic), and Star Wars Battlefront II.[12] The scream can be found in commercials for Dell Computers and the Comcast streaming service.[3] "The Star Trek Adventure" at Universal Studios, "The Batman Adventure" at Warner Brothers Movie World, and "Golden Dreams" (playing at Disney's California Adventure) all use the sound effect.[3]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The fourth and sixth screams recorded in the session were used earlier in the film, reportedly when several Native Americans are shot during a raid on a U.S. Army fort.
  2. ^ It was announced in February 2018 that the Star Wars franchise would no longer use the Wilhelm scream, with The Force Awakens (2015) being the last film in the series to use it.[10][11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lee, James (September 25, 2007). "Cue the Scream: Meet Hollywood's Go-To Shriek". Wired. Vol. 15, no. 10. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Malvern, Jack (May 21, 2005). "Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggghhh!! (Paywalled)". The Times. Archived from the original on December 12, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lee, Steve (May 17, 2005). Burtt, Ben; Anderson, Richard; Mitchell, Rick; Rydstrom, Gary; Schulkey, Curt; Boyes, Chris; Whittaker, David; Stone, David; Kovats, Phil; Fein, David; Linke, Chris; Malvern, Jack; Dotson-Wooley, Linda (eds.). "The Wilhelm Scream". Hollywood Lost and Found. Archived from the original on December 17, 2017. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Times article in which Sheb Wooley's widow states her belief that her husband was the man behind the scream". Archived from the original on October 17, 2019. Retrieved April 27, 2008.
  5. ^ a b An iconic Hollywood sound effect called the Wilhelm scream was uncovered in an archive. CBS News. June 28, 2023. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  6. ^ Valjak, Domagoj (April 23, 2018). "The origin of the Wilhelm scream, the most famous sound effect in the history of cinema". The Vintage News. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  7. ^ "Facts about "The Wild Bunch" (p3) : Classic Movie Hub (CMH)". Classic Movie Hub - CMH. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved June 17, 2023.
  8. ^ Rinzler, J. W. (2010). The Sounds of Star Wars. San Francisco: Simon & Schuster. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-8118-7546-2. Archived from the original on November 6, 2020. Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "Does That Scream Sound Familiar?". ABC News. October 14, 2007. Archived from the original on October 1, 2017. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  10. ^ Kurp, Josh (February 21, 2018). "A 'Star Wars' Tradition Dating Back To The Original Movie Has Been Retired". Uproxx. Archived from the original on August 24, 2018. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  11. ^ Dillon, Ananda (February 21, 2018). "Star Wars Has Abandoned the Iconic Wilhelm Scream". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on August 23, 2018. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Garfield, Bob; Gladstone, Brooke (December 30, 2005), "Wilhelm", On the Media
  13. ^ a b Smith, Craig (March 10, 2023). "Preserving the Sunset Editorial Sound Effects Library from the USC Archive". Archived from the original on April 8, 2023. Retrieved April 8, 2023.
  14. ^ Scott, Jason (May 20, 2023). "CRASH! BARK! BOOM! The USC Sound Effects Library". Internet Archive. Archived from the original on May 31, 2023.
  15. ^ Dudley, Joshua (June 22, 2023). "The Wilhelm Scream: The History of Film's Most Popular Sound Effect". Backstage.
  16. ^ "2007's Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts: Three Fords, a Vespa and a Kit Bike". Animation World Network. Archived from the original on August 16, 2023. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  17. ^ Poitras, Amanda (March 15, 2013). "The Famous "Wilhelm Scream" Heard in Over 200 Films is Thought to Have Come from the Vocal Talents of the Guy Who Wrote and Sang the Song "Purple People Eater"". Today I Found Out. Archived from the original on March 17, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  18. ^ Hutchinson, Sean (August 16, 2018). "What Is the Wilhelm Scream?". Mental Floss. Archived from the original on June 28, 2023. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  19. ^ Shachat, Sarah (July 18, 2023). "The Sound Effect That Links Judy Garland to 'Star Wars'". IndieWire.com.
  20. ^ Fillery, Jake (June 30, 2023). "Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny: 9 Easter Eggs You Missed". GameRant.com.
  21. ^ Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2015. Guinness World Records. November 6, 2014. p. 45. ISBN 9781908843715. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved September 13, 2020.

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