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Fri, 10 May ’13

Scream On: The History of the Wilhelm Scream

Over 200 movies and still shrieking.

You’ve heard it, you know it, it populates your dreams – the Wilhelm Scream is the world’s most famous, and infamous, sound effect. For over 60 years, the Wilhelm Scream has been the audio signifier that someone has either been gravely hurt or they’re plummeting to their certain demise. Appearing in over 200 movies throughout the years, the sound itself has become a bit of an in-joke among cinema fans, especially in the sci-fi/fantasty community thanks to its use in the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings films.

The Wilhelm Scream first appeared in the 1951 Gary Cooper movie, Distant Drums, from a recording session for vocal effects, becoming just another sound option in the Warner Bros. stock library. The term “Wilhelm” was coined by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt of Star Wars fame after a scene from the third film in which the scream appeared, that being the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River, wherein a cavalry private named Wilhelm gets an arrow in the leg while sitting calmly on his horse. The horse was unharmed.

Some of our favorite instances of the Wilhelm Scream include the scene in A New Hope when Luke shoots a Stormtropper off the Death Star platform when the bridge is out, when Indiana Jones kicks Nazis out of the truck in Raiders of the Lost Ark and, of course, when Luke knocks the desert skiff guard into the pit of the almighty Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi. The sound continues to be used today, even appearing in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As long as characters in movies are hurled off of objects or blown to smithereens, the Wilhelm Scream will remain the much more versatile and subtler counterpart to the bombastic Howie Scream.

What’s your favorite use of the Wilhelm Scream? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!