If you’ve been paying attention while watching action movies, you may have wondered why so many movie screams sound the same? It’s called “Wilhelm Scream”, a legendary piece of sound used in a wide variety of movies and TV shows for more than half a century. Screaming is commonly used when someone is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown by an explosion.
But where does the name come from?
It begins in the 1953 film “The Charge at Feather River”. Soldier Wilhelm sits on a horse and fills a pipe with tobacco when his superior shouts his name. Then he sees an Indian arrow wounding him in the left leg, and at this sight he immediately lets out the legendary cry. This scream was used repeatedly throughout the film.
This was the first use of this scream since it was included in the sound database in the Warner Bros. library. Interestingly, soldier Wilhelm was not the first to “scream” at Wilhelm scream. The original scream comes from the 1951 film “Distant Drums”, a scene in which a cowboy is eaten alive by an alligator, but the sound is named and immortalized after soldier Wilhelm. Otherwise, it is believed that the scream is of the actor Sheb Woolley.
It is the beginning of “Wilhelm Scream” and has been used in many films since. And just to inspire you to listen carefully the next time you watch a movie, here are a few movies where you can hear “Wilhelm Scream”:
In ”Star Wars, Episode IV – New Hope”, in all the chaos of the battle, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leah try to avoid the Death Star. Luke shoots а Stormtrooper and he falls into the abyss with Wilhelm screaming.
Movie sound designer Ben Bart, by putting this scream in this scene, introduced it to modern audiences and coined the term “Wilhelm Scream”. In this film, he actually revives the use of this sound effect, and since then the screams have been heard in other George Lucas films, such as “Indiana Jones: The Riders of the Lost Arc”, “Return of the Jedi” and many others.
A Nazi soldier falls from a truck with a “Wilhelm scream” on the hood of a Nazi jeep in the movie “Indiana Jones: The Thieves of the Lost Coffin”, while Indiana Jones fights with the driver of a Nazi truck to control the steering wheel.
Director Quentin Tarantino has always been a self-proclaimed filmmaker, so it should come as no surprise that he included “Wilhelm Scream” in the destructive “Death Proof”. In the scene of a car accident, the character of Kurt Russell, Mike, drives a 1971 Chevrolet Nova ss396 directly into an innocent civilian car. After the initial blow, “Wilhelm scream” can be heard during this fatal accident.
In “Toy Story”, Woody accidentally starts a series of cataclysmic events for Buzz: while operating a remote-controlled car, Woody flips over a cork board. The board pushes a globe that begins to roll and “chases” Buzz just like the big rock Indiana Jones tries to avoid in ” Indiana Jones: The Riders of the Lost Arc.” Buzz grabs the lamp, it spins, pushes Buzz out the window, and he falls with a “Wilhelm scream.”
In “Batman Returns”, Batman faces a criminal gang of circus penguins. While carrying a bouquet of flowers, a clown tries to jump over Batman. He nonchalantly hits the villain and with the same hand subsequently throws a circus performer who flies from the impact with “Wilhelm scream”.
In “Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers”, during a battle at the end of the two towers, thousands of people and elves try to prevent a siege by Mordor forces. Here, in the middle of a fight, a deadly orc throws an elf and he flies off the defensive wall and with a “Wilhelm scream” falls into his doom on the Mordor soldiers. This is the first film in the series to feature “Wilhelm Scream”. It is then used several times in “The Return of the King” and “The Hobbit”.
The creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, never ran away from the references of pop culture in their work, so “Team America – World Police” is no exception. As Team America member Gary Johnston enters the Kim Jong Il compound at gunpoint, he fires at a North Korean soldier stationed on a balcony, who falls to the ground with a “Wilhelm scream.”
In “Lethal Weapon 4”, LAPD sergeants Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh face a villain who throws flames in downtown Los Angeles. Murtaugh distracts the villain by running into the street in boxer shorts, and Riggs shoots at the flamethrower and the villain flies across the street in a “Wilhelm scream” and crashes into a tank.
These are some of the most famous “Wilhelm screams”. Next time you hear this scream in a movie, you will know why it is so familiar to you.