You may not be familiar with the Wilhelm Scream. But if you enjoy war, action or even comedy films, it’s very likely that you’ve heard it. So what’s the Wilhelm Scream you ask? Well, it may just be the most famous sound effect in movie history.
What Is The Wilhelm Scream?
So what exactly is the Wilhelm Scream? It’s the now familiar sound effect first used in the 1951 movie Distant Drums starring Gary Cooper. The film is based upon an 1840s U.S, Army battle in Florida during the Second Seminole War. Typically, a movie scream is used if someone is shot, thrown off a cliff, or caught up in some sort of attack. Like most movies, the Wilhelm Scream required several takes.
In that original Distant Drum scene, an alligator in the Florida Everglades attacks an American soldier named Private Jessup. While he is being dragged underwater, he screams “oowww!” You might notice that you can still hear Jessup scream even when he is underwater!
A few years later, another film – “The Charge at Feather River” – features a soldier named Wilhelm. Private Wilhelm is shot in the leg with an arrow and once again screams out.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Wilhelm Scream Revival
The revival and the coining of the name Wilhelm Scream is credited to motion picture sound designer Ben Burtt, who used the bit in all of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. The sound clip eventually became sort of an in-joke amongst Hollywood film studios. Since its initial use, the Wilhelm Scream has been used in over 250 films, video games, and television. This includes more recent popular films like Avatar, Frozen 2, Toy Story and Wonder Woman.
Another scream, dubbed as the “Howie Scream” also became a part of pop culture but has never achieved the fame of the original. In a scene from the John Travolta film, Broken Arrow, former Oakland Raider Howie Long screams out in pain, hence the name “Howie Scream.”
Today there is a punk rock band from Massachusetts called A Wilhelm Scream and a funk soul band from Australia. The Bamboos has a single titled “Wilhelm Scream” and another single from James Blake with the same titles. And yes there are Wilhelm Scream-related apps on both iTunes and Google Play.
Wilhelm Scream Compilations
Check out some of the uses of the Wilhelm Scream in the YouTube video above and below. There are longer versions and there are shorter versions and there are even video that presents almost of all of the uses that pays homage to this classic bit of trivia.
Warning: Some scenes may be considered offensive
About The Author:
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, CBS Los Angeles and CBS Chicago
During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a digital audience reach of 489 million and more than 5.5 million monthly visitors. His other stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University, U.S. Army veteran and lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.