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 is it you ask? Well, it may just be the most famous movie scream in the history of Hollywood. Once you see and listen to you, you’re certain to agree!
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, you hear a movie scream if someone is shot, thrown off a cliff or attacked. Like most famous movies, the Scream required several takes.
Private Jessup in Distant Drums
In that original “Distant Drum” scene, an alligator in the Florida Everglades attacks a character 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!
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Who Was Private Wilhelm?
A few years later, another film – “The Charge at Feather River” – features a pipe smoking character. He is shot in the leg with an arrow and once again screams out. This actor was actually dressed as a cowboy sitting on his trusty horse. Unfortunately, he was not able to fill his pipe. The Wilhelm Scream is heard a second time and in this case, Union soldier Private Wilhelm is struck with a spear. A third scream is heard as an Indian warrior falls after getting stabbed.
The rest, as they say, is history. It’s clearly one of the most famous movie screams ever. In fact, it just appeared in the 2021 Netflix film “Red Notice”. The action flick stars Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds.
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”. Even more recent movies like (Buzz) “Lightyear”, “Free Guy”, “Encanto” and “Avengers: Infinity War” feature the scream. If that’s not enough, there are also, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” and “Nightmare Alley”.
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The Howie Scream
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, you just know that there are Wilhelm Scream apps on both iTunes and Google Play.
Check out some of the uses of the Scream on YouTube for more famous movies. There are longer versions and there are shorter versions and there are even video that presents almost of all of the uses paying homage to this classic bit of trivia. With this in mind, don’t be surprised the next time you hear the Wilhelm Scream!
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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.