The Wilhelm Scream

Did you know that only one species of frog actually makes the sound ‘Ribbit’?  That specific species resides near Hollywood and was subsequently used as the stock sound for most frogs in movies, no matter their specific species or origin.  This is just one example of studios reusing existing sound effects/recordings in many different films and is not the most famous example- that distinction lies with the Wilhelm Scream.

The sound effect originated in the 1951 movie Distant Drums (see above video) in a scene where a group of soldiers are wading through a swamp and one of them is attacked and dragged under the water, resulting in what is now known as the Wilhelm Scream.  The sound effect was used a few more times over the next couple of years before disappearing for a time.  It wasn’t until sound designer Ben Burtt discovered the effect and incorporated it into the original Star Wars film that the scream started to become a part of popular culture.  Burtt began using the sound clip in other films he worked on including the Indiana Jones movies and the rest of the classic Star Wars trilogy.

Burtt named the sound after a character from the 1953 movie The Charge at Feather River, primarily in a scene where Private Wilhelm is shot with an arrow and lets out the now famous scream (see above video).  Burtt has credited the scream to Sheb Wooley, a singer and actor who often provided additional recordings to Westerns.  Other sound designers also began using the effect leading to its inclusion in multiple motion pictures, television programmes and even video games.  The Wilhelm Scream has since become a signature of many directors including Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Peter Jackson and has been used in over 200 movies, television shows and video games.

Below is a video made by Watchmojo.com of their ten favourite uses of the scream.  If you want more, check out Youtube for many more compilations of the Wilhelm Scream.

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