The Wilhelm Scream: A History

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ‘Wilhelm Scream’, you’re probably not as unfamiliar as you think.

The Wilhelm Scream is a movie sound effect, first used in 1951 on the movie DISTANT DRUMS. The sound was labeled: “man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams”. The sound is named for Private Wilhelm, a character in THE CHARGE A FEATHER RIVER, a 1953 western in which the character is shot with an arrow. This was believed to be the second movie to use the sound effect and its first use from the Warner Brothers stock sound library.

In 1977 Benjamin Burtt Jr. found the recording and used it in a movie you may have heard of, STAR WARS. Since that time it has been used in over 200 movies and TV shows. Here are a few of them…

It is perhaps the most recognizable of all film sounds effects, and once you know it, it’s easy to pick out. It appears in almost everything George Lucas has ever done, and now it appears even in non-American made films. Personally I can’t help but notice it anymore. I was watching DEATH PROOF with my sister last week and heard it pop up in there as well. In what has become almost a running joke among Hollywood sound editors, now also provides a bit of inside fun for those who can pick it out.

For a little more history, if you’re interested, you can see some Hollywood insiders talking about it below, along with a theory about old school singer might be the one who recorded it…

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