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Wilhelm scream

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Wilhelm scream

The Wilhelm scream

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in more than 300 movies, beginning in 1951 for the film Distant Drums.[1] The scream is often used when someone is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion, and is most commonly used in films and television.

Most likely voiced by actor and singer Sheb Wooley, the sound is named after Private Wilhelm, a character in The Charge at Feather River, a 1953 western in which the character gets shot with an arrow. This was its first use from the Warner Bros. stock sound library, although The Charge at Feather River is believed to have been the third movie to use the effect.[2]

The effect gained new popularity (its use often becoming an in-joke) after it was used in the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones series, Disney cartoons and many other blockbuster films as well as many television programs, video games, and podcasts.[3][4]


  • History 1
  • Appearances 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The Wilhelm scream originates from a series of sound effects recorded for the 1951 movie Distant Drums. In a scene from the film, soldiers are wading through a swamp in the Everglades, and one of them is bitten and dragged underwater by an alligator. The scream for that scene was recorded later in a single take, along with five other short pained screams, which were slated as "man getting bit by an alligator, and he screamed." The fifth scream was used for the soldier in the alligator scene—but the fourth, fifth, and sixth screams recorded in the session were also used earlier in the film—when three Indians are shot during a raid on a fort. Although takes 4, 5, and 6 are the most recognizable, all the screams are referred to as "Wilhelm" by those in the sound community.

The Wilhelm scream's revival came from motion picture sound designer Steven Spielberg, notably the rest of the subsequent Star Wars films, as well as the Indiana Jones movies. Other sound designers picked up on the effect, and inclusion of the sound in films became a tradition among the community of sound designers.[3] In what is perhaps an in-joke within an in-joke, one of the scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom actually features a man being eaten by an alligator accompanied by the scream.

Research by Burtt suggests that Sheb Wooley, best known for his novelty song "The Purple People Eater" in 1958 and as scout Pete Nolan on the television series Rawhide, is likely to have been the voice actor who originally performed the scream. This has been supported by an interview in 2005 with Linda Dotson, Wooley's widow. Burtt discovered records at Warner Brothers from the editor of Distant Drums including a short list of names of actors scheduled to record lines of dialogue for miscellaneous roles in the movie. Wooley played the uncredited role of Private Jessup in Distant Drums, and was one of the few actors assembled for the recording of additional vocal elements for the film. Wooley performed additional vocal elements, including the screams for a man being bitten by an alligator.[7] Dotson confirmed that it was Wooley's scream that had been in so many westerns, adding, "He always used to joke about how he was so great about screaming and dying in films."[2]


The Wilhelm scream has become a cinematic sound prequel trilogy movies), Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and Peter Jackson[8] (in two of the Lord of the Rings movies, and also The Hobbit) include it in almost every one of their productions.

See also

  • Howie scream, another frequently-used stock sound effect
  • A113, an inside joke present as an Easter egg in animated films created by CalArts alumni


  1. ^ Lee, James (25 September 2007). "Cue the Scream: Meet Hollywood's Go-To Shriek".  
  2. ^ a b Malvern, Jack (May 21, 2005). "Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggghhh!!". The Times. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Garfield, Bob; Gladstone, Brooke (30 December 2005). "Wilhelm".  
  4. ^ Baughman, Dmitri; Oddfellow, Dirk (31 January 2015). "Episode 14". Hive Noise Comedy Podcast. 
  5. ^ Rinzler, J. (2010). The Sounds of Star Wars. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 254.  
  6. ^ Lee, Steve (17 May 2005). "The Wilhelm Scream". Hollywood Lost and Found. 
  7. ^ Distant Drums at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ a b "Most Popular "Wilhelm Scream" Titles". IMDb. 

External links

  • article in which Sheb Wooley's widow states her belief that her husband was the man behind the screamTimes
  • Movies incorporating the Wilhelm scream
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