Do You Know Hollywood’s Most Iconic Scream?
Wilhelm Scream History
Hundreds of iconic movies such as: Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Toy Story all have one thing in common; the sound effect known as the Wilhelm Scream. Although you may not know what the name of this famous sound effect is, you almost certainly have heard it!
Often times when a character meets an unfortunate demise, especially a few decades ago when creating new sound effects were extremely expensive, the same shrieking soundbite can be heard from movie to movie. The Wilhelm Scream, which was created for the 1951 Gary Cooper film Distant Drums, originally got its name from 1953’s The Charge at Feather River in which Pvt. Wilhelm took an arrow to his leg causing him to let out the famous scream.
This was the first time it was used following its inclusion in the Warner Bros. stock sound library hence why the name comes from the second film it was used in instead of Distant Drums. Although it cannot be confirmed who voiced the scream, actor Sheb Wooley is credited by most for having made the yelp when recording his lines for the role of Pvt. Jessup in Distant Drums. Motion picture sound designer Ben Burtt came across the original recording on a studio archive sound reel and used it during the original Star Wars film, which is where it became iconic in popular culture. Following its use in Star Wars, other sound designers have picked up and used the sound effect in works. Inclusion of the sound in films became a tradition among a certain community of sound designers.
Craig Smith, a researcher at CalArts, is the one who rediscovered the original tape of the recording session that included the Wilhelm Scream. Smith was given boxes of tapes from USC’s film school to archive saving them from the trash! Smith states in an interview with CBS News that there were “close calls all over the place” when asked how close the tape was to being thrown away, also stating that “nobody wanted it, nobody cared about it.” On the tape you can hear the actor give an “owww” sound, but after a little direction the actor nails the sound now famously known as the Wilhelm Scream.
Most Iconic Wilhelm Screams
It is known that major directors today like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, still use it as a joke in their films, sort of a little “easter” egg if you will. Now next time you watch an action movie be sure to keep an ear out for it!