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Why You've Already Heard Science Fiction's Ubiquitous Wilhelm Scream

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You've probably heard the Wilhelm Scream dozens of times in different movies and television shows without realizing it, but it's one of those things that once you hear, you'll always be able to identify it afterwards. It's now become an in-joke amongst sound editors who try to insert it into their films whenever there's a perfect moment that just needs an over-the-top scream. It began as a Warner Bros. stock sound effect, but was revived and put to serious use by Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt. Now the thing just won't die. Find out more in our screaming triviagasm below.

  • The first appearance of the scream was in 1951's Distant Drums, and was used when a man was eaten by an alligator.
  • The sound is named the "Wilhelm Scream" after Pvt. Wilhelm gets shot in the leg by an arrow in the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River, and screams as he falls over.
  • The sound was used in eight more films in the 1950s, including 1954's Them!, about giant, nuclear-mutated ants.
  • The sound persisted into the 1960s, appearing in eight more movies, including the campy Hercules Against The Moon Men, where Hercules battles monsters from the moon.
  • While Wilhelm started to flag in the 1970s, Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt found a reel labeled "Man Being Eaten By Alligator" in the Warner archives and used the sound when Luke shoots a Stormtrooper who falls down a shaft in the Death Star.
  • Burtt later tracked the sound back to its original use in Distant Drums, although he was the first to call it the "Wilhelm Scream."
  • The sound has since been featured in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie. In fact, it was even used in The Star Wars Holiday Special.
  • It's a mystery as to who the actor was that recorded the original scream, but the most likely suspect is character actor and singer Sheb Wooley, whose name appeared on a memo as a sound extra for Distant Drums. He's best known for his hit song "The Flying Purple People Eater".
  • The sound has been used in over 75 movies (most recently in Cloverfield), dozens of television shows (like Doctor Who), and even numerous video games... including many of the Star Wars titles.