When Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt was looking for just the right scream to use in a sci-fi film at Fox called Star Wars, little did he know he would introduce the world to the most famous sound effect of all time. Thanks to a reel labelled “Man being eaten by an alligator” recorded for a Warner Bros. western in 1951, he incorporated the “Wilhelm scream,” a dramatic (and often hilarious) sound that has since turned up in hundreds of movies. Here are a few of the more memorable examples of what has now become a beloved audio game for movie fanatics.
And when the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens its doors, don't miss Burtt's special installation, part of the Stories of Cinema gallery.
Obviously this one had to be in here. Used as a dramatic scream for an ill-fated stormtrooper during the Death Star climax, the scream would turn up again in every film in the series through Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens for unfortunate clone troopers, rebels and assorted guards.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
You’ll hear Wilhelm screams aplenty all over this second adventure for Indiana Jones, including two appearances in the Shanghai opener and, of course, when a man gets eaten by reptiles during the finale.
Beauty and the Beast
Disney’s Oscar-winning animated classic is filled with elaborate little visual and audio touches throughout. Of course, there’s a bit of Wilhelm tucked away too during the big climactic confrontation with torch-bearing villagers, so keep your ears peeled. Aladdin, Hercules and Wreck-It Ralph have continued the Disney Wilhelm tradition as well.
One of America’s biggest movie buffs, Quentin Tarantino, worked in the Wilhelm scream in his very first film during the heist getaway sequence; listen carefully to one hapless pedestrian. Tarantino would use the sound again in Kill Bill: Volume 1, Death Proof, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Inglourious Basterds.
Buzz Lightyear got his own Wilhelm scream while getting knocked out of a window by a lamp in Pixar’s first, groundbreaking animated film. Pixar kept the gag going in several later films including Cars, Up, Monsters University and Toy Story 3.
Director Joe Dante is known for slipping little jokes in the corners of his movies all over the place, and one of his most prominent Wilhelms can be found during the bicycle chase in this toy-crazy action adventure.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Marvel has managed to work some Wilhelm mayhem into such films as Guardians of the Galaxy, but the first documented appearance to date comes when an unlucky Hydra minion meets his maker during a motorcycle chase.
The Hunger Games
The action scenes in this first entry in the four-film dystopian saga for young adults are loaded with fast-moving details, but pay close attention when Katniss comes up with the idea of cutting off a pivotal tree branch about halfway through.
21 Jump Street
Multiple Wilhelms are mixed into the mayhem of this hit action comedy, including the chicken truck collision and even during the credits. Of course, it also makes an appearance in the sequel.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Among all the iterations of Spider-Man who turn up in this Oscar-winning animated film, pay attention when Spider-Man Noir makes his entrance and explains his origins; there’s a little Wilhelm surprise tucked away in there.