This is a common stock sound effect of a man yelling or screaming (it is hard to tell), which some have claimed debuted in the 1951 Warner Bros. film ‘Distant Drums’.
The sound is named after Private Wilhelm, a character in ‘The Charge at Feather River‘, a 1953 Western in which the character gets shot in the thigh with an arrow.
This was its first use following its inclusion in the Warner Bros. stock sound library, although ‘The Charge at Feather River’ is believed to have been the third film to use the effect.
Sometimes the Wilhelm Scream is called the 5th Yell and is often used as an audio in-joke by audio designers and producers in different mediums as it is used so often.
How often? It is perhaps the best known scream used around the world in hundreds of movies, TV shows, video games, plus commercials on TV and radio.
This sound effect scream is used mainly whenever someone is shot, dropped from a great height, thrown from an explosion, or attacked by someone.
Directors George Lucas and Peter Jackson are among many of the avid fans of the sound effect, as are Pixar and many other movie producers and directors.
The History of the scream (taken from WIKIPEDIA)
The Wilhelm scream originates from a series of sound effects recorded specifically 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 screams for that scene, and other scenes in the movie, were recorded later in a single take. The recording was entitled: “Man getting bit by an alligator, and he screamed.” The fifth take of the scream was used for the soldier in the alligator scene. The fifth take, which later became known as the iconic “Wilhelm scream,” was probably voiced by actor Sheb Wooley (who played the uncredited role of Pvt. Jessup in Distant Drums).
The possible original voice of the scream
Research by Ben Burtt (Benjamin Burtt Jr. American sound designer, film editor, director, screenwriter, and voice actor) suggests that Sheb Wooley, who is perhaps best known for his 1958 novelty song “The Purple People Eater” and also as the Indian scout ‘Pete Nolan’ on the television series Rawhide (1959-1966 – Wooley appeared in season 1-4 and 4 episodes in season 7).
In a 2005 interview with Linda Dotson, Wooley’s widow agreed with this saying “He always used to joke about how he was so great about screaming and dying in films.”
Ben Burtt discovered records held at Warner Bros. from the editor of Distant Drums which included a short list of names of actors scheduled to record lines of dialogue for miscellaneous roles in the movie. Wooley was one of a few actors assembled for the recording of additional, “pick-ups” for the vocal elements for the film.
Below are some samples of the Wilhelm Scream/5th Yell:
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