The Wilhelm Scream makes it into 'Iron Man 2'

Alex Pham
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — On Sunday, "Iron Man 2" director Jon Favreau tweeted, "The Wilhelm Scream is in."

It was one small sentence for Tweetdom, but one loud message for sound geeks.

The message means "Iron Man 2" will arrive in theaters on May 7 with one of the most storied sound effects in Hollywood: a single-second, high-pitched shriek from the 1950s known to sound supervisors as "The Wilhelm Scream."

The pained wail has appeared in more than 140 movies, according to Hollywood historian and sound editor Steve Lee, who maintains a list of them at hollywoodlost Among the films: "Star Wars," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Batman Returns," "Reservoir Dogs," "Toy Story," "Spider-Man," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "Hellboy" and "Poltergeist."

How did this quirky tradition get started? According to Lee's account, it began as a standard effect for a 1951 movie titled "Distant Drums" starring Gary Cooper. The film is set in Florida in 1840 and the sound was used when a soldier is bitten by an alligator while wading through the Everglades.

For two years, the sound clip sat in silence in the Warner Bros. archives, until it was used again in a movie called "The Charge at Feather River." This is when the sound acquired its famous name: A soldier named Pvt. Wilhelm lets loose with the scream when he takes an arrow in the leg.

The Wilhelm Scream really caught fire with legendary sound supervisor Ben Burtt, who created the sound effects for "Star Wars" and won Oscars for his work on "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Burtt began using the sound snippet as a kind of calling card, and then other sound specialists, as an inside joke, found excuses to sneak it into their projects.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.