In a 2018 interview with ABC News, supervising sound editor of Skywalker Sound Matthew Wood announced that Disney and Lucasfilm were ditching the famous Wilhelm Scream. This was accompanied by the news that a NEW signature scream was already being used, yet nobody to date had found it.
Thus began Metaflix’s search for the new “Star Wars” Wilhelm Scream. Wouldn’t you know, we found it: it’s the WALL-E Scream. Want proof? Check out our video essay featured at the top of the post. But first, let’s get everyone on the same page regarding the true significance of this discovery.
The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect–technically one of 6 that were recorded during the same session–of a man giving off a terrified scream. It’s been used in roughly 400 films, gaining cult status along the way. The very first use of the Wilhelm Scream was in the 1951 western film “Distant Drums” starring Gary Cooper, during this scene in which a man is dragged underwater by an alligator:
The recording existed on a studio reel fittingly labelled “Man being eaten by alligator.” After “Distant Drums,” the scream was used in various Warner Bros. films as part of their sound library, including “Them!” in 1954, “Land of the Pharaohs” in 1955, “PT-109” in 1963, and “The Green Berets” in 1968.
From there, the sound effect would’ve likely faded into obscurity if it weren’t for one man, renowned sound designer Ben Burtt. It was Burtt, along with his friends in the USC cinema department Rick Mitchell and Richard Anderson, who noticed the peculiar scream being used time and time again. In turn, the trio used it themselves in a 1974 swashbuckler parody they made together called “The Scarlet Blade.” However, the scream had yet to achieve true notoriety until Ben Burtt used it again, this time in a little space adventure movie called Star Wars.
It was during this time that Burtt was able research the effect, naming it after a character called Private Wilhelm from the 1953 film “Charge at Feather River,” in what is thought to be either the second or third time the scream was utilized.
Considering Burtt is also responsible for creating such notable Star Wars sound effects as the voice of R2-D2, the lightsaber hum, the blaster guns, and the iconic breathing of Darth Vader, it’s no surprise that his career quickly flourished. Burtt worked on the subsequent Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises while utilizing the Wilhelm Scream as something of his own personal calling card.
After the scream established a foothold in the annals of cinema, Burtt researched the effect even further, hoping to determine who had actually made the sound that was quickly becoming the most widely known sound effect in popular culture.
This research led him to Sheb Wooley, best known for his novelty song “The Purple People Eater,” as the most likely candidate responsible for the scream. Wooley had an uncredited role on the film “Distant Drums” in which the scream was first used, and Burtt discovered written records from the original editor that indicated Wooley was one of just a few actors assembled to record additional vocal elements for the film.
Of course, like any in-joke that makes its way into popular culture, a spinoff was always destined to be in the works. Which brings us back to Matthew Wood and his groundbreaking 2018 announcement that the Wilhelm Scream had been retired and a new scream had already been used in various films. Among the films Woods named were “Rogue One,” “Solo,” and “The Last Jedi.”
“Rogue One” has dozens of screams and “Solo” also has a handful. Rather surprisingly, however, “The Last Jedi” features just two distinct screams, greatly eliminating the potential field of candidates.
Now here’s the kicker: Wood has also stated that the new Wilhelm Scream has been used in other Disney-owned movies without explicitly stating which ones. However, it’s been rumored that Pixar’s WALL-E is one of them. Similar to “The Last Jedi,” there are really only two candidates, and we zeroed in on the scream that can be heard approximately 58 minutes into the movie.
With WALL-E being a robot, it’s a modulated version of the same scream we had already heard in the aforementioned Star Wars titles. And here’s the best part: WALL-E is voiced by none other than the man who made the Wilhelm Scream famous in the first place, Ben Burtt!
Furthermore, in that same 2018 interview with ABC News, Wood not only refused to say where the scream appears across the various films, but he declined to name the new scream, stating “it would reveal too much.”
How would naming the scream reveal too much? Because if Matthew Wood plans on officially calling it the WALL-E Scream as one might reasonably suspect, that would make a world of difference in finding it.
Think about it. Not only does that keep the origin of the sound effect within the Disney Universe, but it has a certain cutesiness like all things Disney these days. The new name, WALL-E, also maintains an alliterative effect with the original, Wilhelm, which is just how Woods and company would surely want it.
So there you have it. Metaflix has not only found the new Wilhelm Scream, we think they’re going to name it the WALL-E Scream for good measure, which is honestly as good as anything they could’ve come up with. Now all that’s left is for Matthew Wood to confirm it, giving Metaflix a fun little footnote in the annals of cinema history.
Be sure to check out the video essay featured up top for all the samples, sound bites, and comparisons, and feel free to help us hit up Matthew Wood on social media to hopefully gain final confirmation from the man himself.