The Wilhelm scream in Jackie Chan’s films

The Wilhelm scream in Jackie Chan’s films

18. October 2019 Off By Thorsten Boose

[last update on 13 April 2023]

Jackie Chan’s films are unique in many ways. Not just because of the stunts and the successful combination of action and comedy. A trademark of the Chinese actor and filmmaker are his outtakes during the credits. But a real Hollywood insider has smuggled his way into a few chantastic films that has been up to mischief since the 1950s – the Wilhelm scream.

The Wilhelm scream is a sound effect that is part of a commercial sound library for filmmakers. In the post-production of films and TV series, sound libraries are used to amplify the original sound from the set with artificially generated sounds.

Such sound effects can be punches, pistol shots, people walking, shouts, animal sounds and many more. Likewise a cry from a suffering/dying man. Such a scene, and thus the sound, occurs quite frequently in films, but in 1951 there was probably the most striking acoustic death in history: the Wilhelm scream.

About the famous Wilhelm scream

It was first recorded in a scene in the film “Distant Drums” (1951) when a man was eaten by a crocodile. The scream had such a high recognition value and went through its paces that it has been used more often by sound designers since then. To date, the effect is said to have been used in over 400 productions and, with the exclamation of an eagle, represents one of the most famous sound effects of all time.

The Wilhelm scream is named after a minor character in the film “The Charge at Feather River” from 1953, with the name Wilhelm, who utters this cry when he is struck by an arrow while riding a horse. The sound designer of “Star Wars” (1977), Ben Burtt, stumbled upon the sound in the archive during the production of the Star Wars universe and assumed that it was used there for the first time. Even if the effect was used several times before, it was only with the publication of “Star Wars” and the resulting hype that it achieved cult status among film fans and filmmakers.

The original scream can no longer be fully traced back, partly because several screams were recorded for the post-production of the film “Distant Drums” (1951). Today, actor Sheb Wooley is considered to be the originator of the cult sound. Incidentally, the sound can now be used freely because it cannot be licensed.

The Wilhelm scream in Jackie Chan’s films

And how does the Wilhelm scream from western films of the 1950s run into films with an East Asian leading actor? By putting them in Hollywood films and giving sound designers their freedom.

So far, four films with Jackie Chan’s participation are known that have the famous Wilhelm scream on their audio track: “The Big Brawl” (1980), “Kung Fu Panda” (2008), “The Spy Next Door” (2010) and” Skiptrace” (2016).

There are perhaps more Chan films with the Wilhelm scream. Do you know one? Then please let me know and the list will be completed. Until then, you can marvel at the respective scenes in this video. Did you know?

This is the very first scene with the original Wilhelm scream from “Distant Drums” (1951):

And this is the most famous scene with the Wilhelm scream, which Ben Burtt thought was the first ever, from the film “The Charge at Feather River” (1953):

Megafind: The original Wilhelm Scream

It wasn’t until 2023 that the original recording of the film’s most famous sound was ever recovered. Audio engineer Craig Smith, a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, works as Academic Sound Coordinator at the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of the Arts. He has been preserving copies of original film sounds from Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1960s for many years.

In order to preserve this treasure trove of film history for posterity, Smith is digitising thousands and thousands of tapes, and he found what he was looking for on one of them. He uploaded the original recording of the famous Wilhelm Scream to on 15 February 2023, a historic date.

Click on the audio graphic to view the original article by Craig Smith.