The Stories Behind 5 Famous Sound Effects in Films and Games

Have you heard about the "Wilhelm Scream" or "Howie scream" before? The name might not ring a bell, but the sounds are unmistakable.
Christopher McFadden
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Have you ever thought that you've heard a certain sound effect in a film or computer game before? Chances are you have.

As it turns out, there are quite a few common sound effects that have been used in many films, games, and TV shows over the years. Here are 5 of the most notable, and interesting, ones. 


Where can I get sound effects for games?

When it comes to including sound effects in anything you create, it's important that you check any license agreements for them that may exist. Each source website, or other libraries, will likely have usage policies and guidelines that you must follow to avoid any potential legal action against you. 

common sound effects sound designer
Source: Vancouver Film School/Flickr

There are many great sources for copyright-free sound effects that you can use in things like games you might be creating. These include, but are not limited to (courtesy of 

  • 99 Sounds
  • Sound Image
  • Open Game Art
  • The Motion Monkey
  • Zapsplat
  • SoundBible

What does a video game sound designer do?

As the name suggests, these are the people whose job is to generate or manipulate, the audio elements of a particular video game. There are some differences, but video game sound designers' roles are very similar to that of sound designers in many other industries. 

They will usually need to create entire libraries of custom sounds for many elements of the game. This will include things like the sound effects of weapons, creatures, characters' voices, vehicle sounds, atmospheric sound effects, etc. 

Sound effects are as important to the gaming experience as any visual or user interface components of the game. For this reason, video game sound designers play a very important role.

How do you sell sound effects?

If you are a veteran sound engineer or want to make some money on the side as an amateur one, there are some ways you can sell your sound-effect-wares. 

After brainstorming ideas, recording and editing the sound effects, your next steps are to find somewhere to tout them. You can either build your own store for this or share your sound library, or files, on a distributors website. 

If you opt for the latter, you'll usually need to give them a percentage of any successful sale. Examples include places like Sonniss, A Sound Effect, and Wild Track Sound Library.

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sound effects how to sell
Source: GotCredit/Flickr

You can also opt for other shops like Sounddogs. Whichever way you go, it is always a good idea to build a network of potential customers in places like SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

What are some examples of famous sound effects?

And so, without further ado, here are 5 famous sound effects from films and gaming that you might be familiar with. Trust us when we say this list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The Wilhelm Scream is in many a film and computer game

The Wilhelm Scream is an interesting example of a very common sound effect in computer games and films. You can find it in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Titanic, and computer games like Star Wars: Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, to name but a few

This is something of an industry in-joke and has become one of the most commonly used sound effects of all time. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in films since the early-1950s.

It was first used in the 1951 Gary Cooper Western Distant Drums when one of the characters lets out the now-famous scream as he is dragged underwater by an alligator.

Following the film's debut, the sound effect became part of the Warner Bros. sound library for all eternity. But it came to prominence in the 1970s when a group of budding sound designers at USC's film school noticed that it kept appearing in many films they had watched.

Most notably 1963s western called The Charge at Feather River. One of the main characters, Private Wilhelm, lets out the pained scream after getting shot by an arrow in the leg -- hence the name.

2. The Howie Scream is yet another overused sound effect


Yet another highly overused, yet awesome, sound effect is the Howie Scream. It is often compared to its more famous big brother the Wilhelm Scream but has it's own unique and interesting story.

It frequently appears in films and computer games, and chances are you are more than familiar with it. Like the Wilhelm Scream, it is also a stock sound effect and is first thought to have appeared in the 1980 film The Ninth Configuration.

Its name comes from the film 1996 film Broken Arrow. In it, a character called Howie Long lets out the blood-curdling scream as he plunges to his death. 

You'll also find it in quite a few computer games like Halflife 2, various Star Wars titles, and Call of Duty to name but a few. 

3. The Tarzan yell is another characteristic sound effect

Yet another famous, and gloriously overused sound effect, is the Tarzan yell. It was first used in the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man and is something of a sound effect legend.

The sound effect has been used in many other films and computer games since; usually for comic effect. Most usually for moments when a character is swinging between vines or performing other Tarzan-like things.

Unlike other sound effects on our list, the Tarzan yell is actually trademarked to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. in many countries around the world. 

Notable non-Tarzan-themed appearances of the sound effect include Chewbacca in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, James Bond: Octopussy, and many more.

4. You might have noticed Castle Thunder in many films and games

This characteristic thunderclap sound effect can also be found in many films and computer games. It originally appeared in the 1931 film Frankenstein and is yet another venerable and overused sound effect.

You can find it in other films like Citizen Kane (1941), Bambi (1942), Back to the Future (1985), and Big Trouble in Little China (1985), to name but a few. It also appears in many other Disney productions, Hanna-Barbera cartoons and, of course, Scooby-Doo episodes. 

After the late-1980s, it became less common, but you may find it being used from time to time in more modern productions. But it's lower quality compared to more modern digital recordings of thunderclaps has effectively "put it out to pasture". 

5. Lest we forget the "Diddy Laugh"

And lastly, but by no means least, is the very common Diddy Laugh sound effect. But, unlike others on this list, it has probably been driving you nuts for many years.

We wouldn't expect you to recognize the name, but this sound effect is bound to be burned into your memory. You can find it in many, many films, TV shows and computer games like The Walking Dead, The Bourne Identity, Mulan, Legion, StarCraft II, and RollerCoaster Tycoon -- to name but a few.

Its name comes from the fact that it was first noticed by a keen-eared sound engineer in the N64 computer game Diddy Kong Racing. Thereafter, Steve Paget (the engineer in question) started a blog, The Diddy Laugh, to track its appearances. 

Despite its apparent popularity, its origins are something of a mystery. 

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