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Top 10 Memorable Movie Sound Effects

VO: Mike
These sounds are just as famous, if not more so, than the movies that they appear in. From that scream that you hear in just about everything to the sounds of lightsabers and transporters, the list goes on and on. Just so there’s no confusion, this countdown does not include musical cues. That’s a list for another day! Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 most memorable movie sound effects.

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Top 10 Memorable Movie Sound Effects

These are as famous as the movies their in. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 most memorable movie sound effects.

Just so there’s no confusion, this list does not include musical cues. That’s a list for another day.

#10 – Grudge Gurgling: “The Grudge” (2004)

Kicking off our list is a horror sound effect that sends chills down your spine, every time. Emanating from the ghost of a woman whose neck was broken; this croaking sound is the spirit trying to talk. It seems otherworldly, but turns out the film’s director provided the noise. When he was younger, he used to use the gurgle sound to annoy other children. He musta been popular.

#9 – T-Rex Roar: “Jurassic Park” (1993)

It’s tough to imagine how long-extinct creatures might’ve sounded since, well, they’re extinct. So, sound-designer Gary Rydstrom combined sounds from several present-day animals to bring the dinos to life – for example, a whale’s blow was used as the T-Rex’s breathing, while animals like a baby elephant, tiger and alligator worked together to build his roar. What about the Tyrannosaur attacking the unsuspecting Gallimimus? A dog chomping on a toy.

#8 – Transporter: “Star Trek” franchise (1979-)

Okay sure, this one originated on television; but it’s become a staple in a dozen films, and it’s been modernized several times. However, no matter the version, its sound is instantly recognizable: that twinkly, shimmery futuristic noise means the Enterprise crew is using their advanced tech to beam around. We would have expected more screaming sounds when a person is being pulled apart at the molecular level, but whatever.

#7 – Lightcycles: “Tron” franchise (1982, 2010)

Motorcycles made of energy – so awesome! In 1982, their sounds were actually, and appropriately created by messing with video game tones from Atari, motorcycles, synthesizers and a buzz saw for some kick. Decades later in “Tron Legacy,” the sound was updated with a bunch of modern technology we don’t quite understand. Whatever happened to the game console and power tools?

#6 – DeLorean Time Machine: “Back to the Future” franchise (1985-90)

Built by retrofitting an existing real-life car, this sci-fi ride made DeLoreans a sought-after collectible. However, die-hard fans might be disappointed to learn that the DMC-12 doesn’t actually make these sounds in real life: everything from the door swoosh, to the engine noise to the console bleep-bloops were created in a sound lab. Whatever; the sounds are iconic, and we can’t imagine time-travel sounding any different.

#5 – Proton Packs: “Ghostbusters” franchise (1984-89)

Used to weaken ghosts so they can be captured, these energy weapons mean business. Unlicensed nuclear accelerators with a half-life of 5000 years, the proton packs produce a thunderous hum when switched on, so you know they’re badass. The sound is widely believed to have been made by filtering an engine turbine noise. True or not, we blame no one for stepping away as they come to life.

#4 – Darth Vader Breathing: “Star Wars” (1977-1983)

Clad in a life-support suit, Vader and his unnatural breathing were designed to make others uneasy. But originally, he sounded more like an operating room, with motors and beeping. The final product was obviously very different: the inside of a respirator was recorded while breaths were taken, resulting in an electronic-sounding rush of air. No other movie character on a respirator was ever so menacing.

#3 – Tarzan Yell: “Tarzan The Ape Man” (1932)

Whenever you see someone swinging through the jungle, this is the accompanying sound. While its origin is disputed, it’s widely credited to 1932’s adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan the Ape Man” and actor Johnny Weissmuller. Described as the “victory cry of the bull ape,” the scream was Weissmuller’s interpretation of Burroughs’ words. Ever since, it’s been reused and reproduced note-for-note for new versions of the king of the jungle.

#2 – Lightsabers: “Star Wars” franchise (1977-)

Everyone recognizes the sound of these laser swords. Weapons used by Jedi and Sith, their instantly recognizable sound was created by sound designer Ben Burtt, who combined the hum from idling motors in old film projectors and interference on a television. When the sound pitch changes, it’s because the sound designer simply played the sound over a loudspeaker while re-recording it with a moving microphone. The Force was with him that day, we’d say.

#1 – Wilhelm Scream: “Distant Drums” (1951), “Star Wars” (1977)

Doesn’t ring a bell? How ‘bout now? Since its debut in 1951’s “Distant Drums,” this stock sound has been recycled as an inside joke that just won’t die. Originally used when a soldier was dragged underwater by an alligator, it was named after another soldier in 1953’s “The Charge at Feather River.” Ultimately, the Wilhelm scream became a phenomenon when Ben Burtt thought it’d be cheeky to feature it in “Star Wars.”

Do you agree with our list? Which sound effect is most memorable to you? For more entertaining top 10s, be sure to subscribe to

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Håvard Sandnes

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