The 10 Most Overused Sound Effects in Hollywood

It’s no secret that Hollywood loves its cliches from action heroes who magically avoid every bullet fired at them to fat sitcom husbands who marry women much more attractive than them. But Hollywood cliches also include things like sound. How many of these overused Hollywood sound effects do you recognize?

1. Laugh Track

The laugh track has been a staple in television sitcoms for years, but nothing draws more ire from TV fans than canned audience laughter. Despite this, the practice has actually experienced a resurgence over the past couple of years thanks to the popularity of multi-camera sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory.

Author Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, “Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950’s. These days, most of the people you hear laughing are dead.” So think about that next time you’re watching The Big Bang Theory.

2. Wilhelm Scream 

The “Wilhelm Scream” is one of the most popular cinematic cliches. First used in the 1951 film Distant Drums, the stock sound effect was made famous after being used in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Today, the sound effect has been used in over 300 films and is seen as an overused cliche. However, some directors, including George LucasQuentin TarantinoTim Burton, and Peter Jackson, like to incorporate the Wilhelm Scream into their movies as sort of cinematic “in-joke”.

3. Howie Scream

The “Howie Scream” is the younger brother to the Wilhelm Scream. First appearing in 1980’s The Ninth Configuration, the name of the sound effect is a reference to Howie Long‘s death in the John Woo film Broken Arrow. You might also remember the Howie Scream from Captain America: The First Avenger, Tropic Thunder, Face/Off, and even the intro to Ahh! Real Monsters!

4. Castle Thunder

Originally recorded for the 1931 film Frankenstein, “Castle Thunder” was the go-to sound effect for thunder in movies and television. While Castle Thunder is mostly retired today, the sound effect can still be heard in old Disney and Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including the original Scooby-Doo series.

5. Red-Tailed Hawk

Anytime you’ve heard an eagle call in a movie or TV show, what you’re actually hearing is a red-tailed hawk. Even the famously patriotic intro to the Colbert Report used the call of the red-tailed hawk for their eagle sound, because a real eagle call is actually a lot cuter than what we imagine.

6. Diddy Laugh

Originally appearing in the opening sequence of the N64 video game Diddy Kong Racing, the “Diddy Laugh” refers to a stock sound effect commonly used for children’s laughter. There’s even a website dedicated to cataloging every instance of the Diddy Laugh.

7. The Universal Telephone Ring

The Universal Telephone Ring” refers a stock telephone sound effect commonly used in Universal Studio productions throughout the 1970s and 1980s including shows like The Rockford FilesLeave it to Beaver, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The A-Team and Magnum P.I. as well as films like The Sting, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Tootsie, and Ghostbusters. The Universal Telephone Ring was recently used in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which was set in the 1970s, when the sound effect was most popular.


Also called “The Inception Sound,” BWAAA refers to a very specific sound effect commonly used in the trailers for summer blockbuster movies including Inception, The Avengers, Transformers, and Interstellar.

9. “Winding Down”

Another overused sound effect in action movie trailers is the “Winding Down” sound which is a sort of low bass slide. This sound effect was also dubbed “Bwoooo” and has been used in the trailers for Fast & Furious, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Avengers (again).

10. Gasp

The stock “Gasp” sound effect is most often heard in reality television shows, including one episode of Masterchef where the sound effect was used three times in less than one minute.


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