Top List Thursday – Top ten movie sound effects

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While we are often quick to applaud a movie’s musical score alongside it’s other aspects, there is more to a cinematic soundscape than just foreboding cellos and stirring anthems. Quite often it’s a film’s aural tapestry that helps to realize, accentuate and immortalize the worlds we’re seeing up on screen, to the point where if you were blindfolded, you would probably be able to recognize the movie, just from the sounds you were hearing.

So with that in mind, here my personal Top Ten Movie Sound Effects!

Ricocheting gunshots (Various westerns)

Yes, I’m cheating a bit here as this is not for any one particular movie, but has there ever been a sound effect more closely linked to an entire genre of movies? Apparently all the canyons, buildings, rocks and even horses south of the Rio Grande are made out of titanium, resulting in nearly every bullet ricocheting off into the ether with that very distinctive twang.

Punch (Indiana Jones)

I know what you guys are going to say: Where’s the whip? And while Indy’s trusty leather whip indeed is an iconic weapon that is most frequently associated with the character, and it does have a very distinct sound, there’s just nothing quite like an Indy punch.

Motion tracker (Aliens)

If you’ve ever played as a marine in the “Aliens vs Predator” videogame series, then you would know that there are few sounds in the world that will void your bladder quicker than an overactive motion tracker.

T-Rex (Jurassic Park)

This is actually a two-parter. While the monstrous T-Rex was certainly a visual delight, it was the supersized-V12-foghorn roar that pretty much declared it as the unchallenged badass of the film.

But before putting its own exclamation mark on its performance, the T-Rex was also responsible for one of the most ominous sounds in movie history: The low bass rumble boom of its approaching footsteps. The brilliance of this sound effect is that it’s felt more than actually heard. Set just on the edge of your hearing, and coupled with that unmistakable visual of ripples in a glass of water, this simplistic effect is the closest we’ll ever come in real life to the fabled Brown Note.

Unfortunately, a Youtube clip and PC speakers really doesn’t do this justice, but this is the best I can do right now.

Predator clicking (Predator)

I have a friend who can do this guttural clicking growl perfectly. Needless to say, I never let him visit me during the night, or any time when I’m alone really. And that’s just because he’s a just generally dodgy guy. Add this chilling sound effect, which was usually followed by somebody being shish-kebabed by an invisible alien in the movie, and its welcome to Creepy Town. Population: You.

Hing! Hing! Hing! Hing! (Psycho)

Pick up a remote control, or comb, or hell even your cell phone. Grip it tight, then jerk your hand noiselessly up and down in sharp movements. Not much happening, right? (Well besides looking like you’re masturbating). Now repeat the action, but this time add a sharp and high pitched HING! on every downstroke. Congratulations, you just became a serial killer.

Swords (Classic kung fu movies)

Once again, I’m doing the ol’ “genre not a movie” cheat, but hey, I make the rules around here! Now classic kung fu movies from the likes of Golden Harvest and the Shaw Brothers have many easily identifiable sound effects: the sharp slap of fist on face, the roaring flap of sleeves as people jump out of trees, etc. But the swords are unique in that in reality they barely sound anything like this, but due to their proliferation in these movies, this is the sound effect most people associate it with.

Tarzan’s call (Tarzan)

Kids have been screaming this on the playgrounds for decades, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, we know that adults love to scream it as well. Usually, right before they fall off whatever they were swinging on in a funny/painful manner.

Fun fact: That is really actor Johnny Weismuller doing that scream unaided, and his scream has been used over and over again through the years, irrespective of who was actually playing the role.

Lightsaber hum (Star Wars)

If you’re above the age of 12 and have never ran around with a cardboard tube/stick/anything even remotely phallic shaped in your hand, waving it about going “VVVVVHHHMMMM! VVVVHHHHMMMMM!” then you clearly have a void in your life that needs to be filled immediately.

Darth Vader’s breathing (Star Wars)

Was there ever any doubt? While Star Wars is responsible for a plethora of instant-classic sound effects (the lightsaber hum mentioned above, the Formula 1 screech of a passing tie-fighter, and many more), it’s this iconic sound that is most closely associated with its most iconic character. And in essence, it’s the simplicity of it all – having something as normal as laboured breathing turned into the most foreboding sound in the universe – that results in it being my top movie sound effect.

Last Updated: May 30, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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