Movie sound effects gripe

It really bothers me when I’m watching a movie and the engine sounds don’t match the car/motorcycle on screen. I can’t imagine I’m that far out on the fringe in my ability to differentiate between the sound a V6 and an inline-4 makes.

Has anybody ever heard (or know of) a good reason for this sort of thing?

Hypothesis: you’re more out on the fringe than you think. Most people probably don’t know, don’t think about it, or don’t care.

I can tell the difference, and I don’t care. The short answer is that it’s easier to use a pre-existing sound to fill the FX need rather than go out and record the specific engine’s sound. Not nearly enough people will notice the difference to make the extra effort worth it.

I just notice that automatic doors in every sci-fi movie sound like the doors from Doom. Well, that and the wilhelm scream

…and the BBC werewolf howl, complete with cat.

Start working with standard sound effects even a little bit and you’ll hear the same ones everywhere.

When an airplane touches down in the movies, you’ll often hear the tires squeal as they contact the runway.

  • Alan

For some reason whenever you see loose bullets in movies they are often of a larger caliber than the gun they eventually get shot from. 9mm and .38 bullets are pretty tiny in real life, movies tend to use .45 and such.

Yeah. What really weirds me out is hearing the origin of a sample I’m used to hearing in the context of a particular song.

Back to the topic of what bothers people, though: how common is it that pressing keys on a keyboard still makes a beeping noise? Or additional information appearing on a display.

when characters turn off radios in movies i can never believe the music turns off in sync. i see the character turn it off, the music turns off at the same time, but for some reason i can’t convince myself the music was turned off because of the character, like in independence day when the guy listening to rem’s ‘end of the world’ song turns off the music.

Every so often, I’ll hear a door open using the same clip from Daggerfall.

Flash bulbs. Early in Final Destination 3, a bunch of kids are running around with a teensy digital camera. But every time one of them takes a picture, there’s a loud pop as if a tray of powder has just erupted, following by a high-pitched whine as the uber-powerful flashbulb spools back up.


clanging sounds when a sword hits/cuts something soft.

The Diablo II town portal sound effect is everywhere. I hear it at least once a month on TV. Ksssiw-vwooom!

The alarm that was used in Total Annihilation when a base was under attack. That must be the Stairway To Heaven of sound effects. Teenage sound engineer aspirants get kicked out of sound effect stores for playing that alarm.

Speaking of daggerfall: the sound of a page turning. It’s actually quite odd and over the top, and was impressive at the time (1996). It’s in every elder scrolls game since, and, I swear, a dozen other places.

All swords are in metal sheaths. Slllliiithhhh-shing!

The same noise gets used alot for erruptions of flame - approximately, “ssssSSH-WOOPSHhh!”

I’m sure I heard the same one in the last level of Doom. I think it accompanied the firing of those green plasmic things from which the bad guys spawned.

Can people tell if gunshots are wonky? And how often are they?

I can’t, really. But the metallic CLANG when a sword is removed from its leather sheath bothers me every time.

Yeah, in film school a guy from Dolby talked about this in a lecture in sound class. He said the “wheel hits” on airplanes are something you wouldn’t really hear under the roar of the engine, but apparently somebody back in the day was editing sound and felt the shot was missing something. You see wheels hitting, so he figured you should hear them too, and it became tradition. The general rule of thumb is “see an X, hear an X,” so you put in effects to accentuate whatever is onscreen. If a car visibly goes by in the background, you put in a “car by” effect that is more pronounced than the regular traffic ambience that might be running throughout the scene. Realism sometimes goes out the window. Like when a person holds a knife to someone’s throat, sometimes the scraping sound has a sort of “ping” to it, as if metal were touching metal. (Oh, Mike already mentioned this one.) You also sometimes hear clicking sounds when a person picks up a gun, even though they aren’t actually cocking it or checking the chamber or anything. It makes sense on a narrative level: you are drawing the viewer’s attention to the important detail.

Probably the standard reason for matching cars to engines incorrectly is convenience, as Mattkeil noted. However, a director or sound designer might also want a particular expressive sound out of a car engine, and this would be more important than a realistic match since only one out of a jillion people would be able to tell the difference.

Sound design is a fascinating subject. It can make such a huge impact on a film, yet tends to be underappreciated compared to cinematography. Consider the Darth Vader breathing sound effect in Star Wars, or the “ping” of the motion tracker in Aliens, and how much they contribute to the overall effect.

Atari 2600 Donkey Kong is everywhere, especially in low production value efforts.

Even before I was a computer geek, the whole thing about making every computer constantly beep annoyed me. Also, it’s amazing how every computer genius in movies uses the keyboard to manipulate every single aspect of the program on his beeping computer.

“Now just let me zoom in and enhance the image…”

5 seconds of rapid typing


Sound editing often isn’t about verisimilitude. Smart filmmakers ask more of their sound department than to just reproduce the real world. Moviegoers tend to take in sound very subliminally, and are much more tolerant of sound fields that don’t match the picture they’re looking at, but instead, correspond to the emotional moment, or the themes of the scene.


The sounds of stampeding bulls, way down in the mix, at key moments in Raging Bull. We’re not in Pamplona. We’re in a kitchen in Queens. But we understand intuitively what the filmmaker is going for.

In The English Patient, the first time we flash back to the past we hear a bell on the soundtrack, which is meant to represent the Patients memory opening up.

In Lethal Weapon, all of Mel Gibsons gunshots were overdubbed about eight times, to convey his randomness and wild energy. He shoots one bullet, but there are eight on the soundtrack, layered on top of each other.

You may not notice these things on a conscious level, but they register, and affect your responses to the scene.

Very little sound is captured wild anymore. The chances are better than 90% that the car you’re watching is using another vehicles sound.

On a related note: Whenever a knife is taken from a butcher’s block, drawn from a pocket, or even just picked up off the ground, it always makes a ssshhhinngg sound. That’s even more amusing.