The Scifi Sound Effects That Take Over Your Brain

Illustration for article titled The Scifi Sound Effects That Take Over Your Brain

Even if you just hear a science fiction movie or TV show playing in another room, you'll instantly recognize it thanks to the weird sounds of alien spaceships and laser weapons. No genre of entertainment has ever challenged sound-effects designers as much as SF. We've gone through some of scifi's most identifiable and iconic sounds and boiled them down into a list of the coolest and the most earwormy.

Illustration for article titled The Scifi Sound Effects That Take Over Your Brain

We've tried to stay away from sounds made by an actual character, like Soundwave's awesome voice from The Transformers, or Darth Vader's breathing from Star Wars. Note: click on the name to hear the sound effect.

  • Spaceships in the 1950s: Back in the heady days of early science fiction movies, the Theremin (probably one of the coolest instruments ever invented) would provide the "Ooooh-EEEEE-oooooh" sounds of spaceships flitting about in the sky and other spooky paranormal sounds. It tended to be overused, and instantly became identifiable with cheesy scifi. If we ever get our own office Theremin, this is the first sound we'd ever make on it.
  • The Alien Heat Ray from War of the Worlds: In the original 1953 movie, the alien heat ray has an awesome cycling sound buried within the sound of the beam. We hope a real heat ray blast sounds this way some day — and we may have found our new cell phone ringtone.
  • The Alien Probe from War of the Worlds: This terrifying sound is one of those things you'd imagine from under the covers as a kid. Nothing is more "wet the bed" inducing than a good, scary scifi sound effect. Cursed alien probes.
  • The automatic doors from Star Trek: These doors were one of the most iconic sounds from The Original Series, and were even parodied by Shatner himself in Airplane II.
  • The communicating whistles and doorbells of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation: While the old Star Trek communicator used to make a sort of wolf-whistle sound at you, the doorbells on The Next Generation were crisp and punctual. How many people out there are using these as ringtones today?
  • The transporter beam from Star Trek: Besides the doors, this was another one of the sounds most identified with Star Trek. The original beaming sound is a bit dated, but still retro cool and... long. It took so much time for them to appear that you wonder why their enemies were ever caught off guard.
  • The Bionic sounds of The Six Million Dollar Man: Whether he was using his bionic strength to toss a tree out of the way, spy on folks with his bionic peeper, or jumping over something with smooth Wonder Woman-esque bionic legs, Colonel Steve Austin cornered the market on iconic sound effects. Even though it's cheesy, we still love this sound.
  • The lightsaber from Star Wars: Even above blasting lasers and beeping droids, the lightsaber is the most identifiable sound to come out of the Star Wars universe. In fact, you've probably used a flashlight to make a lightsaber in the smoke from your campfire, and made these same noises with your mouth, admit it.
  • A TIE Fighter passing by from Star Wars: For some reason, the wailing sound of a TIE Fighter was much cooler than the whining engine sound of an X-Wing, or the "whoomph" sound effect of the Millennium Falcon. It still sounds very alien, and creepy cool.
  • This video shows off the Top 10 sound effects from Star Wars, but half of them are character based, which we've stayed away from in this post, i.e. Darth Vader's breathing, R2-D2's beeping and booping, etc. However, those seismic charges were admittedly pretty damn cool, and just check out the lightsaber montage at the end.

  • The Cylon Eye from Battlestar Galactica: Probably the most iconic sound from Battlestar Galactica, the 70s edition was the scanning sound of the Cylon eye. My brother and I used to hide behind the couch when they'd come onscreen and talk in their awesome vocoder voices.
  • The DRADIS from Battlestar Galactica: In the new series, they spend so much time staring at this thing that the sound becomes embedded in your head. Of course, it does tell them if something is about to vaporize their ass, so we can understand why.
  • K.I.T.T.'s scanner eye from Knight Rider: Owing a lot to those cyclops-esque Cylon eyes was the scanner that both signified that K.I.T.T.'s scanner was active, and also served as his "heartbeat."
  • The TARDIS taking off and landing from Doctor Who: The TARDIS had several sound effects: the whirring of the doors, the hum of the control room, the flying through space sound... but the most popular noise that endures to this day was the sound of it materializing and dematerializing. If you pick up this Electronic Flight Control Tardis, you can have them all at your fingertips on your desktop.
  • The Sonic Screwdriver from Doctor Who: The Doctor's multi-purpose tool that seems to be able to do just about anything has its own sound, and it's changed a bit over the years. In fact, you can pick up your very own sonic screwdriver, complete with sound effects. Just don't complain when it fails to make money spew out of the ATM machine.
  • The transforming sound from Transformers: Whenever Optimus Prime, Megatron, Jazz, or Soundwave would transform into their alter-egos, this sound accompanied them, and buried itself in the brains of billions of kids around the world. It still makes me think I can turn into something different whenever I hear it.
  • The Wonder Twin Powers, Activating, from The Superfriends: Okay, we're breaking our own rule with this one, since it's character based, but we just love the cheesy music/SFX behind Zan and Jayna activating their lame superpowers. They really need their own campy show these days.

This definitely is not meant to be a conclusive list, and we want you to tell us what your favorite science fiction sound effects are!

Share This Story

Get our newsletter



The one thing that always pissed me off about the Star Trek sound effects is tat there was no real way to get anything past the TOS sound effects loops from GlenGlen sound.

There was a grouping of about 15 that were included with the ST: Generations OST, but I've had major need for some of the sounds from DS9 and Voyager, and have never been able to find a qualified source.

For example, I really liked the Voyager Internal Comm Hail sfx, and when I got my iPhone, I hacked it to put my own system sounds on it. For the life of me, I couldn't find ONE clean sample of that sound effect. No cd's were released of those series' SFX, and the two places on line that I could find "LCARS Sounds" (, and some other ukranian site) didn't include it in their SFX packages. A damn shame.

What was even more angering: I was listening to the radio at work after I gave up what seemed like a futile quest, and some podunk radio commercial was using Star Trek SFX and had the Comm Hail in the commercial. Pissed me off somethin' fierce. So I know they're out there for corporate consumption (probably as royalty free loops for sound design studios), but not for people who are fans. Unfortunate.


PS: please excuse the uber geekiness of this post, I know that this type of stuff isn't exactly frowned upon here as most of us are geeks as well, but when considering things like this, it sometimes crosses a line from fan to "WTF".