A Look at Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’ in Pop Culture


“The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream,” Rick Deckard from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? descriptively observes. By now, the screaming fellow has become a pop culture icon, popping up with his mouth agape in film, literature, art, and animation. There’s even a set of Scream-inspired finger puppets. In celebration of Edvard Munch’s 148th birthday, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite cultural remixes of this notoriously neurotic gent.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. Courtesy of the National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

The original painting may or may not have been inspired by the fiery hues of the European sky during the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. It also might have been inspired by the proximity of a madhouse and a slaughterhouse to the artwork’s subject’s supposed Oslo location. Another theory is that Munch saw a really awesome sunset and the natural splendor of it filled the artist with terrible anxiety, which he manifested in his subject’s now iconic body-contorting, face-stretching and mouth-drooping.

Macaulay Culkin’s iconic grimace in John Hughes’ Home Alone is one of the more common alleged allusions. Over time, it has appropriated and popularized totally hijacked the epitome of the “Uh-oh!” gesture.

Director/animator/cultural figurehead/ever-the-Goth-boy Tim Burton has often sited his German Expressionist influences. Check the Scream homage in his 1982 film Vincent as the title character squawks with his oblong, sullen mug.

Originally created in 1977, Winston Smith’s Nuclear Scream was published on the backside of the Dead Kennedys’ Kill the Poor 7″ in 1980. It’s pretty much Munch’s Scream lithograph, but updated for depressingly still-current context.

Andy Warhol, The Scream After Munch, 1984-1987. Courtesy of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

As Andy Warhol’s other Marilyn, The Scream’s hero has been silk-screened over and over, looking like a psychedelic coloring book, since 1983. The ready aforementioned Munch lithograph sped the mass production along.

A 1977 edition of the The Primal Scream book by Primal Therapy inventor Arthur Janov Ph. D donned a cropped Scream. Perhaps a bit on the nose, don’t you think?

Wikipedia claims that Wes Craven’s Scream was “coincidentally named,” even though that the original Ghostface’s Halloween mask was created by Fun World employee Brigitte Sleiertin before the making of the film and she was non-coincidentally referencing the artwork.

“The Silence,” aka the lightning-shooting, unpleasantness-causing humanoid villains we first saw in the last season of Dr. Who are pretty much a literal Scream IRL interpretation. Yikes.

David Firth’s internet animation series Salad Fingers is incredibly creepy, so creepy that its protagonist seems to be in horror of itself. Definite Munch vibe here.

This is Ding Dong, one of Erró’s two homages to the The Scream. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of children.

Certain people on the Internet seem to be under the impression that Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort is based on Munch’s Scream. The theory is popular enough that it even has its own fan art. What do you think?

We weren’t joking about the finger puppets. The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild makes and peddles all kinds of Munchian merchandise, including dolls and ice trays.

Did we miss something important? Feel free to scream about it in our comments section.