Those screaming goats in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are very much a real thing

The newly-released Marvel movie “Thor: Love and Thunder” certainly has a star-studded, memorable cast of human actors. But as viewers exited theaters after taking in the well-reviewed superhero movie, buzz centered around the stellar performances of its non-human actors — specifically a cadre of goats with human-like screams, who are widely agreed to be scene-stealers. 

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While superhero movies are works of fiction, screaming goats are not. Rather, such goats are very much real, even if their appearances in the movie were a mix of computer-generated imagery. Moreover, screaming goats have a very peculiar natural history.

Goats are notorious for being able to make a variety of sounds with recognizably human qualities — to the extent that their noises have led to mistaken reports of cries for help. In 2021, a climber in a national park in the United Kingdom reported hearing a desperate child calling out in distress. First responders discovered that local mountain goats were the true source of the blood-curdling shrieks.

Many viewers falsely assume Taika Waititi, directing his second film in the “Thor” franchise, made the voice-over for the goat screams himself. Waititi set the record straight in a recent interview, explaining that his inspiration came from a viral 2013 Youtube remix video, “I Knew You Were Trouble (Screaming Goats’ Version),” featuring a goat screaming over the chorus of the Taylor Swift song. 

“Someone in post-production found this meme of a Taylor Swift song that has screaming goats in it,” Waititi told Insider. “I didn’t even know that existed. So I hear the screaming goats and I just felt it was awesome.”

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The gag was never even supposed to make the final cut, but it was too funny not to keep. For the audience, the CG goats add a flair of comedic relief.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their impeccable comic timing, this isn’t even the first time that screaming goats have taken to the silver screen. A screaming goat was featured in the 2018 version of “The Grinch,” an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic.

Retrospectively, not everyone finds humor in this obsession with screaming goats. Writing in Medium, Amanda Pie described the comedic value dissipating when she got her own screaming goat.

“Generally, goats don’t scream at high pitches like humans,” Dr. Alan McElligott told Salon. “They do make some human-like sounds, but they’re not really screaming.”

“The first moment I heard my sweet Boer Goat, Fern, scream like a child being thrown into the back of a candy-toting van, I was no longer entertained by the internet phenomenon,” she wrote.

The resemblance to humans uncanny, but does that mean all goats can make such human-like sounds? According to the British Natural History Museum, only some can vocalize in this peculiar way. Moreover, animal behavioral experts would describe the sound as bleating rather than a scream per se. 

“Generally, goats don’t scream at high pitches like humans,” Dr. Alan McElligott told Salon. “They do make some human-like sounds, but they’re not really screaming.” 

McElligott, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong who specializes in goat cognition, admits goats can make some pretty unusual sounds — some of which indeed sound like screams. Still, the screaming goats seen in “Thor” or in Taylor Swift remix videos on YouTube are in the minority as vocalizers.

Moreover, according to McElligott, the vocal samples from many screaming goat remixes and videos aren’t of goats at all. Like many of the videos featuring screaming “goats,” the Taylor swift remix actually samples the sound of a sheep. City folk are too out of touch to know the difference. To be fair, sheep and goats are quite similar in many ways.

Like humans, goats as well as sheep have their own “voices,” meaning a standard range and set of distinct calls. Interaction with other goats (or sheep) plays a big role in determining that voice.

In 2012, a study out of the UK found that pygmy goat kids separated into different groups would later share more similar calls when they were raised together. This would suggest goats have a lot of variation in their expression, highlighting a previously unappreciated level of cognitive abilities among goats. 

“Goats have a bit of flexibility in their voices, but they don’t necessarily develop the ability to scream,” McElligott explained. “That’s probably spontaneous.” 

Bleats can range in volume, pitch, and steadiness to that pitch. So what does it mean when a particular call resembles a scream, one of the most guttural sounds a human can produce?

Like many of the videos featuring screaming “goats,” the Taylor swift remix actually samples the sound of a sheep. City folk are too out of touch to know the difference.

When goats hear a call with a negative tone from a distressed animal, it gets their attention. They also respond to the calls of others with a degree of empathy, noted by changes in their heart rate, according to another study McElligott co-authored.

For the most part, these high-pitched, louder cries are not a positive emotion. Rather, they often signal distress, whether that is hunger, pain, or fear. Now does that mean Thor’s animals are in distress? Not necessarily.

Goats are social by nature as herd animals. One of their common bleats is simply a method to touch base with the herd. When they are isolated they call out more frequently and louder. Perhaps Thor’s goats are just bored spending so much time alone waiting for him to summon them.

Goats may have been the first species to be domesticated by humans, about 10,000 years ago. Eons of the human-goat kinship are reflected in language — the word “kid,” for instance, meant a baby goat for centuries before its meaning was extended to also mean a human child. What other name for the adolescent of another species has been applied so nonchalantly and universally to human children?

In any case, most goats do not “scream” like humans, or we would probably be far more unsettled by them. If that were not the norm, humans would probably feel incredible discomfort around goats, says McElligott.

Yet the opposite is true: humans are charmed by goats, and curiously, we have become more intrigued by them in the twenty-first century despite becoming a decreasingly agrarian civilization. The Guardian’s Michael Welch described the 2010s as the “Goat Renaissance,” as obsession with goats took pop culture by storm — epitomized in niche games like Goat Simulator (released in 2014, with a sequel in development now) and the aforementioned videos of goats fainting or screaming. If you’ve ever been to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and seen Goats on the Roof, a restaurant with — you guessed it — goats on its roof, you may know this goes deeper than a fad. They are the highlight of any petting zoo, and now, the stars of a blockbuster superhero movie. 

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