glass breaking sound effect woman behind broken glass

Glass Breaking Sound Effects in Film and TV

By Ezra Sandzer-Bell

The sound of glass shattering can signal chaos and disruption, but also usher in moments of insight when characters experience a psychological breakthrough. Foley artists combine glass sound effects with other mid and low frequency impacts to enrich the sonic texture. In this article we’ll explore several tricks that filmmakers use to deepen their emotional effect.

Our team rounded up a collection of royalty free glass breaking sound effects from the Audio Design Desk library, so you can download and use them in your next project. Have a listen to them below and continue reading for details about the most common sound design techniques:

glass breaking sound effect glass cups shattering

Glass Breaking Sound Effects


Released 05/20/2023 · 19 Tracks ·

#Track NameGenreKeywordsDuration
1Glass Bottle 3FoleyBreak...
2Window Break 2FoleyBreak...
3Glass Break LightbulbFoleyBreak...
4Window Break 3FoleyBreak...
5Glass Bottle 1FoleyBreak...
6Window Break 1FoleyBreak...
7Small Glass BreakFoleyBreak...
8Glass Break PunchFoleyBreak...
9Glass Bottle 2FoleyBreak...
10Glass Break VaseFoleyBreak...
11Glass Break TVFoleyBreak...
12Glass SweepingFoleyMovement...
13Glass on Cement 3FoleyMovement...
14Glass on Cement 2FoleyMovement...
15Glass CrushingFoleyMovement...
16Glass on Cement 1FoleyMovement...
17Glass Crack 1FoleyCrack...
18Glass Crack 2FoleyCrack...
19Glass Crack 3FoleyCrack...

The glass breaking sound effect in cinema

The most common glass materials to shatter in a movie are windows and mirrors, followed by smaller objects like bottles and reading glasses. We’ll have a look at common sound design techniques for each one and examine their narrative implications as well.

Blade Runner, Die Hard: Gunshots and broken windows

Gunshots and the sound of glass shattering are a match made in heaven. The intense bang of the weapon only lasts 1-2 seconds, so the high end breaking and rattling sounds of glass debris are a natural accompaniment. In this classic scene below from Die Hard (1988) the villain Hans Gruber commands his partner to “Shoot the glass!”.

Stationed in an office building, there’s no shortage of material for the villains to destroy. Notice the brief pause between the sound of bullets being fired and the crashing glass that comes moments later. This gives the audience a time to watch and experience the gunfire, before panning over to the windows being destroyed. Dramatic orchestral music glues these perspectives together, creating the feeling that everything happened at once.

In this scene from Blade Runner (1982), Harrison Ford’s character Deckard takes shots at a rogue replicant named Zohra. Hit by the gunfire, Zohra proceeds to fall through multiple glass window panes. The initial breakthrough is followed by a soft tinkling sound, reflected in the gentle falling snow and warm analog synth music. This preparation frames the violence of the scene with an existential and melancholic mood.

Jurassic Park: Creaking sound of glass breaking slowly

Sometimes the weight of a heavy object placed on a pane of glass will be more than it can support. Instead of shattering all at once, we see and hear small sections of the glass fracturing. A great examples of this is found in the scene below from Jurassic Park:

Here we see a jeep dangling over the edge of a cliff, with one of the main characters laying face down on the car’s windshield. The sound designers use a combination of creaking and light tapping sounds to build tension toward the inevitable shattering sound as the glass buckles under her bodyweight.

2001 Space Odyssey, Scream, Breaking Bad: Shattered wine glasses, bottles, and beakers

Where windows represent a barrier between inside and outside, glass drinking containers symbolize something more personal. Rather than protecting us from the outdoors, cups and bottles contain a source of nourishment. We have more control over where they’re positioned and how we relate to them. So when they break in a film, it represents a loss of personal control.

Below is a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where Dave knocks over a goblet of wine while eating a meal. For those familiar with the movie’s plot, this error symbolizes the end of his old way of life and the beginning of a new one. It also speaks to the character’s loss of control and the tragedy of human error.

Other movies have inverted this theme of carelessness with characters who deliberately throw their glassware. The scene below, from the horror-comedy movie Scream (1996), shows the protagonist launching beer bottles at the masked villain.

Foley used for broken drinking glasses is often shorter in length than broken windows. There’s not enough debris to justify the ambient tinkling after the break. Instead, you’ll hear impact sounds and other objects in the environment.

In the above scene from Breaking Bad, we hear a single, light glass tapping sound as the character prepares to throw his glass beaker. When it makes contact with the wall, the sound effect is louder and longer than it would be in real life. The pull-down map of the periodic table rolls back up suddenly and smacks against its holding case, extending the length of the impact and contributing to the dramatic effect.

A Christmas Story, Mortal Kombat: The crunch of reading glasses and sunglasses

The crunch of broken reading glasses has a special narrative role in movies, usually marking a moment of lost clarity and danger. Not only does it represent a loss of the ability to see, but it marks a return to the character’s natural state. For this reason, it represents a very human kind of vulnerability and dependency on technology.

Above we find a scene from the 1983 film A Christmas Story. The main character tries to shoot a rifle and knocks his glasses off into the snow. As he walks carefully and looks for find them, we can hear the gentle crunch of snow under his boots. In a brilliant moment of sound design, we hear a much louder and textural crunching sound when he steps on his reading glasses. It marks a moment of loss for him that harkens back to a similar, iconic scene from Lord of the Flies.

Sunglasses have some utility but are more likely to represent a character’s vanity or persona. Above is a classic example from the original Mortal Kombat movie. After repeatedly drawing attention to his expensive sunglasses during the movie, a monster snatches and crushes them in his palm, challenging Cage to a fight. The crunching glass sound effect lets the audience know what the monster could do to Cage’s body. Ultimately, the sound represents damage to his untouchable persona and forces him to confront his mortality.

Black Swan: Broken mirrors, shattered glass, and identity loss

Our self-image is carefully constructed over time and plays a central role in the creation of personal identity, so what better metaphor for identity-loss than the shattering of a mirror?

The 2010 thriller Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman as Nina, tells the story of a ballet dancer forced to confront her dark side. Throughout the movie, she practices her dance moves before mirrors in the practice studio, shaping her identity as a dancer by making changes to her physical form. During the scene shown above, her alter-ego manifests in the same room as her and she pushes it violently into a mirror, causing it to shatter.

Notice how the initial impact sound of shattered glass is followed by the shuffling of mirror shards across the floor. The audience perceives the delicate tinkling sound as an immediate threat, knowing that these sharp pieces of glass could injure the characters.

Broken mirrors take away a character’s self-image and broken reading glasses take away their view of the world as a whole. Exploding light bulbs offers a third take on the theme of vision loss by removing the source of light.

Green Mile: Exploding Light Bulbs

Exploding light bulbs combine buzzing sparks and electric surges with a short explosion of shattered glass. Green Mile (1999) features several scenes where an inmate’s extreme psychological states coincide with exploding lights.

Recording your own glass breaking sound effects

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Using granular pitch shifting on breaking glass sounds can create mesmerizing and magical effects. Here’s a detailed guide on how to achieve this using granular synthesis and other techniques.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Shimmering Atmospheres and Magic Spells

1. Recording Breaking Glass Sounds

  • Capture High-Quality Recordings:
    • Use a high-quality microphone and recording device to capture the sound of glass breaking. Ensure the environment is quiet to avoid unwanted noise.
    • Record multiple takes with different types of glass to have a variety of raw material to work with.

2. Granular Pitch Shifting

  • Granular Synthesis Plugins:
  • Adjusting Grain Parameters:
    • Grain Density:
      • Adjust the grain density to control the number of grains being played back simultaneously. Higher density creates a fuller, more textured sound, while lower density can produce more discrete, distinct grains.
    • Volume Randomization:
      • Introduce volume randomization to add dynamic variation to the grains, creating a more natural and evolving sound.
    • Pitch Randomization:
      • Apply pitch randomization to create a shimmering effect. Small variations in pitch can produce a subtle, magical texture, while larger variations can create more dramatic, otherworldly sounds.
  • Adjusting Start Time and Grain Duration:
    • Start Time:
      • Adjust the start time of the grains to control where in the sample each grain begins. This can help you focus on the most interesting parts of the breaking glass sound.
    • Grain Duration:
      • Control the length of each grain to fine-tune the delivery. Shorter grains can create a staccato effect, while longer grains can produce smoother, more sustained sounds.

3. Fine-Tuning the Sound

  • Layering and Blending:
    • Layer multiple instances of the granularly processed glass sounds to create a rich, complex texture.
    • Balance the layers by adjusting volume levels and panning to create a wide, immersive soundscape.
  • Additional Effects:
    • Reverb:
    • Delay:
    • EQ and Filtering:
      • Apply EQ to shape the final sound, removing any unwanted frequencies and enhancing the desired characteristics.
      • Use high-pass and low-pass filters to control the bandwidth and focus the sound in the desired frequency range.

Tips for Effective Shimmering Atmospheres and Magic Spells

  • Experiment with Grain Parameters: Tweaking grain density, volume, and pitch randomization can significantly change the texture and feel of the sound.
  • Layering for Depth: Combining multiple processed layers can create a more immersive and complex soundscape.
  • Use of Effects: Reverb and delay can add a sense of space and otherworldliness, enhancing the magical quality of the sound.
  • Attention to Detail: Fine-tune the start time, grain duration, and EQ settings to achieve the perfect balance and clarity.

By following these steps and tips, you can transform the sound of breaking glass into mesmerizing, otherworldly atmospheres and magical spell effects. Experiment with different granular synthesis settings and layering techniques to create your unique sound design.

To save yourself time, money and possible injury, check out the royalty-free broken glass sound effects we’ve provided in this article. You can download and use them for free in any project. If you’re looking other sounds to use for your sequence, pick up a free copy of Audio Design Desk to access a complete library.