Gene Wilder passed away back in 2016 but the actor’s work continues to find new audiences with every passing year. We want to celebrate Gene Wilder by looking back at his career and highlighting five of his best films that should be considered essential viewing.
Even though he’s gone, Gene Wilder leaves behind an astonishing filmography that ensures he will live on for many years to come. If you love Gene Wilder, then these are the Gene Wilder movies you have to see.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 8.7/10
Young Frankenstein not only holds the highest average score for a Gene Wilder movie, but it is arguably the greatest movie Mel Brooks ever directed. The spoof of the classic Universal Frankenstein films is done with such love for the source material that actual props from the original 1931 film were used for the laboratory scenes.
And at the center of it all is a bravura performance from Gene Wilder. He is sweethearted, maniacal, and gut-bustingly funny throughout the entire running time of the film. It’s the kind of performance that defines a career. If you only watch one of his films, you have got to make it Young Frankenstein.
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
. GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 8.4/10
When you ask most folks to pick a single Gene Wilder movie that encapsulates everything wonderful about him as an actor, the majority of respondents would almost certainly pick Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Wilder’s mercurial madman has become a cornerstone of pop culture and for good reason. He’s astonishing in the role of mad chocolatier Willy Wonka, flitting between childlike warmth and demented glee at a moment’s notice. It’s unpredictable in the most exciting ways.
This adaptation of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book has taken on a life of its own, and there is no doubt that Gene Wilder’s performance has a lot to do with that.
THE PRODUCERS (1968)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 8.3/10
Though The Producers would become more notable for its Broadway musical adaptation, the original Mel Brooks film still deserves your attention. The story of crummy theater producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is a fun one that is certainly amplified by Wilder’s often unhinged take on his character.
The Broadway musical would actually get its own film adaptation in 2005, but it couldn’t match the flair of the stage show or the assured strength of the original 1968 movie. If you have never seen the original version of The Producers, you are in for a real treat.
BLAZING SADDLES (1974)
. GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 8.25/10
It seems pretty clear by now that Gene Wilder teaming up with Mel Brooks led to some of the greatest films in the actor’s entire body of work. That is once again the case with Blazing Saddles, a controversial but ultimately classic spoof of Westerns that delivered another top tier performance from the actor.
Gene Wilder plays The Waco Kid, an alcoholic gunslinger who befriends the new sheriff, Bart, as he becomes embroiled with a local plot involving a railroad. That doesn’t begin to capture the madcap lunacy of Blazing Saddles. This is a deserved high watermark for both the comedy genre and Wilder’s film career.
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (*BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (1972)
. GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 7.8/10
It’s a little tough to grade Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) because it’s an anthology film and those are mixed bags by design. However, there is no question that Gene Wilder steals the show in his single segment, “What Is Sodomy?”
Gene Wilder plays a doctor that falls in love with one of his patient’s sheep. This leads to a torrid and misunderstood love affair that Wilder plays with total conviction. No movie better shows how committed the actor was no matter how ridiculous the scenario. If you can just watch this segment alone, we highly recommend seeking it out.
The GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE is calculated using rating averages from Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database.
GENE WILDER’S LIFE
Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 11, 1933. He first became interested in acting at eight years old when his mother fell ill from rheumatic fever. The doctor told young Jerome to do something that would make his mother laugh, so he decided to pursue comedic acting.
This pursuit would lead him to many various acting schools but he would also end up drafted into the Army in 1956. After that, he would devote his time to acting and would end up with his first professional job playing the Second Officer in a production of Twelfth Night. He would also settle on the name “Gene Wilder” based on Our Town author Thornton Wilder and the character of Eugene Gant from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.
Eventually, Gene Wilder met Mel Brooks in 1963 and the rest was history. Their first collaboration, The Producers, would nab Wilder an Oscar nomination and his career took off. His other collaborations with Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, helped cement him as one of the premier comedy actors of his generation. He would become one of the most beloved actors of the ’70s and ’80s and would make a number of films that paired him with comedian Richard Pryor.
He would eventually leave the feature film world after a few movies were box office failures. He spent the majority of the ’90s appearing in a few television movies and episodes until he officially retired from screen acting in 2003. After that, he shifted his focus towards creative writing and painting.
Towards the end of his life, Gene Wilder was happy to be out of the spotlight. When asked about his relationship to show business, he replied, “I like show, but I don’t like the business.”
Wilder eventually passed away at his home on August 29, 2016. It was revealed that he had died from complications involving Alzheimer’s disease. He had kept his diagnosis private because he didn’t want to sadden fans of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, one of his most beloved roles.