I was sad to hear that Gene Wilder passed away this week at the age of 83. Rather than mourn his passing this list celebrates some of the best films he left behind. By keeping the list to only five I’m choosing those which I believe are the cream of the crop of Wilder’s career which means you favorite may have just missed the cut, but I’ll stand by my choices. Wilder’s career may not have been as wide or varied as some, but there are gems which will continue to shine brightly for years to come. Let’s countdown the Top Five Gene Wilder Movies.
In the first film on the list, Wilder co-stars as alcoholic gunslinger the Waco Kid who helps the town of Rock Ridge’s new sheriff (Cleavon Little) from the machinations of a corrupt politician (Harvey Korman). Mel Brooks‘ satirical Western comedy film has plenty of laughs but fails to rank higher due to a chaotic final act where the fourth wall is broken and the film’s characters end up in a movie lot in Burbank, California. It’s also only one of two films on the list where Wilder isn’t cast in the starring role. Wilder’s collaborations with Brooks led often to entertaining results (as you’ll see with a couple more entries on this list).
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor starred together in four films, but it’s their first which makes the list. A parody of Alfred Hitchcock‘s North by Northwest, Silver Streak stars Wilder as a passenger on a train who stumbles into love, murder, and espionage while struggling to get anyone to believe his incredible story. Read the full review.
Wilder’s turn at the title character for the adaptation of the Roald Dahl book is impossible to forget. As the reclusive chocolatier, Wilder charms and tortures the children who he lets into his secret factory filled with magic, science, and something in-between. To realize just how magical the movie is you need only to look at the disappointing remake which pales in comparison. Read the full review.
The funniest of Gene Wilder’s films just misses out on the top spot of our list. Wilder stars as an accountant who is seduced by a corrupt Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) into putting on a must-fail musical which should earn the pair a huge payday. However, fate is fickle and the choices to make the play as awful as possible backfire leading to an improbable hit. The movie has a couple of lulls, but the scenes between Wilder and Mostel are terrific as is the impossible-to-forget opening number of “Springtime for Hitler.”
The hardest choice on this list for me was separating the #1 and #2 spots. While The Producers has a greater number of big laughs, our final choice certainly has its share and is by far the most complete of his films. Wilder stars as the grandson of the infamous scientist who is bequeathed his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania where he continues the experiments into reanimating dead tissue. Written by Wilder and beautifully shot in black-and-white, Young “Frawnk-in-steen” has everything including a monster who can sing and dance (Peter Boyle), odd and beautiful lab assistants (Marty Feldman and Teri Garr), a creepy caretaker (Cloris Leachman), and the most memorable blind man (Gene Hackman) in comedic cinema history. Read the full review.