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Gene Wilder movies: ‘Willy Wonka,’ ‘The Producers’ and other defining roles

Gene Wilder left a legacy of extraordinary performances in all-time classic films.

Yet that alone doesn’t sufficiently account for why the icon, who died Aug. 29 from Alzheimer’s disease complications at the age of 83, will endure forever.

Wilder wasn’t just a great actor. He transcended such rote characterization.

From his signature performance in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” to his work with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor, he was, instead, a one-of-a-kind presence that simply cannot ever be replaced.

Who else could have brought us a Willy Wonka that was simultaneously earnest and unsettling, sincerely singing about entering “a world of pure imagination” in one breath while consigning greedy children to their punishment in the next?

It’s a stunning feat, to simultaneously maintain a level of wide-eyed innocence and complete malevolence, to tap into the light and dark sides of existence in equal measure.

And it’s an achievement only possible from an actor with a preternatural understanding of how to connect with an audience by tapping into the magic of the movies.

That’s the greatest gift Wilder left us.

Scroll down for Wilder's five defining roles in a one-of-a-kind career.

'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory'

Wilder embodies the spirit of Roald Dahl's work
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Wilder embodies the spirit of Roald Dahl's work with an eye for grandiose spectacle as the mysterious chocolatier. It's a performance for the ages.

'Young Frankenstein'

Wilder's amazing collaboration with Mel Brooks (he also
Photo Credit: Kobal / 20th Century FOX

Wilder's amazing collaboration with Mel Brooks (he also co-wrote the script) finds him at the peak of his comic powers, in a riff on the Mary Shelley story and classic monster movies that is packed with deadpan absurdities.

'The Producers'

As Leo Bloom, the brains behind Max Bialystock's
Photo Credit: Courtesy Film Forum / Handout

As Leo Bloom, the brains behind Max Bialystock's scheme to profit off a Broadway flop in this Mel Brooks classic, Wilder is breathtakingly hilarious, especially when he's desperately pleading for his blue comfort blanket.

'Blazing Saddles'

Wilder's primary task in
Photo Credit: USA Network

Wilder's primary task in "Blazing Saddles," yet another amazing Mel Brooks collaboration, is to play the slick straight man to Cleavon Little's sheriff, after he's introduced hanging upside down in his jail cell, of course. He does a consummately entertaining job of it.

Wilder's work with Richard Pryor

OK, technically this is a cheat. But Wilder
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection; ZUMA PRESS / Columbia Pictures

OK, technically this is a cheat. But Wilder and Pryor made a potent comedy duo in four films, spanning 15 years: "Silver Streak," "Stir Crazy," "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" and "Another You."


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