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.

Robert Levin