Top 10 Gene Wilder Performances

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Script written by Nick Spake.

Top 10 Gene Wilder Performances


We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Gene Wilder Performances.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the funniest, zaniest, and most iconic performances of this legendary actor’s illustrious career.

#10: Eugene Grizzard
“Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)


“Bonnie and Clyde” might be a dark, gritty crime drama, but Gene Wilder sprinkles in some comic relief in his debut film role. Along with his girlfriend Velma, Eugene Grizzard is taken hostage by our titular antiheroes. Eugene is naturally horrified at first. As the carjacking turns into a joyride, however, he begins to warm up to his captors. Although he’s only on screen for several minutes, Eugene undergoes a surprisingly memorable character arc. In what could have been an insignificant part, Wilder demonstrates his vast acting range and briefly steals the show. His performance is a true testament to the saying, “there are no small parts, only small actors.”

#9: Theodore Pierce
“The Woman in Red” (1984)


Wilder writes, directs, and stars in this screwball comedy about lust. As Theodore Pierce, Wilder plays a married man who becomes infatuated with a woman in red. Although Teddy is tempted to instigate an affair, he’s afraid of how his jealous wife will react. To make matters even more complicated, he accidentally antagonizes a female coworker, played by Wilder’s future wife, Gilda Radner. Teddy may be a liar on the verge of committing adultery, but Wilder manages to develop this potentially unlikable character into an identifiable, empathetic individual. His portrayal of the everyman ultimately says something thought provoking about human nature while also providing a fair deal of laughs.

#8: Sigerson Holmes
“The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother” (1975)


Wilder not only takes center stage this spoof, but also made his directorial debut and crafted the screenplay. As the film’s title suggests, Wilder plays Sherlock Holmes’ brother, Sigerson Holmes. Despite being a gifted detective in his own right, Sigerson has always lived in his older sibling’s shadow. He aspires to make a name for himself by cracking a high-profile case. Wilder strikes just the right balance as Sigerson, coming off as egotistical and envious while also being crafty and observant. He additionally demonstrates his knack for physical comedy with no shortage of energy. We’re not entirely sure why Sherlock Holmes’ brother would have an American accent, but perhaps that’s a mystery only Sigerson can solve.

#7: Skip Donahue
“Stir Crazy” (1980)


Wilder made a total of four comedies with Richard Pryor and “Stir Crazy” is one of the absolute best. Wilder’s Skip and Pryor’s Harry wind up in jail for a crime they didn’t commit, and while he’s certainly not happy to be caged up, Skip is able to make the best out of a bad situation. Wilder is a delight in this role, fashioning an optimistic character with an unbreakable spirit. Skip exists in his own little world, cracking jokes and trying to make friends even in prison. His outgoing nature may land him in trouble on occasion, but when you’re sentenced to 125 years behind bars, having a positive outlook and sense of humor can’t hurt, right?

#6: Dr. Doug Ross
“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” (1972)


Not to be confused with George Clooney’s character from “ER,” Doug Ross is a respected physician with a lovely wife. His life takes an unexpected turn, however, when he enters into a sexual relationship with one of his patients. The patient in question just so happens to be a sheep named Daisy. While the premise of this vignette is totally bizarre, Wilder plays his character with great subtlety. He never goes too over-the-top, making us believe that Ross genuinely loves Daisy despite their… differences. This adds to the comedy, bringing a certain degree of honesty to a ludicrous and disturbing setup. In the end, Daisy returns to her ex and leaves Ross heartbroken. Well, there are plenty of other sheep in the pen.

#5: George Caldwell
“Silver Streak” (1976)


George Caldwell is just an ordinary man who falls in love on a train. After getting mixed up in a murder plot, though, he must step up as a man of action. This film’s plot almost sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, but Wilder’s charm, wit, and comedic timing bring something truly unique to the table. With Wilder in the leading role, the movie is as humorous as it is exciting. “Silver Streak” was the first time Wilder and Richard Pryor worked together, and it not only showcased their marvelous chemistry; it also marked the beginning of one of cinema’s finest comedic duos.

#4: Leo Bloom
“The Producers” (1968)


As Leo Bloom in “The Producers,” Wilder landed his first major on-screen role, as well as his first Academy Award nomination. Even more significantly, this marked his first collaboration with director Mel Brooks. Leo starts out as a hysterical accountant that suffers from anxiety attacks, but upon meeting Zero Mostel’s Max Bialystock, he’s encouraged to take a risk on a get-rich-quick scheme. Throughout the film, the nervous Leo evolves into a confident individual ready to seize the day. Of course when the duo’s master plan falls apart, Leo immediately seeks out his security blanket for comfort. Even though Leo is timid, childish, and even pathetic at times, Wilder’s lovable performance makes us root for this underdog every step of the way.

#3: Jim, the ‘Waco Kid’
“Blazing Saddles” (1974)


In another Mel Brooks comedy, Wilder delivers one of his most tranquil performances, acting as a voice of reason to his co-stars. While Wilder maintains a laidback persona, Jim’s wild at heart. Before becoming a lowly drunk, he was known as the Waco Kid, the world’s fastest gunslinger. Even when going up against a gang of thugs, the Waco Kid will keep a straight face and come out on top. Wilder captures the essence of this character with just his hands, one of which is steady as a rock. His shooting hand, however, can’t be tamed. Aside from being hilarious in the role, Wilder creates a sympathetic character that seemingly has a death wish. Through his friendship with Sheriff Bart, though, Jim finds redemption.

#2: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
“Young Frankenstein” (1974)


Gene Wilder was born to play a mad scientist. Of course Frederick Frankenstein is initially reluctant to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. In order to distance himself from Victor Frankenstein, he claims that his surname is actually pronounced “Fronkensteen.” Yet, the doctor eventually realizes that he can’t escape his family’s fascination with reanimating the dead. Like many of Wilder’s characters, Frederick frequently shifts from being relaxed and levelheaded to obsessive and bonkers. His performance constantly leaves the audience on edge, never failing to take us by surprise. In addition to starring, Wilder also co-wrote the film’s screenplay with director Mel Brooks. It just goes to show that Wilder was an all-around comedic genius, not to mention a nimble tap dancer.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Mr. Stein
“Will & Grace” (1998-2006)

- Bernard
“Death of a Salesman” (1966)

- Dave Lyons
“See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (1989)

- Harry Evers
“Thursday’s Game” (1974)

- Rudy Hickman
“The World’s Greatest Lover” (1977)

#1: Willy Wonka
“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971)


Believe it not, Gene Wilder wasn’t author Roald Dahl’s top choice to play everyone’s favorite Candy Man. As far as we’re concerned, though, Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka is nothing short of immortal, much like an Everlasting Gobstopper. As the mysterious chocolatier, Wilder aspired to create a completely unpredictable character. He couldn’t have been more successful in the role. From the second Mr. Wonka walks on screen, we can never tell if he’s being sincere or playing a trick on his audience. Sometimes he seems wise and gentle. Other times he comes off as insane and diabolical. Wilder’s performance is consistently magical, however, encouraging us all to explore a world of pure imagination.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Gene Wilder performance? For more scrumdiddlyumptious Top 10s published everyday, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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