Gene Wilder: Willy Wonka vs. Dr. Frankenstein

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Willy Wonka

In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Gene Wilder had only one condition before accepting the role of eccentric candy maker, involving his initial appearance. Leaning heavily on a cane with a pronounced limp Wonka would slowly make his way toward the contest winners. Initially believing Wonka is a cripple the gathered crowd watches as his cane becomes stuck in a cobblestone. As he continues to walk towards them Wonka realizes that he no longer has the cane. He starts to fall forward but instead of collapsing does a forward somersault and bounces back upright in grand fashion. Why did Wilder insist on this entrance? “Because from that time on,” said Wilder, “no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” Genius.

The case for Dr. Frankenstein

Gene Wilder conceived the idea of a descendant of the infamous Victor von Frankenstein while on the set of Blazing Saddles. Director Mel Brooks: “His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, ‘That’s funny.’” And so Frederick Frankenstein was born, a scientist who at first turns his back on his family’s history (“I am not a Frankenstein. I’m a Fronk-en-steen”). However, after inheriting his grandfather’s Transylvanian castle and discovering the secret laboratory (“Put…the candle…back.”) the young Frankenstein gradually accepts his fate. He succeeds where his ancestor had failed by giving his creation his own intellect and unconditional love, getting back something even greater in return—woof!

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!

  • Blair Kramer

    Gene’s version of Willy Wonka was a bit creepy.  But his version of Young Frankenstein was perfectly crazy and hilarious. I pick Frankenstein.

  • Henry

    Young Frankenstein is a great parody on the old Universal Frankenstein films of the 30s.  Even the use of some of the prop equipment is great.  Willie Wonka I just thought was childish and dumb.

  • Movie Fan

    Young Frankenstein was the best of the two movies because it was so funny. Willie Wonka was more of a morality tale with some really creepy and unlikeable characters. The heroes, Charlie and his grandfather, were…a bit sticky and moist…ick! 

  • SoonerAlfie

    Victor von Frankenstein.

  • Richardpeterson93

    That’s Frankenstein!

  • Southfish

    The movie Willy Wonka was strange…but the character of Willy was brilliant.  However, Frankenstein was the best of the movies…Gene Wilder is genius.

  • Chevya2k

    YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN!

  • Frank1168

    It has got to be Dr. Frederick. To me, the best scene was in the lab when he asked his assistant “elevate me.” The young damsel with a shocked look on her face said “Here, right now?” “Yes, he replied, the platform.”

  • fbusch @dslextreme.com

    Wilder has the ability to be the charactor in the script. Since he believes he is that person, he is believable to his audience. Wonka being achildrens morality play limits the breadth of his role, while fronk-en-steen lets him run wild abetted by a stellar cast. While I like Fronk-en-steen better o9f the two, I think one of his best by far, would be the Frisco Kid. Totally believable, and with enough humor to offset the trials of a traveller in a strange country. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything he’s done that I didn’t like.

  • RW

    I love Gene Wilder movies!

  • Joescarp

    “Young Frankenstein”, by a mile, although Wilder was incredible in each. I’ve loved his work ever since “Bonnie and Clyde.”

  • Gimmeshelter

    Willy wins. The movie is pure magic, pure imagination. Since I was a kid I have loved every part of this fantastic film which would not even be close with any other actor playing Mr. Willy Wonka! Gene Wilder is a genius and this movie delivers a wonderful, heartfelt message and a moral to the story. And “Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he’d always dreamed of…he lived happily ever after”. Classic.

    • PKCox

      Great review! This movie also has a special place in my heart. Wilder is magic! Love Roald Dahl, too. Part of my childhood.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Gaffney/1450547336 Matt Gaffney

    Young Frankenstein is the best.

  • Huge movie fan

    While Frankenstein is the more entertaining of the two, willy wonka was the greater preformance. Im not saying the character was funnier, but the interpratation was first rate.

  • williamsommerwerck

    If I had to pick, it would be “Willy Wonka”. Wilder is the Stokowski of actors — he can slow down a scene to near motionlessness, without it falling apart. Unfortunately, he does this too often in “Young Frankenstein”, making the film (subjectively) much too long.
    There’s also the fact that “Willy Wonka” is a terrible film, and Wilder is the only good thing in it. Not merely on a relative basis, but absolutely. It’s a fine performance.

  • Fred55110

    It’s like comparing apples to watermelons isn’t it? I’d have to say for my money Willy Wonka is a stand out performance and will probably be his signature piece of work…however Young Frankenstein is just crazy, and he has a nice first name.

  • PrincessNorrain

    I saw “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when I was 9, and it had a lasting effect on me. I didn’t know what to expect next in the movie, even though I had already read the book. Looking back, and having seen the movie many times since 1971, Gene Wilder was charming, yet weird, which was exactly the way the character should be played. Gene Wilder carried that movie. He sang, danced and told jokes I wouldn’t understand until I was older.

    I didn’t see “Young Frankenstein” until I was in my late teens or early twenties. I loved Gene Wilder as Frederick, but “Young Frankenstein”, like most Mel Brooks movies, is a true ensemble piece. Wilder is mostly the “straight man” to balance everyone else’s lunacy, but his part is very enthusiastically acted, as can be expected from him.

    With all that having been said, I think “Willy Wonka” was the best overall performance.

  • Ellie S

    Definitely Willy Wonka. Gene Wilder put his own spin on the character which was pure genius.

  • John David Stewart

    I saw Young Frankenstein when it was first released and it has been a favourite ever since. Wilder is amazingly funny.

  • Blue Carbuncle

    I hated Wilder’s performance in Willy Wonka ! Actually no, his performance was fine, it was the character of Willy Wonka that I hated, which I guess means that Wilder was too good at it, because how could you hate Gene Wilder ?
    Young Frankenstein gets my vote hands down between these two. Although I only consider that his third best after The Producers and Blazing Saddles.

  • Lance Liebl Sr.

    Willy Wonka has my vote hands down although Young Frankenstein comes a close second. Two different types of movies. Wonka is aimed at young kids and Young Frankenstein is aimed at old kids.