Willy Wonk-Off: Johnny Depp Vs. Gene Wilder (and Their Dueling Birthdays)

Movie Talk
Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka
Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka

They have both played eccentric chocolate magnate Willy Wonka, but that's not the only thing Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder have in common. The two actors happen to be celebrating milestone birthdays this week: Depp is now 50 years old, and Gene Wilder turns 80 on Tuesday.

What does that mean?

It's time for a Willy Wonk-Off! (And get your mind out of the gutter – we didn't mean it that way.)

Both based on the 1964 children's book by Roald Dahl, Wilder starred in the more musical "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" in 1971, and Depp played Wonka in the 2005 Tim Burton confection, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

See how these two wacky Wonkas stack up:


Many critics – and even Wilder himself – grumbled when Johnny Depp took on the role of Willy Wonka. Depp's depiction was decidedly detached and strangely boyish – disturbingly reminiscent of the late Michael Jackson. Wilder's Wonka exuded confidence. His was a larger-than-life madcap portrayal. And while Wilder's character would keep unruly kids in check – including letting a voracious "bad egg" like Veruca Salt fall down the garbage shoot – his justifications for such actions were convincing. In the end, his heart was as golden as that ticket – though the same can't quite be said for Depp's chocolate-making man.

Genius Level

Both Wonkas were highly imaginative and technologically savvy, but Depp's Wonka arguably took it up a notch from Wilder's version with his "television chocolate." Both Wonkas zapped a big chocolate bar into the ether, making it shrink down and reappear inside a television, but Depp's chocolate trick was much more grand. And let's face it, his bar was bigger than Wilder's. Plus, they wore those white goggles resembling bugs eyes in the 2005 version – so cool!

Memorable Entrance

Wilder played Wonka's mystique to his advantage, first approaching with a hobble and a cane, then surprising everyone with a somersault and a leap. (And yeah, it was Wilder's idea to catch everyone off guard from the first moment he appears.) Depp's entrance was a noble attempt, but it just didn't beat Wilder's: The golden ticket holders watch a robotic puppet show that eventually goes on meltdown. Confused, the crew realizes Wonka was standing behind them, observing.

Capacity to Make Babies Cry

Depp's quietly demented Wonka not only makes him less likable, but also increases his probability exponentially to make any infant freak out in his presence. Just based on looks alone, Depp resembles a strange version of a porcelain doll with his face covered in pale white makeup (not unusual for Depp), prosthetic teeth, and an ultra smooth, blunt bob peeking from underneath is top hat. Wilder's take is more whimsical, less creepy.

Pure Imagination

Gene Wilder's Wonka was not only an inspired man, but he had plenty of creativity and vision to pass around. While he remained eccentric and intolerant, he also proved to be well intentioned. Wilder played the candy tycoon as sincere and overjoyed when it came time to hand over the reigns of his chocolate empire to Charlie in the '71 film version. Depp's Wonka – not so much. When Charlie wins in his 2005 film, Depp's Wonka keeps his superficial smiling veneer in tact. Where's the heart, Johnny?

Wonka Winner: Gene Wilder