Gene Wilder faves headed back to theaters

Tickets for AMC showings $5

(Paramount Pictures via CNN)

LOS ANGELES (CNNMoney) – Two of Gene Wilder's most regarded films are headed back to theaters this weekend following the actor's death this week.

AMC Theaters is leading the charge with screenings of two of Wilder's films -- "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and "Blazing Saddles" -- at 55 locations on Saturday and Sunday.

Regal Entertainment Group plans to hold two Saturday screenings of the 1971 children's classic, based on the Roald Dahl book, at 100 theaters, according to a representative.

Wilder's turn as Willy Wonka arguably stands as his most memorable role, while "Blazing Saddles," one of his many collaborations with director Mel Brooks, was among his most sidesplitting films.

Wilder, 83, died Monday due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.

AMC notably led a large roll out of Prince's "Purple Rain" following the singer's death in April. It initially screened at 87 locations and was expanded the following weekend due to demand.

There is money to be made here, sure. But it should be noted that AMC is offering its tickets for a mere $5 per film.

Plus, Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, says theaters have more than that to gain by re-releasing films after the death of a revered actor or celebrity.

"The local movie theater is in a sense the town square and this is a great opportunity for theaters to connect with their patrons in a very tangible way that can bring people together and create goodwill with audiences and the community," he tells CNN via email.

Like "Purple Rain," "Blazing Saddles" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" are available for digital purchase on iTunes, Amazon and other platforms. But why then are audiences still eager to head to theaters when they can watch it in the comfort of their home? Dergarabedian says a personalized experience isn't what audiences are looking for in times of grief.

"The communal environment of the movie theater adds a huge measure of poignancy to the bittersweet feeling that we all experience after the loss of our favorite and most beloved stars and allows the audience to connect with other fans in a very public way that makes it a true celebration of the artists' work," he says.

A representative for AMC says decisions regarding all releases are "done in collaboration with our film programming team and the movie's distributing studio, who work together to determine the availability of a classic movie print, as well as potential movie-going interest."

Wilder's nephew said Monday that the actor and writer died late Sunday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement that Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.

"He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world," Walker-Pearlman said.

Wilder started his acting career on the stage, but millions knew him from his work in the movies, especially his collaborations with Mel Brooks on "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." The last film -- with Wilder playing a California-born descendant of the mad scientist, insisting that his name is pronounced "Frahn-ken-SHTEEN" -- was co-written by Brooks and Wilder.

"One of the truly great talents of our time," Mel Brooks tweeted. "He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship."

With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in "Young Frankenstein" or bilking Broadway in "The Producers." Brooks would call him "God's perfect prey, the victim in all of us."

But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozy gunslinger in "Blazing Saddles" or the charming candy man in the children's favorite "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." His craziest role: the therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen's "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex."

He was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas -- Wilder uptight, Pryor loose -- were ideal for comedy. They co-starred in four films: "Silver Streak," "Stir Crazy," "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" and "Another You." And they created several memorable scenes, particularly when Pryor provided Wilder with directions on how to "act black" as they tried to avoid police in "Silver Streak."

In 1968, Wilder received an Oscar nomination for his work in Brooks' "The Producers." He played the introverted Leo Bloom, an accountant who discovers the liberating joys of greed and corruption as he and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) conceive a Broadway flop titled "Springtime For Hitler" and plan to flee with the money raised for the show's production.

Matthew Broderick played Wilder's role in the 2001 Broadway stage revival of the show.

Though they collaborated on film, Wilder and Brooks met through the theater. Wilder was in a play with Brooks' then-future wife, Anne Bancroft, who introduced the pair backstage in 1963.

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Wilder, a Milwaukee native, was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1935. His father was a Russian emigre, his mother was of Polish descent. When he was 6, Wilder's mother suffered a heart attack that left her a semi-invalid. He soon began improvising comedy skits to entertain her, the first indication of his future career.

He started taking acting classes at age 12 and continued performing and taking lesson through college. In 1961, Wilder became a member of Lee Strasberg's prestigious Actor's Studio in Manhattan.

That same year, he made both his off-Broadway and Broadway debuts. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene's comedy "The Complaisant Lover."

He used his new name, Gene Wilder, for the off-Broadway and Broadway roles. He lifted the first name from the character Eugene Gant in Thomas Wolfe's "Look Back, Homeward Angel," while the last name was clipped from playwright Thornton Wilder.  A key break came when he co-starred with Bancroft in Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage," and met Brooks, her future husband.

PHOTOS: The life of Gene Wilder

"I was having trouble with one little section of the play, and he gave me tips on how to act. He said, `That's a song and dance. He's proselytizing about communism. Just skip over it, sing and dance over it, and get on to the good stuff.' And he was right," Wilder later explained.

Before starring in "The Producers," he had a small role as the hostage of gangsters in the 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde." He peaked in the mid-1970s with the twin Brooks hits "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein."

He went on to write several screenplays and direct several films. In 1982, while making the generally forgettable "Hanky-Panky," he fell in love with co-star Gilda Radner. They were married in 1984, and co-starred in two Wilder-penned films: "The Lady in Red" and "Haunted Honeymoon."

After Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder spent much of his time after promoting cancer research. He opened a support facility for cancer patients called "Gilda's Place." In 1991, he testified before Congress about the need for increased testing for cancer.

Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1991.