For director Guillermo del Toro, movies aren’t a part of life, they are life. After discovering cinema as a child, del Toro promptly abandoned his original ambition of being a marine biologist vis-à-vis Jacques Costeau and stepped into an elaborate fantasy world informed by an entire century of cinematic innovation. His sinister vision reached maturity in the early 1990s with his directorial debut Cronos. After the success of his science-fiction follow up, Mimic in 1997, del Toro hit on a winning streak, releasing The Devil’s Backbone in 2001, Hell Boy in 2004 and his revered anti-fascist fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth, in 2006.
Cronos is an especially vivid insight into the director’s cinematic influences. In it, a 16th-century alchemist crafts a device called the Cronos that grants its user eternal life. Unfortunately, it also gives them a far-from desirable blood-lust. While the 1997 offering features many of the more lavish aspects of classic horror, it’s also distinctly oddball in delivery. As del Toro revealed during an interview at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, the fundamental strangeness of his movies is far from accidental.
Speaking to Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin in 2019, del Toro said: “Everything I’ve done, even the most commercially viable ones, they have some weirdness in them. When you’re on a set and you’ve absorbed 100 years of cinema, your first instinct, the regular instinct, is the wrong instinct. You have to say, ‘OK, that is the way it would normally happen in a movie. What can we do that is different?’ And you stop yourself. You have to stop yourself. The older you get, the more you want to go different.”
Del Toro’s subconscious desire to replicate his favourite films must be hard to quash, not east because he has so many favourites to choose from. “The problem is when DVD came out I had Lasers [LaserDiscs] already, and I made a solemn promise to my wife: ‘I’m just going to get my ten favourite movies.’ There are now 7,000,” the director told MTV.
Forced to prune that extensive list down to just a few titled, del Toro said: “If I had a gun to my head – and it may change tomorrow – but instinctively my ten favourites would be Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Von Stroheim’s Greed, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, probably Taxi Driver, Blade Runner… I would start then regretting everything I didn’t say… Let me call you back.” After spending a moment re-calibrating, Del Toro went on to add Jean Cocteau’s 1946 gem Beauty and the Beast to his list. “It’s almost impossible to make this list,” he continued. “I would say almost all Chaplin. Hitchcock, Notorious, Psycho. It’s a horrible dilemma. Notorious is a masterpiece. The greatest murder ever done, with Claude Rains putting the lock on the door, and then Cary Grant putting the lock on the door with Claude Rains.”
Clearly, Guillermo del Toro has a hard time nailing down his top five-ten films let alone his number one. And, to be honest, I can’t blame him. If I’d ingested that much quality cinema, I’d be a walking mass of Hitchcockian quotations. Still, a person can dream. You can check out a clip of one of del Toro’s all-time favourite movies, The Bride of Frankenstein, below. Note the clear similarities to del Toro’s 2017 subversive monster movie The Shape of Water.
Guillermo del Toro’s favourite movies:
- Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
- Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1936)
- Greed – (Von Stroheim, 1924)
- City Lights – Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
- Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
- Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
- Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
- Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
- Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)