Master of fantasy, lover of creature features and European romance, Guillermo del Toro has long championed the realm of science fiction fantasy, fascinating the industry with his boundless creativity.
Bringing his distinct brand of fantastical horror to the forefront of the horror genre, watching a Guillermo del Toro genre film is to peer behind the branches and leaves of a fantastical land and stare into the heart of darkness.
Responsible for the terrors of Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has a unique ability to conjure the darkest of monsters, creatures and spirits that extend well beyond his own filmography. Having had a hand in the development of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Orphanage and more, del Toro’s holds an untold significance to the legacy of modern horror.
Having enjoyed over 35 years in the film industry, Guillermo del Toro has made ten feature films, in total, ranging from massive blockbusters to modest independent works. With Nightmare Alley and an adaptation of Pinocchio in the pipeline, he is a director who continues to impress with the sheer size of his creative ambition.
Let’s take a look back at his very best films.
Ranking the films of Guillermo del Toro
10) Mimic (1997)
Guillermo del Toro’s second film, and his first major Hollywood experience, is a valiant effort, but an undeniable critical and commercial flop, costing $30 million to make, whilst taking only $25.5 million in return.
The American science fiction horror, starring Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam and Josh Brolin, is based on Donald A. Wollheim’s short story of the same name following a pack of killer cockroaches carrying a virulent disease that is set to destroy humanity. A better than average, if unfortunately lacklustre effort, Mimic fails to capture the creativity which Guillermo del Toro would later be famous for.
9) Blade II (2002)
Celebrated as a series of cult films, although Blade and Blade II Wesley Snipes failed to make a critical splash, they remain firmly in the public eye as predecessors to the now thriving superhero sub-genre.
Continuing the story from the previous film, Blade II sees Snipes’ titular character form an uneasy alliance with the vampire council to combat a group called the Reapers, who are slaughtering vampires. Tired of the view of vampires as “tortured Victorian heroes,” del Toro wanted them to be scary again, taking an international approach to the western hero, stating, “I wanted the movie to have a feeling of both a comic book and Japanese animation”.
8) Crimson Park (2015)
Both a ghost story and a gothic romance, Crimson Peak was an amalgamation of everything audiences had come to expect from Guillermo del Toro, with a cast featuring the likes of Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston.
Largely set in a gothic manor house, Crimson Peak follows the aftermath of a family tragedy where an author is torn for her love between her good friend and an alluring outsider. Speaking about the film, del Toro reported that the film is “a very set-oriented, classical but at the same time modern take on the ghost story”. Adding to this, he stated, “I think people are getting used to horror subjects done as found footage or B-value budgets. I wanted this to feel like a throwback”.
7) Hellboy (2004)
Though Hellboy isn’t uttered in the same breath as Iron Man, Captain America or indeed Ant-Man, like Blade, his cinematic adaptation preceded the modern obsession with superheroes. It was arguably providing something radically different too.
Following a demon, raised from infancy after being rescued from the hands of the Nazis, Hellboy grows up to become a defender against the paranormal. An insane story adapted from the graphic novel Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola, del Toro managed to inject a strange sense of morality in the film, making labyrinths a central motif in the film, as the director recalled, “A labyrinth, it is said, is not a place to be lost, but a place to find yourself”.
6) Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Whilst the original film failed to capture significant critical and commercial attention, it did generate enough revenue and interest to warrant a second outing that unusually surpassed the quality of the first.
Portrayed brilliantly by Ron Perlman, the second film in the short series focuses more on fantasy gods and beings, following a prince of a mythical world who orders a rebellion against humanity, with only Hellboy willing to stop his villainous plan. Describing his dilemma in the sequel, de Toro stated, “[He] has always fought on the side of humans, but this [fantasy of destruction] pushes his buttons to reconsider”.
5) Pacific Rim (2013)
When an interdimensional portal releases giant monsters called the Kaiju into the Pacific Ocean, Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam serve as pilots for gigantic robots called Jaegers in del Toro’s bombastic blockbuster thriller.
Pacific Rim is an insane ode to the Japanese Kaiju movies and a simple rock ’em, sock ’em thriller that captures the grand spectacle of giant robots vs goliath monsters.
A child’s chocolate-stained sugar rush, del Toro saw the film as an essential one for children, stating, “I think that’s a great message to give kids … ‘That guy you were beating the shit out of ten minutes ago? That’s the guy you have to work with five minutes later.’ That’s life … We can only be complete when we work together”.
4) Cronos (1993)
Guillermo del Toro’s first film remains one of his very best, a strange fantasy horror following a mysterious device meant to provide eternal life that resurfaces after 400 years and causes a path of destruction.
Not only is Cronos one of del Toro’s darkest and most atmospheric pictures, but it’s also intricately written and artistically presented. Starring Federico Luppi, Claudio Brook and longtime collaborator Ron Perlman, Cronos may get lost in the clamour of Guillermo del Toro’s filmography. Still, it remains one of the director’s most compelling feature films. Such a film shows that with limitations, filmmakers can thrive.
3) The Shape of Water (2017)
This Best Picture-winning fairytale from Guillermo del Toro was an ode to the beauty of Hollywood cinema, filled with imagination as it told the story of a lonely janitor who forms a unique relationship with an amphibious test subject.
Wildly critically acclaimed, del Toro would also win an award for Best Director at the Oscars and would also see statuettes for his crew, who received one each for Production Design and Original Score. With a fearless commitment to bold ingenuity, The Shape of Water is a triumph of creative confidence that stands as the director’s most decorated film, bravely taking fantasy filmmaking to brand new heights.
2) The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
The pivotal critical and commercial success for director Guillermo del Toro came in 2001 with his dramatic horror The Devil’s Backbone, which was really more of an allegorical tale of childhood development.
Writing the film’s first draft prior to his debut Cronos, the picture’s initial iteration was “very different” according to del Toro, focusing not on a child’s ghost but a “Christ with three arms”. Elegant and genuinely creepy, The Devil’s Backbone follows a 12-year-old boy who is sent to an ominous orphanage following his father’s death in the Spanish Civil War, where he becomes haunted by the ghost of another child. Additionally, it’s backed with proper emotional weight to reinforce its horror elements, del Toro’s third film remains one of his greatest.
Entwining gothic fantasy and historical politics, Pan’s Labyrinth is a modern classic that provides a compelling reflection on life in wartime Spain whilst bringing some of the most unique creature designs ever seen to the silver screen.
1) Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Following in the footsteps of the magical realism masters Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, del Toro creates a strange ethereal world where ancient beasts and humans coexist. The full story follows the stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer who escapes into the forest and subsequently into a world of eerie, captivating fantasy creatures.
Branding some unforgettable creatures into the minds of audiences worldwide, Pan’s Labyrinth remains Guillermo del Toro’s finest film, with many hoping he can recreate such magic in his future filmography.