One of the most gifted filmmakers of the last twenty years, Mexican director, screenwriter, and producer Guillermo Del Toro has stunned audiences with his compelling combination of beautiful art direction, sympathetic storytelling, and dazzling special effects.
His works range from the grotesque (Mimic) to the magical (Pan’s Labyrinth), and the mark he makes on a film is immediately noticeable, from his smallest independent movies to his biggest blockbusters. No matter the scale, the nuance of his characters will always advance the story, aided by his highly stylized concepts. Here are his feature films in order of cinematic magnificence.
Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Cronos is his first feature film debut. It centers around a mysterious timekeeping device designed during the Spanish Inquisition to grant its owner eternal life. When it is discovered after being lost for four hundred years, each person who encounters it suffers only danger and despair.
Winner of Best Picture during Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival, Cronos was a smash in 1993 and marked the first collaboration between Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman who would later go on to star in Del Toro’s other big hit, Hellboy.
9 THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE
Described as the “brother” film to Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Devil’s Backbone follows Carlos, a 12-year-old orphan from the time of his father’s death in the Spanish Civil War of 1939 to his time at a local orphanage.
While there, he uncovers many sinister truths about the facility, as well as the ghost of a previous occupant. The Devil's Backbone took 16 years to develop, and was a personal project for Guillermo Del Toro as he’s stated it was based on parts of his life (including the ghost!). It’s said to be his favorite.
Like The Thing, Mimic is a creature feature involving a monster that has evolved to be able to mimic the human form. It all started when a noted entomologist addressed the crisis of cockroaches killing children in Manhattan by making an even scarier bug, on that would secrete something that killed the cockroaches.
The creature was supposed to die in the first generation but it survived, mutating into something much more horrifying than the cockroaches. Mimic showcases Guillermo’s evolving style, as well as his love for dark places, insects, intricate clockwork, and monsters. All of these aspects would be noticeable in his later works.
7 BLADE II
The follow up to the cult-classic Blade about a half vampire, half human vampire hunter, Blade II was a perfect vehicle to showcase Guillermo Del Toro’s love of grotesque creatures. A deranged menace known as a Reaper has appeared in the vampire community, a mutated form of bloodsucker that feasts on humans and vampires alike.
To prevent total annihilation, the Shadow Council of vampires reluctantly enlists Blade’s help to exterminate the new threat. This was the beginning of Del Toro’s high profile Hollywood work, and it showed that he could make an action/blockbuster film. It also reunited him with Ron Perlman cor the second time.
6 CRIMSON PEAK
Plagued by the death of her mother, the young daughter of a wealthy businessman endeavors to leave her grief behind her. Enter Thomas Sharpe, a young dashing suitor who relentlessly pursues her until she agrees to leave New York behind and move to his lonely manor, Crimson Peak, where he lives with his only surviving relative, his sister Lucille.
She is confronted not just by ghosts she can see, but the ghosts in her past, and the dark pasts of her two new family members. Crimson Peak is a slow-burning, beautifully rendered ghost story, Del Toro showcases his talent for style and substance.
5 PACIFIC RIM
Humankind has been locked into battle with giant creatures known as Kaiju, who rose from the sea decades ago and have proven relentless in their assault. To combat them, giant robots called Jaegers were made to be piloted by two people connected by a neural bridge. Humanity’s only hope is a washed-up pilot and a rookie teaming up to do battle using one of the most famous Jaegers of all.
Full of big stars and familiar Del Toro cast members, Pacific Rim is a dazzling science fiction film that combines Del Toro’s love of creatures with action-adventure. It also spawned a sequel, though not directed by him.
4 HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
In the much-anticipated sequel to Del Toro’s Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army chronicles humanity’s resistance to the mythical world when a dark elf decides to break the pact that kept the worlds of mythology and reality separate. Hellboy and his team of supernatural superheroes are recruited to save humankind from the elf prince and the Golden Army that threatens to wipe out humankind.
Del Toro and his cast turned down multiple opportunities for other films to dedicate themselves to this sequel, and it boasts some of the most dazzling examples of Del Toro’s visual styling to date.
Arguably the film that put Guillermo Del Toro on the map for most American audiences unfamiliar with his Mexican-American horror films, Hellboy told the story of a demonic superhero raised by Nazis who ultimately uses his powers to fight the forces of darkness. He works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research along with other supernatural creatures to defend humankind from evil.
Praised for its witty dialogue, attention to detail, and special effects, Hellboy showcased Del Toro’s unique creative vision as it pertained to the superhero genre, forever securing it a place of prominence among all superhero movies that came after it.
2 PAN’S LABYRINTH
Pan’s Labyrinth is part fairytale and part mystery. It focuses on Ofelia, the young stepdaughter of a cruel captain in the Spanish Army. Preferring fairytales to the drudgery of her real life, Ofelia encounters real magic when an old faun in the center of a labyrinth informs her that if she can complete three tasks, she will be reunited with her real father and declared the princess of his kingdom.
The acting, art direction, and special effects all combine to make a film that seamlessly blends the harsh realities of life with the cosseting rapture of fairy tales. It is considered one of Del Toro’s best works.
1 THE SHAPE OF WATER
Set during the Cold War era at a top-secret government facility, a mute woman who works cleaning the laboratories happens upon an incredible discovery. A classified experimental weapon of war turns out to be an amphibious man who has been pulled from the Amazon River where he was worshiped as a god. Her time with the creature turns into something deeper, and her growing love for him inspires a rescue mission.
The Shape of Water is hailed as a triumphant love story that combines horror and beauty in a way previously thought incompatible. It garnered a series of Academy Award nominations and won for Best Picture in 2018.