I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro has done as much as anybody to take monsters into the mainstream. He has turned dark fantasy into perennial award bait. Born in Mexico, he made his feature film debut with the Spanish language vampire film Cronos (1993). His American debut was the Mira Sorvino horror movie Mimic.
No matter the genre, Del Toro’s originality shines through. You can watch almost any one of his films with the sound off—yes, even the Hellboy movies—and soak in the detail. This includes his most recent movie, the remake of Nightmare Alley released in December 2021, and it will probably be true of his darker animated version of Pinocchio, set to be released in November 2022.
Here are his previous 11 films ranked. And be sure to vote for your favorite Guillermo Del Toro film.
1) Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
To partially paraphrase The Princess Bride, there are so few perfect films in this world, it would be a shame not to put this at number one. Del Toro’s dark(est) fantasy set in wartime Spain pulls no punches in its violence (poor bunnies!) nor in its beauty. A feast for the all the senses. It features some of the best creature design of the new century. The story unfolds as if told millions of times before to millions of children. Released in 2006 and set in the 1940s, Pan’s Labyrinth feels timeless. Robbed of a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Pan’s Labyrinth remains one of the best movies of the 2000s and the peak (not crimson) of Del Toro’s career so far.
2) The Shape of Water (2017)
The Shape of Water won the Oscar for Best Picture and Del Toro won for Best Director. It’s his second best film, but not by much. The romance between mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Del Toro regular Doug Jones) should not work onscreen as well as it does. Through the sheer force of storytelling, you believe every moment between them. Michael Shannon’s somewhat one-note villain role is the only thing that (minorly) bogs this movie down. As lyrical (a dance number that surprisingly does not stop the movie cold) as it is violent, Shape is a love story with staying power. “For you are everywhere.”
3) The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Del Toro’s Spanish language ghost story takes place in the unluckiest orphanage in the world during the Spanish Civil War. It’s not very scary, but you’re engrossed nonetheless. The movie feels familiar, but Del Toro is merely setting you up in the best way. There are more twists than you’d expect, but you’d agree that by the end, almost everyone gets what he/she deserves. Like some of the ghosts in this movie, The Devil’s Backbone does not disappear from your consciousness anytime soon.
4) Crimson Peak (2015)
I’ll admit to thinking this was relatively pedestrian the first time I saw it. A triumph of production design over story. A gothic romance with elements of horror more than anything else, it took me a second viewing to appreciate it more. Yes, it’s beautiful to look at and Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain ease into the roles with little to no fuss, but most of the twists are relatively easy to predict. You enjoy the story for what it is, not what you expect it to be. You don’t mind that Crimson Peak (the estate) is better developed than say, Charlie Hunnam’s Dr. McMichael.
5) Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
I like this a lot more than the original because we’re allowed to jump into the story as quickly as possible since we’ve been introduced to all of the characters already. The Golden Army adds depth to the characters way more than you ever expect from a movie like Hellboy. You care for these beautiful monsters. Featuring fearsome yet sympathetic antagonists, Hellboy II does exactly what sequels are supposed to accomplish but so rarely do. You wish there were a third Del Toro Hellboy instead of that awful reboot from 2019.
6) Blade II (2002)
Wesley Snipes is on record as saying Blade 2 is his favorite. Because it is the best of the Blade trilogy. The Reapers are an outstanding addition to movie vampire lore and Blade is allowed to have a pretty convincing love interest with a vampire (Leonor Varela). Del Toro shoots pretty standard action with a stylish flourish that distinguishes Blade 2 from the two other movies. A vampire movie with genuine surprises and a pre-Walking Dead Norman Reedus? That makes Blade 2 number one.
7) Nightmare Alley (2021)
Del Toro’s remake of the 1947 Tyrone Power starrer has about 30 minutes more runtime and a lot more gore. Like most Del Toro movies, his Nightmare looks very good (credit production designer Tamara Deverell) but loses steam story wise the longer the movie plays. Bradley Cooper feels a little too old to be playing an up and coming con man. Cate Blanchett chews scenery as a noir femme fatale who knows and plays all the angles. Famous faces like Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette and Richard Jenkins show up to keep you interested. An ultimate triumph of style over substance, but still a Nightmare worth watching.
8) Hellboy (2004)
Del Toro’s adaptation of the Mike Mignola comic feels and sometimes looks like a live-action cartoon. It takes an entire act for you to meet everybody and for the plot to get started. You never really feel like there’s anything at stake even though Hellboy as a character is always fun to watch thanks to Ron Perlman’s cigar and scene chewing. Rupert Evan’s audience surrogate John Myers is given nothing much to do but suck screen time from the more colorful characters. You’d have to wait for the sequel to get the depth you deserve. Ultimately, you wish there were more “Hell” than “Boy.”
9) Pacific Rim (2013)
Del Toro’s Kaiju-riffic monster mash is anything but boring. It’s nice to see a blockbuster that’s not part of a pre-existing IP. The monsters and robots are much better developed than any of the human “characters” whose only purpose is to spout exposition before the robots go smash. Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba barely play actual people, but you don’t really care because you don’t go to something like Pacific Rim for heartfelt character interaction. You go for the big robots. You go for the giant monsters. You don’t mind that you feel the empty calories as the credits roll. Pacific Rim delivers exactly what it promises. Nothing more.
10) Cronos (1993)
Del Toro’s first feature film has an interesting take on the vampire legend (though the word ‘vampire’ is never used). As a first film, it’s quite a coming out. Other than the premise, there’s nothing too surprising that takes place unless you’ve never seen a vampire movie before. The vampire effects are above average, but the final two acts are been-there, done-that. You’re rarely bored, but you’re also rarely surprised. A solid debut that’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it in a while.
11) Mimic (1997)
Guillermo Del Toro’s English language debut certainly has some unsettling moments and a strong lead performance from Mira Sorvino. There are way too many dead spots before the final, terrifying reveal for Mimic to rate any higher than average. You wish more of the movie touched the thrill of the final 15 minutes. Del Toro often clashed with the Weinstein brothers over the final cut of the movie and disowned it for a time. His director’s cut is closer to his vision, but it’s still his 10th ranked movie. You wish it could be scarier, but it’s a perfectly disposable 90 minutes at the movies.
Before Pinocchio opens in 2022, be sure to catch up on visionary director Guillermo Del Toro’s previous films. A celebration of the macabre and the exotic, the violence, and the halcyon. Del Toro’s movies take you to worlds not previously seen and ones you want to visit again and again.
Pinocchio Trailer. No lie.
© 2021 Noel Penaflor