The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked from Worst to Best
Guillermo del Toro, like most visionary directors, tends to be divisive. Despite his gregarious and charming personality, his movies can divide fans between those who think he’s a genius, weaving in a deep love of cinema and especially monsters, and those who feel like he’s more of a glorified production designer, able to bring in disparate elements but rarely telling a cohesive story. I fall into the former category, eagerly anticipating each new movie he does and getting wrapped up in the worlds he creates.
With del Toro’s new film The Shape of Water now in theaters, I’ve gone back and ranked all of his features from worst to best. Sound off in the comments with your thoughts and how you would rank his work.
10) Mimic: The Director's Cut
It almost feels unfair to include this one at all. On the commentary track for the Director’s Cut, del Toro freely admits that this isn’t really his vision and was heavily compromised by studio executives that didn’t understand what he was going for. As it stands, it feels like a low-grade horror film combined with del Toro’s passion for creature features.
Where Mimic falls apart is that ultimately we don’t really care about the characters. There’s an interesting subtext about questioning man’s position at the top of the food chain, and the overall picture is still in del Toro’s wheelhouse of finding the relationship between monsters and men, but it never quite clicks into place because you can see all the compromises he was forced to make. If del Toro ever wanted to return to Mimic and remake the picture with no constraints and true to his original vision, I would happily watch it even though the bugs still gross me out.
9) Blade II
I like this move far more than I expected, especially since I’m not a fan of the first Blade. Del Toro basically gives the series a soft reboot and repurposes it to his interest, finding a way to make Blade (Wesley Snipes) far more interesting by playing him off a variety of characters. It makes for an incredibly colorful feature that still deepens the vampire underworld by bringing in a larger threat, the Reapers, that del Toro still finds sympathy for.
It’s still a bit of an odd duck film, able to have fun with the action scenes and larger cast but never going as deep as it could, perhaps because of genre limitations or simply because there’s only time to do so much even if what the film is doing is repeatedly clearing out nests of reapers. It’s a film that’s a lot of fun, and lets del Toro provide his spin on the vampire-action movie. That being said, Blade II is also a movie I keep forgetting that’s part of his filmography, and I say that having written at length on the movie.
In the superhero-drenched marketplace of today, it’s easy to take a film like Hellboy for granted. But back in 2004 when the film was released, it was a serious uphill battle and it’s easier to appreciate just how much del Toro was able to accomplish in trying to stay true to Mike Mignola’s comic. It’s remarkable that the title character is being played by veteran character actor Ron Perlman (who absolutely nails Hellboy’s working-class attitude ). It’s impressive that del Toro didn’t have to fudge Hellboy’s origin or give him special powers to make him more relatable.
The trade-off is that Hellboy isn’t really the star of his own movie. The need for an audience surrogate gives us the milquetoast John Myers (Rupert Evans), and the entire story is viewed through his eyes, so the movie feels like it’s wrestling with the weird stuff Hellboy brings to the table and the more “relatable” stuff with John that feels like a sop to nervous execs and wary audience members. The far superior Hellboy II shows why it’s better to just let del Toro do his thing.
7) Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim is a movie I like more in theory than in practice. On the one hand, it’s kind of remarkable that Legendary and Universal gave del Toro a boatload of money to just indulge his interests, and setting up epic battles between jaegers and kaiju should be a ball. On an aesthetic level, the film is a total blast with del Toro’s eye for design coming up with unique looks for both the jaegers and the kaiju whereas lesser director probably would have come up with something more staid and unimaginative.
Where the film seriously falters is in its characters. Even if Charlie Hunnam hadn’t given a forgettable performance, the film is still stocked with archetypes where its contingent on every actor bring some kind of coloring to their performance or else they’ll get completely overshadowed. It’s telling that despite all the action happening around Raleigh (Hunnam), Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and the jaegers, the more interesting storyline is happening with Newt (Charlie Day) and his kaiju discoveries. That journey at the ground level is where the more interesting world building is going on, and while the set pieces are certainly exhilarating (despite everything being covered in rain), Pacific Rim is best on a micro level rather than a macro level.
Like most first features, you can see the outlines of what del Toro would go on to do even if the film itself also shows the growing pains of a filmmaker finding his voice. Cronos, which follows a kindly old man who melds with a robotic parasite that bestows the user eternal life but at the cost of needing blood, shows flashes of the filmmaker del Toro would become, but it also has trouble striking the right balance between comedy and tragedy.
There are moments where Cronos is deeply felt and emotional, especially in the tragedy of its protagonist who didn’t ask for what the Cronos device bestows but has become addicted to its power all the same. And yet there are also times where the lapse into moments of Raimi-esque horror-comedy. One of the things I admire about del Toro is that even in his most emotional movies, he never forgets about humor, but here it’s deployed awkwardly, sometimes working (usually in the form of Ron Perlman’s vain villain) and sometimes proving a distraction. Cronos may not be among del Toro’s best, but it still remains a fascinating first feature.
5) Crimson Peak
I love that del Toro indulges his inner teenage girl with a gothic romance story. Although the marketing sold Crimson Peak as more of a horror film, the heart of the movie is about a tortured love affair between Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) and Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) with Thomas’ sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) as a devious third wheel. Yes, there are ghosts (that are underserved by the overuse of VFX on Doug Jones’ horrifying frame) and a haunted house, but where the film really breathes is in exploring the horrors of love.
Finding something horrifying in something good may seem odd, but del Toro makes it work wonderfully through the lens of the twisted (to say the least) relationship between Thomas and Edith. The romantic elements of the story may have trouble shining through, but the horrific elements are always on point and serve to give Crimson Peak a unique and terrifying personality even if Edith’s journey sometimes feels underserved to give more time to the colorful Sharpes.
4) Hellboy II: The Golden Army
This feels like the film Hellboy was always supposed to be with the big red guy front-and-center and a more colorful cast surrounding him. It fully indulges del Toro’s love of big, weird monsters without losing any of the humor of the first movie. The movie got lost a bit in the superhero shuffle of 2008 (getting released the same summer as The Dark Knight and Iron Man will do that), but it’s a film that’s absolutely worth revisiting even if it will seriously bum you out that we’ll never see Hellboy III.
What makes Hellboy II: The Golden Army work so well is that beneath the comic book stuff, you have a film that’s seriously considering the place of the supernatural in this world. While the first movie had to explain that the guy named “Hellboy” is on our side against people who would use the supernatural against humanity, in The Golden Army, the conflict is far more complicated. We can’t totally hate Prince Nuada even if he’s the antagonist, and the stakes come not just from if the heroes lose, but what could happen if they win. It’s a richer, more thoughtful film that never loses sight of its terrific characters.
3) The Shape of Water
Easily del Toro’s best English-language film to date, The Shape of Water is the perfect blend of del Toro’s genre sensibilities and his unabashed romanticism. It’s a film that, despite its firm setting in the Cold War era, feels absolutely timeless thanks to how it approaches its subject matter, namely the power of love that defies conventions. Rather than try to outwit or outmatch any cynicism that would confront the love story between a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) and a fish man (Doug Jones), del Toro approaches it with utmost earnestness and comes out victorious.
The movie is also just a marvel to behold with excellent performances from Hawkins and Michael Shannon, exquisite production design, and lovely music. It’s the kind of film where I can see people writing essays and papers just on the use of the color green, and the whole enterprise feels like del Toro working at the top of his game, investing fully in emotions rather than trying to cobble together a collection of his interests. It’s still fully his movie and recognizably so, but it also feels like the work of someone who has clearly grown as a filmmaker.
2) The Devil’s Backbone
The Devil’s Backbone has del Toro’s utterly fearless balance of emotion and terror. It’s a movie that’s unafraid to take chances and get ugly to find some truly beautiful moments. The story follows Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a young boy who finds himself in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War and comes across the horrifying spectre of another child, which leads to a mystery surrounding the caretakers.
There’s such an enormous well of empathy for these characters, not just the ones who are “good”, but for all the suffering felt during war and how we deal with it. Even the despicable Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) is pitiable in his own way. Del Toro never takes a turn for the melodramatic or the painfully melancholy because he understands the sadness that pervades the setting and the characters. It’s a movie that understands how people get trapped—by their actions, by world events, by their emotions—and if anyone can find “freedom”. It’s a heart wrenching movies that’s both beautiful and terrifying.
1) Pan’s Labyrinth
Still del Toro’s masterpiece (although a few more viewings of The Shape of Water might cause me to revaluate the rankings), Pan’s Labyrinth is the filmmaker at the top of his game. It’s the darkest of fairy tales, following Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl who has been uprooted from her home, who believes that the only way to find salvation during the Spanish Civil War is when she encounters Fauno (Doug Jones), a woodland creature who commits her to completing three tasks so she can be reincarnated as a princess.
It’s a movie where there are only two ways to escape from the horrors of the world—imagination and death—and while that’s incredibly heavy, del Toro, through his humility and grace, never gets lost in a morose, depressing quagmire thanks to his visionary designs, thoughtful storytelling, and wonderful characters. Pan’s Labyrinth is a complicated, daring, unnerving picture, but it’s also completely emblematic as to why every Guillermo del Toro movie is a cause for celebration.