Over the course of his career, Guillermo del Toro has positioned himself as one of film’s most visionary and distinctive directors. Picking favorites from films of del Toro’s quality is no easy task, but we thought we’d take a shot while we wait for the release of del Toro's highly-anticipated next film Antlers, which has been postponed due to coronavirus. These are our ten favorite Guillermo del Toro movies, ranked.
With a style that manages to honor the classic cinema that influenced him while simultaneously pushing conventions forward, del Toro has an impressive body of work that is uniquely his own.
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His trademark blend of gothic horror and dark, atmospheric fantasy makes his films immediately recognizable. At his best, his films are richly-layered parables that are often as horrifying as they are wondrous. Get swept away in del Toro's cinematic visions with these incredible stories.
10. Mimic (1997)
Mimic is one of the least adventurous and creative films in del Toro’s catalog. Which is not to say it isn’t good—it's actually very good.
Rather, it’s a more cookie-cutter approach to horror that is lifted by del Toro’s atmospheric visual flare, with hints of his hallmark oddities peeking around the edges. The film itself, which centers around a CDC scientist and an entomologist who accidentally create a giant cockroach-like creature, was plagued with behind-the-scenes issues.
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Del Toro did not have final say over the film’s cut, and describes it as one the worst film experience of his life.
9. Blade II (2002)
Blade II was del Toro’s first foray into superhero film, and proved a precursor to his success with the Hellboy franchise. Del Toro’s darkly fantastical style was a perfect match for this tale of nocturnal creatures hellbent on humanity’s destruction.
Putting a visionary horror director behind the camera for a horror-themed superhero flick seems like a no-brainer in retrospect. Despite a somewhat-underwhelming script, Blade II holds up remarkably well, due in large part to del Toro’s stylish direction.
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8. Pacific Rim (2013)
A well-made movie about giant robots fighting giant Godzilla-esque monsters was always going to be a fun ride. In the hands of a director like Guillermo Del Toro? It’s an instant classic.
Rather than delving into the potential horror inherent to the concept, del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham shifted the focus toward the wonder and sense of escapism that defined the Godzilla films of del Toro’s childhood. The result is a thought-provoking spectacle that balances mayhem, giant monster fights, and heartfelt emotion.
7. Hellboy (2004)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pairing of director and material than Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. This is one of those movie where everything fell into place—from del Toro’s writing/directing, to Mignola’s bizarre creature creations, and the pitch-perfect casting of Ron Perlman in the title role.
The only arguable downside is that, like most origin films, there is a lot of table-setting in Hellboy. Nonetheless, this movie is an ideal popular showcase for del Toro’s ability to balance horror, the fantastical, and deeply human characters.
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6. Hellboy II (2008)
As good as Hellboy was, Hellboy II is an improvement in every possible way. Ron Perlman is firmly entrenched in the titular character, del Toro vastly expands the scope of the world to great effect, and leans into the delightfully weird pulse of the source material.
Unfortunately, Hellboy II was somewhat lost in the superhero blockbuster shuffle of 2008 (both Iron Man and The Dark Knight released that same year), but it is a visionary comic book film that truly showcases del Toro’s visual sensibilities and his underrated eye for action sequences.
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5. Crimson Peak (2015)
Beginning here with number five, we’re really just splitting hairs in terms of quality. These films showcase del Toro firmly in his wheelhouse—layered, emotionally-rich fables told through the lens of horror. Honestly, you can more or less order these top five anyway you want and make a solid argument for them.
Crimson Peak is an atmospheric, slow burn Gothic haunter. Centering a young woman who falls for seductive and potentially deadly stranger, the film plays out a ghost-fueled fever dream filtered through the lens of Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe.
4. The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil’s Backbone tells the story of 10-year-old Carlos, who is placed in an orphanage that may hide a deeply sinister past.
With a palpable and unrelenting sense of dread, The Devil’s Backbone is arguably del Toro’s scariest film. However, it is also among his most emotionally resonant, and the political allegory that underpins the entire affair shows just how much depth and range del Toro has when he’s at his best.
3. Cronos (1993)
Guillermo del Toro’s remarkably sure-footed debut lays the groundwork for the body of work that followed. His influences—from classic Hammer horror films to Lovecraftian touches, and even a bit of Spielberg’s sense of awe—are proudly on display.
More importantly, this movie showcases del Toro's penchant for playing with traditional concepts in novel ways. With Cronos, it’s a truly fascinating take on vampirism.
The story centers around an antiques dealer who stumbles across a mechanical scarab that grants him eternal life but also a thirst for blood.
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2. The Shape of Water (2018)
As del Toro’s only Oscar-winner to date, The Shape of Water holds a special place in the director’s canon. It’s an absorbing romantic fable that is somehow both dark and surprisingly hopeful.
The film tells the story of a lonely, mute woman who serves as the janitor in a top-secret research facility. When she stumbles onto an amphibious humanoid in one of the facility's tanks, she finds herself inexorably drawn to the strange creature.
Between the incredible sound design and the lush cinematography and set design, this may be del Toro’s most technically accomplished film. However, the emotional core of The Shape of Water—one that is lifted by an incredible performance from Sally Hawkins—truly sets the film apart.
1. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
There is arguably no other film that encompasses the work of Guillermo del Toro more fully than Pan’s Labyrinth. It is a dark fairytale set against the backdrop of turmoil that followed the end of the Spanish Civil War.
The movie is told through the eyes of an imaginative young girl named Ofelia who stumbles across a seemingly magical labyrinth and a strange faun. Shifting between the horrors of the real world and a fantastical underworld, del Toro manages to balance unsettling terror and genuine wonder in a way that few directors can.
With its richly-layered story, overlapping themes, and extraordinarily-realized creatures, Pan’s Labyrinth is del Toro’s masterpiece.
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Featured still from ''Pan's Labyrinth'' via Warner Bros. Pictures