After 30 years of making films, you’d think every director would have a misstep. We’re all human, right? Everyone deserves a swing and a miss once in a while. But that’s not been the case for Guillermo del Toro. Staring with his feature debut, Cronos, in 1993 all the way to this week’s release of Nightmare Alley, we don’t think there’s a bad movie in the bunch. Now, sure, there are movies that are less interesting than the others. Some are flat-out all time masterpieces, while others are just weird, fun, good movies. So ranking them isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. And so it is that we dive into the filmography of Oscar-winning madman, Guillermo del Toro, whose new film Nightmare Alley is out this week.
11. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Saying Hellboy II is the worst Guillermo del Toro movie is like saying one slice of pizza is the worst in the pie. It’s still pretty damned good. Del Toro pulled out all the tricks for this 2008 sequel that followed up his (superior) 2004 original. It’s a bigger movie, a louder movie, there’s still heart there, but it’s really more of a popcorn spectacle than anything else. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
10. Blade II (2002)
I’m that guy. The guy who doesn’t adore Blade II. I wrote about it in depth a few years ago but the simple fact is that while it’s a very action heavy sequel, there’s nothing overtly interesting or endearing about it. It’s Wesley Snipes and an excellent supporting cast using cool weapons to filet vampires for a few hours. Which is admittedly awesome. And the film’s success elevated del Toro’s star and let him move onto other things. But in terms of just overall quality of film, it’s on the lower part of the list. Fun, worth watching, but lower-level del Toro in comparison to the rest.
9. Mimic (1997)
After the indie success of del Toro’s first film (we’re getting to that), Dimension (then owned by the Weinsteins) gave him a shot at a big studio horror movie. And it’s pure del Toro, filled with evocative imagery, gross creatures, and more. The director’s cut improves on the original but even so, we’re left with an entertaining horror film without a ton of substance. We did a deep dive here.
8. Pacific Rim (2013)
That Pacific Rim isn’t higher on this list is exactly why it’s here on the list. I’ll explain. The idea of humans building giant robots called jaegers to defend the planet from giant kaiju is sort of the ultimate Guillermo del Toro concept. Just pure design and cinema. And the movie is fun and beautiful, but also just not as good as you want it to be. That ever so slight disappointment of Pacific Rim being only “good” and not “great” just makes it rank a little lower.
7. Crimson Peak (2015)
Crimson Peak came at a point in del Toro’s career when he realized his talent with creatures, horror, and gothic settings could be used in different ways. And so on that canvas he unfurls this complex melodrama about a love triangle with supernatural elements. It almost doesn’t feel del Toro once you get into it, which makes it just a wee bit forgettable, but the performances and visuals keep it afloat.
6. Hellboy (2004)
It’s still wild that two years after Spider-Man, and four years before The Dark Knight, a filmmaker as prolific and beloved as del Toro made his very own comic book adaptation with all the incredible creatures, make up, and visual effects that entails. He truly breathed life into the Mike Mignola-created character, offering a film that’s entertaining but also sad and dynamic. Watch Hellboy again. It’s better than you remember.
5. Nightmare Alley (2021)
Nightmare Alley is Guillermo del Toro at the top of his craft. He sets a unique story inside the world of carnivals and through his disturbed, off-kilter eye, populates the screen with the biggest names in the business, The result is a tense, dense film about greed, desire, and guilt set against the weirdest and most fascinating of backdrops. But it’s a tad too easy to pick out the big moments even if you don’t know the source material, which is the one thing holding it back.
4. Cronos (1993)
It’s so weird that some of the best filmmakers in the world make their greatest films early on in their careers. There’s just something about that young passion to finally do something you’ve been dreaming of your whole life. So it’s no surprise that Cronos, Guillermo del Toro’s debut film, remains so fascinating. It’s not quite on the scale of his later movies, but the way it blends horror with huge, questions like that of eternal life and the price you’d pay for it is endlessly fascinating.
3. The Shape of Water (2017)
When del Toro calls it a career, The Shape of Water will be the first movie people mention. And rightfully so. He won the Oscar for Best Director, the film won Best Picture, it was a towering achievement for genre filmmaking. The love story of a woman and her fish person is not just romantic and beautiful, it’s scary and exciting, just everything rolled into one. It’s a movie you never forget once you’ve seen it. And yet, Guillermo del Toro has made some amazing films...
2. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
There aren’t many filmmakers who could tell a period-piece war story set in an orphanage, mix it with supernatural elements, and still make it all work. But that’s what del Toro does with The Devil’s Backbone, a stunner of a film that’s got everything he’s best at in a small, fitting package. There’s plenty of horror elements throughout, but seen largely through the eyes of children who are confused about the world around them. The film is just so beautifully layered and complex.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
I kind of want to just be like “everything I said in the previous 10 slides, but rolled into one” because that’s true. But Pan’s Labyrinth is a straight up masterpiece and deserves more than that. It’s a huge, world-building fantasy told through the tiny lens of a young woman in a dreadful position due to the war times she’s growing up in, all mixed together to create a film that somehow balances the horrors of war, childhood innocence, gorgeous mythical creatures, intense gore, and big family emotions. If you look at del Toro’s career it’s almost like he does four or five films and then finally lands on his masterpiece. This was the first time he did it and it still towers above all the rest.
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