Film

Ranking the Films of Guillermo Del Toro

What is Guillermo Del Toro’s Best Film?

Years back, we ranked the films of director Guillermo Del Toro under our old brand Sound On Sight. As we impatiently wait for his next feature film to be released, we figured we would update our list. What follows is the films of Guillermo Del Toro ranked from worst to best. Which of these is your favorite?

Quick note: We are only including full length feature films directed by Del Toro.

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10) Hellboy 2

There’s a palpable joy to Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a tactile love that graces every scene, bringing to life a fantastical world full of wonders and terrors, and enlivening the proceedings with enough cleverness to keep things moving along. Where Hellboy is a serviceable comic-book adaptation from the early era of the genre when studios wanted to slap together a film of anything that had ever been on the shelf of a comic book store, Hellboy II is a fully formed vision; its Guillermo Del Toro letting loose, spending the collateral he earned with his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth on a playground of his own fantasies.

If Hellboy is a superhero origin story, this sequel is the origin of a fully-formed mythos. The titular demon (Ron Perlman) leads a team of paranormal investigators (including Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, and Jeffrey Tambor) in an effort to stop an otherworldly prince from awakening the Golden Army and overtaking the world. The film is full of virtuoso set-pieces, from an elemental monster’s blooming into a paradise to the action-packed finale, but it is never better than in Del Toro’s loving homage to the Moss Isley cantina sequence from Star Wars. The director’s penchant for puppetry and movie magic over CGI has never been more fully realized than in a scene where our hero visits a troll bazaar and comes into contact with a large and diverse cast of creatures.

The rare sequel to best the original, Hellboy II is a confident combination of B-movie fun, blockbuster effects, and beautiful costuming and makeup. It’s the exceptional superhero film that takes time to pull back, widen the frame and take note: its a weird, wild world out there, and in the hands of Guillermo Del Toro, that can be a wondrous, hilarious, and terrifying prospect. (Jordan Ferguson)

9) Mimic

Though Del Toro himself was reportedly unhappy with the film as released (and in fact, later returned to it, releasing a Director’s Cut in 2011), Mimic still includes many of his signatures, in its story of insect-like monsters populating the dark, unseen spaces beneath Manhattan. The film has a fairly unique monster movie spin, in which two entomologists (Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam) create a bug to destroy a deadly disease, only to have their creation return, three years later, evolved and prepared to wreak havoc.

Though Mimic lacks the magical creativity that marks Del Toro’s best work (nothing here comes close to the Troll Market sequence in Hellboy II, the second quest in Pan’s Labyrinth or the visit to Hannibal Chau’s backroom in Pacific Rim for sheer visual inventiveness), it is still distinctly of a piece with his larger filmography, a land where wonders and horrors exist around every corner, and one wrong turn can completely alter your fate, for better, or in the case of Mimic’s dangerous beasties, for much, much worse. (Jordan Ferguson)

8) Blade II

Four years after the box office hit Blade (1998), actor Wesley Snipes returned to portray the famous Marvel Comics character in a sequel directed by a then lesser known Guillermo del Toro. What Blade II lacks in character development and plot, it makes up for in action, gunplay, fights, car chases, special effects, and numerous scenes of gory mayhem that make the film well worth the price of admission. As bloody-vampire-shoot-’em-ups go, Blade II is great fun, and believe it or not, Blade II is actually better than the original. It really is a fabulous-looking package, elegantly orchestrated by del Toro, with superbly choreographed action and a stellar cast that includes Norman Reedus, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela and Donnie Yen. Blade II is definitely an improvement on the first Blade, thanks to Del Toro who rather than direct a by the numbers sequel, decided to adjust the tone by increasing the amount of action and adding a touch of humour. (Ricky D)

7) Crimson Peak

A haunted house movie usually relies on its ghosts, but in the case of Guillermo del Toro’s latest gothic horror drama, their inconsequentiality to the story renders them mostly impotent and unmemorable. Lucky then that the incredible visuals and sound work more than make for a compellingly eerie atmosphere, enough to carry viewers through to the end of the story before they realize nothing much really happened. The house is a marvel of set design, giving off an ancient feel, full of texture and twisted hallways. While not heavy on gore (until the climax), there are plenty of substitutes that convey bloody implications, not the least of which is the goopy red clay that bubbles up to the surface, bleeding through the white snow and filling basement vats that may hide murderous secrets. Flickering candles, creaking wood, and the ominous moans and groans of an aged, rotting estate all contribute to a general unease and cast a spell of dazzling richness that sates the senses. As for the ghosts? The deathly pale actors make far better spooks, especially the menacingly wraith-like Jessica Chastain. While not necessarily scary, Crimson Peak is worth it for the chilling ambiance alone, proving that while looks aren’t everything, they’re sometimes enough. (Patrick Murphy)

6) Hellboy

Created by writer-artist Mike Mignola, the character of Hellboy first appeared in a number of miniseries, one-shots as well as some crossovers. The demon, whose true name is Anung Un Rama (the Beast of the Apocalypse), was brought to Earth as an infant by Nazi occultists and later discovered by the Allied Forces who formed the United States Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). He was raised to become the “World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator.” You don’t have to be a comic book geek to appreciate the craftsmanship gone into bringing Hellboy to the big screen. Del Toro moves his story along with unrelenting energy and superb special effects and make-up effects. Here is an adaptation faithful to its pulp roots, and anchored by a fantastic performance by Ron Perlman. Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days, but Hellboy is a unique gem. (Ricky D)

5) Cronos

Before he put giant bugs in the subway and before he entered the comic book universe, Guillermo del Toro made one of the most beautiful, compelling, hypnotic, and creepy horror films.

Cronos introduced the dark genius of Guillermo del Toro to the world. This stylish and innovative take on the familiar vampire movie marked the directorial debut of the Mexican filmmaker, and what a great first impression it makes. The film garnered international acclaim and several awards, and many of the aesthetic qualities and thematic devices that del Toro became famous for are to be found here. The film also marks the start of a long-standing collaboration between del Toro and lead actor Ron Perlman, that would launch the actor up the fantasy/superhero charts.

4) Pacific Rim

Del Toro’s modern creature feature, bolstered by fantastical imagery and top of the line special effects is one of the best blockbusters in recent years. Highly influenced by Japanese anime and the Godzilla, Monthra, Rodan, and Gorgo monster films of the 70′s, Pacific Rim revels in del Toro’s abiding love for comic books, pop culture, and movie genre excess. The action recalls Transformers, the dialogue seems lifted from a Rolland Emmerich film, and the relationships recall Top Gun – but what really makes this work, and sets it apart from the rest, is the human element. Here is a recent tent-pole movie that doesn’t feel the need to be dark, edgy, and cynical. Leave it to Guillermo del Toro – an overgrown fanboy with a heart of gold to direct a film so irresistibly fun. This is a visceral experience, brimming with imagination, and simply a blast to watch. (Ricky D)

3) The Shape of Water

For years, a distinction has existed between the English language and Spanish language films of Guillermo del Toro. The American works are either direct adaptations of comic books (HellboyBlade II), or so outlandish that they might as well have been (Pacific RimMimic). The Spanish and Mexican films are more austere films that combine del Toro’s love of the macabre and the fantastic with an unabashed sense of love. With his newest film, The Shape of Water, del Toro has managed to synthesize his impulses to create one of his most satisfying works to date.

The ever-charming Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works on the night-shift cleaning staff of a government research center in the midst of the Cold War. Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is her only friend among the janitors, as well as her sign language interpreter to the rest of the world. When Elisa comes across a mysterious amphibian man (del Toro regular Doug Jones) who is being experimented on by the malicious Strickland (a gloriously over-the-top Michael Shannon), she at first feels compassion, then desire.

A lesser filmmaker would have portrayed Elisa as a tragic figure robbed of her voice, but del Toro and co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor wisely depict a woman perfectly at ease with her life — she has all the voice she needs, but it’s up to others to listen. Hawkins is augmented by a fantastic cast, including an excellent (if small) role from Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me by Your Name).

Del Toro was inspired to make The Shape of Water because of his childhood disappointment with Creature from the Black Lagoon, in which an inter-species love story is cut short by bloodthirsty humans. His new film works as a corrective, and his passion is evident (he depicts Baltimore in the early 1960s with as much love and care as he does the amphibian man). The Shape of Water is a fairy tale, and like the best fairy tales, it reminds us of our own childhood wonder and hope. (Brian Marks)

2) The Devil’s Backbone

Combining a ghost story and murder mystery, The Devil’s Backbone doesn’t go for jump scares as much as it does suspenseful bouts of terror, in the likes of pressing a thumb against a wrist’s pulse while holding a knife in hand. Del Toro knows how to take his time, prolonging horror with the utmost effectiveness.

Like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone is set during the Spanish Civil War, between 1936 and 1939. With the victory of the Second Spanish Republic government lead by rebels, the establishment of the dictatorship of Nationalist General Francisco Franco emerged. The republicanos or Republicans were supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico, thus of whom we are siding with.

Also like Pan’s Labyrinth, the audience is asked to sympathize with the republicanos, war is seen through the eyes of innocent child viewpoints. Yet while Pan’s Labyrinth is an adult fairytale, The Devil’s Backbone is a ghost story. Unlike Hollywood’s slasher scream tale, stupid teens, Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone is gentle, thoughtful, with a rational mind of its own – telling a solid story about failure, fighting, and vengeance. (Chris Clemente)

1) Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo Del Toro is known for his inventive use of visuals and his penchant for puppetry over CGI, and these skills have never seen better use than in this fairy tale of a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) whose mother brings her to live with her malicious new husband Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) after the Spanish Civil War. As Ofelia struggles to escape her bleak surroundings, she is drawn into a quest to assume her throne as Princess of the Underworld by completing three tasks with the help of a devilish faun (Doug Jones). As she braves the challenges set out before her, she must also avoid the machinations of her new step-father, who aims to root out some rebels hiding in the nearby woods.

The film is a bleakly whimsical fairy tale for adults, every bit as escapist as The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, but with a keen understanding of just from what its heroine is escaping, and a willingness to show how nightmarish real-life can be. The world Ofelia inhabits is full of viciousness, indifference, and cruelty, and the one to which she escapes mirrors these in kind. Her fantastic journey takes her into exotic locales populated with mystical creatures, but it never takes her as far from her reality as she might like. The monsters she meets on her quest match the monsters that populate her life for ferocity and selfishness, and the film’s most moving tragedy comes in Ofelia’s creeping revelation that neither world is fair (though in one, at least, good might ultimately triumph over evil).

At once a gory, terrifying R-rated fairy tale and a look at the uses people have for fantasy and for history, Pan’s Labyrinth balances its period setting with its grim fantasy, creating a journey that is arresting, inventive, thought-provoking and more than a little scary. This is a fantasy film for people who really do have something to escape from, and by blending his sense of whimsy with his undercurrent of cynicism, Guillermo Del Toro creates a masterpiece, one of the greatest films of the century so far.

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