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The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

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The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

Fox Searchlight Pictures

This article was originally published on July 9, 2013.

Given how often his name has been attached to projects, particularly over the last 15 years, Guillermo del Toro could easily be mistaken for a tirelessly prolific director, whose near-annual output of darkly fantastical visions seems to make him the genre fanatic’s Woody Allen. But while del Toro has amassed roughly 30 film credits since making his 1985 debut with the horror short Doña Lupe, he’s only been at the helm of eight features. Other works, like The Orphanage, Kung Fu Panda 2, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which he famously came very close to directing, have seen him serve as everything from writer and executive producer to voice actor and creative consultant. With Pacific Rim, the latest (and most massively budgeted) of that limited del Toro line, hitting theaters on Friday, we’re looking back at the director’s body of work, which reflects a man as interested in the social, political, and existential as the bloody, the slimy, the fleshy, and the scaly. R. Kurt Osenlund

The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

10

The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water has been made with a level of craftsmanship that should be the envy of most filmmakers, but the impudent, unruly streak that so often gives del Toro’s films their pulse has been airbrushed away. For all of this film’s impersonal gorgeousness, there isn’t a memorable image along the lines of the red soil from Crimson Peak or the shot of Federico Luppi’s Jesus Gris licking blood off a bathroom floor in Cronos. Del Toro’s sentimental side takes over here, leaving the audience with a plot that fuses E.T. and Free Willy with a frustrated woman’s daydream of sexual salvation. For all its conceits, themes, and symbols, The Shape of Water fails to impart a sense that its antique tropes have been adopted for a purpose. People, smitten with the film’s banalities, will claim that it has “heart.” But del Toro’s heart beats louder when he allows himself to play, dreaming his own dreams and respecting his heroes enough to sully them. Chuck Bowen

The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

9

Pacific Rim (2013)

Del Toro has always been an elegant craftsman, and Pacific Rim's highpoint, set in Hong Kong, is notable for its stunningly detailed visual effects and coherent montage, though it's made truly special by the distinctly personal nature of Dr. Newton Geiszler's (Charlie Day) ambition. It's impossible not to see this geek—so in awe of and at home within the blinged-out black market operated by Ron Perlman's colorful Hannibal Chau, a trader of kaiju parts—as a stand-in for del Toro, a connoisseur of all things creepy-crawly who will die, or at least travel to the ends of the Earth, to prove that his hermetic interests are crucial to our cultural survival. And while the filmmaker is mercifully uninterested in flag-waving and easy feminist commentary, he also shuns emotional intimacy throughout, and in the end doesn't rise above the obligations of staging a film of this sort as a multi-level video game, a stylish but programmatic ride toward an inevitable final boss battle, replete with blustery one-liners, cartoony shows of masculinity, and, in an unexpectedly longing exchange between heroes, unearned romance. Ed Gonzalez

The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

8

Mimic (1997)

Even in its restored director's cut, Mimic isn't a film that invites much fascination, nor does it exemplify del Toro's admirable ability to fill his frame with creatures of varying colors and textures, languages and thoughts, sincere emotions and supernatural abilities. In fact, Mimic has only two major creatures: an evolved insect with the ability to disguise itself and walk upright, and the slimy cocoons that hold its young. Still, it's a movie that boldly involves itself with those things that del Toro is most interested in, namely the horrors, both imagined and very real, of childhood, subterranean action, disease, and the inevitable repercussions of good deeds done. Chris Cabin

The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

7

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro's films do not starve for creatures of baroque ingenuity, and Pan's Labyrinth, the vividly aestheticized tale of a young girl's journey through the gothic rabbit hole of her imagination, is cluttered with insects that morph into faeries, a faun who gatekeeps an unknown dimension, a large toad with a secret in its volatile tummy, and a merciless monster with eyes in the palms of its hands. Not knowing what to make of the film's spectacular collision of glossy reality and gaudy fantasy, some critics have succumbed to ignorance—like Time's Mary Corliss, who described the film as “Lewis Carroll meets Luis Buñuel,” as if del Toro shares anything in common with Buñuel besides a Spanish tongue. Del Toro is smart, but he's no theoretician, and though he takes aim at fascism, his vision is scarcely surreal; though prone to sensualist shocks, his comic-con aesthetic is so tidy and discreetly alluring Buñuel might have called it bourgeois. Gonzalez

The Films of Guillermo del Toro Ranked

6

Crimson Peak (2015)

Del Toro’s decision to explicitly underline the weaknesses of his proxy in Crimson Peak belatedly exposes prior stand-ins as equally shortsighted, and in the process the director clarifies a crucial thematic through line of his filmography. In retrospect, his fantasies are the opposite of escapes from harsh reality: It’s the real world, with its war and discrimination, that intrudes on the imagination, which can conjure up impressively detailed creatures and settings, but often struggles to map the complexities of emotion and history. Del Toro’s films tend toward the mythological, which is to say they’re timeless, rooted in a deep, era-nonspecific past. When social and historical context finally breach his microcosm, they expose the rifts of immaturity and sadness of a child who knows it’s time to grow up, but cannot face adulthood. Jake Cole

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