Given how often his name has been attached to projects, particularly over the last 10 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
8. 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
7. 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
6. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). 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
5. Cronos (1993). The ticking of multiple clocks overlapping with a series of loud gongs introduces del Toro’s debut feature, Cronos, as a forceful mechanism with a built-in timer for sudden bursts of disintegration. Layers of sound resonate over black, giving the yellow credits an eerily present yet menacing feel. The audible dynamism gives way to a familiar dose of historical reflection, with an omniscient voiceover telling of a famous 16th-century Spanish watchmaker/alchemist who dreamt of creating a device that could spring eternal life. After the man is found dead with a stake through his heart among a random building collapse hundreds of years later, it appears he succeeded as a vampire. With this prologue, del Toro introduces the transcendence of manmade supernatural desires, positioning the consequences of abusing myth and legend in a modern-day setting. The tension between history, science, and religion becomes increasingly palpable throughout Cronos, forging ideas concerning mortality and erosion that will evolve in his later films like the Hellboy series and Pan’s Labyrinth. Glenn Heath Jr.