The Films Of Guillermo del Toro: From Worst To Best

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by The Playlist Staff
July 9, 2013 1:30 PM
27 Comments
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There are few cinematic fantasists as fascinating or beloved as Guillermo del Toro. This is a man whose unparalleled imagination could probably power whole city blocks, someone who dreams not in colors or smells but in entire universes and species. And in the handful of features he's directed, he's let us into these new worlds, which are almost always darkly macabre and tinged, either subtly or explicitly with elements of the supernatural. 

This weekend his latest marvel, "Pacific Rim," a cutting-edge 3D adventure film about the epic clash between giant robots and huge monsters, opens in theaters nationwide. It's his biggest and perhaps riskiest venture to date, an expensive (his highest budget yet) monster movie with robots, global peril and giant things smashing the hell out of each other. It both embraces high tech filmmaking while also doubling as a nostalgic piece of splashy pop art. It's melding of sensibilities and passions, all within the framework of Hollywood moviemaking, traits he's mostly shown throughout his filmography.

So with "Pacific Rim" stomping into theaters this weekend, we take a look back at del Toro's works, from worst to best. Get ready: there be monsters. 

"Mimic" (1997)

While perhaps not deserving of the ferocity of the dislike held toward it in some quarters (though critics were largely kind even to this outing from the filmmaker), there’s no denying that del Toro’s first studio film, “Mimic,” is a lesser entry in his canon. His reputation has largely been built on his originality, but it feels like his first time out with a Hollywood budget overwhelmed his inherent kinky, lush weirdness and so he turned in a film that feels, in retrospect, like an imposter mimicking his auteurist hallmarks. So the bug-that-apes-a-person monster seems quite del Toro-ish, but the majority of the films beats are derivative of “Aliens,” while the addition of Chuy, the strange-child-in-peril promises a little of that skewed vision, but he ends up largely inconsequential to the plot’s endgame, despite determinedly engineered attributes like his playing the spoons and being able to tell the make and size of a shoe from its sound. But perhaps what struck us most (aside from del Toro’s lack of compunction in killing children), on a recent rewatch, was the film’s deep humorlessness: absent entirely is the wit and the irony that marks out del Toro’s later, better films. “Mimic” really takes itself far too seriously for a film about giant man-shaped cockroaches, and even the group survivor dynamic (when Charles S. DuttonJosh Brolin and Giancarlo Giannini are also wandering around the slimy sewers and subway tunnels) is oddly hostile. But if the grimy-faced Mira Sorvino attracted a lot of hate at the time for her casting, we actually find her to be fine in the role (it’s the unconvincingly-accented Jeremy Northam, if anyone, who we would suggest was miscast) and the first half of the film is quite successful in setting up a creepy, oogy tone, even if that is consistently undercut by the familiarity of the fake-scare-followed-by-real-scare repetitions. It should, however be noted that 2011’s Director’s cut version is an improvement, restoring the film to something closer to del Toro’s original design, and even if it doesn’t convince you, the DVD is entirely worth the price for the extras alone, especially del Toro’s terrifically informative, self-effacing commentary. Theatrical Version [C] Director’s Cut [C+] 

Cronos” (1993)
In the vast, undying realm of the vampire genre, there are many curious examples of filmmakers, more at home in the arthouse than the megaplexes, who’ve taken the well-trodden tropes, familiar to just about anyone with even a cursory experience with media, and provided their own spin. Results vary from the bizarrely awesome (Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day”) to touching, disturbing and beautiful (“Let the Right One In” from Tomas Alfredson) to all of the above (Chan-wook Park’s “Thirst”). The fun is seeing the familiar made fresh again, and usually it takes a director with a specific style and point of view to twist things around in a satisfying way. Del Toro’s first film, “Cronos,” is certainly in the same ballpark. It’s enjoyable seeing the ways in which del Toro plays around with vampire mythology and seeing the seeds of his style being sown. His affection and sympathy for his monsters is clear even in this first effort, and familiar actors who’d go on to work with him again (Ron PerlmanFederico Luppi) also feature, given audiences a first look at the chemistry that between director and star that would be refined down the road. In the end, this is one of those interesting, respectable first movies— like Christopher Nolan’s “Following”— that's certainly not a home run out the bat but definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re already a fan. [B-]
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27 Comments

  • Thislalife | July 14, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Pans is great but is a pretty serious rip off of The Spirit of The Beehive, which is incredible. I agree the Del Toro cult is strange, his movies are not THAT good. Cuaron is more interesting I think. I should say Devil's Backbone is a masterpiece.

    Also I've found the bulk of the Del Toro worshippers have only seen Pans and point to that, as its been said, its great but just full of creature design n heavy emotions. It's like the trippy foreign film for the masses. Art! Spain! Monsters! Why couldn't the The Shins have been on the soundtrack?????

  • Og | July 14, 2013 8:55 PM

    C'mon! Erice and Del Toro are both great but pretty different filmmakers. There are some similar plot points (fantastic worlds dreamed by little girls living in the Spain post Civil War) but the intentions and styles are from different worlds. Pans is no a rip off of Beehive! And there's nothing wrong with being "for the masses" (one of the BIG difference with the cryptic Beehive, by the way)!
    I agree that Devil's Backbone is a masterpiece maybe even better than Pans.

  • Thislalife | July 14, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Pans is great but is a pretty serious rip off of The Spirit of The Beehive, which is incredible. I agree the Del Toro cult is strange, his movies are not THAT good. Cuaron is more interesting I think. I should say Devil's Backbone is a masterpiece.

    Also I've found the bulk of the Del Toro worshippers have only seen Pans and point to that, as its been said, its great but just full of creature design n heavy emotions. It's like the trippy foreign film for the masses. Art! Spain! Monsters! Why couldn't the The Shins have been on the soundtrack?????

  • Dan | July 10, 2013 12:29 PMReply

    I'm surprised you'd put Hellboy II above Hellboy. I felt that Hellboy II built up to a rather anti-climactic and unsatisfying ending.

  • Piotr | July 9, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    I am convinced the fan love for this guy is entirely manufactured. What has he *really* done? Hellboy wasn't even that good. Name one scene from a Hellboy movie. You can't, can you? Because they're not that good at all. They're unmemorable. I'll admit I want to go see Pacific Rim, but only because I like Godzilla, and more than anything I'm curious. But back to my point - Del Toro is manufactured. There are very few "fanboys" in the world who love this guy as much as is being sold. Most everybody I talk to says they're "meh" to "whatever" on the guy. Yet the media will have us believe that he is the ultimate geek master God. I realize I sound like an insane person when I refer to "the media," like they all get together at brunch and decide what they're going to write about, but there is a certain "if all your friends jumped off a bridge..." quality to what gets reported. People associated "geek" with "del Toro," and "monster" with "del Toro," and "fanboy" with "del Toro," so that's what we hear about so often. I think, in reality, this guy is really a non-entity. My un-love for Matthew Vaughn is well documented (what does that mean? well documented where?), and I'd rank del Toro in the same camp. He's a... nothing. He directs movies. That's about it. Is he good? Is he bad? He's nothing. He's just... nothing. The end.

  • Piotr | July 13, 2013 12:44 AM

    Wow. Ok.

    @WALLARDG. Your response is amazing. And three times, to really drive it home? This comment is not sarcasm. I thoroughly enjoyed your comment. It was vivid.

    @MARK. Ten active better directors? Paul Thomas Anderson (yeah but the master was slow). Ang Lee. David Fincher. The Coen Brothers. Michael Mann. Quentin Tarantino. David Lynch (I guess sorta not active anymore, it's been a while). Alfonso Quaron. Matt Reeves. Brad Bird. That should give you some idea of where I stand. Sorry we don't agree. Maybe we just have different tastes? That can happen between people, I've heard.

    @MARIO. The Devil's Backbone is probably my favourite del Toro movie. It is moody and has atmosphere. Was unmemorable for me beyond scary little dark-haired children. Not trying to dump on it, it was good (as I said), but was a non-entity on my brain map. Since then there has been nothing that's wowed me, all I'm saying.

    @SLICE. I seen 'em all. Pan's was whimsical like a Tim Burton movie with a message as thick as a Christmas ham at the end. Simple messaging is better like Avatar I get it, but come on. Great creatures and storybook scenarios though. The guy should paint comics.

    @RYAN. Sorry you think I'm a troll. It's my opinion, I try not to filter. The Internet is full of people who don't agree with you. The Hellboy movies were non-entities for me. One of them had something to do with a golden cog, right? It must not be my personal taste.

  • Ryan | July 12, 2013 12:48 PM

    "Name one scene from a Hellboy movie. "

    The troll market. I didn't even have to think about that.

  • slice | July 12, 2013 1:17 AM

    Okay, we get it---you hate Del Toro, but I'm telling you, PAN'S LABYRINTH is his master piece,straight-up, and if you ever drop the hate long enough, that the one Del Toro film you and anybody else HAVE to see---it's that damn good. If that dosen't convince you he's not manufactured, nothing will. The man has earned his accolades becauae he'a a genuine talent who lives what he's doing and it shines through in the work I've seen by him, and I' not even a major fan of his or anything. As far as I'm concerned, BLADE II was the best of the Blade movies,bar none. Also, I suggest you actually see his movies before you start talking more junk . And yes, he earned the hell out of the "geek" title. Thank you.

  • Mario | July 11, 2013 1:59 PM

    What has he really done? Just go watch "The devil's backbone"

  • Mark | July 10, 2013 8:16 PM

    When you rip Del Toro (who I'm not a huge fan of) and Vaughn (who I am), you should give your list of 10 active better directors.

  • Wallardg | July 10, 2013 6:55 PM

    So you talk to the left and right hands and think that's all the opinions that matter in the world?

    Your narcissism is entertaining. No one is documenting you or your existence. You feel your own empy nothingness and wish it had meaning, any meaning. The only thing you can do is call other people nothing as you hide behind your computer. Pathetic coward.

  • Wallardg | July 10, 2013 6:55 PM

    So you talk to the left and right hands and think that's all the opinions that matter in the world?

    Your narcissism is entertaining. No one is documenting you or your existence. You feel your own empy nothingness and wish it had meaning, any meaning. The only thing you can do is call other people nothing as you hide behind your computer. Pathetic coward.

  • Wallardg | July 10, 2013 6:55 PM

    So you talk to the led and right hands and think that's all the opinions that matter in the world?

    Your narcissism is entertaining. No one is documenting you or your existence. You feel your own empy nothingness and wish it had meaning, any meaning. The only thing you can do is call other people nothing as you hide behind your computer. Pathetic coward.

  • Gregg Calumet | July 9, 2013 10:17 PMReply

    I would argue that "Blade 2" deserves to be higher. It is not only the BEST out of the "Blade" trilogy but works not only as a vampire film, but an action film and minimal tragedy.

  • SAD, REALLY | July 9, 2013 8:51 PMReply

    Del Toro seems like a really interesting filmmaker, but he just hasn't made any really good movies

  • nightgoat72 | July 9, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    I tend to be in the opposite camp of most Del Toro fans. I definitely think Blade II and Hellboy II are his best work. Never cared much for The Devil's Backbone or Pan's Labyrinth.

  • cirkusfolk | July 9, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    I'll defend this list and these grades. Hellboy 2 and Blade 2 are his best English language movies, I haven't seen Pacific Rim yet, chock full of great action set pieces. I'm sure Pacific Rim won't disappoint.

  • James | July 9, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    Pan's Labyrinth is amazing and Devil's Backbone is pretty good, but the rest is mostly garbage IMO. Blade 2 a B grade? Hellboy 2 a B+?

    whatever.

  • loudrockmusic | July 9, 2013 3:03 PM

    Snobs.

  • CB | July 9, 2013 2:32 PM

    Totally agreed, you read my mind. Pan's Labyrinth is a masterpiece, but I don't really care for the rest of his films.

  • ernesto | July 9, 2013 2:26 PM

    Couldn't agree more. The infatuation from critics and geek nation alike with anything Del Toro has always puzzled me.

  • MoB | July 9, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    All those fingers in pies and producer creds and you left off the best, El Orfanato(orphanage).

  • Evan | July 9, 2013 3:36 PM

    I agree. I loved that movie.

  • owdl114 | July 9, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    I'm surprised you rate Cronos so lowly in his oeuvre. I think it's a much better film than you seem to give it credit for. Federico Luppi is outstanding for instance.

  • cineman | July 9, 2013 1:44 PMReply

    Blade 2 and Hellboy 2 easily rank as his worst movies for me (tacky over-CGI'd tripe that felt and smelt stale at the time). Kind of astounded you rate them as high as you do.

  • Uh... | July 12, 2013 1:56 AM

    Hellboy 2 is easily among his best work, but I can certainly agree with you on Blade 2 since it felt like just as much of a "studio movie" as Mimic. Heck, even Mimic still seems slightly more up GdT's alley.

    Pan's Labyrinth at the number one spot is justly deserved. I know The Devil's Backbone is Guillermo's personal favorite, but I've always felt that Cronos was the superior film. Plus I haven't seen Pacific Rim yet so I can't judge on that one, but I really wish it was At the Mountains of Madness or Hellboy 3 opening this week instead.

  • Uh... | July 12, 2013 1:56 AM

    Hellboy 2 is easily among his best work, but I can certainly agree with you on Blade 2 since it felt like just as much of a "studio movie" as Mimic. Heck, even Mimic still seems slightly more up GdT's alley.

    Pan's Labyrinth at the number one spot is justly deserved. I know The Devil's Backbone is Guillermo's personal favorite, but I've always felt that Cronos was the superior film. Plus I haven't seen Pacific Rim yet so I can't judge on that one, but I really wish it was At the Mountains of Madness or Hellboy 3 opening this week instead.

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