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The Films Of Guillermo del Toro: From Worst To Best

Features
by The Playlist Staff
July 9, 2013 1:30 PM
27 Comments
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"The Devil's Backbone" (2001)
Produced by Pedro Almodovar and shot entirely on a micro-budget in Spain, "The Devil's Backbone" marked a return to del Toro's roots after the studio clusterfuck that was "Mimic" (an experience del Toro was wary to repeat) and would serve as the precursor to his most widely accepted film, "Pan's Labyrinth." What nobody dares acknowledge, however, is that "The Devil's Backbone" is just as good as "Pan's Labyrinth," a deeply existential meditation on the nature of war that takes place in a orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. As a piece of imagery so on-the-nose that it can't help but resonate, an unexploded aerial bomb sits in the courtyard of the orphanage, forcefully lodged in the earth, waiting to go off. And since the words "directed by Guillermo del Toro" appear on "The Devil's Backbone," it should also be noted that there is a ghost, supposedly the spectral remains of a young boy who went missing on the day that the bomb landed. "The Devil's Backbone" is a deeply uneasy movie, with a palpable atmosphere so thick you could carve it into slices, smash it between two pieces of bread, and have it for lunch, beautifully shot by del Toro's frequent collaborator Guillermo Navarro and featuring the kind of moments that aren't just memorable; they're downright haunting. Hopefully some of "The Devil's Backbone's" cred will be restored when a deluxe edition comes out later this month courtesy of our friends at the Criterion Collection. It might not be as ornate or magical as "Pan's Labyrinth," but it's every bit as emotionally powerful and visually stunning. The two are obvious companion pieces, set at roughly the same place at roughly the same historical point, and equals in terms of quality as well. Those who have never seen it are best served by waiting for this new edition. It'll be worth it. [A]    

Pan's Labyrinth” (2006) 
If Guillermo del Toro were to suddenly die tomorrow, sad as that would be, he’d have a strong legacy simply because of this film, his masterpiece. This is the film where the writer/director, whose style has always been a delicate balance between arthouse and mainstream, found that sweet spot between cool genre exercise and deeply affecting, hard-earned emotional drama, and it proves to be the perfect melding for his talents. Closest in tone and style to “The Devil’s Backbone,” but in place of ghosts there’s a brooding fairy tale adventure with memorable monsters and brutal violence (as far as memorable head smashing scenes in cinema go, there’s “Irreversible,” “Drive” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” at the top). Del Toro has said in interviews that he’s dreamed of the faun character since he was a boy, and that personal touch is noticeable even amidst a grand narrative set against the aftermath of the Spanish Civil war in 1944. While most English speaking moviegoers seem afraid of subtitles, this is a film we feel confident in saying could be enjoyed by even those folks who swear they don’t like reading at the movies. There’s an elegance to the filmmaking we’ve not seen from del Toro, before or after, that is a joy to behold. The gorgeous visuals truly transport the viewer to another place and time, and we’d be lying if we didn’t admit the ending completely destroys us every time, wholly satisfying yet leaving us with a puddle of tears to mop up. Cliched as it is to use the term movie magic, it feels apt when talking about “Pan’s Labyrinth.” [A]

While these are the only movies del Toro has technically directed, his distinct hand has been hard at work elsewhere, producing and supervising a number of projects, most recently this year's sleeper horror hit "Mama" and serving as a creative consultant on DreamWorks Animation's "The Croods" (where del Toro has a standing contract as a "creative consultant" and executive producer for all of the studios' animated films). Del Toro also had a huge hand in 2011's remake of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," which he co-wrote and produced and along with Joel Silver helped the wonderful sci-fi oddity "Splice" get distributed. In between "Hellboy" features, del Toro oversaw a pair of pretty decent animated follow-ups that featured most of the movie's cast ("Hellboy: Sword of Storms" and "Hellboy: Blood and Iron"). Del Toro also served as a producer on Alejandro González Iñárritu's genuinely amazing "Biutiful" and (along with Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón) produced Spanish-language sports comedy "Rudo Y Cursi." In a more nebulous "creative consultant" capacity, del Toro also contributed to George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead" and Jon Favreau's multi-million-dollar whats-it "Cowboys & Aliens." He can also be heard, for some reason, as the voice of a partygoer in the James Bond outing "Quantum of Solace." So there's also that. - Erik McClanahan, Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor

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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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