Guillermo del Toro is one of the most imaginative and gifted filmmakers of this day and age and one of my personal, all-time favorites (As if you didn't already know). His imagination seems to know no bounds and we, as audience members, are the beneficiaries of his willingness to share it with us. Not only is del Toro an extraordinary talent, he comes across as intelligent, genuine, and incredibly humble. He has an enormous heart to match his lovable girth. Just watch the below Colbert interview and try to convince me you don’t want to give this guy an enormous hug, even as he discusses horrifying monsters and viruses.
This beautiful man turned 50 yesterday. I’ve decided to celebrate his remarkable career by ranking all of his films. Let’s start with the bottom of the barrel, shall we?
8. MIMIC (1997)
Yes, this is the one with the giant cockroaches. After achieving breakthrough success and acclaim with his first feature Cronos, del Toro was hired by the ‘Suits’ to make his first big Hollywood picture. Mimic's production was a disaster practically from start to finish. del Toro and the Suits never saw eye-to-eye on what the film could/should be and del Toro’s ambitions and imagination were cut off at every turn in order for Mimic to become more of a generic ‘big cockroach’ monster-fest. Second Units were employed to add additional, cheap scares against del Toro’s wishes (He insists on being behind the camera for every single shot, no matter how throwaway) and the producers snatched away his final cut privileges. Thankfully, del Toro had a chance to revisit and recut the film, bringing it closer to his original vision. His Director’s Cut is certainly an improvement, but not enough to save Mimic from being his weakest effort.
7. BLADE II (2002)
I can’t quite explain it, but when I was 16 I developed a crazy obsession with seeing the Blade movies. Coming from a conservative, Christian household, it was no easy feat to try and convince my parents that I should be able to watch them. As a last-ditch effort, I mentioned my desire to see Blade II to my friend Angie during one of our high school theater classes. (For some reason I wanted to see the second Blade more than the first…it just looked cooler) She had asked me if there was anything she could get me for my birthday and I jokingly suggested a copy of Blade II on DVD.
A few weeks went by and my birthday had come and gone. Day after day, Angie insisted she had gotten the movie for me, but had kept forgetting to bring it to school to give it to me. I shrugged it off, figuring she hadn’t really gotten me the movie and was just putting off admitting it. Then one day, she came to class, marched right over to me and handed me Blade II on DVD. I couldn’t believe it. I thanked her profusely and as soon as I got home I popped it into my DVD player.
Blade II carries the distinction of being the first Guillermo del Toro film I ever saw. Now, I admit, none of the Blade movies are particularly outstanding, especially not the God-awful third one. But, at the very least, the first two are tons of fun. Wesley Snipes is a total badass and the action sequences are on point. Blade II bests its predecessor primarily because of del Toro's visual direction. When he was hired, he reportedly told Snipes, “Look, I don’t get Blade. I don’t get the character – that’s your territory. I’ll handle the monsters, you handle Blade.” And handle the monsters he did. The Reapers are one of del Toro’s most inventive, terrifying creations and extremely effective as the primary villains of the film.
Outside of the action sequences and the visuals, Blade II kind of falls apart. It's got a goofy soap opera-esque story and the characters aren't developed beyond their generic stereotypes. But, really, did you expect to gain anything profound from a Blade movie? It’s a lot of fun and unquestionably the best of the Blade trilogy.
6. PACIFIC RIM (2013)
All I needed to hear about Pacific Rim was that it was a movie about giant, human-operated robots fighting gargantuan monsters directed by Guillermo del Toro to be 100% on board. Pacific Rim carries the distinction of being del Toro’s biggest production yet (Thank you, movie gods, for seeing fit to provide him with a $200 million budget) and although it wasn’t a major success state-side, its worldwide box office success was enough for Legendary Pictures to greenlight a sequel and an animated series. Pacific Rim shows what happens when del Toro has the means to fully unleash the 10-year-old, monster loving child that drives who he is as a person and a filmmaker. It is full of crowd-pleasing, monster bashing action and beautiful, colorful images. It’s also got a kick-ass soundtrack:
Pacific Rim’s plot and characters are a bit paper thin, but again, when it comes to these kinds of films those elements always have a tendency to take a backseat. Let’s hope that the sequel allows for a bit more development of these items in addition to even grander and more spectacular Jaeger/Kaiju smackdowns.
5. CRONOS (1992)
del Toro’s first feature film is one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever seen. His unique take on the vampire genre showcases his blossoming talent for striking, memorable visuals and poetic, fairy tale-esque storytelling. It’s creepy, disturbing, tragic, and ultimately beautiful. It also marks the first time del Toro worked with the immensely talented and all-around glorious human being Ron Perlman. Considering the limited resources at his disposal, it's remarkable that del Toro was able to pull this off as well as he did. It's a strong start to an incredibly fruitful career.
4. HELLBOY (2004)
Hellboy is one of the greatest comic book movies of all time and it deserves way more recognition than it's gotten. Seriously, everyone’s talking about how wonderful and subversive Guardians of the Galaxy is, but del Toro beat the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the punch with his 2004 adaptation of Mike Mignola's popular cult-favorite. Hellboy had the disadvantage of being released amongst a slew of other superhero flicks (It was sandwiched between 2003’s X2: X-Men United and 2004’s Spider-Man 2), which probably contributed to its lukewarm box office response, but it truly belongs in the same league as those beloved comic-book adaptations.
This really was an ideal example of a filmmaker being perfectly matched to the source material. Hellboy is zany, exciting, scary, and chock full of spectacular creatures and visuals. It was also the first time del Toro managed to infuse one of his big-budget films with the heart and soul of one of his smaller efforts. Hellboy is a visual feast for sure, but it’s special because of its incredible characters and enormous heart. del Toro owes a great debt to Ron Perlman whose perfect casting was the equivalent of Christopher Reeve’s as Superman or Robert Downey Jr.’s as Iron Man. Perlman was born to play this role and he knocks it way, way, way out of the park. His wise-quipping, seen-it-all-before, cigar-chomping attitude is charming beyond all reason and it is an absolute joy to watch.
Seriously, if you haven’t seen Hellboy since its release, I strongly suggest you revisit it. It is one of the very best comic book adaptations of all time and one of the most inventive and enjoyable action/sci-fi flicks ever made.
3. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001)
After the creative roadblocks and frustrations he experienced during the production of Mimic, del Toro was determined to return to his roots with his next film. He was actually offered the chance to direct Blade II after Mimic, but he insisted that he be allowed to make a more personal film outside of Hollywood in his home country first. Thankfully, New Line wanted him for the Blade II directing gig so badly, they agreed to wait until del Toro was ready. With no ‘evil’ Hollywood execs blocking his way during the production, del Toro ended up making one of his finest films.
The Devil’s Backbone shares many elements with its spiritual sequel Pan’s Labyrinth. Its story deals with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, it focuses on a young child dealing with supernatural forces weaving their way through a real world setting, and its human villains are more cruel/frightening than the supposed monsters. del Toro has always stated he felt The Devil’s Backbone was Pan’s Labyrinth’s equal and I’m inclined to agree with him. It is a masterfully crafted, deeply moving horror film – one of the very best of its genre. It’s memorable, frightening, and beautiful, and if you haven’t seen it yet, get to it! It’s mandatory Halloween horror movie viewing.
2. HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)
Hellboy II is a Guillermo del Toro film on crack and I mean that as the absolute highest form of praise possible. Like its predecessor, Hellboy II was released at an awkward time – a week before The Dark Knight. Of course, once The Dark Knight was unleashed on the world, it wiped the floor with any and all competition and Hellboy II was one of its unfortunate victims. This was a time when audiences wanted more serious superhero fare and Nolan’s Batman films provided that in spades. A colorful, batshit crazy effort like Hellboy II was totally against the norm and, therefore, despite a very positive critical response, it was largely shunned and/or ignored by audiences.
Revisiting Hellboy II, I was struck by just how ahead of its time it was. Again, I’ve gotta call out the fact that del Toro basically beat the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the punch when it comes to making more inventive, bizarre, funny, and outlandish comic book flicks. And, truth be told, nothing in Marvel’s universe comes remotely close to meeting Hellboy II’s astonishing level of creativity. It is a stunning piece of work, light years ahead of the first Hellboy.
The sheer breadth of the production design is mind-boggling. If there’s any one movie that proves del Toro’s unprecedented gift for visual genius, it’s this one. Pause the movie at any given time and marvel at the intricate details of one of the most richly designed and imaginative universes ever committed to film. Of course, Ron Perlman is magnificent as always, as is the supporting cast, which features Doug Jones, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, and Seth MacFarlane doing the only noteworthy work of his entire career.
If there is any kind of justice in this world, we will get a Hellboy 3. I would trade nearly every superhero film scheduled for release in the next five years just to get one more Hellboy movie. I cannot stress this enough: if you haven’t seen Hellboy or Hellboy II or just haven’t revisited them in a while, you need to do so immediately. These are two of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time and deserve to be recognized as such and del Toro and Perlman deserve a chance to give movie fans the big finale this series more than deserves.
1. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth takes everything that has defined del Toro’s career up to this point and combines it in a cinematic expression that took our breaths away. It is, quite possibly, his finest realized and most beautiful work to date. The consensus is that it’s his magnum opus, and I’m inclined to agree with it. There’s just so much to love and admire here; it’s almost impossible to wrap one’s head around it. It showcases some of del Toro’s greatest fantastical creations (the faun, the pale man, etc.) and juxtaposes them with a brutal real world, a world which our heroine is desperately attempting to survive and escape to achieve her true calling. Pan’s Labyrinth carries all the elements of a classic fairy tale story as only Guillermo del Toro can tell it. It’s haunting, disturbing, and violent. It’s also stunning in every conceivable way - a visual poem. An unforgettable masterpiece.