guillermo del toro movies
IMAGE BY MAGGIE ROSSETTI FOR THRILLIST

All 11 Guillermo del Toro Movies, Ranked

From his Oscar winners to his divisive robot and monster movies, we're looking at which movies are the filmmaker's best.

Guillermo del Toro turns monster movies into love stories, and love stories into monster movies. A director with a deep affection for all things grotesque and bizarre, del Toro takes the genre conventions, character types and beastly critters that he loves and flips them onto their heads, creating the unexpected from the familiar.

Who else but del Toro would turn a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters into a parable of international cooperation and the power of human connection, or a tragedy set in the wake of the Spanish Civil War into a fairytale about a princess and a faraway land (and a giant, slimy toad)? He looks at gothic romance and sees ghost stories, watches The Creature from the Black Lagoon and imagines what would happen if the creature and his beautiful human captive dated. His admiration for practical effects and joy in dressing frequent collaborator Doug Jones up as weirder and weirder things has created some of cinema's most well-recognized creepy-crawlies—who among us didn't have nightmares the first time we saw the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth?

Right from the start, with a feature about a bug-shaped device that turns the wearer into a vampire, del Toro told us all exactly what kind of director he is, and what conventions and patterns he likes to play around with and explore, always coming up with new ways to twist and surprise. With The Devil's Backbone and Crimson Peak, he offered a new perspective to the ghost story, and with Blade II and his Hellboy duology he gave us a look at a grungier, bloodier, creepier realm of superhero movies. His interspecies fish-human romance, The Shape of Water, won him an Oscar, and his latest movie, Nightmare Alley, reimagines a classic horror-noir where the humans themselves are the real monsters. Del Toro offers his audience a deeply felt affection for all things absurd and gross, exactly what you'd expect from the kind of storyteller who takes one look at the leggy segmented body and chattering mandibles of a stick insect and sees a fairy.

bradley cooper in nightmare alley
Fox Searchlight Pictures

11. Nightmare Alley (2021)

In a swerve for del Toro, there's nothing supernatural about Nightmare Alley, his adaptation of the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, which had already been made into a 1947 feature. Co-written with film historian Kim Morgan, the star-studded thriller is del Toro's attempt a pure noir, but it's overlong, muddled, and nowhere near as brutal as it could have been. The story begins in the world of traveling circus folk where Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a newcomer with ambitions beyond the trade of carney and geek wrangler. He eventually runs away from the fairgrounds with his new bride Molly (Rooney Mara) in tow, and they start a successful mentalist act. But guided by hubris, Stanton starts to believe in his own power a little too much and is led down a dark path by a femme fatale psychologist (Cate Blanchett) with aims of her own. It's rich material, but Stanton's downfall gets lost in weak characterization and attention to production design over narrative development. Still, del Toro does occasionally work in some striking imagery, and ends on a scene that features a tour de force moment for Cooper. —Esther Zuckerman

mimic 1997, mira sorvino in mimic
Miramax Films

10. Mimic (1997)

This gooey sci-fi horror romp about giant mutant cockroaches terrorizing the subways of Manhattan holds the honor of being del Toro’s first American movie—and sadly, it’s far from the vision he originally intended. Back in 2018, the director told The Independent that the production of Mimic was “one of the worst experiences of my life” and described his ordeal with Miramax (particularly Bob Weinstein) as “a horrible, horrible, horrible experience.” Okay, let’s get one thing straight: Despite del Toro’s comments about his overall displeasure with the finished film, Mimic is actually a decent creature feature and a harmless way of spending an hour and 45 minutes. It’s got a few things going for it, such as Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) giving her all as the entomologist who unwittingly unleashed the insectoid beasts. And let’s not forget the grotesquely realized human-mimicking monstrosities (aka the Judas breed)—they’re an insectophobe's nightmare. Del Toro’s well-known fondness of old-school monster movies is evident in the way he captures these shadow-lurking creepy-crawlers with his distinctive visual style. In one standout moment, two young kids venture into the subway, only to be eviscerated in a shocking way—something not often seen in horror movies. One has to wonder what del Toro’s final film would’ve looked like had he been given full creative license. Even though he once distanced himself from Mimic, he later embraced it when he released his 2011 director’s cut on Blu-ray, which, if you listen to his commentary, is still a far cry from the movie he ultimately wanted to make. Lucky for us, he moved on to bigger and better things. —Gil Macias

ron perlman in hellboy
Sony Pictures Releasing

9. Hellboy (2004)

Only a director with a distinct visual flair and a love for the phantasmagoric would do right by Mike Mignola's grotesque and fabulous Hellboy comics, and del Toro is exactly that director. A superhero vs. monster movie where the superhero is the monster is right up his alley, not to mention the fact that his muse Ron Perlman plays the title character so well, with such a perfect blend of gruff indifference and childlike emotion that no one else could ever come close. The movie introduces Hellboy, a creature from the realm below put on Earth to enact a terrible, deadly destiny—except for the fact that the monster himself has an affection for humanity that not even the most powerful dark magic from the most evil undead Russian sorcerer can erase. Hellboy is a love story about monsters embracing their monstrousness, and about finding beauty in the bizarre. —Emma Stefansky

sally hawkins in the shape of water
Fox Searchlight Pictures

8. The Shape of Water (2017)

Arguably, winning Best Picture was the worst thing that could have happened to The Shape of Water, del Toro's Cold War romance between a janitor and a fishman. Bizarrely, in a contentious Oscar year, the film got branded the quote-unquote safe choice for Oscar voters, which undermines all of its deliciously subversive qualities. At the same time, The Shape of Water is arguably del Toro's most aggressively sentimental film, a classic melodramatic tearjerker with a monster at its center. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, the mute cleaning lady at a government facility, which becomes the center of international intrigue when it becomes home to a creature (portrayed by del Toro regular Doug Jones). While a villainous colonel (Michael Shannon) tortures and threatens to kill the amphibian hybrid, Elisa and the captive begin a tentative flirtation over eggs, which eventually leads to her decision to rescue him from his prison. To some The Shape of Water's mix of tones may not work: Alexandre Desplat's lovely score has a Disney-like mysticism, but it's paired with Elisa's frank sexuality, and the blood-splattering viciousness of American militarism. And yet the film is by no means the boring Oscar bait that has become its reputation. Del Toro is far weirder than that. —EZ

The Devil's Backbone ghost
Warner Sogefilms A.I.E.

7. The Devil's Backbone (2001)

When he's working in his historical genre-pastiche register, del Toro tends to circle many of the same themes: the corruption of innocence, the heavy burden of memory, and the pernicious cruelty of nationalism. With The Devil's Backbone, a brooding orphanage ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, he established a flexible tone (which can move between terror, melodrama and wry comedy) that he's carried on and deepened in further films. But the movie, which follows a young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) as he encounters a paranormal entity, is more than simply a dress rehearsal for Pan's Labyrinth and other future accomplishments. In both its tense suspense sequences and its more observational human moments, The Devil's Backbone wrestles with heavy material while still seeking to entertain and surprise. He never lets the weight of the past or the complexity of the material get in the way of the story he's trying to tell. It's an instinct that's served him well throughout his career. —Dan Jackson

wesley snipes in blade ii
New Line Cinema

6. Blade II (2002)

In an era dominated by Marvel, the peculiarities of Blade II, del Toro's first comic book adaptation and his only entry in the Blade franchise, look downright startling. Is it possible to make a superhero movie that's this gross? This visceral? This cool? Anchored by Wesley Snipes' mesmerizing lead performance as the leather-clad vampire-hunter and a series of bone-cracking action set-pieces, this sequel might be the slickest, least self-consciously personal project in del Toro's filmography. (It remains the only movie del Toro has directed that he doesn't at least share a writing credit on.) But, still, the director's distinct touch, particularly his enthusiasm for wild practical effects and his compassion for otherworldly outcasts, is present right from the jump. Plus (spoiler alert), let's just be honest: Any movie that ends with Snipes suplexing a henchman through glass and then cutting Ron Perlman in half with a sword is clearly doing many things right. —DJ

tom hiddleston in crimson peak
Universal Pictures

5. Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak was del Toro's attempt at gothic romance, and being a master of style, he succeeds—creating a hellish, bloodied-up Jane Eyre. Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith, an American writer who meets and gets married to a curious British baronet/inventor named Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Despite her father's wishes, she travels back with him to Allerdale Hall, his ancestral home in the English countryside, and upon arrival learns it's also known as Crimson Peak—named after the red clay mine it's built upon that makes the mansion appear as if its debilitating into a pool of blood. That's much to Edith's horror—since, naturally, her mother's ghost once told her to "beware of Crimson Peak"—but beyond that, her new sister-in-law (played by a very frightening Jessica Chastain) gives her the creeps and ghosts seem to lurk behind closed doors as much as cobwebs line the bannisters. It's definitely lighter on the scares, and its gothic references can be a little on the nose, but del Toro's vision touches every candle-lit corridor. Edith begins the film saying, "Ghosts are real, that much I know," and whether they come in the form of the past, secrets, or blood-soaked skeletal spirits, Crimson Peak convinces you they're real too. —Sadie Bell

federico lupe in cronos
Prime Films S.L./October Films

4. Cronos (1993)

How does GDT make a vampire movie? By giving the vampire a blood-sucking clockwork bug, of course. Del Toro's first feature film, tragically underappreciated in its time, holds all the signs of what would quickly become the director's calling-cards, from chittery mechanical creatures to slasher-level gore. When an antique dealer named Jesús Gris finds a device created by an alchemist to give him eternal life, the insectoid mechanism attaches itself to the man's arm, returning to him his youth and vitality, as well as giving him a thirst for human blood. Finding the device puts him in the crosshairs of an obsessive businessman with a thuggish nephew (Ron Perlman, in his first of many collaborations with del Toro), who hunts down Gris and attempts to force him to turn over the device to his uncle, both underestimating how powerful Gris' thrust for blood will become. Cronos merges gothic horror with all the skin-crawling creepiness of a B-movie creature feature, the perfect preview of the nightmares the director has in store. —ES

charlie hunnam in pacific rim
Warner Bros. Pictures

3. Pacific Rim (2013)

Every film del Toro directs is basically an excuse to play around with the genres he loves, and Pacific Rim is imbued with his affection for classic mecha anime, a subgenre of the animation style that involves giant robots fighting giant monsters. What more could you want? In the near future (which, by now, is the past) an international defense organization has been created to fight an interdimensional threat that enters our world in the form of monstrous kaiju that emerge from a rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Instead of bombs and fighter jets (boring), the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps has built enormous robots called Jaegers, so big they must be piloted by two people who are "drift compatible," a beautiful metaphor for the complexities of human connection. The battles are staged in neon-drenched cityscapes and murky ocean depths lit by bioluminescent tongues and eyes and the nuclear glow of robot hearts. Del Toro's homage is a throwback with a thoroughly modern sensibility, an action-blockbuster mainly about the pure lizard-brain joy of watching big creatures and bigger machines punch each other in the face. —ES

Ron Perlman in hellboy ii the golden army
Universal Pictures

2. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

As fans of Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight are well aware, superhero narratives often hit their stride in the first sequel after all the backstory gets cleared up and the characters are established. With all that business taken care of, you get to have some fun. It's hard to think of a 21st century superhero movie where the director appears to be having as much fun as del Toro had making Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a blockbuster with images that look like they were ripped from a dream journal. Fresh off the critical success of Pan's Labyrinth, which netted the filmmaker his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, del Toro dived back into Mike Mignola's world of sword-wielding monsters, gun-toting demons, and heartstring-pulling amphibious men. With a sharper story than its predecessor, an even wilder set of supporting creatures, and a more poignant finale, the Hellboy sequel improves on the first one in every way. If you prefer del Toro in his crowd-pleasing populist mode, this remains the movie to beat. —DJ

pan's labyrinth fawn
Warner Bros. Pictures

1. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro is a man of obsessions, who lives with his monsters. The creatures in his movies are exquisitely designed, and yet more than just set decoration. No movie of his exemplifies this more than Pan's Labyrinth, his 2006 fable set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. In Pan's Labyrinth the creatures like the Faun and the Pale Man are allegorical, yes, but they are also tangible, a young girl's escape from an unforgiving fascist world, and a reminder that there is truly no universe that is free from the terrors of tyrants. The young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) encounters the maze leading to the underworld upon her introduction to her new stepfather, a militaristic Franco supporter on the hunt to suss out and demolish any opposition. With her mother pregnant and sickly, she is welcomed into a universe where she is believed to be the reincarnation of a princess. In alternating between the human realm and the dwelling place of monsters, del Toro seamlessly allows beauty and horror to intermingle. The imagery is stunning, accomplishing exactly what del Toro sets out to do with all of his films: Invade your nightmares and stir your imagination. —EZ

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