Guillermo del Toro didn’t take long to establish himself as master of the macabre. In just three years, he leapt from his sorta-shaky Spanish-language debut to an entertaining A-list starrer filmed in the U.S. His latest, “The Shape of Water,” is hitting the big screen, but how does it stack up against the rest of his repertoire? Take a look.
10. “Blade II” (2002)
All the del Toro camera tint in the world can’t compensate for Wesley Snipes’ cheesiness as a daywalker in this vampire franchise. The dialogue includes such eloquent lines as, “Eat shit, you fucking fuckers!” Our gore-loving director may not have had a hand in writing the script, but he’s still complicit.
9. “Pacific Rim” (2013)
The world doesn’t need another Michael Bay. So why did del Toro try to become one? This summer tentpole about monstrous kaiju is all audio and visual noise, with lifeless line readings from star Charlie Hunnam accompanying the many, many things that go boom. The cherry on top? The humans pilot giant robots. I wonder what he bought with that paycheck.
8. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008)
It’s no “Hellboy I.” Next.
7. “Cronos” (1994)
Del Toro’s debut feature is an austere but handsome affair that should be lauded for its non-CG effects and condemned for its terrible acting. It feels like a first film, albeit one from a promising filmmaker.
6. “Mimic” (1997)
Del Toro’s first monster movie and first English-language film. Mira Sorvino vs. human-size New York City cockroaches may not sound like it’s worth the price of a ticket, but “Mimic” is smarter and more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Again, the effects are real and the look is stylish. And when a man-roach meets the A train, behind that wicked crunch is the satisfaction of a guy whose job it is to play pretend.
5. “Crimson Peak” (2015)
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Have you gotten the sense that del Toro has a flair for eye candy yet? This Gothic ghost story may be his most beautiful, with period sets and costumes lending themselves well to the director’s visual decadence. Its flaw -- besides having a beginning-and-ending voiceover that borrows from “The Devil’s Backbone” -- is that it’s not scary. Ghost story fail.
4. “The Shape of Water” (2017)
You’ll either be on board with this story, or you won’t. This fairy tale has touches of “Pan’s Labyrinth” but without that film’s inventiveness; once the script goes to the place where you don’t believe it might, the plot is as by-the-numbers as any we-can’t-be-together romance. Its valentine to outliers combined with Sally Hawkins’ marvelous silent performance ensure, however, that it can’t be dismissed.
3. “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
Set in a Spanish orphanage in the aftermath of that country's Civil War, this is a slightly spookier ghost story that mixes the topics of politics, abandonment, and friendship into its gossamer soup. You don’t see its bad guy coming, just as you won’t anticipate its violent end. This is the director in full command.
2. “Hellboy” (2004)
Del Toro can’t take all the credit for the source material that gives the title character his charm. But he directs longtime collaborator Ron Perlman to a performance that pops like not all superheroes do. The half-man, half demon with an affinity for nachos and a right hand the size of a Buick is more entertaining when he’s not pounding someone into the ground, but just in case you care about that, the director makes sure you see it all, eschewing shaky-cams and ADHD edits in favor of, well, photographing the action.
1. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
Wildly imaginative, with stunning set pieces and a villain whose target is a little girl, del Toro’s triumph is an assured and at times audacious mix of fairy tale, history, and story about how much stepdads can suck. Its ghouls are ghastly in ways you’ve never seen before, with the result being not only awe but also a hunger to find out what else the director has up his sleeve.