Few names in the industry of filmmaking evoke as much imagination, ingenuity, and a hint of gloom as Guillermo del Toro’s name does. The Mexican native has made an unforgettable impact on the cinema business with his own vision and talent as a storyteller.
Guillermo’s unique vision as an artist, rife with fairy tales and monsters, has brought him international acclaim and many awards as well, to name a few: three Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards and an Emmy Award.
With a long list of impressive works, Guillermo’s name is right there at the top of the list of the most creative filmmakers in Hollywood in terms of visuals, aesthetics and creature design, which he has demonstrated in each of his films. Guillermo excelled in expressing the depths of human nature in dark and terrifying images.
Guillermo del Toro’s love of monsters and supernatural creatures has crossed borders, echoing in every corner of the world. He has explored a wide variety of film genres throughout his career, gifting the world with masterpieces like Hell Boy (2004) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and much more. Coming up next, we take a close look at the life and career of one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood, Guillermo del Toro.
Who is Guillermo del Toro?
Guillermo del Toro Gómez was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco (Mexico), into a strict Catholic family, where he was raised by his parents, Guadalupe Gómez and Federico del Toro Torres, an actress and a used car businessman. His film career began when he was very young, and he started filming small videos with his father’s Super 8 camera.
The first years of his life led him to study at the Centro de Investigación y Estudios Cinematográficos of the University of Guadalajara, a place that saw him grow and become even more passionate about the seventh art. While at the university, he published the biography of one of his favourite filmmakers, Alfred Hitchcock. Guillermo worked on many short films before making his first feature film.
Guillermo del Toro’s career began in 1985 when he participated as executive producer in the film Dona Herlinda and Her Son (1985). A year later, he made his directorial debut with the short film Doña Lupe (1986), and it was not until the 1990s that he took the helm of his first film, Cronos (1993).
Cronos received acclaim from critics for its mythology and its balance of horror and drama. It has since been recognised as one of the best horror films of all time! In 1997, Del Toro directed Mimic (1997); the film that marked his Hollywood debut.
Mimic (1997) did not meet the expectations of his audience, who were astonished by Cronos. Perhaps that’s why, from then on, Del Toro began to try to work on more personal projects. He managed to get financing to shoot one of the latter in Spain, where Pedro Almodóvar‘s production company financed his next masterpiece project, The Devil’s Backbone (2001).
The Devil’s Backbone became the talk of the town, and it was Guillermo’s first international breakthrough. This haunting ghost story set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War showcased his ability to blend elements of horror, fantasy, and historical drama. The film received widespread acclaim and solidified del Toro’s reputation as a visionary filmmaker.
He then returned to the United States, where he was in charge of Blade II (2002), with a script as insubstantial as that of the first part of the saga, but Del Toro knew how to make it much more interesting, with his particular visual imagination! The film turned out to be a huge success, receiving great reviews.
The hit films kept on coming as he next worked on some of the most popular films from his career, Hellboy (2004) and its sequel, Hellboy II The Golden Army (2008). The movies were met with huge successes in Hollywood and internationally.
Dear Oscars, Here Comes Guillermo!
If there is one film that highlights the work of Guillermo del Toro, it is his work of art, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Pan’s Labyrinth had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and the reaction to it was magnificent as it received a 22-minute-long standing ovation! The film was adored by critics who praised almost every aspect of it, especially its visual and make-up effects.
Pan’s Labyrinth has won numerous awards, including three Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Make-up; three BAFTA Awards: Best Film Not in the English Language, Best Costume Design, and Best Make-up and Hair.
In 2008, news spread that Del Toro would direct the films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the first two parts of which would be released between 2012 and 2013. Guillermo was actually involved in the project, working hard on the production design.
However, unfortunately, on 31 May 2010, he had to resign from the project due to a delay in the start of filming by the production company Metro Goldwyn Mayer, which was experiencing financial problems. Still, the company credited him as one of the screenwriters of the trilogy.
In 2013, Guillermo ventured into the futuristic science fiction world with his film Pacific Rim. He followed that with the gothic romance Crimson Peak (2015). Two years later, in 2017, Guillermo’s next big hit, The Shape of Water (2017), came out. It was this film that won him the Oscar for best director. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, winning the Golden Lion for best film.
The idea of this project began in 2011 when Guillermo del Toro was having breakfast with Daniel Kraus, at which point they came up with the story of the film. The Shape of Water was a huge success with the critics and the audience, once again proving the brilliance of Guillermo.
However, Guillermo has not forgotten about his passion for stop motion movies, which he tried to work on but unfortunately was short-lived in his very beginnings. So, he decided to rekindle this passion with Netflix‘s Pinocchio (2022). The film Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, or simply Pinocchio, is a stop-motion musical animation film that tackles the old fairytale we all know, but this time, the story is darker than you would remember.
The movie was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. In addition to winning the awards of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the BAFTA Film Award for Best Animated Feature Film, the Golden Globes for the Best Motion Picture – Animated and much more.
Pinocchio was not enough to quench Guillermo’s thirst for stop-motion as in 2023; it was announced that his next project would be another stop-motion, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant. His recent projects also include the Frankenstein film, which he had been developing for a long time. It is worth mentioning that both projects are with Netflix.
Like any director, Guillermo has a cinematic style that has characterised his career. Guillermo del Toro’s style is characterised by a spectacular aesthetic and atmosphere in his films, creating gloomy and oppressive atmospheres or magical and fantastic situations, resulting in a list of magical and dark films. Many people consider that his films try to tell— in a different way— what we call “fairy tales”.
Del Toro’s storytelling is recognised for its ability to create atmospheric and visually striking worlds, often exploring themes of difference, redemption, and the power of the imagination. His films combine grotesque and beautiful elements, showcasing his masterful make-up and visual effects skills.
Through his works, Guillermo del Toro has proven himself to be a visionary filmmaker who transcends boundaries and challenges convention. His ability to transport audiences to extraordinary realms while maintaining emotional depth and challenging storytelling has cemented his status as one of the most influential directors of our time.
Guillermo del Toro Memorable Films
Choosing some of the many gems that Guillermo has worked on is not an easy task. Each one of his films is special in a way. Coming up next, we highlight only a few of the many masterpieces of Guillermo.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Here, Guillermo introduces us to Carlos, a boy who has just arrived at an orphanage during the bloodiest days of the Spanish Civil War. There, Carlitos meets Santi, the ghost of a child who reveals important secrets to him and helps him and his friends survive terrible events doomed to repeat themselves.
The Devil’s Backbone is one of Guillermo Del Toro’s most mature and rounded films. It contains complex and layered characters that you don’t finish exploring by the end of the film. The film is visually beautiful; Guillermo paid attention to every detail to help us understand the world of Carlos and Santi.
There are already themes of revenge, memories, love and heartbreak, the fragility of life, and imagination, and it is also full of brutal violence that turns your stomach but is still deeply sad and melancholic. Produced by Pedro Almodóvar and his brother, The Devil’s Backbone is the film that revived Guillermo’s desire to make films; without it, we would not have Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape of Water.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece, a fairy tale in the style of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.
In the film, we meet Ofelia, a girl who loves fairy tales and magic. She must go with her mother to live in an old mill in the Spanish mountains where her stepfather, Captain Vidal, awaits them. There, Ofelia is attracted to an old stone labyrinth where—you guessed it—a creature lives and reveals its origin as a princess and heiress of an ancient underground kingdom, which she can access if she proves to have a pure heart.
The film was a complete success for the filmmaker, winning more than 60 awards worldwide and elevating Guillermo to auteur status, which is not surprising since it is one of the most original and creative films of the last twenty years.
His characters are complex and layered entities to be discovered; the magical world presented is equally or more violent than the reality around Ophelia, and Captain Vidal is by far one of the greatest villains ever seen in the history of cinema. All these elements make this film a masterpiece, a well-deserved title and not at all blown out of proportion.
Loosely based on Mignola’s Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, Del Toro’s first comic book adaptation was a marvel! The Mexican director simply changed the way comic book adaptations were made. Del Toro’s production design did wonders for Mignola’s universe, the creatures that inhabit it, and the complex depth of the fantastic world behind the ordinary world.
The story follows the adventures of Hellboy, a demon brought to Earth by the Nazis (with the help of Rasputin) with the purpose of becoming the central figure of the apocalypse; however, the creature is intercepted by the Allies and turned into a being of good who dedicates himself to fighting paranormal threats in undercover missions for the US government.
As you can see, the plot is too particular, and only a filmmaker like Guillermo Del Toro could have brought it to the big screen by being faithful to the source material, with slight modifications here and there.
The casting of Doug Jones as Abe and Ron Perlman as Hellboy was absolutely brilliant and gave another dimension to characters that are particularly difficult to portray. All in all, this film is pure passion and genius.
The Shape of Water (2017)
This is Del Toro’s most intimate film and, among some less obscure ones, it is perhaps his most optimistic. At the same time, it is unapologetic, convinced of its existence and aware of its delivery. It is also the opposite of Pan’s Labyrinth: this film has an optimistic outlook that reflects the truth of fantasy; the other is a rather dark film about the fantasy that can alter the horrific reality.
The film brings a gothic fairy tale full of fantasy suggestions, set at the height of the American Cold War (this is 1963) and centred on the mute cleaning lady Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who feels trapped in a world of silence and loneliness. Tasked with cleaning up a secret laboratory, Eliza and her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) stumble upon a scaly humanoid-looking creature kept in a sealed tank full of water. Eliza grows closer and closer to the ‘monster’, building a tender complicity with him that will seriously worry her superiors.
The Shape of Water is a huge homage to old monsters, to love, to fairy tales that are not platonically realised, to desire, to what is not normal. It is a work that rewrites the Beauty and the Beast myth with a beautiful vision of human sexuality. It is a mature, thoughtful, beloved work from beginning to end.
The film won the Golden Lion at the 2017 Venice Film Festival and was nominated for 13 Oscars in 2018.
It went home with four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design and Best Score, among many other awards.
Nightmare Alley (2021)
Nightmare Alley is the first Del Toro film since Doña Lupe that doesn’t have a single fantastical element. In adapting William Lindsay Gersham’s devastating novel, Del Toro didn’t go down the Edmund Goulding sweetened path.
He also forgot many sordid aspects of Stanton Carlisle’s character to focus on a compelling political idea. To achieve this, he created a completely over-the-top production design that wants, at all times, to underline Carlisle’s spiralling descent, his repugnance for mirrors, and the symbolic temptations that torment him. It also used, as never before, Dan Laustsen’s camera to let the performances breathe and always show the dynamic relationship between a dream cast.
Nightmare Alley shows Del Toro in the big leagues, sitting at the money table, making massive, ambitious films. But he’s still the same man who loves Tod Browning and always focuses on the darkness of the human being.
Amidst all the production and photography, Del Toro weaves a political warning. As in Pan’s Labyrinth, his vision is necessarily anti-fascist, a critique of the most banal demagogy, of the empty discourses that use our desires and our fears to make us abandon, as a last hope, reason.
In short, Guillermo del Toro has established himself as a talented and imaginative filmmaker who has left an indelible mark on the film industry. His unique vision, which blends fantasy and horror with elements of historical drama and science fiction, has captivated audiences worldwide. As we continue to enjoy the Del Toro realms, we eagerly anticipate the new wonders and dark pleasures it will bring to the world of cinema in the future.