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Years active: 1985-present
Notable films: Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water

One of the most depressing articles on Wikipedia is “Guillermo del Toro’s unrealized projects.” Few filmmakers have worked harder on movies that never came to fruition. And the Mexican special effects make-up artist-turned-director has probably spent thousands of hours spent scripting and conceptualizing unfilmed adaptations, sequels and intriguing originals like The Bloody Benders, 3993, and the stop-motion animated film Born. But it’s not for lack of vision or follow-through: when Guillermo del Toro does make a movie, viewers are treated to a strange and beautiful world they’ve never seen before. 

When a personal film finds its way from Guillermo del Toro’s pen to the cineplex, he melds horror and emotional stories of romance and family into deeply original work like 2015’s underrated Crimson Peak and 2017’s The Shape of Water, the monster movie with a heart for which he won Best Picture and Best Director at the 90th Academy Awards. And when del Toro lends his eye-popping visual sensibility to someone else’s concept, he blends digital animation and more traditional in-camera effects for a visual feast even in more conventional popcorn movies like Pacific Rim, Blade II, and the first two Hellboy movies. 

If Guillermo del Toro is the Tim Burton of his time, he’s managed not to get lost in the sauce of bigger budgets and more generic CGI, taking on older and more familiar intellectual property like Burton has in the last two decades. Del Toro’s next project, a 2021 stop-motion version of Pinocchio, seems like the kind of movie Tim Burton would swing and miss with, but del Toro is at the peak of his career, coming off the success of The Shape of Water. And even when del Toro walks away from a project, it’s probably for the best: the Hobbit trilogy and last year’s third Hellboy movie probably would’ve been better if he stayed in the director’s chair, but the movies we got instead were worth the wait. —Al Shipley