The Unmade Movies of Guillermo del Toro
Before Guillermo del Toro’s version of Pinocchio hits Netflix, we survey all the dream projects the director hasn’t gotten to do.
This December, one of director Guillermo del Toro’s long-held passion projects, a stop-motion animated version of Pinocchio, will premiere on Netflix after a limited run in theaters. Del Toro has long wanted to adapt the original 1881 novel, previously saying, “No single character in history has had as deep of a personal connection to me as Pinocchio.”
We’re glad that the esteemed Mr. del Toro—not just one of our finest modern filmmakers, but one of our most influential proponents of all things fantastical—has finally gotten to make Pinocchio just the way he wanted. But the truth is that it’s just one of many, many projects that del Toro has developed or been attached to over the years that nevertheless eluded him. This one just has a happier ending than many of the other projects.
That’s of course the life of any filmmaker. The idea is to have a few different projects developing at any given time, knowing that you’re lucky if one of them actually makes it to the screen. But because of his love for all things horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, and because he does get so passionate about the work he does, many of GDT’s abandoned films (and one TV show) are both particularly enticing and frustrating.
Nevertheless, he’s been a busy man lately: 2021’s criminally underseen Nightmare Alley was a near masterpiece while his Cabinet of Curiosities anthology (now on Netflix) is a macabre delight and the buzz is excellent on Pinocchio as well. But while we celebrate those artistic triumphs, here’s a look back at just a few of the ones sadly left behind. (Seriously though, this list doesn’t even cover all the screenplays that the maestro has written). And who knows? Perhaps one or two may resurface again someday.
We start off with a project that was sort of abandoned: While Guillermo del Toro was recruited in 2008 by Peter Jackson to direct a live-action adaptation of The Hobbit, del Toro did not see the massive undertaking through. Even though he even moved his family to New Zealand for two years to work with Jackson on the scripts and oversee pre-production, the production was delayed by legal battles and financial issues that eventually forced del Toro to quit in 2010 and head back to Los Angeles.
Del Toro is still credited as a co-writer on the scripts (with eventual director Jackson, plus co-writers/producers Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens), but how might the story (which was still just two films when he left) have played under his direction? Boyens told the Hollywood Reporter that GDT’s take would have felt more like a “fairy tale” and been different visually as well. Reportedly most of del Toro’s designs for the films were jettisoned to make them consistent with The Lord of the Rings movies directed by Jackson. Would del Toro’s version have been better than the bloated, tedious trilogy we got? We’ll never know.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Like John Carpenter before him, Guillermo del Toro wanted to remake the 1954 Universal monster classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon for years. He was even officially brought in to helm a reimagining for Universal in 2002 (via IGN), although his take on the story—telling the tale from the Creature’s viewpoint and giving him a romantic relationship—was not accepted by the studio. They parted ways and that, it seemed, was that.
Or was it? In 2017, del Toro produced, co-wrote, and directed The Shape of Water, in which a lonely, mute cleaning lady at a secret government facility discovers and falls in love with the humanoid amphibian creature being held captive there. Del Toro told the Hollywood Reporter that his film was heavily influenced by Black Lagoon and his ideas for it. So while he never did remake the original, del Toro—winning both Best Picture and Best Director for his fishman love story—won this one in the end.
At the Mountains of Madness
This was another of del Toro’s dream projects that couldn’t get off the launchpad despite the involvement of fellow industry heavyweights James Cameron as producer and Tom Cruise as the potential star. Del Toro long wanted to adapt the famous H.P. Lovecraft novella, in which an expedition to the Antarctic discovers the remnants of an ancient civilization, only to realize that it might not be dead.
The film was first set up at Dreamworks around 2004, only for it to be cancelled. It eventually found a home at Universal, but studio execs were insistent that the film, budgeted at $150 million, be filmed for a PG-13 rating instead of an R. Del Toro held his ground on the rating, the period setting and the downbeat ending, and the obstacles proved insurmountable. “It damaged me somehow,” del Toro said in 2016 about the collapse of the film. “You put a lot of effort—your body and soul—and then it doesn’t happen. The ones that don’t happen break your heart, that’s for sure.”
Along with Pinocchio and At the Mountains of Madness, this probably completes the trifecta of del Toro’s most long-sought-after films. The director said for years that he wanted to make a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version doesn’t quite cut it, although it comes close in a number of ways), but he changed his stance somewhat along the way, claiming he would make something along the lines of an “adventure story” instead of retelling the monster’s origin.
Either way, it still hasn’t happened despite GDT being in talks with Universal about the project early in the 2010s. Del Toro wanted to cast Doug Jones as the monster and even went as far as filming makeup tests, which the latter called “hauntingly beautiful.” Alas, Universal made the unwise decision to pivot to its “Dark Universe” concept, which would have included Frankenstein’s monster in a shared universe instead of giving the property to the guy who called Frankenstein “the pinnacle of everything.”
Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army were modest hits that actually found a second life on home video (just before that business collapsed). But they were just not big enough for del Toro and star Ron Perlman to get the backing they needed for the kind of epic conclusion to a trilogy that they wanted. Del Toro said in a Reddit AMA back in 2014 that his vision involved Hellboy embracing his destiny and becoming the “beast of the Apocalypse” in order to defend humanity. He added, it’s a very interesting ending to the series, but I don’t think it will happen.”
Having done the first movie with Sony and the second with Universal, del Toro was unable to find backers for a third entry and eventually gave up. Instead we got a terrible reboot in 2019 that had no involvement from either him or Perlman.
This is another project, like The Hobbit, which eventually came out in a very different form but still bears some kind of del Toro imprimatur on it. Based on Roald Dahl’s creepy kids’ novel, which was previously filmed in 1990 by director Nicholas Roeg, del Toro’s version was supposed to be done in stop-motion animation, which would probably be the best medium for this tale.
Del Toro first began talking about it in 2008, when he was slated to direct and his pal Alfonso Cuarón was going to produce. Somehow over the next decade, it reverted back to a live-action feature, and was eventually directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer starring. Initially slated for theatrical release, it premiered on HBO Max in October 2020. Del Toro still had a credit on the screenplay while he and Cuarón were listed as producers, so some of their input made it to the screen. But we suspect that a pure GDT version would be a lot scarier than any other.
The Count of Monte Cristo
One of the more offbeat projects Guillermo del Toro worked on was this, an adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas adventure novel set in France during the turbulent early 1800s. Del Toro’s script was called, for some reason, The Left Hand of Darkness (which would have confused it with the famous sci-fi novel by Ursula K. Le Guin), and was reportedly transposed to Mexico, with the director describing it in his book, Cabinet of Curiosities, as a “steampunk Gothic Western.”
Del Toro first started working on in the mid-‘90s and allegedly came close to making the movie sometime around the mid-2010s, but ended up going with Crimson Peak instead (it was all about which project could get financed first). Perhaps it’s just as well; there have been dozens of film and TV versions of the Dumas book, going all the way back to 1908 and nearly the beginning of cinema itself, and we’re not sure what even GDT could provide in the way of a fresh adaptation.
Del Toro wrote this script based on the novel Spanky by British dark fantasy writer Christopher Fowler, in which a man’s lousy life turns around when he gains his own personal demon… but of course, the demon eventually wants something in return. In his Cabinet of Curiosities book (via What Culture), del Toro stated that this was possibly his favorite unmade adapted screenplay.
Saturn and the End of Days
Back at 2008’s New York Comic Con, just as he was promoting Hellboy II and had been recruited to work on The Hobbit, del Toro revealed that he had another project he wanted to do after completing the Tolkien films (and we know what happened there). It was supposed to be a small film about childhood, thematically linked to his masterpieces The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.
That project was tentatively titled Saturn and the End of Days, and it was about a little boy named Saturn who literally watches the world ending around him as he goes about his daily routines. Del Toro described it thus (via Slashfilm): “What would happen if the Apocalypse was viewed by you [while] doing errands. You go back and forth and nothing big happens except the entire world is being sucked into a vortex of fire.” We would have loved to see this, especially since the previous “childhood” films are probably his best. But like so many others, it sits in del Toro’s desk (or vault, or laptop), collecting dust.
Just as he produced the original 2007 classic directed by J.A. Bayona (who went on to direct Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and others), del Toro was going to produce an English-language remake of this genuinely chilling ghost story as well, which follows a woman who returns to the abandoned orphanage in which she grew up with plans to reopen it.
Del Toro said that he wanted to remake the film to reflect his original intentions for the screenplay, which were revised for the Spanish version due to budget considerations. Indie horror auteur Larry Fessenden was initially recruited to direct and worked with del Toro on the script, but he left the project and was replaced by Mark Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies). There was also speculation that Amy Adams would star, but this was all more than a decade ago, and nothing has been heard since.
The Haunted Mansion
We were at San Diego Comic-Con 2010 when del Toro came onstage at Hall H to announce that he was writing and producing a new film based around the world-famous Disneyland attraction. Being who he is, del Toro promised that his version of The Haunted Mansion would be much scarier than the 2003 comedy starring Eddie Murphy, even if he didn’t actually direct it.
Fast forward to 2019, when del Toro said in a Moviefone interview that he had gone through two or three versions of the screenplay, with Ryan Gosling attached at one point to star, but he still had no idea whether it would ever go in front of cameras. Well, there is a Haunted Mansion coming out in August 2023, directed by Justin Simien and starring Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, and others, but it seems as if none of what del Toro was doing survived.
The Incredible Hulk (TV)
Del Toro has flirted with both the Marvel and DC universes throughout his career (more on the latter in a minute). He directed Blade II and was reportedly offered the director’s chair on both Thor (a pre-MCU version) and The Wolverine at different stages. But one project which came close to fruition was an MCU TV series called The Incredible Hulk, which was in development for the television network ABC at around the same time as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was getting ramped up.
Del Toro told Collider at the time that he had been approached about developing the series after the massive success of The Avengers, and was waiting for a writer to become available. It went dark after that, probably due to a confluence of reasons: ABC forged ahead with AoS, plus Marvel perhaps wanted to keep the Hulk on the big screen after Mark Ruffalo’s debut in the role in The Avengers was such a hit. Then, of course, there are those longstanding rights issues, with Universal Pictures still (as far as we know) holding certain options on the character to this day. We have no doubt that GDT’s take on the big green guy would have been more monstrous, and we almost wish we could still see it one day.
Dark Universe/Justice League Dark
Del Toro’s other big superhero-related project was Dark Universe, a DC/Warner Bros. enterprise that has gone through that studio’s usual development hell. Based on DC’s Justice League Dark comics, del Toro’s movie would have featured characters from the supernatural/horror side of the DC universe, including Constantine, Swamp Thing, the Spectre, Zatanna, and others. Although it wasn’t clear at first whether the film would be part of the DC Extended Universe, del Toro himself said it would in 2014.
Not long after, in 2015, he departed the production with Doug Liman spending a year in the director’s chair until he left too. J.J. Abrams’ company, Bad Robot, picked up the Justice League Dark property in 2020 to develop for both film and TV (the latter for HBO Max), but with the recent major changes at Warner Bros. and DC, its fate remains up in the air.
Pacific Rim 2
Yes, against all odds, there was a sequel to del Toro’s 2013 kaiju epic, Pacific Rim, even though that movie’s $400 million worldwide gross didn’t exactly scream for a follow-up. By the time Pacific Rim: Uprising came out and flopped in 2018, however, del Toro had long departed the film, which ended up being directed and co-written (along with others) by Spartacus creator Steven S. DeKnight.
But del Toro revealed to The Wrap in 2021 that he had his own ideas for a Pacific Rim sequel had he stayed involved. “The guys that control the kaiju [known as the Precursors in the first movie] …are us thousands of years in the future,” del Toro explained, adding that they were using the kaiju to terraform the Earth for its future inhabitants. Del Toro called the story, which he had been writing before switching over to The Shape of Water, “really crazy” and “an interesting paradox.”
The 1966 20th Century Fox sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasance, has been ripe for a remake for decades. The original, about a miniaturized team of scientists injected into the body of a world leader to save his life, is loads of fun and even holds up pretty well in terms of its visuals. But a new iteration with modern VFX could be super cool, so it was exciting when Fox announced del Toro as the director in 2016, with James Cameron producing and David S. Goyer writing.
The film was put on hold in 2017 as The Shape of Water became an awards contender, and shortly after that, Disney bought Fox, which seemed to consign the remake to development limbo for the next few years. As with so many of the projects we’ve discussed, we’d still love to see GDT’s take on it. We’re sure he’d come up with some pretty grisly ways for the micronauts to battle white blood cells.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio premieres on Netflix on Dec. 9.