Dark fantasy, as a genre in film, doesn’t often get its due. It’s difficult to categorize with studios instead choosing to market movies as strictly horror or science-fiction or supernatural, and it almost never earns the critical respect it deserves, despite its commercial success. But these directors are working to change that.
The filmmakers on this list know the value of story-telling using dark fantasy themes, and they’re pushing the envelope of what audiences expect (and what critics appreciate) with movies that are imaginative, characters that are complicated, and visuals that are grotesquely mesmerizing. Just because their plots aren’t wholly grounded in realism doesn’t mean their themes can’t touch on tangible issues, and just because they play in the dark fantasy world doesn’t mean these directors and their films can’t appeal to the masses.
Here are six directors who have helped make dark fantasy cool again.
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro has made a career out of dark fantasy epics that not only feel like personal, intimate portraits of the filmmaker’s life but also consistently deliver broader themes that spur audiences to talk about the messages of his movies long after they leave the theater. He’s managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible — to win Academy awards for his horror-tinged fictional tales of underwater sea creatures and childhood fables come to life — and his style, which blends surrealism with plots grounded by ideas of family, isolation, exile, love, and growing up, is not easily imitated. The visual beauty of films like Pan’s Labyrinth, the poetic subtlety of The Shape of Water, the religious imagery and grotesque monstrosity of Hell Boy, the gothic decadence of Crimson Peak — all of these films prove that del Toro is able to flit between subgenres while elevating the over-arching dark fantasy motif in a way few directors can.