Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is having a very good week, having won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards for direction from both groups and Best Picture from the latter. The movie has grossed $23.7 million so far, which is more than it cost to make, but it still has more room to grow once Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 22.
Del Toro certainly has his diehard fans (myself included), and we can probably presume that many of the people who have already seen The Shape of Water so far were already fans of del Toro’s other films. It still feels as if there’s room for del Toro to grow his fanbase as a filmmaker ala Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg or Clint Eastwood, filmmakers whose names alone can get people into theaters.
There are two somewhat distinct sides to Guillermo del Toro and his films. Almost all his films, including The Shape of Water, had at least one foot in the world of genre, but some of his films are weightier prestige film with a message, while others are entertaining commercial romps with giant monsters and robots that probably will appeal to some of those who enjoy that aspect of The Shape of Water.
We’ll start with the director’s more prestigious films, including one that won three Oscars, making it obvious del Toro’s work is already known among those important Oscar voters.
Del Toro’s prestigious fantasy film was his third Spanish-language film produced independently with a mostly Spanish cast and crew, but it really connected to everyone who saw it, including Oscar voters, who nominated it in the foreign language category. It was Del Toro’s second film to be put forward as Mexico’s foreign language selection after his debut feature Chronos, and it ended up winning three Oscars, including one for his regular cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Set in 1944 Spain, it involves the young stepdaughter of a sadistic army office who escapes into a world of eerie and fantastical creatures, many of them portrayed by Doug Jones, who plays the creature in Shape of Water. Del Toro considers this one of his favorite films along with The Shape of Water, and there’s a lot of DNA in this film that’s carried over to other del Toro films including Hellboy: The Golden Army. If you liked The Shape of Water and haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth, then that should be the first movie you see.
Another one of del Toro’s own personal faves (as well as mine) is this Spanish language ghost story, another period piece revolving around kids and the supernatural, although this one didn’t have any of his regular collaborators like Doug Jones or Ron Perlman, each of whom have appeared in eight of del Toro’s films.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve watched del Toro’s 1993 debut, but there’s so much in this Mexican film that the filmmaker has returned to in later films, particularly working with Ron Perlman and Federico Luppi, but also creating an original and intricate backstory in the past for terror in the present day. It also was the first film in which he delved into the personal passion of clockworks that would return in his Hellboy films.
To be honest, this 2015 film starring Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston is one of my least favorite ones that del Toro has directed, maybe because I was expecting it to be a gothic horror film, and it really was more of a gothic romance that uses a few genre tropes but just never delivered the punch of some of the horror films he’s produced. That’s why I put it more on the prestige side of things, because it probably would have been considered awards-fare if it hadn’t been marketed otherwise. I guess this is del Toro’s mother!
GENRE AND GEEK FARE:
As mentioned above, all of del Toro’s films have some level of genre or geekiness, but that’s really one of the defining factors of how del Toro became so popular, especially with his many appearances at Comic-Con over the years to interact directly with the fans.
Sony or Universal, who knows?
Hellboy and Hellboy: The Golden Army
Del Toro’s two films based on Mike Mignola’s hellspawn superhero is probably the best place to start if you’ve seen The Shape of Water and want to check out some of the filmmaker’s bigger studio films. The main reason why the Hellboy movies are the place to start is that they also feature the amazing Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, a similar underwater creature to the one he plays in The Shape of Water. Personally, I prefer the sequel because it’s just on another level in terms of scale and storytelling. The original Hellboy released by Sony seems to follow similar paths as other earlier comic book films like Blade and Dark Man, but Ron Perlman is amazing in both films as the title character.
If you’re into big monsters and/or big robots and want the simple pleasure of watching them fight, then Del Toro’s 2013 film is for you. It was his first movie as a director after the four year break he took after making Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Of course, part of that gap was spent writing The Hobbit, which del Toro was going to direct before he left the project and original filmmaker Peter Jackson took over. Either way,
You may think this is the more logical film to watch after watching the Hellboy movies because there’s a similar theme of it being a dark superhero action flick, this one starring Wesley Snipes as Marvel’s vampire-killing vampire Blade. You could go either way, but this is a fantastic film made pre-Hellboy that proved del Toro was ready to take on bigger, existing properties, and there’s lots of cool things about this… including del Toro regular Ron Perlman in a key role.
I’m not sure I can fully recommend this movie made twenty years ago and four years after Chronos with Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films, because it’s probably the filmmaker’s own least favorite film. Del Toro has been very vocal over the years about how unhappy he is about how the film turned out, as he was having to cater to studio notes that took it away from his original vision. But if you ever wondered what really lives in the New York subways and aren’t freaked out by giant cockroaches, you could do a lot worse than Mimic.
OTHER DEL TORO PRODUCTIONS:
If the above nine movies aren’t enough to keep you satisfied for your del Toro fix, then you’ll probably also want to check out some of the many films he’s produced including Juan (Jurassic World: Lost Kingdom) Bayona’s The Orphanage, Andy (It) Muschietti’s Mama starring Jessica Chastain, the supernatural horror film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark which he also wrote, the Spanish horror film Julia’s Eyes and Vincenzo Natali’s Splice. All five films lean more towards del Toro’s genre side, as they’re essentially horror films, but you’ll definitely see the filmmaker’s thumbprint in all four films (including a number of crew members that would become future collaborators.)
THE FUTURE OF DEL TORO:
Who knows where the future will take del Toro, who is now taking a much-needed break after making The Shape of Water, while at the same time producing Netflix’s Trollhunters cartoon series and the FX series based on his own The Strain novels. (The Strain is another great way to satisfy your del Toro fix, by the way.)
Del Toro could surprise us after The Shape of Water by going further into the world of mainstream prestige films or maybe he has another passion project ala Shape somewhere in his many volumes of notebooks. The filmmaker always seems to have a number of projects in development on his plate, and it might be time to return to something more commercial or based on an existing IP after circling things like Fantastic Voyage and Disney’s Haunted Mansion for years. Del Toro seems to like jumping between smaller, more personal films like the prestige films above and having fun with straight-up genre fare like the other films mentioned.
Listen, I’m not going to try to presume to guess what’s going on in del Toro’s brain in regards to what he might decide to do next, but either way, his next film should be just as exciting as his last film, and The Shape of Water should gain Del Toro even more fans outside his normal genre fanbase as it continues to make its way through awards season on its way to Oscar night. The way things are going, del Toro could very well be joining his other two Amigos (Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Iñarritu) in being rewarded a well-deserved Oscar for Best Director.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor