The Shape of Water—released in 2017—is rare in Guillermo Del Toro's oeuvre as a film that's relatively optimistic. It's also the first film of Del Toro's to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which it did in 2018. The film also snagged awards for Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design. After making a spate of high-budget films including the box office smash Pacific Rim (2013) and the relative disappointment Crimson Peak (2015), Del Toro solicited a significantly lower budget so that he wouldn't be responsible for making the producing studio a massive amount of money just to break even. Hence, Del Toro raised $20 million for the film and ended up coming in under-budget. Between the $195 million in box office revenue and the Oscar nods, The Shape of Water was a resounding success.
The idea for the film came from Del Toro's childhood, when he first saw the 1954 Universal horror movie The Creature From the Black Lagoon. He picked up on the romantic tension between the titular monster and the leading lady, and wondered to himself what that movie might look like if the monster got the girl instead of getting killed. Originally, Del Toro was in talks with Universal to remake that film, but ended up making this totally original work instead.
Del Toro decided to set the film in the early 1960s so that he could tackle major questions about American culture and mainstream society with enough distance to help the audience suspend its belief for the fantasy segments. The result is a strange hybrid of a film: not just a cross between a monster movie and a love story, but also something of a period piece about bigotry and the Cold War in the years between World War II and the Summer of Love.
Even though the film had a relatively small budget, Del Toro still managed to attract some excellent, revered actors. He brought over Sally Hawkes from Britain (best known for her work with the British director Mike Leigh), and solicited beloved actors Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg to round out the cast. Del Toro also cast his longtime collaborate Doug Jones as the creature. Jones has appeared in almost all of Del Toro's movies as a variety of strange creatures, since his body type makes him such an excellent fit for so many prostheses.