The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is a 2017 American historical romantic dark fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor.[4] It stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer. Set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, the story follows a mute cleaner at a high-security government laboratory who falls in love with a captured humanoid amphibian creature. Filming took place in Ontario, Canada, between August and November 2016.

The Shape of Water
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGuillermo del Toro
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byGuillermo del Toro
Music byAlexandre Desplat
CinematographyDan Laustsen
Edited bySidney Wolinsky
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release date
  • August 31, 2017 (2017-08-31) (Venice)
  • December 1, 2017 (2017-12-01) (United States)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
  • American Sign Language
  • English
  • Russian
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$195.2 million[3]

The Shape of Water was screened as part of the main competition in the 74th Venice International Film Festival, where it premiered on August 31, 2017,[5] and was awarded the Golden Lion for best film.[6] It was also screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.[7] It began a limited release in two theaters in New York City on December 1, 2017, before expanding wide on December 23, 2017, and grossed $195 million worldwide.

The Shape of Water received critical acclaim with praise for the acting, screenplay, direction, visuals, production design, and musical score, with many calling the film Del Toro's best work since Pan's Labyrinth;[8] the American Film Institute selected it as one of the top 10 films of the year.[9] The Shape of Water received a number of awards and nominations, including thirteen nominations at the 90th Academy Awards, where it won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score.[10][11] It was nominated for seven awards at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, winning for Best Director and Best Original Score,[12] twelve at the 71st British Academy Film Awards, winning three awards including Best Director,[13] and fourteen at the 23rd Critics' Choice Awards, winning four awards. A novelization by del Toro and Daniel Kraus was published on March 6, 2018.[14]


Elisa Esposito, who was found abandoned as a child by the side of a river with wounds on her neck, is mute and communicates through sign language. She works as a cleaner at a secret government laboratory in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, at the height of the Cold War. Her only friends are her closeted next-door neighbor Giles, a middle-aged struggling advertising illustrator, and her co-worker Zelda Fuller.

The facility receives a mysterious creature captured from a South American river by Colonel Richard Strickland, who is in charge of the project to study it. Curious about the creature, Elisa discovers it is a humanoid amphibian. She begins visiting him in secret, and the two form a close bond.

Seeking to exploit the Amphibian Man for an American advantage in the space race, General Frank Hoyt is eventually persuaded by Strickland to vivisect it. One scientist, Robert Hoffstetler  who is really a Soviet spy named Dimitri Mosenkov  pleads unsuccessfully to keep the Amphibian Man alive for further study and, at the same time, is ordered by his Soviet handlers to euthanize the creature. When Elisa overhears the American plans for the Amphibian Man, she persuades Giles to help her liberate him. Hoffstetler stumbles upon Elisa's plot in progress and chooses to assist her. Though initially reluctant, Zelda also becomes involved in the successful escape.

Elisa keeps the Amphibian Man in her bathtub, planning to release him into a nearby canal when it rains to give access to the ocean in several days' time. Strickland interrogates Elisa and Zelda, among others, but learns nothing. Back at the apartment, Giles discovers the Amphibian Man devouring one of his cats. Startled, the Amphibian Man slashes Giles's arm and rushes out of the apartment. He gets as far as the cinema downstairs, luckily empty of patrons, before Elisa finds him and returns him to her apartment. He touches Giles on his balding head and his wounded arm, and the next morning Giles discovers his hair has begun growing back and the wounds on his arm have healed. After initially refusing, Elisa has sex with the Amphibian Man.

General Hoyt unexpectedly arrives and tells Strickland he has 36 hours to recover the Amphibian Man or his career and life will be over. Meanwhile, Hoffstetler is told he will be extracted in two days. As the planned release date approaches, the Amphibian Man's health starts to deteriorate. Hoffstetler goes to meet his handlers with Strickland tailing him. At the rendezvous Hoffstetler is shot by a handler, but Strickland kills the handler. Having learned Hoffstetler is a spy, Strickland tortures him into implicating Elisa and Zelda before he dies. Strickland threatens Zelda in her home until her husband Brewster reveals that Elisa has the Amphibian Man. Zelda immediately telephones Elisa, warning her to release the creature. An enraged Strickland ransacks Elisa's empty apartment until he finds a calendar note revealing where she plans to release the Amphibian Man.

At the canal, Elisa and Giles are bidding farewell to the creature when Strickland arrives, knocks Giles down, and shoots the Amphibian Man and Elisa. The Amphibian Man quickly heals himself and slashes Strickland's throat, killing him. As police arrive on the scene with Zelda, the Amphibian Man takes Elisa and jumps into the canal, where he heals her. When he applies his healing touch to the scars on Elisa's neck, they open to reveal gills like his; she jolts back to life, and the two embrace. In a closing voice-over narration, Giles conveys his belief that Elisa lived "happily ever after in love" with the Amphibian Man.


  • Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaner who works at a secret government laboratory.
  • Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland, a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the "asset".
  • Richard Jenkins as Giles, Elisa's closeted neighbor and close friend who is a struggling advertising illustrator.
  • Doug Jones as "Amphibian Man", an amphibious creature referred to as the "asset", with whom Elisa forms a close bond. An uncredited Del Toro provides the Man's vocal effects.
  • Michael Stuhlbarg as Robert Hoffstetler / Dimitri Mosenkov, a Soviet spy working as a scientist studying the creature under an alias.
  • Octavia Spencer as Zelda Delilah Fuller, Elisa's co-worker and friend who serves as her interpreter.
  • Nick Searcy as Frank Hoyt, a United States General who is Strickland's superior.
  • David Hewlett as Fleming, the laboratory's head of security.
  • Nigel Bennett as Mihalkov, Mosenkov's KGB handler.
  • Stewart Arnott as Bernard, Giles' former colleague.
  • Lauren Lee Smith as Elaine Strickland, Richard's wife.
  • Martin Roach as Brewster Fuller, Zelda's husband.
  • John Kapelos as Mr. Arzoumanian, the owner of a movie theater Elisa and Giles live above.
  • Morgan Kelly as Pie Guy, an employee at a local diner whom Giles' forms an unrequited crush on.
  • Wendy Lyon as Sally, Strickland's secretary.



The idea for The Shape of Water formed during del Toro's breakfast with Daniel Kraus in 2011, with whom he later co-wrote the novel Trollhunters.[15] It shows similarities to the 2015 short film The Space Between Us.[16] It was also primarily inspired by del Toro's childhood memories of seeing Creature from the Black Lagoon and wanting to see the Gill-man and Kay Lawrence (played by Julie Adams) succeed in their romance.[17] When del Toro was in talks with Universal to direct a remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon, he tried pitching a version focused more on the creature's perspective, where the Creature ended up together with the female lead, but the studio executives rejected the concept.[18]

Del Toro set the film during the 1960s Cold War era to counteract today's heightened tensions, specifying, "if I say once upon a time in 1962, it becomes a fairy tale for troubled times. People can lower their guard a little bit more and listen to the story and listen to the characters and talk about the issues, rather than the circumstances of the issues."[19]


A fan of her performances in Happy-Go-Lucky and Fingersmith, Del Toro wrote the script with Sally Hawkins in mind for the part and pitched the idea to her while he was intoxicated at the 2014 Golden Globes.[20] Hawkins prepared for the role by watching films of silent comedians Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Stan Laurel from Laurel and Hardy, the last of whom she was told by Del Toro to watch because he thought Laurel could "do a state of grace without conveying it verbally".[21]

The part of Giles was originally written with Ian McKellen in mind and Del Toro was inspired to do so by his performance as the real-life closeted gay filmmaker James Whale who directed Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, who found himself unemployable in his later years. When McKellen proved unavailable, Del Toro sent an e-mail to Richard Jenkins, who accepted the part.[22]

Michael Shannon was cast as Richard Strickland, the villain of the film. According to an interview with Vanity Fair, Shannon and Del Toro had early conversations about the notion that Strickland would have been the hero of the film if it had been made in the 1950s, something that fascinated the actor.[23] Octavia Spencer, who played the role of Elisa's co-worker, friend and interpreter Zelda, found it funny that the people Del Toro used to speak for the mute main character were people who represent very disenfranchised groups.[24]


Principal photography began on August 15, 2016, in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario,[25][26][27][28][29] and wrapped on November 6, 2016.[30] The interior of the Orpheum (the movie theater seen in the film), is that of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, in Toronto, while the exterior of the building is the façade of the Victorian Massey Hall, a performing arts theatre not far from the other one. Elisa and Giles's old flats, which in the film are just above the Orpheum, were actually a set built at Cinespace Studios, west Toronto.[31]

In an interview with IndieWire about the film, del Toro said, "This movie is a healing movie for me. ... For nine movies I rephrased the fears of my childhood, the dreams of my childhood, and this is the first time I speak as an adult, about something that worries me as an adult. I speak about trust, otherness, sex, love, where we're going. These are not concerns that I had when I was nine or seven."[32]


According to an interview with The Wrap, Guillermo Del Toro was torn between making the film in color or in black and white, and was at one point leaning toward the latter. Fox Searchlight Pictures offered Del Toro either a $20 million budget to make the film in color or a $17 million budget to shoot it in black and white. "That was honestly a battle I was expecting to lose," Del Toro said to The Wrap. "I was of two minds. On one hand I thought black and white would look luscious, but on the other hand I thought it would look postmodern, like I was being reflective rather than immersed. It's good, because it got me three million more."[33]


The Shape of Water (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by
Alexandre Desplat
ReleasedDecember 1, 2017
ProducerDominique Lemonnier

Alexandre Desplat is the composer of the film's score.[34] The score won the Academy Award for Best Original Score at the 90th Academy Awards.[11]

Track listing

All tracks are written by Desplat, except where noted.


The Shape of Water premiered on August 31, 2017 at the 74th Venice International Film Festival.[5] It also screened at Telluride Film Festival, the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival, among others.[1] The film was released in two theaters in New York City on December 1, 2017 and then expanded to several other cities the following week. It had its official wide release in the United States on December 22, 2017.[35]

Home media

On March 13, 2018, the film was released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.[36]


Box office

The Shape of Water grossed $63.9 million in the United States and Canada, and $131.4 million in other countries, for a total of $195.2 million.[3]

After grossing $4.6 million over a three week limited release, the film began its wide release on December 22, 2017, alongside the openings of Downsizing, Pitch Perfect 3 and Father Figures, and the wide expansion of Darkest Hour, and grossed $3 million from 726 theaters over the weekend, and $4.4 million over the four-day Christmas frame.[37] The following weekend, the film made $3.5 million.[38] The weekend of January 27, 2018, following the announcement of the film's 13 Oscar nominations, the film was added to over 1,000 theaters (for a total of 1,854) and made $5.9 million (an increase of 171% over the previous week's $2.2 million), finishing 8th.[39] The weekend of March 9–11, following its four Oscar wins, the film made $2.4 million. It marked a 64% increase from the previous week's $1.5 million and was similar to the $2.5 million made by the previous year's Best Picture winner, Moonlight.[40]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 92% based on 413 reviews, with an average rating of 8.41/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Shape of Water finds Guillermo del Toro at his visually distinctive best—and matched by an emotionally absorbing story brought to life by a stellar Sally Hawkins performance."[41] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100, based on 53 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[42] According to CinemaScore, audience members under the age of 40 gave the film an average grade of either "A+" or "A", while those over 40 gave it an "A" or "A−", on an A+ to F scale;[43] PostTrak reported filmgoers gave the film an overall positive score of 80%.[44]

Ben Croll of IndieWire gave the film an 'A' rating and called it "one of del Toro's most stunningly successful works... also a powerful vision of a creative master feeling totally, joyously free."[45] Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising Hawkins's performance, the cinematography and del Toro's direction, and saying: "Even as the film plunges into torment and tragedy, the core relationship between these two unlikely lovers holds us in thrall. Del Toro is a world-class film artist. There's no sense trying to analyze how he does it."[46] For the Minnesota Daily, Haley Bennett reacted positively, writing, "The Shape of Water has tenderness uncommon to del Toro films. ... While The Shape of Water isn't groundbreaking, it is elegant and mesmerizing."[19]

Rex Reed of the New York Observer gave the film 1 out of 4 stars, calling it "a loopy, lunkheaded load of drivel" and, referring to Hawkins's role in Maudie, described people with disabilities as "defective creatures."[47] Reed's review was criticized for referring to Hawkins's mute character as "mentally handicapped" and for erroneously crediting actor Benicio del Toro as the film's director.[48]

Top-ten lists

The Shape of Water appeared on many critics' year-end top-ten lists,[49] among them:


The Shape of Water received 13 nominations at the 90th Academy Awards, the most of any film in the 2018 race. It won in four categories: Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Director, and Best Picture. It was the second fantasy film to win Best Picture since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

The film also spawned some debate about whether the fact that it was filmed in Canada, with a predominantly Canadian crew and many Canadian actors in the supporting roles, should have made it eligible to be nominated for the Canadian Screen Awards. Under Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television rules, to qualify for CSA nominations under the rules for international coproductions at least 15 per cent of a film's funding must come from a Canadian film studio. Even the film's Canadian co-producer, J. Miles Dale, stated that he supports the rules and does not believe the film should have been eligible.[50]

Plagiarism accusations

In February 2018, the estate of Paul Zindel initiated a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Central District of California against director Guillermo del Toro and associate producer Daniel Kraus, alleging that The Shape of Water "brazenly copies the story, elements, characters, and themes" of Zindel's 1969 work Let Me Hear You Whisper, which depicts a cleaning lady bonding with a dolphin and attempting to rescue it from a secret research laboratory's nefarious uses.[51] The complaint spends more than a dozen pages detailing alleged "overwhelming similarities" between the works.[52] Del Toro denied the claim of the Zindel estate, saying that "I have never read nor seen the play. I'd never heard of this play before making The Shape of Water, and none of my collaborators ever mentioned the play." Distributor Fox Searchlight also denied the claim and said that it would "vigorously defend" itself in court.[53] In July 2018, Judge Percy Anderson dismissed the suit and stated that del Toro and Fox Searchlight were entitled to recover their legal costs.[54]

There have also been accusations that The Shape of Water plagiarised Amphibian Man, a 1962 Soviet film based on a 1928 Soviet novel of the same name.[55][56][57][58] Indie Cinema Magazine noted that both have a similar plot, the use of the name "Amphibian Man" in both films, the Soviet connection in both stories, and the 1962 setting.[55] Amphibian Man was one of the highest-grossing Soviet films of all time, with up to 100 million box office admissions in the Soviet Union.[59]

The film also received accusations of plagiarism by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the French director of the romantic comedy Amélie and the cult classic Delicatessen,[60] whom he claimed that del Toro plagiarized some of the scenes within his works in Amelie, Delicatessen, and The City of Lost Children.[61] Other observers vehemently disagree[62] with Jeunet’s assertion. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s well known, 1960s chair dance,[63] for example, preceded Jeunet’s films by decades. As for the former, Jeunet pointed out some of the similarities in the saturation of the colours, overall art direction and the use of anthropomorphic objects as well the music which is a reminiscent of Yann Tiersen's soundtrack on the former. Responding to Jeunet's accusations of plagiarism by email, del Toro cited on the influences of Terry Gilliam's works as the inspiration for The Shape of Water.[61] Both composer Alexandre Desplat and del Toro have cited the late French composer Georges Delerue,[64] whose work predates Tierson's by decades as the inspiration for the musical score. Desplat has also emphasized the importance of water as essential to both the score and to the themes of the movie itself.[65]


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