As the two lean towards dark fantasy in their films, Guillermo del Toro’s filmography has remained steadfast as Tim Burton’s has struggled.
Alley of nightmares‘s Guillermo del Toro became the revered dark fantasy director who Tim burton decades ago. Armed with an incredible ability to create haunting visuals, develop compelling fantasy worlds, and use old-school concepts and techniques to create singular auteur films, del Toro is arguably the director of dark fantasy / modern era gothic horror. And in many ways, his success in making dark, artistic, and often bizarre films is a continuation of the filmmaking style established by Tim Burton in the 1980s.
Starting with the masterpiece of the vampire in the Spanish language Cronos in 1993, Guillermo del Toro quickly established himself as a unique voice in genre storytelling. With each new film, its visual style is refined and its cult quickly turns into mainstream success. Del Toro’s 2017 opus The shape of water won him his first Oscar for Directing and also won the Best Picture Statue. Alley of nightmares will be del Toro’s next film and is slated for release in December 2021.
Over nearly three decades of directing, del Toro has remained an authorial director with a clear creative vision for his films. Instead of becoming a “director for hire“, del Toro spearheads the ideas and design of his films, giving them a style of their own. This approach is not unlike that used by Tim Burton during his rise as a director in the 1980s and 1990s, but instead of sticking with his own visual style and continuing to pursue auteur cinema, Burton instead moved away from the genre, letting directors like del Toro take over.
While Guillermo del Toro and Tim Burton’s directing, aesthetic, and storytelling styles are very different, their approach to working in the field of cinematic dark fantasy is comparable. Films in Burton’s work like beetle juice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Mars attacks (1996) all approach supernatural / fantasy / sci-fi concepts in unique ways that only Burton’s creative mind could have achieved, and even films like Batman (1989) and Ed Bois (1994) carry his unique approach to material that was not his.
Unfortunately, projects like beetle juice and Ed Bois would become less common in Burton filmography after the 1990s. Instead of sticking to filmmaking in his well-known style, Burton began taking “director for hire” jobs like Planet of the Apes (2001), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Dumbo (2019), which looked more like studio productions than examples of Burton letting his imagination run wild like in his previous work. Conversely, del Toro has remained true to his style, infusing it in all his films (even “director-for-hire” projects like the one in 2002 Blade 2) and transforming it into a respected brand. Thanks to films like The shape of water and Alley of nightmares, director Guillermo del Toro has easily become the biggest name in dark fantasy film today, effortlessly slipping into the role that Tim burton left vacant for so many years.
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