James Cameron’s Titanic is the 3rd all-time grossing movie in history. But its high production cost, sleep-deprived cast and crew, and accusations that painted Cameron as diabolical gave critics and Hollywood insiders their doubts. Expected to be a massive flop, Titanic remains one of the most loved and classic films in modern history.
The Explosive Success of James Cameron’s Titanic Was Seen in Every Corner of the Planet
Titanic was released in Japan six weeks before it came out in the United States. Immediately recognizing their beloved Romeo (Leo), the people of Japan immediately fell in love with the epic. Titanic became a cult classic on the other side of the planet — a very good omen for what was to come.
Videos by Rare
Videos by Rare
“The film speaks for itself,” Cameron had previously told Entertainment Weekly. ”People have heard the hype, the counter-hype, and the counter-counter-hype. I think they’ll go see it for themselves.” In every way, that was proven true.
Titanic hit US theaters on December 19, 1997. In its first weekend, it raked in over $28 million. That figure grew by 250% by December 26. Day after day, people flocked to the theaters to see what all the commotion was about. Some even went more than once — it was that good and deserved to be viewed on a big screen.
Kate Winslet’s Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Had Something to Do With It
Further, the chemistry between Rose and Jack (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) was scintillating. That’s because, on top of being phenomenal actors, the two were actually the closest of friends on and off the set. They’ve remained best friends ever since and at one point, Leo actually walked Kate down the aisle at her wedding and gave her away.
The two have become an enigma in the public’s eyes. It’s like everyone expects them to actually admit they’re in love so we can heal past the trauma of Rose losing Jack in the frozen ocean. But alas, it’s only platonic.
By October of 1997, Titanic had made over $600 million in the US box office. It made over $1.2 billion internationally with a total of over $1.8 billion worldwide. That was just in 1997. A 3D release in 2012 and two re-releases in 2017 and 2020 have brought the film’s total gross earnings up to nearly $2.2 billion. That’s not including what it will make from the 2023 25-Year Anniversary release. Imagine a marriage where you renew your vows as often as Titanic pumps out re-releases.
A Titanic Flop? Why Critics Had Their Doubts
It’s almost insane to imagine that Titanic was going to flop, but there were good reasons for all the doubt.
To start, someone else had already tried filming a different fictional account of the real-life tragedy that failed miserably. Raise the Titanic was based on a novel by Clive Cussler and released in 1980 on a $40 million budget. Maybe the story wasn’t that great, or maybe there were too many cooks spoiling the broth (different people were in charge of the adaptation, the screenplay, directing, and producing), but it only made $7 million at the box office.
Secondly, James Cameron had decided to spend an immense fortune on building a near replica of the original ship. And everyone needed to be paid. There were 800 crew members and 1000 extras. After all, they were trying to mimic the original party cruise, and there were 2,240 passengers.
And then there were the locations. The ship set was in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. But they also filmed in Los Angeles, Nova Scotia, and the UK.
Rumors Spread That Cameron Was Unhinged and Taking a Desperate Risk
Before any advertising or promotional work, the film cost $200 million to make. With an original budget of $110 million, that meant that sacrifices needed to be made. Cameron forfeited his $8 million salary and Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet took pay cuts in exchange for backend deals. It was a massive gamble on everyone’s part. And people looked on, jaws agape, wondering if Cameron was out of his mind. The prophesied Titanic flop was looking truer by the day. It was almost like the topic just had bad juju.
Finally, while James Cameron admits that he’s a tough guy to work with because of how seriously he takes his craft, there were accusations that he took it too far. Kate Winslet said he body shamed her relentlessly, calling her “fat.” She told the LA Times that Cameron had a short fuse, a sharp tongue, and worked her to the point where she was only getting 4 hours of sleep a night. She also nearly drowned — twice.
25 Years Later, Titanic’s Legacy Is Still Going Full Steam Ahead
But Kate Winslet’s hard work shot her to total stardom. While Leo was already a known name, she was relatively new in the industry. Winslet had starred in a couple of smaller films and a handful of TV shows, but nothing would ever again compare to her character Rose. From the ballsy nude portrait scene to flying on the bow of the near-perfect ship replica, with Jack’s arms around her, Rose will forever be an icon along with her lost love.
As of today, Titanic is 3rd for all-time highest-grossing films. The number 1 and 4 spots are Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water. Both are, unironically, James Cameron films. Number 2 is Avengers: Endgame.