Titanic Study Guide

At the time of its release, James Cameron's Titanic was the most expensive film production ever mounted, and widely expected to be a critical and commercial failure. Negative rumors about the film began to swirl after the film's production, which required financing from both Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, ran both overlong and over-budget. However, Titanic is now known as one of the most successful blockbuster films of all time— becoming the most profitable film ever made at the time of its release, and staying #1 at the box office for fifteen straight weeks in the winter of 1997 and spring of 1998. It held that title until the release of James Cameron's science-fiction epic Avatar in 2009.

In order to shoot the opening sequence of the film, James Cameron secured funding to descend to the actual wreckage of the Titanic in the North Atlantic using the Russian research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh. The film's production crew spent more time filming the wreckage of the ocean liner than its passengers ever spent on board. Cameron originally pitched the film as "Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic," and wanted the driving romance of the plot to encourage audiences to empathize with the tragic human cost of the disaster. Cameron consulted blueprints, photographs, and other artifacts in order to build painstakingly detailed recreations of the ship's exteriors and interiors. A full-scale model of the ship was built along forty acres of waterfront in Fox Baja Studios in Rosarito, Mexico. Cameron even hired an etiquette coach to help Kate Winslet and other actors mimic the comportment of early twentieth-century aristocrats.

To date, Titanic has earned over $2 billion dollars worldwide, and was the first film to ever make more than $1 billion dollars. Commercial analysts credit Titanic's runaway success to the way in which it combined disparate genres—the melodrama, the romance, the action-thriller, the disaster film—that ushered demographics of all ages and genders into multiplexes, many of whom chose to see the movie in theaters multiple times. The film helped usher in "Leo-Mania"—a cultural phenomenon centered around the film's young male lead, Leonardo DiCaprio. The fact that DiCaprio had starred in William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet one year prior also primed audiences for the star-crossed romance at the heart of the film, which in many ways resembles William Shakespeare's play.

Kate Winslet lobbied persistently for the role of Rose Dewitt Bukater, and was twenty years old at the time she was cast. Critics praised the chemistry between the film's two young leads, as well as the way the film channeled opulent melodramas of yore, such as David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind. In The New York Times, for instance, Janet Maslin wrote in a glowing review that, "Mr. Cameron's magnificent Titanic is the first spectacle in decades that honestly invites comparison to Gone With the Wind." The film's box office success was also buoyed by James Horner's phenomenally popular soundtrack, containing the single "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, which became the second best-selling single by a female artist in history.

Titanic was nominated for fourteen Academy Awards, tying the record previously held by Joseph Mankiewicz's All About Eve (1950), and won eleven of them, including Best Picture. It is one of only three films to ever win eleven Oscars, the other two being William Wyler's Ben Hur (1959) and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). In 2017, Titanic received a 3D re-release commemorating the twentieth anniversary of its initial debut in theaters. The film remains an enduring cultural touchstone of the 1990s and a towering example of opulently produced Hollywood melodrama.