Study Guide

Titanic

Titanic Introduction


Release Year: 1997

Genre: Action, Drama, Romance

Director: James Cameron

Writer: James Cameron

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates


Titanic is the kind of movie that everyone knows, quotes, cringes at, cries at, and quotes some more. In fact, we're willing to bet that the next time you're taking the Staten Island ferry, you'll see a dad standing at the prow, arms spread wide, shouting, "I'm the king of the world!" at the Statue of Liberty. We're willing to bet that you'll come across an Instagrammed lounging cat with the caption "Draw me like one of your French girls."

And we're 100% certain that you'll hear the phrase "I'll never let go, Jack" used ironically in one of the following situations: a) an arm-wrestling competition, b) to refer to a dog chewing on a chew toy, c) when you're holding a burrito and its architectural integrity begins to fail, forcing you to grip the dang thing like a rock climber grips a cliff face.

But people don't lob these quotes around because they're masterful prose. They quote 'em because they come from one of the most successful and influential movies of all time.

Titanic is about a real-life horrible disaster at sea that happened at the beginning of the 20th century. But it's not as depressing as it sounds…okay fine, it's really depressing. Still, director/screenwriter James Cameron managed to infuse a little warmth into that horrifying drama with the story of a poor little rich girl named Rose (Kate Winslet) who falls in love with steerage passenger named Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio).

  

Okay, yes, Rose is already engaged when she meets Jack, and yes, they really only get a couple of days together before the ship sinks. But no matter—Jack manages to totally shake up Rose's stifled, loveless life. So even while we watch fifteen hundred people go into the sea without lifeboats, we still manage to get the warm and fuzzies about the fact that a single teen girl found more meaning in her life through a two-day romance.

The 1997 movie won buckets of awards, including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Effects (Sound Effects Editing), Best Effects (Visual Effects), Best Music (Original Song)—yup, that's right: "My Heart Will Go On"—and Best Music (Original Dramatic Score).

In other words, it made the 1998 Academy Awards the dullest Academy Awards on record. ("Honey, who won for Film Editing?" "Titanic." "Again? Don't we get a single dark horse this year?")

But, like the ship, Titanic the movie encountered a downfall of sorts. Titanic is not exactly the most highly respected piece of cinema that's ever been released—and all the hype, awards, and heavy box office earnings seem to have created a certain amount of backlash among film buffs (source).

They say that it's cheesy, manipulative, and that the Heart of the Ocean is a butt-ugly (bugly?) piece of jewelry. (Okay, maybe film scholars don't actually say that last one.)

Of course, we're sure that James Cameron doesn't care at all. He's known for these kinds of giant, over-the-top blockbusters (you know, like Avatar and Terminator 2). He's laughing all the way to the bank—or maybe to one of his multi-million-dollar homes—regardless of how grumpy film people get about Titanic's popular appeal.

What is Titanic About and Why Should I Care?

Titanic the movie was kind of like Titanic the ship—majorly hyped up beforehand and then fawningly praised when it finally appeared. It was one of the highest grossing films of all time, raking in $600,788,188 domestically (source).

Basically, it made a bigger splash than the Titanic did when it sunk below the Atlantic. (Too soon?)

This movie was the first to crack the international $1 billion dollar box office mark, because people loved it so much. Seven percent of young women in America saw the movie twice. Twenty-seven million copies of the CD were sold. There were knockoff Hearts of the Ocean being hocked in glossy newspaper supplements. Some Australian dude decided it was a good idea to rebuild the Titanic itself. Leomania happened (source).

And most importantly, the way movies are made was changed. Forever.

We're going to hand the mic over to the good folks at The Guardian to make our point:

[Titanic] might look now like the ice-breaker for Hollywood's next decade, ploughing the way for the convoy of $200m+, special-effects-powered behemoths that followed, but it was the end of something, too: Titanic marked the death of the event movie. (Source)

That whole "$200m+, special-effects-powered behemoths" thing? One hundred percent true.

Titanic made so much bank at the box office that studios haven't stopped churning out crazy-expensive movies since. Without Titanic, there would be none of the massive superhero franchises of the 21st century. There would be no never-ending Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. And Peter Jackson's forays into Middle Earth might never have graced our silver screens.

But maybe more interesting is that whole "death of the event movie" thing. Titanic was a big deal even before it was released—murmurs about Cameron's massively over-budget boat movie buzzed around. In other words, it was an event. The winter of 1997-1998 was a nonstop arctic storm of Titanic, Titanic, Titanic.

And that just doesn't happen anymore…because so many movies now are trying to recreate that same hype. In a masterful twist of dramatic irony, the fact that people are trying to make event movies means that there are no more event movies.

Before Rose never let go, movies that did well at the box office did so because they totally trounced the other cinematic options. The dinos in Jurassic Park left all the other films that year in the dust (source).

But now, movies that boast "We're #1" at the box office only do so by a slim margin. There are so many movies that compete to be splashy event movies that no one movie comes out that much on top.

To use a Titanic-appropriate nautical metaphor: before Titanic, event movies were like, well, the Titanic. There was one of 'em at a time, and they were the biggest, bestest, and most expensivest.

Today, movies are more like the fleet of American Airlines. They're all pretty big, sleek, and expensive…but none of them is by far the most impressive.

Ugh: it turns out that Cal "Smugface" Hockley was right—you can be blasé about some things, but not about Titanic.

Trivia

Did you know that Kate and Leo became great friends in real life after this film? (Source)

Kate and Leo liked each other so much that they worked together on another film: Revolutionary Road. That one also doesn't have a happy ending. (Source)

Some fans have come up with a theory that Jack was actually a time-traveler. Yes, seriously. (Source)

Titanic Resources

Websites

Titanic II
If you've got the $$$ and want to set sail on a replica of the Titanic, you're in luck—Titanic II is coming.

Fun Facts
Want even more trivia to impress your friends with? There are lots of articles and sites devoted to fun facts about Titanic. This is one of them.

Articles and Interviews

A Titanic Director
Cameron and his techniques have become legendary. This New Yorker article digs into the man himself and his famous rep.

Video

In Case the Movie Wasn't Long Enough for You…
…here's a deleted scene.

Titanic Bloopers and Other Fun Stuff
A clip of behind-the-scenes shots, interviews, and bloopers.

Audio

The Soundtrack
Hear what all the fuss was about.

The Dance Will Go On
Because "My Heart Will Go On" needed a dance remix.

Images

No, You're Not Flying…You're Sailing
Transportation distinctions aside, this is probably one of the most famous images from the film.

The Drawing That Launched 1,000 Submersibles
Jack's drawing of Rose…which was actually James Cameron's work. Yes, he basically did everything on this film.