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Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance, drama and disaster film, directed, written, co-produced and co-edited by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the film starred Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Jack Dawson a penniless third-class artist and Kate Winslet who plays Rose DeWitt Bukater a beautiful first-class aristocrat. The film follows the forbidden romance between Jack and Rose from beginning to its tragic end. Produced by three different production companies, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Lightstorm Entertainment, Titanic is the second highest-grossing film of all time worldwide with .
187 billion in global box office.
Before Titanic James Cameron had successfully established himself as a leading action-movie director, thanks to his films such as The Terminator and Aliens. He was known for his perfectionism and for high handed dealings with actors, crew, and studio bosses. Cameron had a fascination with shipwrecks, and at his age knew he would never able to consider an undersea expedition. Cameron considered The Titanic to be the “Mount Everest” of shipwrecks and when he learned of an IMAX movie of the Titanic, Titanica, had been made using footage shot of the actual wreck, he wanted to do same.
To fill the void, he decided to seek Hollywood funding to pay for an expedition and do the same thing. In an interview with Playboy Magazine, Cameron says, “I made Titanic because I wanted to dive to the shipwreck, not because I particularly wanted to make the movie.”
Cameron and his team researched the ship’s story for more than five years before production of the film.
He insisted on filming the actual wreckage, which was discovered in 1986 about 400 miles offed the coast of Newfoundland. The crew shot the real wreckage eleven times in 1995 and organized several dives to the site for two years, with this production officially began on the film in 1995. Cameron wrote a scriptment for the film, and pitched it as a “Romeo and Juliet” story on the Titanic to twentieth Century Fox. Cameron was able to sway the executives based on the publicity the shooting of the wreck received. After filming the underwater shots, Cameron began writing the screenplay. Cameron spent six months researching all of the Titanic’s crew and passengers so he could honor the people who died during the disaster.
The film was initially budgeted by Twentieth Century Fox at $109 million but set construction had been so costly and time-consuming that caused the film to be two months over schedule before any filming was done. Fox got nervous about the increasing costs of the film and sought a production partner. Universal Studios was in the running for a long time, but ultimately passed. Paramount Pictures was able to get a hold of the script and immediately wanted to get on board with the film. After negations, Fox and Paramount agreed to split the $109 million budget evenly for the film. Later on, Paramount had concerns over the unexpected magnitude of the film and had to renegotiate their original deal. The two ended up agreeing that Paramount would pay for half the set, a total of $65 million, in exchange for U.S. distribution rights, and Fox would cover the remaining half including any overages making the budget set at a total of $135 million.
In the end, the film ended up being about $100 million over budget totaling to about $200 million. Majority of the budget ended up going to the production design of the film. Production delays grew worse as building the ship took far longer than anticipated. The set for Titanic cost a total of $30 million with most of that going towards the creation of a 90% scale replica of the ship, which in turn was housed inside a whopping 17-million-gallon tank that cost $40 million. In an interview with Vanity Fair Magazine, Fred Gallo, head of physical production, recalled how Cameron was determined to build sets with real wallpaper and shoot “a special submarine,” the only one of its kind in existence. The film’s $200 million budget ended up costing more than the cost of the real ship.
Fox Executives panicked about the tremendous cuts and suggested shortening the three-hour long film, in order to save money. However, Cameron did not agree with this at all and threatened to quit, the executives did not want to have to star over because this meant losing their entire investment. Cameron forfeited his $8 million director’s salary and his percentage of the gross when the studio became concerned at how much over budget the movie was running, Cameron explains his reasons behind this in an interview saying, “‘Titanic’ also had a large budget to begin with, but it went up a lot more. As the producer and director, I take responsibility for the studio that’s writing the checks, so I made it less painful for them. I did that on two different occasions. They didn’t force me to do it; they were glad that I did.”
The filming schedule was intended to last 138 days but grew to 160. Many cast members came down with colds, flu, or kidney infections after spending hours in cold water. Due to production delays the film was released six months later than expected. Paramount was expected to handle the North American distribution while Fox would handle its international release. The two expected Cameron to complete the film for a release on July 25, 1997. However, Cameron said the film’s special effects were too complicated and that releasing the film would be unable to release in the summer, forcing Paramount to push back its release date to December 19, 1997. There were speculations throughout Hollywood that the film’s delay in release meant that it was a disaster. However, on July 14 there was a preview screening of the film that generated positive reviews and positive media coverage.
The film finally premiered on November 1, 1997, at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and domestically on December 19, 1997 on 2,674 screens. Titanic received amazing success contrary to rumors revolving around it, the film came in at number one at the box office, earning $8.6 million its opening day and $28.6 million its first weekend. The film was number one at the box office for a record fifteen consecutive weeks from December 19th, 1997 to April 2nd, 1998. Titanic had a total of fourteen Oscars nominations and won eleven of them. The film also successfully took home four Golden Globe awards and one SAG award. It won various awards outside the United States, including the Awards of the Japanese Academy as the Best Foreign Film of the Year. Titanic eventually won almost ninety awards and had an additional forty-seven nominations from various award-giving bodies around the world. Also, a book about the making of the film topped The New York Times’ bestseller list for weeks.
Titanic received mainly positive reviews from film critics, and was positively reviewed by audiences and scholars, who commented on the film’s cultural, historical and political impacts. On movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89% with a rating average of 8/10. Also on Metacritic, Titanic has a positive Metascore of 75 and ranked the number one most discussed movie of 1997. Despite a few reviews from critics that commented on Cameron’s depiction of the authenticity of actual events, Titanic is generally a well-loved film receiving both critical and commercial success. Although there is not sequel in the works for Titanic, the film’s Director James Cameron has participated in several specials about the film and the actual disaster that inspired it, including a 2012 National Geographic special titled Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron. In 2017, they released a one-hour documentary special on National Geographic for the 20th anniversary of the film titled Titanic: 20th Anniversary.
Overall, Titanic is one of the most successful movies in history and one of my favorite movies to watch. The enormous success this movie received is proof that you shouldn’t be quick to judge something. It was a surprise to me to learn about all the negativity and doubts this film received while it was still in the production phase. Based on interviews of Cameron’s experiencing creating Titanic, I think production companies interfere with the creativity of films. Cameron knew everyone expected his film to be terrible, even the people paying for it, that type of pressure could obstruct anyone’s creativity. When Titanic received the popularity it did, I know everyone involved with the film felt a sign of relief. It’s always good feeling when you doubt yourself, and think somethings going to fail and it turns out to be the complete opposite.
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