Titanic: 15 things you might not know about James Cameron's romantic classic
Our hearts still go on...
James Cameron’s Titanic — starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as doomed lovers Jack and Rose — is returning to cinemas for Valentine's Day 2023.
When it was released in 1997 it was the most successful movie ever made (before being overtaken by Avatar and Avengers: Endgame) and it was the subject of the most intense media scrutiny during production.
Read more: Why Kate Winslet broke her vow to never work with James Cameron again
But did you know these fascinating titbits of Titanic trivia? Get ready to set sail on an ocean of knowledge.
Titanic was nearly a disaster
Cameron, who famously filmed awful unused endings for Terminator 2 and The Abyss, repeated the trick with Titanic, shooting an excised end scene set in the modern day, in which Bill Paxton and his crew attempt to stop Old Rose from throwing the Heart Of The Ocean into the sea.
They fail, and one crew member yells “THAT REALLY SUCKS, LADY!” It is hilarious and it would have doubtless sunk the movie if included.
You can watch the alternate ending on YouTube if you wish to incur Cameron’s wrath.
Shooting was tough
Not only did James Cameron go two months over schedule and £42m over budget, he was the subject of a cruel and potentially very dangerous prank. On the final night of shooting in Nova Scotia, someone mixed angel dust (PCP) into the clam chowder the the caterers served to the crew. 80 people were reportedly taken ill, with 50 taken to hospital after suffering hallucinations.
It was never discovered who spiked the food, but Cameron has been known to make enemies on his sets; crew t-shirts were daubed with his quote: “When I want your opinion, I’ll tell it to you!”
Titanic holds several Oscar records, some more glamorous than other
It’s a joint record holder along with Ben Hur and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King with 11 Oscar wins (from 14 nominations), but it’s also the most-nominated movie not to win any acting awards and the first movie to win Best Picture that wasn’t also nominated for Best Screenplay since The Sound Of Music in 1966.
Read more: The movies that won the most Oscars
Nominees Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart were the first actors to be nominated for playing the same role in the same film. Titanic is actually the second film about the Titanic to win Best Picture following Cavalcade in 1933.
Art imitates life
The poignant scene of the elderly couple embracing on the bed while their room fills up with water depicts the final few minutes of a real couple. Ida and Isidor Strauss were the owners of Macy’s department store, a huge American institution, and they were lost when the Titanic went down.
Allegedly, Ida was offered a spot on a lifeboat but turned it down to die with her husband. Cameron did shoot a deleted scene of their last moments – Ida tells her husband “As we have lived together, so shall we die together” – but it didn’t make the final cut.
Draw me like one of your French girls
The first scene Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet shot was the scene in which Jack draws Rose naked – Winslet flashed him when they met to prepare him. The hands that are sketching Rose on the notepad actually belong to James Cameron, who is also a talented artist as well as a visionary director.
Read more: Kate Winslet felt bullied after Titanic
The image is actually mirrored, because Cameron is left-handed, unlike DiCaprio, who is right-handed.
In 2014 Kate Winslet told Yahoo she’s still haunted by that nude drawing. Watch her response above.
The film was not without its technical flaws
Although Cameron was careful to ensure historical accuracy – right down to the cutlery on the tables – he didn’t catch every potential anachronism. Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson complained that a shot of the stars over the Titanic – arranged creatively to mimic the Heart Of The Ocean necklace – was incorrect according to the actual position of the stars that night.
Cameron, ever the stickler, appeased the astro-nerd and amended the scene for the 3D re-release in 2012. It was the only scene he changed.
That wasn’t the only flub
Some other errors that were missed: Rose wears modern acrylic nails; the Statue of Liberty is shown as being green instead of brown (which it was at the time); the ship’s officers use powerful white torches instead of yellow ones; Captain Smith is wearing contact lenses; and, according to the IMDb ‘Goofs’ section: “The pipe frames supporting the third class berths have set-screw speed rail fittings, not developed until 1946.”
Read more: Massive mistakes in Oscar-winning movies
Can’t believe you let that one slip through the net, James! Sloppy work!
It was thought in some quarters that Titanic had potential to be the biggest flop ever, particularly after the budget ballooned and Cameron’s actors complained he was working them too hard (Kate Winslet almost drowned in a water tank).
To ease hearts and minds at the studio, the director forfeited his salary — £5 million — and even his percentage of the movie’s gross. Don’t cry for JC though, he still made almost £65 million dollars when it went on to gross over £1.3 billion.
One scene that has been agonised over by critics is Jack’s heroic sacrifice, where he allows Rose to float on a cupboard door that won’t also hold his weight. The scene has been analysed over the years, with many claiming that it could have easily supported both survivors.
Read more: The most unforgettable movie deaths
Cameron stuck to his guns for years until TV show Mythbusters tested it under scientific conditions and found that the piece of wood theoretically could have held both of them. The director backed down, but still insists Jack had to die for thematic reasons.
Here’s the kind of stat that was giving Twentieth Century Fox a heart attack: with a total budget of £130 million, Titanic the movie ended up costing more than Titanic the ship. Cue lots of awkwardly tugged collars and frantic projections meetings.
Unbeknown to James Cameron, there was actually a J. Dawson on board the Titanic when it sank. The director, who also wrote the script, had intended Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson to be fictional, but only after the movie was in cinemas did he discover the existence of his male lead’s historical namesake.
The real Dawson was an Irishman named Joseph, and he was buried in the Fairview Lawn cemetary in Nova Scotia, where his grave is the most visited headstone by some distance.
Titanic’s cast could have been very different indeed
Christian Bale auditioned for the role of Jack but James Cameron didn’t want two Brits playing his American leads; Matthew McConaughey was pursued by the studio but Cameron went to bat for Leo; Stephen Dorff and Billy Crudup both passed.
Meanwhile, King Kong star Fay Wray turned down the role of Old Rose (“I think to have done this film would have been a tortuous experience altogether,” she said) while Robert De Niro was offered the role of the ship’s Captain but had to turn it down because he had the runs.
James Cameron’s watery record
At a TED talk in 2010, James Cameron revealed what we’d suspected all along: “Secretly, what I wanted to do was I wanted to dive to the real wreck of Titanic. And that’s why I made the movie!”
He wasn’t kidding, either: an ardent scuba diver, Cameron is obsessed with the ocean and went on several dives to the real wreck of the Titanic for research, even creating his own submersible camera system to capture video that far beneath the surface. By the time he’d wrapped, Cameron had spent more hours with the Titanic than any of its passengers ever did.
Céline Dion was a late addition
Cameron was insistent that the movie didn’t feature any songs during its running time, even over the closing credits – he was content with James Horner’s haunting score alone (although at one point, he asked Enya if she’d write the music).
Horner, however, arranged in secret to write and record My Heart Will Go On with Céline Dion, and then ambushed Cameron with a demo tape. Had the director disliked it, he would have cheated Dion out of the Best Original Song Oscar, which she went on to win.
Several dull interviewers asked Cameron if he ever planned to make a Titanic sequel. Though the obvious answer is ‘No, shut up you idiots’, there is a movie called Titanic II.
Naturally it has absolutely nothing in common with James Cameron’s Oscar-winning epic, and is actually a standalone disaster movie – shot on a zillionth of Cameron’s budget, from the looks of it.
It was released in 2010 and was directed by Shane Van Dyke, grandson of Dick Van Dyke. We’ve seen it and it’s terrible: avoid it like it’s an iceberg.
Titanic, the 25th anniversary re-release, arrives in UK cinemas on 10 February. Watch a trailer below.