It is safe to say that the 1997 film Titanic is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Based on the very tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic, mixed in with a fictitious but incredible romance, the story was a huge hit with audiences around the globe. In fact, the film was so popular, it sat at the number one spot in the box office for fifteen weeks. It was the highest-grossing film of all time from 1997 until 2009.
The film was the brainchild of James Cameron and it blew through their already massive budget and became the most expensive movie ever made (at that time). It comes as no surprise, Titanic won a total of 11 awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. But do you know everything there is to know about the making of this movie? It might have been released 20 years ago, but the fascination and dedication fans have for this film to this day is still very strong. TBH, everyone is secretly waiting for the day that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio announce their love for each other and finally get together.
20. The old couple who die in their bed has a historical background.
Now, the story of the RMS Titanic is emotionally devastating enough, without the need for Céline Dion music playing and a tragic love story. Out of the passengers and the crew, 1,503 people died when the Titanic sank. Of that number, one couple, in particular, was honored in the film in a truly heartbreaking way. The old couple who are cuddled up in bed as the water is filling the lower levels of the ship were real people. They’re based on the owners of Macy’s, Ida and Isidor Straus. The couple was seen near lifeboat number 8 the night of the sinking, but Isidor refused to board a boat until all of the women and children had been evacuated first. When he tried to compel his wife to get on a boat, a witness heard her tell him, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.”
19. Studio execs wanted Matthew McConaughey to play Jack.
Now, could you imagine anyone else playing Jack Dawson other than Leonardo DiCaprio? Leo wasn’t nominated for Best Actor that year at the Academy Awards (which is a robbery), but he was at least nominated for a Golden Globe, even though didn’t win that either. Whatever the award ceremonies got wrong that year, Titanic is Leo at his very best. But apparently, studio executives were pushing for Matthew McConaughey to play Jack. Thankfully, director James Cameron had the sense of mind to refuse that choice and he insisted that Leo get the role. Leo almost passed on the role too though, as Jack’s character wasn’t “tormented” and Leo was looking for darker characters. Not sure what Leo thinks is worse than dying on the RMS Titanic.
18. And they really wanted Gwyneth Paltrow for Rose.
Along with Leo almost not being considered, it seems that Gwyneth Paltrow had a good shot at getting the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater. Apparently, things fell through. Kate Winslet was very interested in the role. She sent James Cameron roses with a little note that was signed “From Your Rose.” She would call him, saying that he was “mad” if he didn’t cast her that she “was Rose.”
17. Leonardo DiCaprio got really cranky on set during his 90-hour work week.
The principal actors had to work very long hours while filming Titanic and some of the processes were very grueling. Leo was pulling 70 to 90-hour weeks working on the film, and the then-22-year-old got a bit crabby on set. During the famous scene, in which Jack makes a speech about “Making it count” during dinner with the First Class members, Leo snapped. He apparently turned to Kathy Bates, pointed to the many cutlery items, and asked her which one he could use to lobotomize himself!
16. Kate Winslet flashed Leo!
As we all know, there is a very risque scene in the film, in which Jack ~draws Rose like one of his French girls~. Kate had to get naked for this scene, obviously, and it was apparently the first scene that Kate and Leo had to film together. So, when Kate learned she was going to have to get naked in front of Leo, she made a decision on how she could break the ice between the two of them. By flashing him! Is it wrong to assume she’s not the first woman, or the last, to do this to Leo? At least the two are great friends all these years later!
15. The scenes set in 1912 are total up to 2 hours and 40 minutes for an exact reason.
Titanic is a long film. When it came out on VHS, there were two tapes to watch! It has a total runtime of 3 hours and 15 minutes. Of that time, 2 hours and 40 minutes are set in 1912, while the rest takes place in the present day. To anyone else, that might seem like a random observation, but almost nothing is random about this film. The reason the 1912 portion of this film is exactly 2 hours and 40 minutes is because that is how long it took for the RMS Titanic to sink. The ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, and sunk at 2:20 AM on April 15, 1912. The collision of the iceberg hitting the ship was a total of 37 seconds and the scene in the movie was the same length of time.
14. The scene where Rose thanks Jack for saving her life is heavily ad-libbed.
After Jack saves Rose “in all the ways a man can” when she is trying to jump off the ship and then slips, Rose decides to thank him. She invites him up to the First Class deck to do so, and the scene was basically all improvised and ad-libbed at the request of James Cameron. That scene where they are are spitting off the side of the ship was all Kate and Leo. Kudos to them for working on their feet! Kate Winslet also apparently came up with this heartbreaking “this is where we met” line that Rose says to Jack when the ship is sinking. And, she also improvised and asked if she could spit on Billy Zane (Cal) instead of jabbing him.
13. A deep-sea camera was created just to film the shipwreck of Titanic.
James Cameron has joked that the reason that he made the Titanic is because he wanted to dive to the wreckage of the RMS Titanic. He physically went down to the Titanic site and spent more time with the ship than the actual passengers did. James Cameron was able to persuade 20th Century Fox to invest in the film by convincing them that the publicity surrounding a real-life dive to the wreck would benefit production. They created deep-sea cameras just for filming these scenes.
12. The scene where the water crashes down the grand staircase was done in one shot.
In the film, once the water has breached the ship, it is basically endless destruction of the ship. As the water begins flooding, everything is moving fast and the ship is quickly filling with water. In the scene where the water comes crashing into the Grand Staircase room, the scene is a very dramatic moment where people are bracing themselves for the impact. But because the scene is such a big moment and the destruction of the set would be severe, they only had one shot to do it in as they knew the set would be completely destroyed.
11. James Cameron gave background stories to at least 150 extras.
The dedication to characters in this film was very thorough. James Cameron personally spoke the core extras, a group of 150, where he gave them backstories for their character. These core extras took on the characteristics of actual survivors. In the scene where a dad is boarding his two children onto a lifeboat with their mother and he tells his crying daughters that “it’s only for a little while,” is based on the testimony of Eva Hart. These were the last words her father ever spoke to her before her lifeboat was lowered.
10. Céline Dion originally had no desire to sing “My Heart Will Go On.”
If you’ve been alive for the last two decades, chances are you’ve heard “My Heart Will Go On.” But it almost didn’t come to be. James Cameron wanted no music in the film, even in the end credits. When Céline Dion first heard the song, she didn’t like it. She disliked composer James Horner’s singing abilities. But her husband René Angélil convinced her to sing the song and she recorded it in just one take. The actual song was used over the end credits, though the music from the song can be heard during the film’s ending as well. It was later released as a demo.
9. The scenes filmed after the ship had sunk were shot in a 350,000-gallon tank.
Quite obviously, they didn’t film the sinking of the Titanic in an actual ocean. Instead, a 350,000-gallon tank was created for shooting the scene where the corpses are in the water. To make the corpses look frozen, a powder was applied to the actors to give them the appearance of having frozen crystals on their body. A “full-sized” ship exterior set was constructed in a tank on a beach in Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico. To reduce costs, lifeboats were built at a 90% scale. The set was built to face into the prevailing wind so that the smoke from the funnels would blow the right way for filming. Apparently, James Cameron threatened to fire anyone who got out of the tank while they filmed these scenes, which led many actors to pee in the water during filming.
8. Kate Winslet refused to wear a wetsuit during these scenes, got sick, and almost quit.
While filming the scenes in the tank, the actors wore wetsuits, except for Kate. Her costume designer apparently pleaded with her to do so, but she said she’d “be too aware of it” and that being actually submerged in water would help her acting. While it might have, she also got pneumonia while filming the scene. The grueling filming schedule and techniques, which resulted in many bruises and Kate’s sickness, led Kate to almost quit the film. James Cameron had to beg her to stay on. She’s since gone on to say she’d have to be paid a lot of money to work with him again. Which, she must be, as she is going to star in the 2020 sequel to Avatar!
7. Those are not Jack’s hands drawing Rose in the “Draw me like one of your French girls” scene.
One of the most iconic lines in the film is when Rose says “Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls.” As we had seen earlier in the film, Jack is an artist and while in France, he drew many women, most of which were naked. Rose was intrigued by his work and she even paid him for it. But, while Jack is furiously drawing in that scene, it’s not Leonardo Dicaprio’s hands we see in the close-up shots. The hands are actually director James Cameron’s hands!
6. Robert De Niro and Johnny Depp were offered roles in the film.
This movie would have been entirely different with these two. Robert De Niro was offered the role of Captain Smith, the man who went down with his ship. But he had to refuse the role, due to a gastrointestinal infection at the time. Yikes!
Leo’s good friend Johnny Depp was also offered a role in the film, Leo’s! But Johnny turned the role of Jack Dawson down (lord only knows why) and he considers it a huge regret to this day. Could you imagine if these two had said yes to the parts?
5. Rose owning a Pomeranian is a direct call back to the furry survivors of the Titanic.
In the film, during the 1912 scenes, we don’t see Rose interacting with any dogs on the ship. But during the present day scenes, she has a little Pomeranian. Her dog is so important to her, she even brings it along on her trip to visit Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton). When she gets out of the helicopter, she’s in her wheelchair with the little dog on her lap! This is a direct call back to the surviving animals. There were 12 dogs on board the RMS Titanic, but only three survived. A Pekinese and two Pomeranians.
4. The crew was reportedly drugged on the final day of filming.
Well, someone had a weird way of celebrating the end of filming! Apparently, a prankster decided to mix PCP (angel dust) into the clam chowder that was served to the cast and crew. A total of 80 people got sick and more than 50 people were hospitalized with hallucinations. James Cameron realized what was going on and forced himself to throw up before the drug could take effect. Bill Paxton said he felt listless for two weeks after the incident, though the effects of the drugs only last a few hours, they can take over eight days to actually metabolize out of the body. No one knows or has come forward to say who pulled the prank.
3. Molly Brown really did have a son about Jack’s size.
When Jack is supposed to go to dinner with the First Class members, he has nothing fancy to wear. Molly Brown asks what he’s planning to wear and he points to the clothes he’s currently wearing (and has been the entire time he’s been on the ship). Molly takes him back to her room and lends him a tuxedo, which she purchased while in Europe for her son. Molly tells Jack that she thought her son was about Jack’s size. Sure enough, Molly Brown actually did have a son around Jack’s age. Her son, Larry, was 24 in 1912.
2. Only one person in the entire cast was alive in 1912.
The only person in the cast that was alive when the RMS Titanic sank is Gloria Stuart. Granted, she was only two at the time. Gloria Stuart, who portrayed old Rose, was born in 1910. When filming Titanic, Gloria was only 86 at the time and so they had to age her using makeup to make her look like she was 100. She was not a fan of the makeup experience, but it paid off as she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal at the Academy Awards. It was the only time the same character in a movie was nominated twice, as Kate Winslet was also nominated for Best Actress for portraying young Rose.
1. James Cameron had a reason for why on Rose got on that door without Jack.
Now, if you know anything about James Cameron’s process for Titanic, you know that every little detail was thought out. But for the last 20 years, he has heard about the debate on one scene. After the ship sinks, those who didn’t die on the ship or get on a lifeboat are thrust into freezing cold waters. Rose and Jack are in that group and they both try to get on a door, but it starts to take on water, so Jack gets off and into the water and lets Rose stay on. People have argued for years that there was enough room for both of them or people suggest that Jack and Rose could have taken turns. But just this year (yeah, in 2017) the film’s director has finally ended the debate by saying, “Look, it’s very, very simple: you read page 147 of the script and it says, ‘Jack gets off the board and gives his place to her so that she can survive.’ It’s that simple.”