Titanic is a memorable and classic film at this juncture, but the movie’s success wasn’t always guaranteed. In fact, the behemoth and expensive production was plagued with funding trouble in the beginning, and then toward the movie’s release, many people–even at Paramount– thought Titanic would be an epic failure, much like the ship’s maiden voyage. However, James Cameron recently revealed ahead of the release of Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker that there was one scene that worked, and may have even been responsible for hooking viewers during opening weekend. Here’s what Cameron wrote:
I remember that we ALL agreed on one thing — that the long shot of Rose and Jack clinging to each other as the vertical stern of the ship plunges down shrieking and groaning, with bodies falling hundreds of feet down toward churning water, was a slam dunk. I think that shot alone got our opening weekend audience.
Looking back, twenty of years later, Titanic has a slew of memorable moments, including Jack’s famous “I’m the king of the world” scene, Rose getting drawn by Jack and the moment Rose descended the famous Titanic staircase to meet the man she would quickly fall for. However, the scene where Rose and Jack are clinging to the ship as it was sinking was ahead of its time, a special effects masterpiece that was astonishing on the big screen. It’s no wonder that James Cameron told THR‘s Stephen Galloway it is that scene that stuck with people in regards to the movie’s theatrical run.
Titanic went on to make a whole boatload of money at the box office. Domestically, the theatrical release pulled in over $600 million. What’s most incredible about that total is that it didn’t earn most of that money initially, as movies tend to do in the first week or two of release these days. In fact, Titanic only made a little over $28.6 million during its first weekend in theaters–just barely edging out the latest James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies at the box office. But word of mouth spread, as people enjoyed Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s chemistry onscreen, the thrilling special effects and even how time flew by despite the movie’s lengthy runtime. Titanic would ultimately have a 41-week theatrical run, and its tragic tale of love and disaster has lived on in the cultural lexicon in the time since.
Without the shot in question, perhaps James Cameron’s movie would not have made quite the same impression, at least as a disaster film, on audiences. It’s hard to look back and tell how things would have shaken out, but Cameron at least believes that the scene was vital to the movie’s success. If you haven’t revisited the movie in a long time, give it a watch.