It’s been nearly twenty years since we watched Rose and Jack fall in love on the RMS Titanic, and it remains one of the most popular love stories in film – with the added bonus of how adorable stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are together! The two have been friends since they first met on set, and the world let out a collective “aaaaaaw” this award season when they flaunted their friendship during the SAG awards and that amazing moment where Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar.
As well as launching the cutest celebrity friendship of the past two decades, Titanic can still tug our heart strings (and continues to launch angry debates about whether or not two people could have fit on that door). In honor of the epic romance, here are fifteen facts you may not have known about the watery epic of ’97.
15. It Is Rooted Firmly In Real Life
Director James Cameron wanted his film to be as true to life as possible, so he made sure to include as many details and characters from the real Titanic as he could. He reportedly gave over a hundred of the extras names and backstories of Titanic passengers, as well as including real people, like Molly Brown’s son, who was a real person (his name was Larry). Cameron also included details like the time on the clock on the Grand Staircase at the end of the movie (which is 2:20, the same time as the ship sank), Jack’s description of how freezing water feels “like a thousand knives” (which was a quote from a Titanic survivor), and the man who tells his daughter that they are only being separated “for a little while” when he loads her into a lifeboat (another quote from the girl who survived).
The film also included shots from the real wreck of the Titanic, and the wood that Rose lies on after the ship sinks is based on a real piece of the wreckage that it now at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
14. Kate and Leo Were Not The First Choices For Rose and Jack
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Kate and Leo in Titanic now, but as with most films, they were not the only ones in the running. We could have seen Tom Cruise and Gwenyth Paltrow hanging off the front of the ship feeling like they were flying. Somehow, I’m just not seeing it… and Cruise ended up doing Mission: Impossible instead, while Paltrow made Shakespeare in Love and Sliding Doors.
Matthew McConaughey was also very nearly up for the role of Jack, but it was James Cameron who eventually made the decision to cast Leonardo DiCaprio, as he thought DiCaprio would do it best. The Unsinkable Molly Brown was another role that nearly went to someone else – Reba McEntyre was in the running before being edged out by Kathy Bates.
13. The Elderly Couple Were Real Historical Figures
Most will remember a particularly heart-rending scene where an older couple in evening dress lie down together on their bed while the water floods the room around them. What many don’t realize is that this scenes was inspired by real people. The couple were Isidor and Ida Straus, a German-American couple who were well-known because Isidor was the co-owner of Macy’s. The two did actually lose their lives on the Titanic.
Ida Straus had the chance to get on a lifeboat as the ship was sinking, but chose not to, preferring to stay with her husband. She is said to have told the lifeboat captain that “as we have lived together, so shall we die together,” before they returned to their room knowing their fate. It’s a love story to rival that of Jack and Rose.
12. It Was Released On Video While Still In Theaters
Most films stay for a few weeks (or even months) in theaters, after which there is a relatively long wait for the DVD release (or VHS, back in the ‘90s!). Films may stay in theaters for longer or shorter runs depending on how successful they are, with really popular movies playing for months on end, but there is still usually a wait between theatrical and home release.
However, Titanic was so overwhelmingly popular that it stayed in cinemas for over nine months, with some cinemas reportedly running it for a full year. The theatrical release came out on December 19th, 1997, and it was still in theaters on September 1st, 1998 – when the VHS and laserdiscs were released for home viewing. This made it the first ever film to have a home media release while it was still playing in theaters.
11. Kate Got Pneumonia on Set
While many of the sinking scenes and all of the post-sinking scenes were actually shot in a relatively warm (enormous) pool, most of the cast still wore wetsuits to stay comfortable. Kate, meanwhile, didn’t want to wear a wetsuit, even though some of her scenes were shot in frigid water from the Pacific Ocean. When Rose goes to find Jack as the ship starts to sink, she gasps audibly when she gets into the water – her natural reaction to the freezing temperature. The water was so cold that Kate actually got pneumonia while filming her water scenes, and very nearly quit the production.
10. It’s The Most Expensive Film Of The 20th Century
$200 million may not seem like a completely ridiculous budget now, with several films such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Pirates of the Caribbean both coming in at over $250 million, but it was a record-breaking budget at the time. (That’s $200 million in ’97 dollars, too – not increased for inflation.)
The budget went to re-creating many parts of the Titanic, to big shots that had to be done in a single take (and that destroyed sets), to the many extras and to actually visiting the wreck of the Titanic itself. The film went massively over budget during filming, but the costs eventually paid off. The budget ended up being used as part of the marketing – the amount of money spent was promoted to drum up interest, and the film more than recouped the huge expense.
9. It Wasn’t Leo Doing The Sketching
Most people probably didn’t think that Leonardo DiCaprio was actually the one sketching Kate in that famous nude scene, but it may come as a surprise to learn that it was someone involved in the production already. It turns out that director James Cameron is quite a talented artist, and he was the one who made the sketch. In the film itself, it is actually his hands that we see putting charcoal to paper. This was made more complicated by the fact that he doesn’t have the same dominant hand as Leo, so scenes had to be altered to make it appear more natural.
Cameron also drew all of the sketches in Jack’s portfolio, along with the father and child that Jack sketches early on in the film. Audiences can see his work when Rose flips through Jack’s portfolio on deck – each sheet of which is an original Cameron.
8. Leo Was So Nervous About ‘That’ Scene He Fluffed His Lines
By now, everybody knows the story of how Kate decided to break the ice (pun intended) before her big nude scene by flashing Leo the first time they met… but apparently, that wasn’t quite enough. Leo was still so nervous about seeing Kate strip on set that he had some difficulties with his lines. Jack was supposed to tell Rose to go lie on the couch to have her portrait drawn, but when the time came, Leo stumbled over it. He ended up saying “over on the bed… the couch!”, and director James Cameron found his Freudian slip so endearing that he kept it in the final cut.
Leo’s nervousness was understandable, though. This was the first scene shot in the movie – talk about jumping in at the deep end! The slightly jumpy, awkward nature of the scene didn’t need to be forced, as the two simply hadn’t had the time to get entirely comfortable together yet. Although Kate has been nude in plenty a film before and since, she does still find one thing about it awkward – signing photos of that particular scene, which she calls “uncomfortable.”
7. The Spitting Scene Was Improvised
Cameron was a big fan of letting the cast ad-lib during filming, and a lot of the scenes in the film are as much improv as script (at least in the details). One scene which was almost entirely improv is the scene in which Rose seeks out Jack to thank him for saving her life. The two end up talking about their lives, and Rose is fascinated by all the places that Jack has been and the freedom with which he lives his life. They indulge in a fantasy where they would head off into the sunset together to drink cheap beer and ride horses – a fantasy that ends with Jack teaching Kate to spit “like a man” off the side of the ship. The whole scene is improvised, as is Jack’s abortive final attempt that leaves him wiping his chin in front of Rose’s mother.
Another very poignant ad-lib comes in the final scenes, when Jack and Rose are going down with the ship, and are clinging to the back rail. Rose reminds him that “this is where we first met,” a line that Kate came up with on the spot.
6. The Other Spitting Scene Was Also Improvised
Apparently Kate was inspired by that first impromptu spitting scene, because she does it a second time later in the film. When the ship is sinking and Rose is running away from fiancé Cal (Billy Zane), she breaks away from him by spitting in his face. It’s an incredible call back to the first time she and Jack spent an afternoon together, and a very clear way to show that she chooses to be with him. It’s absolutely perfect – and Kate came up with it on the fly. Originally, the script called for her to jab Cal with a hairpin in order to make him release her, but she decided that spitting in his face would be more effective.
Even better, she didn’t tell Zane that she had decided to change it, so the look of shock and disgust on his face when it happens is completely genuine. Zane got her back, though, as the scene where Cal and Rose are fighting didn’t originally include Cal flipping the table and smashing the tea things. Rose’s shock there was Kate’s, as she had no idea he planned to go that far.
5. It Broke Oscar Records
Unsurprisingly, Titanic cleaned house at the Oscars, nominated for fourteen Academy Awards. Of those fourteen, it won eleven, making it the second film in history to do so. It is still tied for the most Academy Awards won by a single picture, alongside Ben Hur (1959) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). It was also the first film since The Sound of Music in 1965 to win Best Picture without a nomination for the screenplay, and the first winner of Best Picture to be converted from 2D to 3D after the original release.
Titanic is also the first film ever to have two people nominated for the same role. Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Rose, while Gloria Stuart was also nominated for playing the modern day Rose (she was nominated for Best Actress In A Supporting Role).
4. Cinemas Wore Out Their Reels
These days, most cinemas get digital copies of their films – as anyone who has ever seen a computer error message projected onto the big screen knows! However, this has only really begun to take over as a film format in recent years – The Wolf of Wall Street, another DiCaprio film, became the first major film to be delivered to theaters in digital only in 2013. When Titanic was released, films were shown on actual film, and that meant reels being sent out to each theater.
Titanic was such a huge success that theaters ended up scheduling extra showings and keeping the movie playing for much longer than usual. As a result, many theaters actually wore out their reels entirely, and Paramount had to send out replacements so that they could keep showing it.
3. One Of The Most Famous Lines Was Ad-Libbed
While many of the lines and moments in the film were improvised or ad-libbed, many fans don’t realize that even the most famous ones may not have been scripted. Everyone remembers when Jack is first on board the ship, and he and his friend head to the prow. Standing and leaning over the edge, the two fling out their arms, and Jack shouts “I’m the king of the world!”.
It’s a line that has been referenced, parodied, and shouted from countless corners all over the world – and it’s one that Leo ad-libbed. Cameron kept it in, and now it appears on almost every “greatest movie lines of all time” lists. Not bad for an off-the-cuff addition to the script!
2. The Cast And Crew Were Drugged At The End of Filming
During the wrap party after filming finished, someone snuck PCP into the chowder, leading to a number of the cast and crew heading to hospital. PCP, aka Angel Dust, is a powerful dis-associative drug that causes users to act and feel intoxicated, lose their restraint (often with violent consequences), and experience vivid hallucinations. The drug is illegal and extremely harmful, and the spiked soup landed more than fifty members of the cast and crew in hospital. Director Cameron managed to escape the worst of it by making himself vomit once he realized what was happening, but other actors, including Bill Paxton felt worse for wear for several days. (Everyone was unharmed after the effects of the drugs wore off.)
Fingers were pointed at two chefs who had been fired from the production, although no criminal charges were filed against them. The incident is often mentioned when talking about how Cameron reportedly worked the cast and crew to the bone, leading to some dissatisfied crew members and extras (and the chefs’ alleged drugging at the post-shoot party).
1. There Was A Real J Dawson
Originally, James Cameron intended for the two main characters to be entirely fictional – common enough with historical epics and historical fiction. Rose DeWitt Bukater is a creation of Cameron’s imagination, but Jack Dawson turned out to be a little less fictional that originally intended. All of Jack’s story and character were created specifically for the film, but once filming was finished, it was discovered that he may not have been as fictional as expected.
There was a “J Dawson” onboard the Titanic, who was later revealed to be a young Irish man who worked in the engine room. He died when the ship sank, and is buried in Halifax with a gravestone for multiple victims of the disaster. Fans have been known to leave flowers and tributes to this unknown J Dawson since his name was discovered.
Can you think of any other interesting trivia about Titanic? Let us know in the comments!