It’s been 25 years since we went to the cinema (repeated times) to see ‘Titanic’the movie of James Cameron about Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater’s romance aboard the ocean liner who ended up sleeping with the fish. A love story shot by one of the best action directors of the moment, obsessed with diving and special effects that would manage to break the box office forever and convince academics to equal the record for film with the most oscara feat that, until now, has not been able to improve.
How is it possible for a film to equalize critics, audiences and academics in that way? Can it happen again? What happened to the rest of the films released in 1997? We tried to review how all this happened to reveal some of those questions. All aboard!
James Cameron against the iceberg
James Cameron (Ontario, Canada, 1954), was 15 years old when he went to see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) and his life changed forever. stanley kubrick He taught him how visual effects could become an invaluable narrative tool that, in addition to astonishing the public, set up a new way of approaching the arduous task of building a good story.
Although it didn’t take long for him to get hold of a 16mm camera to start experimenting, technological and artistic restlessness battled inside the Canadian, who enrolled at Fullerton College to study physics and, just a year later, started English literature.
Finally he gave it all up and began an ordeal of various jobs which, as all of his acolytes no doubt know, included trucking.. “I would go to the library at the University of Southern California and look at whatever thesis the graduates had written on optical printing, film projection or dye transfer, whatever it was on film technology,” he recalls of the time when he couldn’t separate from his need to create images that would not leave the audience indifferent. “I would sit down to read and if they let me photocopy it, I would do it, and if not, I would take notes.”
And then George Lucas premiered ‘Star Wars’ (1977), the beginning of that giant that is now Star Wars. Cameron couldn’t take it anymore, he needed to do that no matter what and, as for many others before it, Roger Corman was the way to go.
Although his short ‘Xenogenesis’ (1978) was his only cover letter, Corman trusted the bold and creative twenty-something and put him in command of ‘Piranha II: The Vampires of the Sea’ (1981). Things didn’t go too well and, just three weeks after shooting began, he was replaced by Ovidio G. Assonitis.
Luckily for everyone, Cameron did not give up and, encouraged by the ease with which he sold his script for ‘Rambo: Cornered Part II’ (George Pan Cosmatos, 1985), and tormented by high fevers that made him write a script about some machines that subdued humans, struggled to pull off his first real film: ‘Terminator‘ (1984).
And the rest is history. Unstoppable, gifted us with the best possible sequel with xenomorphs in ‘aliens: return‘ (1986), warning that the seabed would be his horizon with ‘abyss‘ (1989), the absolutely second to none’Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘ (1991) and the last great action movie of the ’80s and ’90s, ‘Risky lies‘ (1994).
It was then that he decided to go down into the ocean and, with the best possible means, recreate how the RMS Titanic had got there, love through.
Theatrical release: the madness begins
Filming was not easy, of course, and although the film was expected to hit theaters on July 2, 1997, everything was postponed five months because “the special effects were very complicated”according to Cameron himself.
“I’m not worried. The ship sinks, everyone drowns, the whole world already knows the story,” said David Foster, producer of ‘The mask of Zorro‘ (Martin Campbell, 1998) when he discovered that his film would share the billboard with ‘Titanic’. Finally, he would push back the date of the otherwise adventure movie with Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
After three successful market tests with audiences, the film was officially seen for the first time on November 1, 1997 at the Tokyo International Film Festival, premiering with the starring crew and cast on December 14 at Mann’s Chinese Hollywood Theater and, finally, on December 19 debuted in the United States. We didn’t have to wait long and On January 8, 1998, madness began in our country with its premiere in Spain..
They couldn’t do anything with her’The tomorrow Never Die‘ (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997) and ‘A tough little mouse to crack‘ (Gore Verbinski, 1997), the two great titles that had to face each other with ‘Titanic’ in its first week. 8.5 million dollars in one day, 28 million in a weekend and 124 million in two weeks in the United States alone, everything was changing.
‘Titanic’ did not stop growing, its box office was ridiculously exponential and on February 14 (Valentine’s Day) 1998, two months after its release, the film grossed 13 million dollars. It was the first film in history to stay at the top of the box office for 15 consecutive weeks, from December 19, 1997 to April 3, 1998, when it dropped to second place, surpassed by ‘Lost in Space‘ (Stephen Hopkins, 1998). After this, it remained among the 10 highest grossing until its 26th week of exhibition.
With 2,188 million dollars raised at the global box office, it was the film with the best numbers in history. And so it remained until, twelve years later, Cameron outdid himself with ‘Avatar‘ (2009). Currently, it occupies the third position since, in 2019, ‘Avengers: Endgame‘ (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo), managed to sneak between the Canadian’s two titles.
If we adjust this list for inflation, ‘Titanic’ only falls to fifth positionsurpassed by ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, 2019), ‘Star Wars’ (George Lucas, 1977), ‘Avatar’ (James Cameron, 2009) and the unbeatable ‘gone With the Wind‘ (Victor Fleming, 1939).
Nominations: first record
Commercial success, but what did critics and academics think? According to reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of the experts reviewed the film positively. “It is impeccably done, it is intelligently constructed and very well acted and it is fascinating,” said the legendary Roger Ebert. “Movies like this aren’t hard to make, but it’s almost impossible to get them right.”
With critics and audiences swooning over Cameron, it was easy to expect a night of cheers at the Oscars for the film, but, when the nominations were announced, everyone again realized that the story of Jake and Rose aboard a doomed ship was even more important than one might have expected..
With 14 nominations, ‘Titanic’ became the film with the most Oscar nominations in historyequaling almost 50 years later to ‘naked eve‘ (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950).
It took 19 years to match those 14 nominations thanks to ‘Star City (La La Land)’ (Damien Chazelle, 2016) but, so far, no one has exceeded that number.
And finally, we come to the 70th Annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards, a ceremony that took place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on March 23, 1998.
The charming Billy Crystal was once again in charge of conducting a ceremony that opened, of course, with the presenter on the prow of an ocean liner. “Good evening and welcome to the Titanic,” she began. “We’re like that big ship, we’re big, we’re expensive, and everyone wants us to move faster.”
That night, along with ‘Titanic’, big titles such as ‘better… impossible‘ (James L. Brooks), ‘Full Monty‘ (Peter Cattaneo), ‘The unstoppable Will Hunting‘ (Gus Van Sant), ‘LA Confidential‘ (Curtis Hanson), ‘Boogie Nights‘ (Paul Thomas Anderson) and ‘Jackie Brown‘ (Quentin Tarantino). Poor unfortunates.
‘Titanic’ was made con 11 statuettes, a record equaled by ‘Ben Hur‘ (William Wyler, 1959) and that, until now, has only achieved (not surpassed) ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King‘ (Peter Jackson, 2003).
The 11 Oscars won for the film include Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Editing, Soundtrack, Original Song, Sound and Sound Editing.
Only 3 candidacies resisted as a gigantic frozen mountain in the middle of the sea. The best makeup went to ‘Men in Black‘ (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997), that he deserved something, and Kate Winslet was left without the award for best leading actress because of helen hunt and his work in ‘Better… Impossible’. The same thing happened with Gloria Stuart and her Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, which went to Kim Basinger for ‘LA Confidential’.