Behind-the-Scenes Facts About The Movie Titanic

April 8, 2024 | Miles Brucker

Behind-the-Scenes Facts About The Movie Titanic

For years, the cinematic blockbuster, Titanic, held the record for highest grossing film of all time. There’s a reason for that: not only does the true-to-life story seem to naturally captivate our imagination, the more romantic and artistic elements which were added by James Cameron serve to elevate our emotional reaction and deepen the already tragic narrative. To this day, the story of the Titanic's maiden (and final) voyage, serves as a potent reminder of humanity's occasional hubris. And the film serves as a reminder that we're all suckers for a tragic love story (and a soundtrack from Celine).

Here are our favorite facts about the movie Titanic:

1. Whoops...

When Jack is preparing to draw Rose, he says to her, "Over on the bed...the couch". The line was scripted "Lie on that couch," but Leonardo DiCaprio made an honest mistake and James Cameron liked it so much he kept it in.


2. Well said, Kate

Eager to get the role of Rose, Kate Winslet sent James Cameron daily notes from England. She also went to LA and kept phoning him until she got the part: "You don't understand! I am Rose! I don't know why you're even seeing anyone else!"

Kate Winslet at an eventC Flanigan, Getty Images

3. A long time to sink

The scenes set in 1912 (the whole movie except the present-day scenes and the opening and ending credits) have a total length of two hours and forty minutes, the exact time it took for Titanic to sink. Also, the collision with the iceberg reportedly lasted 37 seconds, which is how long the collision scene is in the movie.

Titanic shipParamount, Titanic (1997)

4. A not-so-lonely grave

When James Cameron was writing the movie, he intended for the main characters Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson to be entirely fictitious. It was only after the script was finished that he discovered that there had been a real "J. Dawson" who passed aboard the Titanic. This "J. Dawson" was trimmer Joseph Dawson, who had been born September 1888 in Dublin, Ireland. His body was salvaged and buried at Fairview Lawn cemetery in Nova Scotia with many other Titanic victims. Today, his grave stone (#227) is the most widely visited in the cemetery.

Joseph Dawson GravestoneBigg(g)er, CC BY 3.0,  Wikimedia Commons

5. A little wet on set

Approximately 120 tons of water (triple what had been initially planned) were released for Eric Braeden's final scene. Braeden said that he has never been more terrified in his life than when he was preparing for it, as there was obviously no possible physical rehearsal.

Eric BraedenFrancois Durand, Getty Images

6. Great job, guys. How about some PCP?

On the final night of filming, one or more pranksters mixed the dissociative hallucinogen PCP (angel dust) into the clam chowder served to the cast and crew. 80 people were taken ill, and more than 50 were hospitalized with hallucinations. When James Cameron realized what was happening, he forced himself to vomit before the drug took full effect. Bill Paxton felt listless for two weeks after the incident (although PCP's primary effects only last a few hours, the drug itself can take eight or more days to completely metabolize out of the body). The culprit(s) were never caught.

James Cameron in black jacket broddi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

7. Fighting for Leo

The studios wanted Matthew McConaughey to play Jack, but James Cameron insisted on Leonardo DiCaprio. He and Kate Winslet committed to the film even before the script was written, on the basis only of a 165-page outline James Cameron had written.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic Movie Paramount , Titanic (1997)

8. Real-life inspiration

Many of the "core extras" used for the movie took on characteristics of actual survivors. One scene where two little girls are loaded onto a lifeboat and the man says, "It's only for a little while" is based on testimony from one of the girls who survived.

Titanic Movie  Paramount ,Titanic (1997)

9. Recreating the Atlantic

The post-sinking scenes were shot in a 350,000 gallon tank where the frozen corpses were created by applying a powder on the actors that then crystallized when exposed to water. Wax was applied to hair and clothes to create a wet look.

Titanic post sinkingParamount , Titanic (1997)

10. Improvised and awesome

The movie's line "I'm the king of the world!" was ad-libbed by Leonardo DiCaprio. It was voted as the #4 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic at the end of the shipParamount ,Titanic (1997)

11. A right-sized raft

The piece of wooden paneling that Rose floated on after the sinking is based upon a genuine artifact that survived the sinking and is on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, though it was scaled larger to provide sufficient buoyancy as a life-raft for Rose.

Maritime Museum of the AtlanticPhobophile~commonswiki, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

12. Isn't Rose lovable?

This was the first film to be nominated twice for an Academy Award for the portrayal of the same character: Kate Winslet received a Best Actress nomination for her role as Rose and Gloria Stuart received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her portrayal of the older Rose. The next time this happened was with the movie Iris (2001), which also starred Winslet.

Actress Gloria StuartAlberto E. Rodriguez , Getty Images

13. Four-legged Phelps

Rose, in her old age, owns a Pomeranian. A Pomeranian was one of only three dogs known to have survived the disaster. As the real ship sank, a passenger freed dogs from their kennels and a survivor later recalled a French bulldog swimming in the ocean. James Cameron filmed scenes portraying the doomed animals but cut them.

titanic Rose, in her old age dogParamount , Titanic (1997)

14. Winning Cameron's heart

James Cameron was adamant about not including any songs in the film, even over the closing credits. Composer James Horner secretly arranged with lyricist Will Jennings and singer Céline Dion to write "My Heart Will Go On" and record a demo tape, which he then presented to Cameron, who responded very favorably and included the song over the closing credits. The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Singer Celine DionGareth Cattermole, Getty Images

15. Sneaky little buggers

In the movie, Jack is a 3rd class passenger on the Titanic who sneaks his way up to first class with the hopes of never getting caught. In the real disaster in 1912, Third Class Passenger Hilda Maria Hellström really did sneak up to first class out of curiosity and never got caught. However, she was in her 3rd class cabin when the Titanic hit an iceberg, and she ended up surviving the sinking by boarding one of the last lifeboats to leave, Collapsible C.

Titanic - Jack sees Rose for the First TimeParamount , Titanic (1997)

16. Shameless self promotion

James Cameron wrote the role of Lewis Bodine with his friend Lewis Abernathy in mind. When he couldn't find an actor to play the part, he went to Abernathy and asked, essentially, if he would play himself. Abernathy replied, "If you want to mess up your movie by casting me, buddy, alright".

Lewis Bodine - Lewis AbernathyParamount , Titanic (1997)

17. Sweet, colorful sunshine

During the part when Rose and Jack are at the bow of the ship (when Rose says "I'm flying, Jack!"), the sunset was real and not CGI. James Cameron knew that sunset was the perfect time to do that scene.

Jack and Rose on Titanic Paramount , Titanic (1997)

18. Sorry, Lindsay

Lindsay Lohan auditioned for the role of Cora Cartmell. Lohan, who was then an unknown actress and was only 8 years old at the time casting took place, was the top choice for the role. However, James Cameron felt that Lohan's fiery red hair would confuse people into thinking she was related to the characters Rose and Ruth, who both had fiery red hair. Alexandrea Owens was cast instead.

LINDSAY LOHAN at the 2004 Teen Choice Awards at Universal Studios, Hollywood. August 8, 2004 in pink topFeatureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

19. Just another few hundred million...

April 15, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It was celebrated by the 3D special re-release of the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster Titanic, which earned the film an additional $343 million worldwide, pushing Titanic's worldwide total to an incredible $2.18 billion!

Acclaimed Movies factsTitanic ,20th Century Fox UK

20. A nice dip in the pool

Kate Winslet was one of the few actors who didn't want to wear a wetsuit during the water scenes. The water was so cold that when Rose gasps upon diving into the tank, it was the actress’s genuine reaction to the frigid water. As a result of not wearing a wetsuit, she got pneumonia.

 English actress Kate Winslet in blue Maggie (Maggiejumps), Wikimedia Commons

21. What can't James do?

James Cameron, not Leonardo DiCaprio, drew all of the pictures in Jack's sketchbook. This included the nude picture of Rose wearing the necklace that was drawn during the film. Thus, the hands seen sketching Rose during her nude scene were not Jack's but Cameron's. In post-production, Cameron, who is left-handed, actually went as far as to mirror-image the sketching shots so the artist would be appear to be right-handed, like DiCaprio!

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic Movie Paramount , Titanic (1997)

22. Breaking the ice

After finding out that she was going to be undressed in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet decided to break the ice by flashing him the first time they met! The intimate sketch scene was actually one of the first scenes that was shot for the movie.

Kate Winslet as RoseParamount , Titanic (1997)

23. From Sweden with a potty mouth

The Swedish phrases that Sven and his buddy exchange during the card game translate into the following: "I can't believe you bet our tickets! Shut up!" When grabbing Jack by the throat: "You damn weasel!" And after punching his buddy in the face: "You damn idiot! What the hell are we gonna do? I'm gonna kill you!"

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic MovieParamount , Titanic (1997)

24. Going on the Spot

James Cameron infamously threatened to fire anyone who would dare get out of the tank for a bathroom break while filming the lifeboat scenes, which lead to more than a few actors (including Kate Winslet) relieving themselves in the water.

James CameronGage Skidmore, Flickr

25. Fake breath

The scenes during which Thomas Andrews chastises Second Officer Charles Lightoller for sending the boats away without filling them to capacity is the only scene in the entire film in which the actors' breath was not digitally added in later.

Titanic Jack and Rose in the cold water Paramount , Titanic (1997)

26. A little over budget

The film was initially budgeted at $135,000,000, but going two months over schedule required asking Paramount Pictures to contribute an additional $65,000,000 in exchange for U.S. distribution rights. But that is okay because it was the highest grossing film in box office history with a worldwide gross of US$1.8 billion until it was surpassed by Avatar (2009). Both films were directed by James Cameron.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet at the World premiere of 'Revolutionary Road' Tinseltown, Shutterstock

27. Leave it to the imagination

Jack's portrait of the one-legged prostitute is actually visible for two frames as he turns the page to his sketch of "Madam Bijoux". James Cameron decided not to show the portrait as he thought the audience would imagine something better.

Jack and Rose on TitanicParamount , Titanic (1997)

28. Putting the work first

James Cameron originally wanted Enya to compose the score for the film and even went so far as to assemble a rough edit using her music. When Enya declined, Cameron hired James Horner (who had composed the music for Cameron's previous film Aliens (1986)) to write the score. Horner stated that the tensions with Cameron were so high during post-production of "Aliens" that he assumed he and Cameron would never work together again. However, Cameron was so impressed with Horner's score from Braveheart (1995) that he contacted Horner, who was willing to forget the past.

James HornerFERT98, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

29. Real rooms

The rooms that Caledon Hockley, Rose DeWitt Bukater and Ruth DeWitt Bukater occupied (B52, B54 and B56) were actual rooms on the real Titanic. They were originally booked by J.P. Morgan, but he canceled before the ship sailed. Morgan had a controlling interest in International Mercantile Marine, a conglomerate that owned the White Star Line. It was said that Bruce Ismay booked the rooms following Morgan's cancellation, but this was never proven.

J.P. Morgan in suit Recuerdos de Pandora, Flickr

30. Reduce, reuse, recycle

The scale model of the underwater wrecked ship was on display in the Titanic museum in Branson, MO for years. In August 2011, it was taken back to Hollywood and used to film the Titanic 3-D movie.

Titanic-Museum in Branson MissouriRoland Arhelger, CC BY-SA 4.0 ,  Wikimedia Commons

31. True love aboard

Everyone know the romantic scenes between Jack and Rose, but most fans have no clue there was another love story featured in the film. The elderly couple seen hugging on the bed while water floods their room were the owners of Macy's department store in New York, Ida and Isidor Straus, both of whom perished on the Titanic. Ida was offered a seat on a lifeboat but refused so that she could stay with her husband, saying, "As we have lived together, so we shall die together".

Ida and Isidor StrausParamount , Titanic (1997)

32. Really?

James Cameron, being a certified scuba diver, admitted that the reason why he wanted to make a movie about "a big ship that sinks" was because he wanted to dive to the real wreck of the Titanic.

bow of the RMS Titanic NOAA/Institute for Exploration., Wikimedia Commons

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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