Titanic (1997) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Titanic (1997)

It is an understatement to say that Titanic made a lot of money.  The movie became the highest grossing film and ranks sixth in movies adjusted for inflation behind such big guns as Gone With the Wind, Star Wars and E.T. The movie was also a huge pop culture moment that was discussed for more than a year.  Articles were written before the movie was released asking if it was going to be the bomb of the century and more pieces were written through its long and record shattering run at the box office. And yet even MORE ink was spilled during award season when the film went on to win every award imaginable. People know Titanic, people have seen Titanic and people have written about Titanic, so what do I have to say that will bring something new to the table?

I won’t bore you with a rehashing of the plot or critique of the film because everyone has made his or her mind up on the film.  Titanic is still beautiful to look at, an epic movie in every sense of the word, only lacking a unique story and having some really cheesy acting.  For those that disagree with me on the acting, look again at the two main performances by DiCaprio and Winslett and compare them to any movie that either of them have done in the past ten years.  Could you honestly pick their Titanic performances over anything that they have done recently?  The two had good chemistry together but watching their performances in Titanic shows how much they have grown and matured.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Every single facet of Titanic has been talked and discusses endlessly except for one: namely, the reason why it made so much money.

The boat, non-sinking version.

I am not saying that it wasn’t a huge hit because of the love story, look and feel of the movie. People loved this film in 1997/98 and with good reason-- it is a damn fine picture.  Yet the film was a record breaker, in my humble opinion because nothing good came out in the theatres for a good stretch of time after this film was released.  Other than Tomorrow Never Dies, nothing that was substantial came out to give moviegoers a viable alternative to the film for months on end.  Here is a list of films that were released after Titanic:

  • Firestorm
  • Fallen
  • Hard Rain
  • Spice World
  • Phantoms
  • Great Expectations
  • Replacement Killers
  • Blues Brothers 2000 (shudder)
  • Sphere
  • Wedding Singer
  • Krippendorf's Tribe
  • Dark City
  • U.S. Marshalls
  • Hush
  • Man in the Iron Mask
  • Primary Colors
  • Wild Things
  • Newton Boys
  • Lost in Space


The boat, sinking version, glug, glug...

Look at that list of films again.  How many of these movies have you seen?  Of those that have been seen, how many did you like?  For me, I love Dark City and think Wedding Singer is one of Sandler’s best, but other than that it is an awful list of films. So you are on a date in early March, you decide to do a dinner and a movie and you get to the theater, you look at the options and these are the movies that greet you. What movie would you go see?  Titanic is a much better option then any of these, right?

I am not saying little girls didn’t watch this movie 10-15 times in some cases, squealing with delight at every appearance of Leo, but I am talking about older individuals that were watching this film.  During Titanic’s run, I had just started dating the lovely woman who would end up being my wife.  When you are in high school, a typical date consists of going to get food and then to a movie and I can say from experience it was hard picking movies from that list.  We ended up seeing some horrible movies (her not dumping me after taking her to see Hard Rain on our first date still amazes me) during this span we gave up and decided to see Titanic a few times.

How much money did the movie make by being the best option of a truly horrible field?  Again I am not saying that Titanic was a horrible film I think the truth is far from it.  I am honestly wondering what the film could have made with stronger competition.  Would it have made $400 million, $500 million or would it have made close to the same amount?  There would have been at least some difference in the final gross because Titanic was not the only one to thrive off the weak slate of movies.  Good Will Hunting went on to make $130 million without having a weekend of more than $14 million at the box office because it kept up week after week with no real competition taking its audience.

Everyone can agree that Titanic WAS the big story of 1997 and 1998 in the world of movies and pop culture.  It was loved by all, made huge stars out of the leads and gave James Cameron an even bigger ego (still love him though).  The one thing that I think many people have rose-colored glasses on now is about how the movie made all of its dough.  Much like baseball player Roger Maris with an asterisk next to his record until after his death, Titanic’s impressive box office run should always be remembered side by side with the truly awful year that films had in 1998.

Posted by Ryan

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