It is 1996, and a treasure hunter and his team explore the wreck of the RMS Titanic in their submersible. A safe is brought to the surface and is opened. It contains, not the fabled treasure the adventurers had hoped for, but only papers. One of them is a nude pencil portrait dated April 14, 1912, and signed "JD". It shows a beautiful young woman reclining with casual modesty on a couch. On a necklace around her neck is the diamond they seek: The Heart of the Ocean.
Rose Calvert, an ancient but still lively woman of 101 years, watches a television report of the treasure hunt and sees the nude portrait. She phones the treasure hunter Brock Lovett and informs him that she knows of the diamond, the Heart of the Ocean, and also the identity of the beautiful young woman in the portrait: "Oh yes. The woman in the picture is me." Rose, accompanied by her granddaughter, flies out to the recovery site and proceeds to tell the treasure hunters of her experiences on the Titanic. As she tells her story, the film goes back in time to 1912.
Rose, just 17 years old in April 1912, boards the ship with the upper-class passengers with her mother and her fiance, Caledon Hockley. Rose clearly does not feel much for Caledon, but her mother pushes for the marriage for financial security, to maintain their current lavish lifestyle and bolster their social cachet among the Philadelphia elite. Meanwhile, a drifter and artist named Jack Dawson wins third-class tickets to the ship in a poker game.
Rose is so unhappy about her forced engagement, as well as her endlessly shallow life, that she attempts to kill herself by jumping off the back of the ship. Jack sees her and intervenes to prevent her suicide. Rose's company finds the two and Caledon invites Jack to dine with their party the following evening in the first-class dining saloon as a thank you, however he means it more as entertainment than as an actual thank you. In the meantime, Rose and Jack strike up a tentative friendship as he shares tales of his adventures in traveling and she expresses her own hopes, and he shows her his sketchbook of artwork. Their bond deepens when they later ditch the first-class formal dinner party for a much livelier gathering belowdecks in third-class.
Jack is clearly falling in love with Rose, but Rose is inclined to ignore their growing affection because of her engagement and their different social standings. She tries to convince Jack, and herself, that she is in love with Cal. But eventually she decides to throw caution to the wind and offer her heart to Jack. She meets Jack, saying she changed her mind, and she steps up on the rail of the ship. Jack takes her two hands and raises them so she is standing with her arms outstetched. "I'm flying!" She says, and they kiss. They return laughing to her bedroom, and Rose asks Jack to sketch her wearing nothing but the Heart of the Ocean diamond, the same portrait the treasure hunters will find 84 years later. Cal finds the picture and sends Lovejoy to find Rose and Jack. The two run away, holding each other and laughing, down to the bottom of the ship into a cargage hold, where they consummate their relationship in the backseat of a car in one of the ship's cargo holds.
In the meantime, Captain Edward J. Smith and his crew have been seemingly ignoring many warnings about upcoming ice fields in the ship's path, and the Titanic maintains the high speed suggested by White Star Line managing director J. Bruce Ismay even as the ship heads into the night. On the night of April 14, 1912, the two lookouts see an iceberg directly in the Titanic's path. Despite the many efforts of the crew and engineers, the ship strikes the massive berg, flooding the lower compartments past their "unsinkable" capacity and causing the ship to begin its unstoppable descent to disaster.
Caledon discovers the relationship between Jack and Rose and gets even by framing Jack for stealing his diamond. Jack is locked away near the bottom of the ship, and Rose isn't totally sure whether he actually stole it or not. Rose and her family are asked to board a lifeboat, but Rose refuses and runs away to find Jack. Tbey almost die because of the growing amount of water, but they make it out when she frees him with an axe. They try desperately to make their way back above decks to escape the rapidly sinking ship. They find many obstacles, including locked gates that are used to keep the third-class passengers from reaching the upper decks to safety, as well as Caledon's violent temper that forces them back to the lower decks. They finally make their way to the top deck, but the lifeboats are gone and they, along with hundreds of terrified passengers, have no choice but to try to stay on the ship for as long as possible as to not freeze before the ship sinks completely into the water. The bow of the ship sinks deeper and deeper until the pressure on the hull causes the ship to split completely in half, before the two halves finally go under at 2:20 a.m. on April 15.
Rose and Jack stick together and wait with the hundreds of other passengers thrashing helplessly in the water, shouting desperately for those in lifeboats to row back and rescue them. Rose almost thinks that she will die, but Jack tells her that she will "die an old woman, warm in your bed, not here, not tonight." He tells her to never let go of that promise. By the time one of the officers decides to row back and help those in need, almost all of the passengers have died of hypothermia in the freezing Atlantic. Rose is heartbroken to realize that Jack has succumbed, as well. She bids him goodbye, telling him that she will never let go as she watches his corpse sink underwater, then manages to get the lifeboat's attention to come back and rescue her. The survivors in the lifeboats wait for hours until the RMS Carpathia, the closest ship to answer and heed the Titanic's radio distress signals, arrives to save them. "Afterward, the seven hundred people in the boats had nothing to do but waith... wait to die, wait to live, wait for an absolution which would never come." Upon arrival at New York, Rose discovers she still has the Heart of the Ocean tucked into the pocket of Caledon's coat.
As an old woman in 1996, Rose now goes onto the deck of the salvage ship and throws the Heart of the Ocean into the ocean to be with Jack.
Back in Rose's room, the viewer see pictures of her life's achievements, including a photograph of her riding a horse at the Santa Monica Pier, just as she and Jack had planned to do together. Rose lies in bed nearby, a scene where some fans have debated whether she is asleep or had passed away. Underwater, the Titanic looms out of the darkness and everything turns new again. A Steward opens the doors from the promenade deck to the Grand Staircase, where all those who died on the ship smile in greeting. At the top of the staircase, Jack turns and smiles at Rose, a young girl of 17 again, smiling back as he helps her up the last few steps. They kiss as the crowd applauds at the couple.
- Leonardo DiCaprio - Jack Dawson
- Kate Winslet - Rose Dewitt Bukater
- Billy Zane - Cal Hockley
- Kathy Bates - Molly Brown
- Frances Fisher - Ruth Dewitt Bukater
- Gloria Stuart - Old Rose
- Bill Paxton - Brock Lovett
- Bernard Hill - Captain Smith
- David Warner - Spicer Lovejoy
- Victor Garber - Thomas Andrews
- Jonathan Hyde - Bruce Ismay
- Bernard Fox - Col. Archibald Gracie
- Danny Nucci - Fabrizio
- Suzy Amis - Lizzy Calvert
- Lewis Abernathy - Lewis Bodine
- Nicholas Cascone - Bobby Buell
- Dr Anatoly M. Sagalevitch - Anatoly Milkailavich
- Jason Barry - Tommy Ryan
- Ewan Stewart - 1st Officer Murdoch
- Ioan Gruffudd - 5th Officer Lowe
- Jonny Phillips - 2nd Officer Lightoller
- Mark Lindsay Chapman - Chief Officer Wilde
- Richard Graham - Quartermaster Rowe
- Paul Brightwell - Quartermaster Hitchens
- Ron Donachie - Master-at-Arms Bailey
- Eric Braeden - John Jacob Astor
- Charlotte Chatton - Madeleine Astor
- Michael Ensign - Benjamin Guggenheim
- Fannie Brett - Madame Aubert
- Jennete Goldstein - Irish Mommy
- Camilla Overbye Roos - Helga Dahl
- Linda Kerns - 3rd Class Woman
- Amy Gaipa - Trudy Bolt
- Martin Jarvis - Sir Duff Gordon
- Rosalynd Ayres - Lady Duff Gordon
- Rochelle Rose - Countess of Rothes
- Jonathan Evans Jones - Wallace Heartley
- Brian Walsh - Irish Man
- Rocky Taylor - Bert Cartmell
- Ailleen Mulvihil/Alexandre Owens/Liza Yumi Mitchell - Cora Cartmell
- Simon Crane - 4th Officer Boxhall
- Edward Fletcher - 6th Officer Moody
- Scott G. Anderson - Frederick Fleet
- Martin East - Reginald Lee
- Craig Kelly - Harold Bride
- Gregory Cooke - Jack Phillips
- Liam Tuohy - Chief Baker Joughin
- James Lancaster - Father Byles
- Elsa Raven - Ida Strauss
- Lew Palter - Isidor Strauss
- Reece P. Thomson III - Irish Little Boy
- Larame Landis - Irish Little Girl
- Amber Waddell/Allison Waddell - Crying Girl
- Mark Rafael Truitt - Yaley
- John Walcutt - 1st Class Husband
- Terry Forsestall - Chief Engineer Bell
- Derek Leah - Chief Stocker Barrett
- Richard Ashton - Carpenter John Hutchinson
- Eric Holland - Olaf Dahl
- Jari Kinnunen - Bjorn Gunderson
- Anders Falk - Olaus Gunderson
- Martin Hub - Slovakian Father
- Seth Adkins - Slovakian Boy
- Rebecca Jane Klingler - Mother at Stern
- Romeo Francis - Syrian Man
- Mandana Marino - Syrian Woman
- Yan Ling - Chinese Man
- Bjorn - Olaf Gunderson
- Dan Petterson - Sven Gunderson
- "It's been 84 years. . . . and I can still smell the fresh paint. The china had never been used. The sheets had never been slept in. Titanic was called the Ship of Dreams. And it was. It really was." - Gloria Stuart as Rose DeWitt Bukater Dawson Calvert
- "I'm the king of the world!" - Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson
- "You must do me this honor... promise me you will survive... that you will never give up... no matter what happens... no matter how hopeless... promise me now, and never let go of that promise." - Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson
- "I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this. Wearing only this." - Kate Winslet as Rose Dewitt Bukater
- "1,500 people went into the sea when Titanic sank from under us. There were twenty lifeboats floating nearby and only one came back. One. . . . Six were saved from the water, myself included. Six out of 1,500. Afterward, the seven hundred people in the lifeboats had nothing to do but wait. . . . Wait to live, wait to die, wait for an absolution that would never come." - Gloria Stuart as Rose DeWitt Bukater Dawson Calvert
- "To make each day count." - Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson
- "If you jump, I jump." Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson
Making the filmEdit
When this epic disaster film was not finished in time for its scheduled July 1997 release date, it sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood: studio execs began wondering if they might have another Heaven's Gate on their hands. The two releasing studios, 20th Century Fox (which handled the international distribution and actually had movie rights to the Titanic name) and Paramount Pictures (which had the U.S. rights) panicked. By the middle of 1997, Titanic had become the most costly film ever made (its reported cost hovered in the US$200 million range) and the bills were still coming in. When director James Cameron finally delivered the film to Paramount, it ran over 3 hours and it was uncertain whether he would ever work in Hollywood again. But Cameron stood his ground and threatened edit-happy studio executives with the message: "You will cut my film over my dead body."
Moved to a crowded release date of December 19, 1997, the film opened with little promotion, and returned a relatively weak $28 million in ticket sales on the first weekend. Within a week the gross tripled. By New Year's Day, the film had hit $100 million and showed no sign of slowing down. It held a virtual lock on first place at the box office for nearly four months and would become the highest grossing film of all-time with more than $1.8 billion in ticket sales worldwide.
Cameron, who fought extremely hard to finish the film, was rewarded with an Academy Award for Best Director.
The romantic story is improbable, just as it is in the movie, as the rules of the ship ensured complete segregation of first class, second class and third class passengers. They were not merely separated for reasons of social class. Steerage class passengers did not have medical certificates to show that they were free of disease, so they had to pass through Ellis Island when they landed. This was common practice on the ocean liners of the time. Any contact between the different classes would have nullified this arrangement.
Some contend that the film has strong anti-British elements, portraying the British officers and crew as unethical and the Americans and Irish as heroic. For example, the film was criticised for its portrayal of a historical character, the ship's First Officer, William McMaster Murdoch  . In his home town of Dalbeattie in Scotland there is a memorial to his heroism and a charitable prize has been established in his name. In the film he is portrayed as taking a bribe, killing passengers and finally committing suicide. 20th Century Fox admitted that the baseless slurs on his character were included only as story decisions, and contributed $8,000 to the prize fund.
Another aspect of the film, the way in which the third–class passengers were completely fenced in below decks, has been described as a myth. There is controversy on this point. It is true that lower percentage of third class passengers survived, but that could be simply because they had farther to go to get to the lifeboats. At the American Inquiry Harold Lowe, the Fifth Officer, said that all women and children, even from the "sixty-seventh" class, had an equal possibility to get into a rescue boat. There is no evidence for closed, locked gates. The quality of the accommodation in third class was only just below that in second class. The White Star line had a policy which demanded that crew members treated all their clientele with civility and respect. However, the crew did demand for first class women and children to go first.
A geographical error is the reference to Lake Wissota, a man–made lake in Wisconsin] near Chippewa Falls (where Jack grew up). The lake was only filled with water in 1917 when a power company built a dam on the Chippewa River, five years after the Titanic sank.
Cameron originally intended Enya to compose the music, but after she declined, he approached James Horner. Their relations were cold after their first cooperation in Aliens, but the soundtrack of Braveheart made Cameron overlook it. Horner composed the soundtrack having in mind Enya's style. The music for Titanic is emotional and with feeling.
Céline Dion, who was no stranger to movie songs in the 1990s, sang "My Heart Will Go On", the film's signature song written by James Horner and Will Jennings. At first, Cameron did not want a song sung over the film's credits, but Horner disagreed, and without telling Cameron, went ahead and wrote one anyway, and recorded Dion singing it. Cameron changed his mind when Horner presented what he proposed and the song won a Best Original Song Oscar. The song was also a hit worldwide, going to the top of the pop charts around the world, another stellar financial success of its own.
Other artists were invited to submit songs for the movie including contemporary Christian artist, Michael W. Smith. He mentions in the liner notes to the song In My Arms Again from his 1998 CD, Live the Life, "Inspired and written for the movie Titanic, Grateful for the opportunity to send them a song; grateful it landed on this record."
Titanic won Academy Awards in just about every category it was nominated in, except for the acting and makeup categories. Titanic was nominated in 14 categories and won 11, being the second movie to win that number (the first was Ben-Hur. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King matched the record in 2004). It was at the time also the only movie of which both two people playing the same person (Kate Winslet as Rose and Gloria Stuart as Old Rose) were nominated (remarkably, the second film to be so nominated, Iris, also starred Winslet):
- Art direction — Art Direction: Peter Lamont; Set Decoration: Michael Ford
- Cinematography — Russell Carpenter
- Costume Design — Deborah L. Scott
- Direction — James Cameron
- Film Editing — Conrad Buff, James Cameron, Richard A. Harris
- Music (Original Dramatic Score) — James Horner
- Music (Original Song) — "My Heart Will Go On," music by James Horner; lyric by Will Jennings
- Best Picture — James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
- Sound — Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Gary Summers, Mark Ulano
- Sound Effects Editing — Tom Bellfort, Christopher Boyes
- Visual Effects — Robert Legato, Mark Lasoff, Thomas L. Fisher, Michael Kanfer
It also received the following nominations:
- Best Actress in a Leading Role — Kate Winslet
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role — Gloria Stuart
- Best Makeup — Tina Earnshaw, Greg Cannom, Simon Thompson
When corrected for inflation, the U.S. domestic gross is actually the sixth highest of all time, immediately behind The Ten Commandments (The Movie Times). Similar figures for the global box office are not readily available, but the international box office grew in significance for Hollywood movies in the 20 years between Star Wars and Titanic, and it is at least plausible that its worldwide gross of $1.8 billion is the largest all time even if inflation were accounted for.
It differs from most films released since the late 1990s in that it took fifteen weeks for its weekly gross to drop by 50%. Typically films drop by about 40% a week.