It's been 21 years, and I can still remember the sounds of crying in the theater. Titanic was called the movie of the year, and it was. It really was.
Few movies have made as big an impact on my romantic expectations than Titanic, for better or for worse. And I'm not alone. To paraphrase Celine Dion, this cultural phenomenon continues to go on and on.
Super-fans may think they know everything there is to know about the massively popular movie, but that's exactly the kind of hubris the cautionary tale of Titanic warns against! As these Titanic movie facts prove, there's always something more to discover about the most romantic movie of all time.
Madonna, Reba McIntyre, Matthew McConaughey, and Robert DeNiro Nearly Starred
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet will forever be associated with their roles in Titanic, which is why it's jarring to think of all the other actors who could have taken on the iconic mantles of Jack and Rose. Matthew McConaughey was considered for the role of Jack, and even auditioned with Winslet. Brad Pitt was also in the running for Jack, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna were considered for the role of Rose.
Many of the tertiary roles in Titanic were also big career moments for their stars—for instance, Kathy Bates nearly stole the show in her role as 'unsinkable' Molly Brown. Surprisingly, that role almost went to country music star Reba McEntire, but she had to back out due to schedule conflicts. Robert DeNiro was also offered the role of Captain Smith. However, he turned it down due to an intestinal infection, and the role went to Bernard Hill.
James Cameron Was Inspired By a Robert Ballard Documentary
In 1987, Cameron's life was forever changed after watching a documentary about oceanographer Robert Ballard's discovery of Titanic. Entertainment Weekly reports that after watching the documentary, Cameron jotted down these notes for a script: "Do story with bookends of present-day [wreckage] scene … intercut with memory of a survivor … needs a mystery or driving plot element.”
Obviously Titanic ultimately focuses much more on romance than mystery, but still, it's interesting to see that much of Cameron's earliest ideas for the movie made it into the final product.
Kate Winslet Had to Convince DiCaprio to Join the Cast
A 1998 Rolling Stone profile revealed that Winslet was determined to star in the movie, and insisted DiCaprio should play Jack. She described calling director James Cameron immediately after reading the script, telling him ''I just have to do this, and you are really mad if you don't cast me."
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When DiCaprio expressed reservations about the movie because he felt Jack's character wasn't complex enough, Winslet reportedly tracked him down at his room in the Cannes film festival and pressured him to consider the role.
There Was a Real J. Dawson on the Titanic
Although James Cameron didn't know it when he wrote the script, a real J. Dawson did die on the Titanic. Joseph Dawson was a 23-year-old crewmember from Dublin who died during the sinking. After the impact with the iceberg, Dawson—perhaps understanding already that the situation was dire—went topside, and brought his National Sailors and Firemen's Union card with him. He jumped from the ship and escaped being crushed by the stern, but perished before he could be reached by the rescue boats. His union card was later used to identify his body.
When officials were unable to locate his family, Dawson was buried in Nova Scotia's Fairview Lawn Cemetery. For years after the release of the movie, his grave was visited by fans of the film.
Cameron Regrets the Storyline He Wrote for One Character
During the National Geographic special "Titanic: 20 Years Later With James Cameron," the director revealed that one of his regrets from the film is the portrayal of First Officer William McMaster Murdoch. Murdoch was the first officer in charge of the bridge the night the Titanic struck the iceberg, and in the film is played by Evan Stewart.
The movie shows Murdoch shooting a passenger in an attempt to quell unrest on the sinking ship, then shooting himself. Some accounts of the sinking say that an officer who may have been Murdoch shot himself, but we'll probably never know for sure what happened to the real-life Murdoch in the early morning of April 15th, 1912.
As Cameron says in the special, "We don’t know that he did that [killed himself], but you know the storyteller in me says, 'Oh.' I start connecting the dots: he was on duty, he's carrying all this burden with him, made him an interesting character."
Murdoch's family objected to the portrayal, and Cameron now says he regrets not taking into account their feelings when writing Murdoch's story.
Winslet Got Hypothermia on Set
Although many of the cast and crew wore wetsuits for their scenes filmed in water, Winslet elected not to, believing it would help her better experience what Rose was going through. She contracted pneumonia after filming the scene where Rose searches for Jack on the rapidly sinking ship.
James Cameron Drew the Picture of Rose
In the iconic 'draw-me-like-one-of-your-French-girls' scene, the hands shown sketching Rose are director James Cameron's. Cameron, who is left-handed, drew the iconic image of Rose, and the image was flipped to make it appear that the right-handed DiCaprio was sketching instead.
Leo Had a Pet Lizard on Set Who Almost Met a Tragic End
DiCaprio had a pet lizard named Blizzard with him on set throughout filming. The lizard nearly met a tragic end when it was run over on set, but made a miraculous recovery under the careful ministrations of DiCaprio.
Enya Almost Wrote the Score
James Cameron initially approached Enya to write the music for the film. However, upon learning that the final song of the film was to be a collaboration, she declined, and Cameron approached Aliens composer James Horner instead. Enya later told The Wall Street Journal,
What happened was when we [Cameron and Enya] were talking about the end song, it was to be a collaboration and that’s something that I’ve actually never done. I’ve felt, I get to write the song, I sing. I’ve always written the melodies so I find it kind of strange and I was working on an album, so I just said it wasn’t going to happen if it was a collaboration.
DiCaprio's Farts Will Go On
They say love can touch you one time, and last for a life time. The same could be said for the platonic love between DiCaprio and Winslet. The two shared what Winslet described as a brother-sister bond, and DiCaprio was able to get away with teasing his co-star in a way no one else could.
Cameron told Rolling Stone in 1998 that DiCaprio would fart in a long coat he wore on set, then sweep the coat over Winslet's face: “I mean, if anybody else in the world did that, they’d get slapped, and the other person would walk away and not talk to them for a week. With Leo, Kate would just crack up."
Billy Zane, who played Rose's horrible fiancé Cal, confirmed: “Grossing Kate out was purely Leo’s job. He was really good at it.”
The Clock Behind Jack in the Final Moment Matches the Time the Ship Sank
The clock seen behind Jack in the final scene of the film reads 2:20, to match the moment of the sinking. The Titanic went down at 2:20 A.M. on April 15th, 1912.
The Cast and Crew Were Poisoned on Set
During the final day of shooting in Nova Scotia, the entire cast and crew—including Bill Paxton and Cameron—were taken to the hospital after unintentionally ingesting PCP. The hallucinogen was snuck into a bowl of clam chowder that was served during a final meal celebrating the last day of shooting on the Canadian set before moving to the main set in Mexico.
The perpetrator was never caught, although it's believed that some disgruntled members of the crew laced the chowder as revenge for the grueling work conditions on set. DiCaprio and Winslet were spared the trippy experience, as neither of them filmed in Nova Scotia.
The Infamous Door May Have Been Based on a Real Artefact
The floating piece of wood (usually referred to as a door) that saves Rose's life at the end of Titanic bears a striking resemblance to an artefact currently housed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The artefact is the largest fragment recovered from the Titanic, and is a section of interior panelling that once decorated the door to the first-class lounge.
Featured still from "Titanic" via Paramount Pictures