Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson, Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater, Gloria Stuart as Old Rose, and Billy Zane as Rose's fiancé, Cal Hockley. Jack and Rose are members of different social classes who fall in love aboard the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage.
Cameron's inspiration for the film was predicated on his fascination with shipwrecks; he wanted to convey the emotional message of the tragedy, and felt that a love story interspersed with the human loss would be essential to achieving this. Production on the film began in 1995, when Cameron shot footage of the actual Titanic wreck. The modern scenes were shot on board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh, which Cameron had used as a base when filming the wreck. A reconstruction of the Titanic was built at Playas de Rosarito, Baja California, and scale models and computer-generated imagery were also used to recreate the sinking. The film was partially funded by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, and, at the time, was the most expensive film ever made, with an estimated budget of $200 million.
Upon its release on December 19, 1997, the film achieved critical and commercial success. It equaled records with fourteen Academy Award nominations and eleven Oscar wins, receiving the prizes for Best Picture and Best Director. With a worldwide gross of over $1.8 billion, it was the first film to reach the billion dollar mark, remaining the highest-grossing film of all time for twelve years, until Cameron's next directorial effort, Avatar, surpassed it in 2010. Titanic is also ranked as the sixth best epic film of all time in AFI's 10 Top 10 by the American Film Institute. The film is due for theatrical re-release on April 6, 2012 in 3-D to commemorate the centenary of the Titanic setting sail.
In 1996, treasure hunter Brock Lovett and his team explore the wreck of the RMS Titanic, searching for a necklace called the Heart of the Ocean. They believe the necklace is in Caledon "Cal" Hockley's safe, which they recover. Instead of the diamond, they find a sketch of a nude woman wearing it, dated April 14, 1912, the night the Titanic hit the iceberg. Rose Dawson Calvert finds out about the drawing, contacts Lovett, and says that she is the woman depicted. She and her granddaughter Elizabeth "Lizzy" Calvert visit Lovett and his team on his salvage ship. When asked if she knows the whereabouts of the necklace, Rose recalls her memories aboard the Titanic, revealing that she is Rose DeWitt Bukater, a passenger believed to have died in the sinking.
In 1912, 17-year-old first class passenger Rose boards the ship in Southampton, England with her fiancé Cal, the son of a Pittsburgh steel tycoon, and her mother, Ruth DeWitt Bukater. Ruth stresses the importance of Rose's engagement, because the marriage to Cal will solve the DeWitt Bukaters' hidden financial problems. Distraught by her engagement to Cal and the pressure her mother is putting on her, Rose considers suicide by jumping off the stern of the ship. Before she leaps, a drifter and artist named Jack Dawson intervenes and persuades her not to jump. When discovered with Jack on the stern, Rose lies to Cal and says that she was looking over the edge of the ship in curiosity, tripped by accident, and that Jack saved her. At Rose's insistence, Cal invites Jack to dinner the following night to show his appreciation.
By the next day, Jack and Rose have developed a tentative friendship, though Cal and Ruth remain wary of the young third-class man. Following the first-class dinner that night, Rose secretly joins Jack at a third-class party.
Cal and Ruth forbid Rose to see Jack, and Rose attempts to comply by rebuffing Jack's continuing advances. She soon realizes that she prefers him over Cal, and meets with him at the bow of the ship during what turns out to be the Titanic's final moments of daylight. They go to Rose's stateroom and she asks Jack to sketch her wearing nothing but the Heart of the Ocean, an engagement present from Cal. Afterward, the two flee Cal's bodyguard into the ship's cargo hold, where they make love. Then they go to the ship's forward well deck, where they witness the ship's collision with an iceberg and overhear the ship's officers and designer discussing its seriousness. Rose tells Jack that they should warn her mother and Cal.
Cal discovers Jack's drawing and a mocking note from Rose in his safe along with the necklace. Furious, he has his bodyguard slip the necklace into Jack's coat pocket, framing him for stealing it. Jack is arrested, taken down to the Master-at-arms's office and handcuffed to a pipe. Cal puts the necklace in his coat. Rose runs away from Cal and her mother (who has boarded a lifeboat) to find Jack, breaking him free with an axe.
Jack and Rose struggle back to the deck where Cal and Jack persuade her to board another lifeboat, Cal claiming that he has made an arrangement that will allow both men to get off safely. After she boards, Cal tells Jack that the arrangement is only for himself. As Rose's boat lowers, she realizes that she cannot leave Jack, and jumps back on board the Titanic to reunite with him. Infuriated, Cal takes a pistol and chases them into the flooding first-class dining saloon. After running out of ammunition, Cal realizes to his chagrin that he gave his coat with the diamond to Rose.
Meanwhile Frabizo and Tommy are trying to get a lifeboat but First officer Murdoch tries to keep men from boarding by pointing a pistol at them, Cal comes over and reminds him of there deal but Murdoch throw's the money he gave him back at him saying that it's worthless. One passenger tries to board but is shot by Murdoch then another passenger accidentally pushes Tommy which causes Murdoch to shoot him. Farbizo is angred by this and Murdoch is filled with guilt and shot's himself. With the situation now dire, he returns to the boat deck and boards a lifeboat by pretending to look after a lost child.
As the ship sinks the pipes break away and kill anyone in the way one of which was Farbizo. Captain Smith is also killed when water fill's up the control room that he has locked himself in.
As Jack and Rose return to the top deck, all lifeboats have departed and passengers are falling to their deaths as the stern rises out of the water. The ship breaks in half, and the stern side rises a full 90-degrees into the air. As it sinks slowly and completely, Jack and Rose ride the stern into the ocean. Jack helps Rose onto a nearby wall panel that will only support one person’s weight. As he hangs onto the panel, he assures her she will not die there and will instead die an old woman, warm in her bed. Meanwhile, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe has commandeered a lifeboat to return and search for survivors. He manages to save Rose, but Jack dies from hypothermia.
Rose and the other survivors are taken by the RMS Carpathia to New York, where Rose gives her name as Rose Dawson. She hides from Cal on Carpathia's deck as he searches for her, and she learns later that he committed suicide after losing his fortune in 1929.
Her story complete, Rose goes alone to the stern of Lovett's ship. There she takes out the Heart of the Ocean, which has in fact been in her possession all along, and drops it into the ocean. While seemingly asleep in her bed, the photos on her dresser are a visual chronicle that she lived a free life inspired by Jack. The young Rose is then seen reuniting with Jack at the Grand Staircase of the Titanic, cheered and congratulated by those who perished on the ship.
James Cameron had a fascination with shipwrecks, and, for him, the RMS Titanic was "the Mount Everest of shipwrecks." He was almost past the point in his life when he felt he could consider an undersea expedition, but said he still had "a mental restlessness" to live the life he had turned away from when he switched from the sciences to the arts in college. So when an IMAX film was made from footage shot of the wreck itself, he decided to seek Hollywood funding to "pay for an expedition and do the same thing." It was "not because I particularly wanted to make the movie," Cameron said. "I wanted to dive to the shipwreck."
Cameron wrote a scriptment for a Titanic film, met with 20th Century Fox executives including Peter Chernin, and pitched it as "Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic". There was a tense pause and Cameron said, "Also, fellas, it's a period piece, it's going to cost $150,000,000 and there's not going to be a sequel.... They were like, 'Oooooohkaaaaaay – a three-hour romantic epic? Sure, that's just what we want. Is there a little bit of Terminator in that? Any Harrier jets, shoot-outs, or car chases?' I said, 'No, no, no. It's not like that.'" The studio was dubious about the idea's commercial prospects, but, hoping for a long term relationship with Cameron, they gave him a greenlight.Cameron convinced Fox to promote the film based on the publicity afforded by shooting the Titanic wreck itself, and organized several dives to the site over a period of two years."My pitch on that had to be a little more detailed," said Cameron. "So I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to do this whole opening where they’re exploring the Titanic and they find the diamond, so we’re going to have all these shots of the ship." Cameron stated, "Now, we can either do them with elaborate models and motion control shots and CG and all that, which will cost X amount of money – or we can spend X plus 30 per cent and actually go shoot it at the real wreck." The crew shot at the real wreck in the Atlantic Ocean eleven times in 1995 and actually spent more time with the ship than its passengers. At that depth, with a water pressure of 6,000 pounds per square inch, "one small flaw in the vessel's superstructure would mean instant death for all on board." Not only were the dives high-risk, but adverse conditions prevented Cameron from getting the high quality footage that he wanted.
Descending to the actual site made both Cameron and crew want "to live up to that level of reality.... But there was another level of reaction coming away from the real wreck, which was that it wasn't just a story, it wasn't just a drama," he said. "It was an event that happened to real people who really died. Working around the wreck for so much time, you get such a strong sense of the profound sadness and injustice of it, and the message of it." Cameron stated, "You think, 'There probably aren't going to be many filmmakers who go to Titanic. There may never be another one – maybe a documentarian." Due to this, he felt "a great mantle of responsibility to convey the emotional message of it – to do that part of it right, too".
After filming the underwater shots, Cameron began writing the screenplay. He wanted to honor the people who died during the sinking, so he spent six months researching all of the Titanic's crew and passengers. "I read everything I could. I created an extremely detailed timeline of the ship’s few days and a very detailed timeline of the last night of its life," he said. "And I worked within that to write the script, and I got some historical experts to analyze what I’d written and comment on it, and I adjusted it." He paid meticulous attention to detail, even including a scene depicting the Californian's role in Titanic's demise, though this was later cut (see below). From the beginning of the shoot, they had "a very clear picture" of what happened on the ship that night. "I had a library that filled one whole wall of my writing office with "Titanic stuff," because I wanted it to be right, especially if we were going to dive to the ship," he said. "That set the bar higher in a way – it elevated the movie in a sense. We wanted this to be a definitive visualization of this moment in history as if you’d gone back in a time machine and shot it."
Cameron felt the Titanic sinking was "like a great novel that really happened", yet the event had become a mere morality tale; the film would give audiences the experience of living the history. The treasure hunter Brock Lovett represented those who never connected with the human element of the tragedy, while the blossoming romance of Jack and Rose, he believed, would be the most engaging part of the story: when their love is finally destroyed, the audience would mourn the loss. "All my films are love stories," Cameron said, "but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It's not a disaster film. It's a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history." Cameron then framed the romance with the elderly Rose to make the intervening years palpable and poignant. For him, the end of the film leaves open the question if the elderly Rose was in a conscious dream or had died in her sleep.