(ORDO NEWS) — Titanic had a massive $110 million budget, which nearly doubled by the end of filming. The logistics of modeling the famous maritime disaster were so complicated that Hollywood began to wonder how it could ever turn a profit and if Cameron’s career was going to go down with the ship.
The Titanic theme already seemed like a risky filming concept in itself: Raise the Titanic, based on a novel about trying to get a sunken ship to the surface, grossed only $7 million on a $40 million budget in 1980. It was a new take on the story, requiring a lot more investment to get the sets and special effects right, but it was still unclear if audiences would accept the film.
To spread the risk, Fox and Paramount Studios agreed to co-finance the budget. And unlike recent failures, James Cameron was at the helm of this film. The director has released hit after hit since 1984’s The Terminator and its 1991 sequel, 1986’s Aliens and 1994’s True Lies. Only The Abyss (1990) did not live up to expectations.
How was the film made?
Cameron proceeded to represent the sinking of the ship through the eyes of lovers Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). Filming was expected to last six months, but it stretched to eight. The budget also doubled from a reported $110 million. This earned Titanic the dubious honor of being the most expensive film ever made at the time.
Originally scheduled for release in July 1997, it was pushed back to the end of the year due to post-production issues, further reinforcing the idea that the film was in deep trouble.
Since theater owners typically receive about half the cost of a movie ticket although this amount can and does vary depending on the projected success of a major film it has been estimated that Titanic needed to earn $400 million just to break even.
It seemed like a major hurdle to overcome without international stars, a franchise, and an ending that audiences already knew about. To make matters worse, the big-budget Broadway show about the Titanic, which premiered in early 1997, drew average reviews. The success of Cameron’s film was far from guaranteed.
The first sign of approval may have come in the summer of 1997, when an early version was shown to a test audience at the Minnesota Mall of America. According to viewers, it was “amazing” and “fantastic”.
The studios then decided to hold the film’s premiere in Japan in November. At least there, DiCaprio was perceived as a star, thanks to the fact that in 1996 Romeo and Juliet became a cult film in the country. Crowds of fans filled the theater in Tokyo, hoping to see the actor, and when the film began, they chanted “Leo!” and burst into applause.
So, the movie is on the big screens!
When Cameron’s Titanic was finally released in the US on December 19, 1997, it grossed a hefty $28.6 million in its opening weekend, ahead of the new James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
And earnings were more impressive than expected. Titanic was over three hours long, and so it didn’t run an extra late night screening it could have made another $12 million if it had been shorter. It soon became clear that the film would have no trouble making a profit.
Unlike modern blockbusters that make huge money on their opening weekend and then drop in earnings by more than 50% the following weekend, Titanic made more ($35.4 million) in its second weekend and remained in first place. as much as 17 weeks, until March 1998.
Titanic earned $1.8 billion (not including re-releases, which brought in $2 billion), making it the most successful film of all time. It is currently ranked third behind Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Cameron’s Avatar (2009).
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