10 years since the Titanic phenomenonby Professor Wagstaff
Later this year, it will be 10 years since the release of James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ which is – despite increasing ticket prices over the past decade - still comfortably the highest grossing film of all time.
And unlike so many modern day high grossing films, it didn’t gain its grosses through a massive marketing campaign and enormous anticipation that ensured, even if it wasn’t particularly well liked, that it would be a massive hit. In fact, as I recall the buildup to the film was quite negative with lots of talk about a troubled production that had seen the budget skyrocket. There was little indication that it would be a major success.
But after its opening, it clearly captured the public’s imagination as it went from being a hit, to a major hit, to a phenomenon. People weren’t just seeing it and recommending it to others, they were seeing it a 2nd and even a 3rd time. To top it all off, it won 11 Oscars.
And yet 10 years late, despite being a film that captured the public’s imagination like few others, its reputation has dwindled in that time. A good statistical example of this is its average rating of 7.0 from the over 124 000 votes on the IMDB site – it’s pretty good there’s very few Best Picture Oscar winners over the past 50 years that would have a lower rating (‘Out of Africa’ is the only one I could find with a lower rating).
But on a broader level, there was a backlash against its massive success as growing segments of people found it an incredibly overwrought, sappy and manipulative film, filled with one-note cardboard characters (Billy Zane’s villain especially so). Specifically critics noted how absurdly idyllic the life of the poor was portrayed and that if it hadn’t been for the Titanic’s sinking, the film implied that DiCaprio and Winslet’s characters would’ve gone on to live a life of harmony despite the vast differences in their backgrounds and personalities.
Also, James Cameron’s performance on Oscar night didn’t help matters. His ‘king of the world’ exclamation became rather infamous but what always stuck in my memory was his self-indulgent request of a few moments of silence in memory for the victim’s of the Titanic. I guess some would say it was well intentioned but there wouldn’t be an Oscar ceremony where an actor or filmmaker could make such a request for the real-life victims portrayed in their film (‘Schindler’s List’ being an obvious example).
One of the reasons why I’m interested in looking back on this film is my personal reaction to it. I went to see it soon after it was released and not only enjoyed but was quite moved by it. In fact, it stayed with me so much that I went to see it again a few weeks later. It’s the only new release film to date that I’ve gone to see more then once during its theatrical run.
However, it is not a film that I’ve maintained an interest in over the years. I haven’t seen it since and don’t really have an interest in watching it again, let alone purchasing it on DVD. When I saw a few minutes of it during a TV screening a while back, it didn’t hold my interest. So it seems my reaction to the film reflects how people overall have reacted to it.
My questions are: what were the qualities in it that made it such a massive hit in the first place and why has its reputation dwindled over the years (or has it)?