Ties an Oscar Record Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The film Titanic made technical breakthroughs in feature filmmaking by combining a set built for the film with computerized special effects. The film won eleven Academy Awards, tying a record set by Ben-Hur in 1959. The flood of Oscars paralleled the popular success of the film, which was a box-office smash in 1997.

Summary of Event

Titanic (1997) started as one of the biggest gambles in Hollywood history and ended up becoming the biggest box-office hit of all time. At its release, it was the most expensive film ever made, costing more than $200 million, but ended up becoming the first film to earn more than $1 billion at the box office. The film dramatizes the real-life tragedy of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic after it struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912. At the time, the Titanic was the world’s largest ship and supposedly “unsinkable.” The lives of 1,520 passengers were lost in what was the worst maritime disaster in history. Other films had previously dealt with the tragedy. The first film was made less than three months after the disaster and starred a real-life survivor. Other successful versions of the story included Atlantic (1929), Titanic (1953), and A Night to Remember (1958). Titanic (film) Motion pictures;Titanic Special effects, motion pictures [kw]Titanic Ties an Oscar Record (Mar. 23, 1998) [kw]Oscar Record, Titanic Ties an (Mar. 23, 1998) [kw]Record, Titanic Ties an Oscar (Mar. 23, 1998) Titanic (film) Motion pictures;Titanic Special effects, motion pictures [g]North America;Mar. 23, 1998: Titanic Ties an Oscar Record[09950] [g]United States;Mar. 23, 1998: Titanic Ties an Oscar Record[09950] [c]Motion pictures and video;Mar. 23, 1998: Titanic Ties an Oscar Record[09950] Cameron, James DiCaprio, Leonardo Winslet, Kate Lamont, Peter

The subject matter seemed an unlikely choice for writer and director James Cameron, Motion-picture directors[Motion picture directors];James Cameron[Cameron] who had established his reputation by directing action films such as The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and True Lies (1994). Hollywood executives were skeptical. Only their faith in Cameron, who had already delivered a handful of blockbusters, convinced Twentieth Century-Fox and Paramount Pictures to sign on as cofinanciers of what was expected to be a very expensive picture. Cameron’s previous films had routinely pushed the limits of both budget and special effects. Terminator 2 ($88 million) and True Lies ($95 million) had each been the most expensive film ever made at the time of their respective releases. These films had also thrilled audiences with their pioneering use of computer animation to create futuristic worlds. This time Cameron intended to utilize his special-effects wizardry to re-create a historical event.

In order to help 1990’s audiences identify with the gravity of the event, Cameron made the central drama a love story between two teenagers, an upper-class girl named Rose (Kate Winslet) who is engaged to marry a man she does not love and the other a struggling artist named Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) who stows away on the doomed liner. Cameron also framed his script with a story about modern-day treasure hunters diving to the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic. To enhance the film’s authenticity further, Cameron and his crew attached cameras to Russian submersibles to film the real Titanic.

The majority of the film was shot at a new studio Fox constructed at Rosarito, Mexico. Production designer Peter Lamont used original Titanic blueprints to build the sets and commissioned many of the same companies that had made carpeting, dishes, and other interior decorations for the lost liner to make exact reproductions for the film. The centerpiece of the new facility was a seventeen-million-gallon water tank in which the crew constructed a nearly full-size replica of the ship on hydraulic rams so the vessel could be sunk and raised on command.

Cameron originally estimated that the film would cost $110 million to make, but costs began to climb soon after filming started in September, 1996. Paramount did not worry about the overruns because the company had limited its involvement in the film to $70 million in exchange for U.S. theatrical distribution. As costs crept toward $200 million, Cameron agreed to forgo his profit participation on the film.

Fox watched in horror as the entire film industry began to obsess over the costs of the project. Daily Variety, an industry trade paper, even started a daily “Titanic Watch” in which it listed the estimated running costs of the film. When filming continued into 1997 and the planned July release date had to be canceled, most film industry insiders expected Titanic to be an unsuccessful, overblown project similar to Cleopatra (1963) and Heaven’s Gate (1980), two expensive period epics that had failed to attract audiences and financially damaged their companies. Fox never confirmed the final cost of the film, but it has been estimated to be between $220 million and $240 million, with prints and advertising pushing that amount closer to $300 million.

When filming finished in March, 1997, Cameron had shot 1.3 million feet of film. More than five hundred visual-effects shots were required to bring the ship to life. Computer animation helped produce numerous visual aspects of the film such as the ship sailing through the ocean and visible breath exhalations from extras as they struggled in the cold water.

Negative expectations about the film began to change when Cameron previewed the completed three-hour-fourteen-minute film in Japan on November 1, 1997. Released into U.S. theaters on December 19, 1997, Titanic generally earned favorable reviews from critics who saw it as a throwback to great Hollywood romantic epics of the past, such as Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Gone with the Wind (1939). Repeat viewings of the film were not uncommon. Teenage audiences responded to the love story, while older moviegoers enjoyed the astonishing re-creation of the ship, its collision with the iceberg, and its inevitable, horrific, and violent sinking.

The film’s sound track, with music composed by James Horner and featuring the hit song “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion, spent ten weeks at number one on the Billboard magazine charts and sold seventeen million copies, making it the best-selling sound track of all time. The film even spawned merchandising tie-ins, such as re-creations of Rose’s necklace. The film was so successful that ardent fans became convinced that the fictional Jack and Rose must have been real-life passengers on the doomed ship.

By the end of 1997 Titanic had earned $134 million in the United States alone. Its total domestic earnings would eventually exceed $600 million with a total worldwide take of $1.3 billion dollars, making it the biggest hit in film history. The confirmation of Titanic as both a commercial and critical success came at the Academy Awards in March, 1998. The film won eleven awards, including Academy Awards;Best Picture Best Picture and Best Director, Academy Awards;Best Director tying the record set by another classic Hollywood epic, Ben-Hur (1959). In 2004, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King also won eleven Oscars, tying it with both Ben-Hur and Titanic.


Titanic changed the way films were made. It was the first major film to use special effects to enhance emotions, not just physical action. In addition, it changed the way scenes were filmed. Actors no longer had to perform scenes on existing sets but could perform against a blank screen while the background, sets, and even other actors were added later using digital technology. The computer technology Titanic employed to reconstruct a bygone era demonstrated the possibility of re-creating other historical milieus. Moreover, the immense popularity of the film showed that there remained an audience for period films. Titanic laid the groundwork for such expensive and popular films as the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003).

The film Titanic also prompted renewed interest in the ship itself. Popular traveling exhibits featuring both artifacts from the doomed liner and props from the film toured the United States and drew record crowds. Attempts were made to rebuild the ship as a cruise liner and traveling museum, but the idea failed because of a lack of financing. The public began taking an interest in preserving the wreck and limiting the number of objects allowed to be taken from the liner. Titanic (film) Motion pictures;Titanic Special effects, motion pictures

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bart, Peter. The Gross: The Hits, the Flop—The Summer That Ate Hollywood. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. The editor of Variety explores how films were made and released during the summer of 1998, after the success of Titanic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lubin, David M. Titanic. London: BFI, 1999. Detailed examination of the film’s appeal and how it speaks to a modern audience about class, social issues, and the role of technology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parisi, Paula. The Making of James Cameron’s Titanic: The Inside Story of the Three-Year Adventure That Rewrote Motion Picture History. New York: Newmarket Press, 1998. Behind the scenes book about the making of the film.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sandler, Kevin S., and Gaylyn Studlar, eds. Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. Collection of academic essays examining the success of the film from aesthetic, economic, and cultural perspectives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Studio City, Calif.: M. Wiese Productions, 1998. Includes a detailed analysis of the Titanic script and how the characters and scenes combined to appeal to a modern audience.

Jaws Prompts a Wave of Special-Effects Films

Star Wars Trilogy Redefines Special Effects

Categories: History