Titanic 20th anniversary: 10 reasons why it remains the biggest film ever

Titanic 20th anniversary: 10 reasons why it remains the biggest film ever
Still the king of the world, 20 years on (Picture: Twentieth Century Fox)

Titanic has now been surpassed by Avatar as the highest-grossing movie ever.

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But with 11 Oscars, an astonishing 15-week run at the top of the US box-office and a multi-million selling soundtrack to its name, James Cameron’s previous film arguably remains the most impactful Hollywood has ever produced.

20 years to the day that it first hit cinemas in the States, here’s a look at why the phenomenon that is Titanic managed to capture the public’s imagination in such a titanic way.

The sheer scale


Even those who sneer at its sappy central romance and occasionally ham-fisted acting (hello Billy Zane), have to admit that Titanic looks suitably spectacular from start to finish.

One of the last Hollywood blockbusters which had to build nearly everything from scratch, rather than simply rely on CGI, Cameron ensured that you could see nearly every cent of its whopping $200m budget on screen.


Some critics argued that a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio was miscast as the lowly third-class passenger who sweeps Kate Winslet’s first-class socialite off her feet.

But it’s hard to imagine any of the other names reportedly touted for the role (Matthew McConaughey, Billy Crudup, Steven Dorff) whipping so many teenagers into such a frenzy as DiCaprio, who was already something of a pin-up after Romeo + Juliet.

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet in Titanic
ICON (Picture: Twentieth Century Fox)

While Leo brought the youthful charm, Winslet brought the class with a star-making performance which, unlike her co-star, was recognised with an Oscar nomination.

Then only 20 years old, Winslet imbues what is essentially a poor little rich girl character with a steely determination and genuine heart which ensured audiences cared about and believed in both her romance and her overall fate.

The love story


You could argue that a film about the real-life sinking of a ship which killed over 1500 people didn’t really need a fictional Mills and Boon-style love story planted in the middle of it to make people care.

But in a genre typically dominated by cardboard cutout characters, Jack and Rose’s romantic exploits at least gave audiences something to invest in before disaster struck.

The tearjerking moments

The old couple in bed waiting to die, the mother comforting her kids as the ship goes down, the violinists deciding to play on for one last song.

If Jack and Rose’s ill-fated love story left you cold, then Titanic still featured plenty of smaller tearjerking moments capable of turning you into a blubbering mess.

The theme tune


Okay, so Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On may have been ridiculously overblown and drowned in schmaltz but could such an epic blockbuster really have got away with anything else?

Following in the footsteps of Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do (I Do It For You) and Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, the power ballad sold millions of copies, topped the charts across the world and became a karaoke staple, serving as a brilliantly effective promotional tool in the process.

The score


In contrast to its main theme, the rest of James Horner’s soundtrack was surprisingly subtle.

Inspired by the Celtic New Age of Enya – who was initially approached to compose the soundtrack by James Cameron – the late composer produced a powerful and emotive score which perfectly complemented its surrounding tragic drama.

Something for everyone

Clocking in at a whopping 195 minutes, Titanic certainly had plenty of time to ensure that it offered something for everyone.

If disaster movies were your thing, then the entire second half was a masterclass in how to pull one off; if you preferred weepie romances, you had Jack and Rose’s central love story to fixate on; if period drama was your bag then you could marvel at all the extravagant costumes.

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Little wonder then that the film attracted such a wide audience, and perhaps more importantly, one which kept on coming back to the cinema to watch it again and again.

Its quotable script

‘I’m the king of the world,’ ‘I’m flying,’ ‘Iceberg right ahead.’

Titanic was full of quotable lines which instantly became a part of popculture, even if some were more unintentionally funny than profound (‘I want you to draw me like one of your French girls’).

The sinking


Whereas the first half of Titanic could be seen as fairly inconsequential, the second half is a jaw-dropping spectacle containing some of the finest action scenes of the 20th Century.

Indeed, from the moment the ship hits the iceberg, Titanic is impossible to look away from, whether it’s Rose jumping back on to the ship to find Jack, a gun-toting Cal chasing the lovestruck pair or, most impressively, the ship splitting into two and then hurtling its terrified passengers down into the sea.

The ending

Yes, we all knew that the Titanic sank, but Cameron ensured that there was at least one part of the film that would keep audiences guessing right until the end – would Jack and Rose survive?

Of course, only the latter made it to dry land, although the method in which she did so remains a talking point 20 years on (apparently there was enough room for both of them to fit on the floating door).

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