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David Poland

By David Poland

Titanic Numbers

This is the time of year when people start speculating about “Titanic numbers.” But it is easy to forget just how singular the Titanic box office reality is.
A grand total of one movie other than Titanic has EVER broken the $1 billion mark worldwide. One!
And how big is the difference between that movie (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and Titanic? Well, it’s more than the difference between this year’s box office and last year’s, a number that has caused hysteria in the film business.
$726 million.
Titanic‘s number is $726 million greater than any other movie in history. (Thank you for you rolling eyes, adjusted gross lovers… please make your notes below.)
There may be a movie someday that matches Titanic

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38 Responses to “Titanic Numbers”

  1. Crow T Robot says:

    With that as our starting point lets talk about the ingredients that made Titanic what it was.
    What did Cameron touch upon that made this film actually increase business as the weeks progressed? Why do people all but vilify the film now? How would it fare today now that the metabolism for theatrical releases has increased to the point where a film reaches maturity within a few hours of release? (like the beast that chewed out of John Hurt’s tummy)
    This could be a good conversation.

  2. Blackcloud says:

    Titanic is a lousy movie, but for whatever reason, I can never get myself worked up about its being number one. It deserves neither the money it got then, nor the scorn and ridicule (and fury) it gets now. It’s like the iceberg: big, impressive, featureless, indistinct, and ultimately uninteresting.
    So am I the only one who thinks Goblet of Fire isn’t as good as Prisoner of Azkaban?

  3. jeffmcm says:

    Titanic has a lot in common with last huge-grosser Gone With the Wind, including what is probably the most important feature: strong appeal to the female audience. That was what kept Titanic going for such a long time was heavy repeat viewings from women, plus sufficient spectacle and action for the guys.

  4. joefitz84 says:

    Call Titanic lousy all you want. But it has the dollars and the awards. Don’t be jealous. You may not love it but you can’t really bash it.

  5. mutinyco says:

    Titanic was a product of its time. Just as every highest grosser was before it — Love Story, The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. Look at how varied these movies are!
    The most startling thing about E.T., for instance, when watching it onscreen during its rerelease, was how quaint and intimate it was. THIS was the #1 movie for 15 years. No battles. No huge set pieces. Minor special FX (aside from the rubber guy). It was just the perfect movie at the perfect time.
    What was the biggest audience for Titanic? The tweens. They were the ones who kept going back. And look at where our culture was at that moment. That same time period launched Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Christina Aguilera, etc.
    The next time we get the biggest movie ever, it will happen because the culture of the moment chooses it to happen. Not because the business tried to design it.

  6. Blackcloud says:

    “Call Titanic lousy all you want.”
    I just did, thanks.
    “But it has the dollars and the awards.”
    Just so.
    “Don’t be jealous.”
    “You may not love it but you can’t really bash it.”
    I fail to see how that follows from any of the preceding. My subjective dislike of the movie has no causal connection to the objective reality of Titanic’s box office success and award wins. Essentially you are saying that even though I may not like the movie, I cannot criticize it because my grounds for doing so are invalidated by factors extrinsic to the basis of my criticism. I disagree. The relationship between Titanic’s quality and its box office is a spurious one. As I said, Titanic’s box office success doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that it’s a lousy movie. No amount of money will change that.

  7. Blackcloud says:

    Forgot to add this . . .
    Any guesses for how a potential 10th anniversary re-relase of Titanic would do? My guess is that it would do better than E.T.’s twentieth, but not nearly as well as the Special Editions.

  8. Crow T Robot says:

    Titanic’s brilliance lies in its structure.
    Strictly from a storytelling point of view, leaving out perfomances, dialogue and action, Cameron’s story is masterfully layered. Any budding screenwriter would do right to study it. The film also deals strongly with class structure, something that touches people very personally and in this case it was woven almost spiritually into the narrative. In the western world we are very much defined by what we do or don’t have and for the director to show the poor as not only victims, but noble and capable of real happiness was key. Compare this to the fearful, cowardly Bourgeoisie whose frustrations strangely enough still managed to be felt (some communist leaders, if you will recall, publically embraced the film’s Marxist nudges).
    The film is also funny, scary and ultimately touching. The director didn’t even feel the need to coat the romance in sugary cynicism to get us to bite, like he did 3 years earlier in “True Lies.” Cameron knew that making a three+ hour movie is a dangerous thing, that the audience will almost certainly have to be rewarded with grand feelings over and under its conciousness to justify the sprawl and span. And you know what, given its accomplishments, it’s hard to argue he didn’t pull it off.

  9. KamikazeCamelV2.0 says:

    Bah. I still say Titanic is a legitimately great movie. It has so much, and what it has is done so expertly.
    It’s not my favourite from 1997, it’s actually my sixth fave (1. Lost Highway, 2. Scream 2, 3. Contact, 4. As Good As It Gets, 5. Perdita Durango, 7. Jackie Brown fyi)
    And before you comment on Scream 2, don’t bother. You ain’t gonna change my opinion.
    On the re-release thing, I think ET wasn’t a good choice, actually. It doesn’t have the absolute rabit fanbase of a Star Wars, and it doesn’t have the “that stuff is popular again” edge that The Exorcist had. Besides, a 10 year rerelease would be silly. 10 Years? That’s nothing. And plus, now we have the ultimate DVD. I would LOVE to see it on the big screen again, but at this time it wouldn’t be right.
    It’s still annoying that so many people hate it now. But whatever, I love it. I get action, romance, everything. And all on such a grand scale.
    The person up there was right about the female factor. I read an article earlier this year that said one of the reasons for a drop-off in box-office could be the lack of female interest. It was pretty good if I remember correctly.

  10. David Poland says:

    I would say that the biggest factor that makes Titanic’s number nearly unassailable is that theaters would be hard pressed to let a movie hold for 33 weeks.
    Just a year later, the new standard bearer for leggy movies, There’s Something About Mary, went just 16 weeks with over $1 million a week.
    This year”s long holder was Wedding Crashers… 11 weeks over $1 million.
    Yes, the female thing is huge. But the way the movie business is now structured, that massive opeing weekend is everything.

  11. jeffmcm says:

    The massive opening weekend is, in a word, shitty. Front-loading means that crappy movies like Saw II make more money than they deserve to and give less and less time for small movies to build word-of-mouth.
    Thank god for home video.

  12. jeffmcm says:

    Joefitz, hopefully without getting too personal…do you ever stick up for anything that isn’t popular and mainstream?

  13. David Poland says:

    You really are a fight picker, aren’t you J-Mc?
    What is your position about his position? Why do you have to challenge him… putting him on the defensive… aka picking a fight?

  14. jeffmcm says:

    Sorry but I have noticed a consistent theme in all of his writings. Is there any other way to phrase such a question? I really don’t want to start a fight, just a dialogue.

  15. Joe Straat says:

    Yeah, the sheer length of its stay in theaters was incredible. It was out in December and it took until, what, APRIL just to be knocked out of its number 1 spot it’d settled in by Lost in Space. And it WASN’T EVEN NUMBER 1 THE WEEKEND IT OPENED! It opened on the same weekend as the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, which also took a nice $125 million out of the U.S. box office. Of course, Titanic probably would’ve won the box office if it was shorter, but still….
    The one single memory that sticks in my mind about Titanic is when I went to see it on opening weekend, and the theater was barely half full. Cut to two weeks later, when my family finally decides to see it themselves, and the line is about five stores long (It was a mall theater). That’s a phenomenon, regardless of how the film is viewed today, quality-wise. I liked it, though I’m not the star-crossed lover type. You know what the REAL tragedy would be? If these lovers who were supposed to be made for each other survived and we cut to a couple years later when we would see their viciously long and drawn out divorce. It wouldn’t make people cry, but it sure as hell would break their hearts.

  16. joefitz84 says:

    Jeffrey can’t post without picking a fight or getting defensive. It gets him off I think.
    But I’ll answer you Jeffrey. What in my post didn’t answer your question? Maybe you should read it before you “challenge” me.

  17. PandaBear says:

    One of the things I recall about Titanic was the early screenings previewed on AICN. That were calling the film a bomb. The pushbacks. The delays. I thought we were in for a bomb. Then the COMPLETE opposite happend. Really a great story.

  18. Scooba Steve says:

    And poor Mr. Dicaprio… a good actor who’s still trying to shed the teeny bopper image this movie bestowed upon him.

  19. PandaBear says:

    Don’t cry for Leo. His 20 million paycheck and worldwide fame and his becoming the new Deniro with Marty S are a small price to pay.

  20. James Leer says:

    I agree that “Titanic” is an authentically great movie, and though some people may not remember, it drew critical raves across the board when it opened. There was only one major critical dissent, from LA Times critic Kenneth Turan, and that became something of a mini-controversy in its novelty.
    Still, much more time needs to pass before there should be a rerelease. There is still a faint backlash against the movie, as there usually is with successes of this magnitude.
    When it comes to shooting and cutting, Cameron is only rivaled by Spielberg and Zemeckis. When is he gonna make another movie?!

  21. The Premadator says:

    Cameron knows an audience like no other director. And he always seems to bring his A game in the last act of a film. Think about Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies… the guy knows how to pull it all together.
    And yeah, he’ll have to top them all with “Battle Angel” in a couple years. I’m not sure about his 3-D kick though — that’ll take some convincing.

  22. JckNapier2 says:

    Glad to read the post above, which defends both Titanic and Scream 2. Titanic has of course suffered from the condition known as ‘blockbuster backlash’, which equates popularity with poor quality and thus renders the tide of opinion against any popular movie within five years. Think about it, who admits today to still loving Jurassic Park, ID4, Titanic, or Forrest Gump? SOMEOME did, and the reviews for all of those movies ranged from good to great. Yet, no one will admit to liking or loving them today, because it’s percieved as uncool to do so. I eagerly await in 2007, when everyone starts bashing Lord Of The Rings as an empty FX spectacle that played only to teenage boys.
    As for Scream 2, I have long found it to be one of Wes Craven’s best films (behind only Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). The production values are top-notch, the acting is quite good, and the whole thing has the feeling of ‘the most epic slasher movie ever’. And, unlike the first (which I liked) and the third (which I loathed), Scream 2 actually dares to hurt the viewer, to make them care about the characters, and then ruthlessly kill off several of the more popular ones. And like the best of Craven, death actually stings in this world. I will always defend Scream 2, if only for the scene in which Sydney and Dewey argue over who has to call Randy’s mom and tell her that her son is dead. That’s the kind of horrible, realistic touch that seperates Craven from the pack and makes his films true ‘horror’ films.
    Scott Mendelson

  23. BluStealer says:

    Titanic is one of the best movies of all time and I saw it in theatres five times. I was that girl seeing it like that. It has everything. Still holds up.

  24. jeffmcm says:

    If only one could surgically extract Billy Zane’s scene about Picasso from that movie (“He’ll never amount to anything!”) It would be a big improvement.

  25. BluStealer says:

    It showed his true character and that is pretty big in character development.

  26. jeffmcm says:

    First of all, because the paintings present in that scene included several world-famous works currently hanging in museums around the world. Secondly, because it was pandering to the audience about things one couldn’t have known in 1912 but seem all too obvious to a modern movie audience. Third, because it was a cheap and cliched way to present ‘character development’ that could have been done better.
    Let me state that I love the movie overall, but that scene makes me roll my eyes.

  27. The Premadator says:

    How about in the beginning when Paxton opened the old safe and the stacks of money were reduced to mud? Great little detail.

  28. lindenen says:

    From goofs page for Titanic:
    “Incorrectly regarded as goofs: Rose’s paintings include variants of Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” one of the ballerinas series by Degas, and “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet, none of which were ever on the Titanic. However, these could have been other paintings in the same series; as the artists were still relatively unknown, they would not have been specifically listed as treasures.”

  29. jeffmcm says:

    So Picasso did more than one Demoiselles D’Avignon?
    Sounds like a weak justification in my opinion.

  30. Josh says:

    Very weak.

  31. Josh says:

    But who cares about nitpicking on Titanic?

  32. jeffmcm says:

    I don’t really care about nitpicking or goofs. Crappy dialogue is much more important.

  33. lindenen says:

    There are also multiple “Water Lillies” by Monet, but I agree the dialogue is total crap.

  34. LesterFreed says:

    I can’t wait for the sequel to it.

  35. Mr. Emerson says:

    To begin with, I’m a first-timer on this blog, so if I’m overstepping any particular rules or boundaries with my first post, I apologize in advance.
    For me, Titanic did what it did because James Cameron VERY shrewdly knew what people want to see in movies, then turned it up to overload. Romance? Central angle. Spectacle? More than ever before in any movie, at least in terms of budget. Action? The last hour or so is practically nothing but. Satisfying ending? Check and double-check.
    And if you ask me, it’s the first of those qualities which put Titanic over the tipping point. Look at the other billion-dollar babies, including those adjusted for inflation, and the only one which really has an equal love story in the plot is that other behemoth, Gone With the Wind. Jaws, Star Wars, The Return of the King…none of them play up romance in any way. It’s exactly as jeffmcm said: you get the female audience, you get the big bucks.
    And someday, there WILL be another Titanic. All of the elements which make a killing are out there, and whenever the right combination of talent combines them, they can celebrate all the way to the bank. Furthermore, if a film IS that good, it’s going to stay in theaters as long as it keeps taking in the money, current exhibition practices and “maturity” be damned. Nothing succeeds like success.

  36. Scooba Steve says:

    You’re right, Emerson, nothing stands in the way of a truly great movie and success. Can’t wait to see where the next one eventually comes from.
    “The Sixth Sense” had about half the impact of “Titanic” and even that was considered jawdropping.

  37. KamikazeCamelV2.0 says:

    That’s right. If a film continues to make that much money per week the cinemas will WANT to keep it screening. Who are they to turn down a meal ticket?
    And as others have said, one of the prime reasons why Titanic was so huge was because modern audiences hadn’t really experienced any big epic historical romance on the big screen before.
    “Think about it, who admits today to still loving Jurassic Park, ID4, Titanic, or Forrest Gump?”
    Jurassic Park is in my Top 50 of all time, I still admit to loving Titanic (obviously) and if ID4 is on TV i’ll watch it. It’s still major fun. It was my favourite movie of all time way back in 1996 when I saw it. But I was, like, 11 at the time so it was alright. It’s nowhere near the top anymore but I still like it. I also really liked Forrest Gump when I saw it when I was 12. But I don’t like it as much anymore, but it’s still quality.
    And, Scream 2… when I saw that I was 14 and I was obsessed with Scream (i’ve seen it over 100 times. is that wrong?!) and it was just perfect. Everything about it. And when I watch it now I appreciate it on even more levels than I did then. Prestige be gone. But, still, in 1997, Lost Highway is the movie for me. I saw it a few years back after Mulholland Drive and I became obsessed with Lynch. Patricia Arquette will forever have a place in my heart. Blonde femme fatale or not. GIVE ME BACK MY PHONE!

  38. Mark Ziegler says:

    Theatre owners have wet dreams about movies like Titanic and Sixth Sense. So do movie execs, actors, directors, writers, extras, etc. A hit like that can keep them in busiess for years to come.

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