Volume > Issue > We Love to Look in the Mirror

We Love to Look in the Mirror


By Patrick Coffin | October 1999
Patrick Coffin, a Los Angeles-based writer, is currently working on the motion picture adaptation of Michael O'Brien's novel Father Elijah.

Forget the recent hype over The Phantom Menace: Episode I in the Star Wars series. The George Lucas extravaganza, while appealing enough to its constituency and stellar in its initial earnings, won’t in the long run hold a light-sabre to the preternatural success of James Cameron’s Titanic. Two years after the release of the move-cum-cultural event, the time has come to look at the cultural reasons why Titanic became the first movie to make $1 billion.

Three years in the making, forged in the heat of studio battles, and almost drowned beneath a budget second in size only to Cameron’s reportedly notorious ego, the making of Titanic was likened to the making of the real 1912 disaster. The key difference being that the ship was expected to stay afloat, the film was expected to sink. The great ship went down — into Academy Award history. When Oscars were handed out in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Cameron’s epic went to accolade heaven, tying All About Eve for the most Oscar nominations (14) and Ben Hur for the most Oscar wins (11).

Titanic received a record eight Golden Globe nominations, and took home four. The Screen Actors Guild gave veteran Gloria Stuart the Best Supporting Actress Award. Cameron himself was honored by the National Board of Review for Outstanding Technical Achievement, and picked up both the Producers Guild of America Award of the Year and the coveted Directors Guild of America Award. When the lights came up on Oscar night and a billion viewers tuned in, Titanic had been the box office leader for 14 straight weeks.

Only nine weeks after opening, Titanic out-rexed Jurassic Park; crossed the $300 million gross mark faster than any film in history; and steamed past Star Wars to become the highest grossing domestic hit, earning $471 million in the U.S. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, another unheard-of record: Two months after its debut, Titanic topped its own opening weekend by earning $36 million, a sure sign of repeat business. Its soundtrack (the world’s number one bestseller) held the top berth on the Billboard Hot 200 chart for 10 consecutive weeks.

The question is, why?

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