Titanic: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About James Cameron's Epic Movie

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic

There is no doubt about it, Titanic is one of the biggest movies to hit the big screen. Released in late 1997, James Cameron's epic disaster period piece about the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, was one of the cultural touchstone of the decade and the made stars out of many members of the cast. But as beautiful, exciting, and the heartbreaking as the film is, the behind the scenes facts from the film's production are just as exciting.

Like any billion-dollar movie (especially when they weren't dime-a-dozen like they are now), there was a lot that went into Titanic. With some of the incidents that happened on the set of James Cameron's second most successful theatrical release, it's amazing that we are even able to debate whether or not Jack could fit on the board in the first place. Here are 10 behind the scenes facts from James Cameron's epic, Titanic.

Kate Winslet and Billy Zane in Titanic

Someone Spiked The Production Crew's Food With PCP

Starting things off, we have the time the production (cast and crew) on the Canadian set inadvertently ingested PCP (a hallucinogen) on the final night of shooting. According to a rather engaging Vice article on the incident, the cast and crew were taking a break from the dusk-to-dawn shooting to have a midnight lunch when someone noticed something was up with the clam chowder (which everyone had eaten with some going back for seconds and thirds). Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were not on set that day.

In the article, standby painter Marilyn McAvoy revealed that she first noticed something was up about 30 minutes after eating a bowl of the spiked-chowder when she started to feel dizzy and confused. Shortly thereafter, McAvoy noticed that other people on set were starting to feel the same effects, and they were all rushed to a nearby hospital, stating:

The crew vans came and picked everybody up and took us to the Dartmouth General Hospital. En masse, we went through these hospital doors at 1 AM in the morning. They did not know what to do with us. It became pretty chaotic. Some people were having a really hard time. I think maybe the people who had more experience with drugs were having flashbacks and bad trips.

Bill Paxton in Titanic

James Cameron Was So Passionate About The Movie He Forfeited His Salary and Backend Pay

If you listen to James Cameron talk about Titanic long enough, you will see just how passionate the director was about the project. If years of pre-production, which included embarking upon several dives to the site of the wreckage, wasn't enough to the prove that this was more than just another movie for Cameron, then this next bit of information should do the trick.

Titanic was originally going to cost around $120 million to produce, but as the production carried on, that figure skyrocketed up to $200 million. During an interview around the time the movie was released in 1997, James Cameron appeared on The Howard Stern Show where he revealed that he gave all his money back as a sign of good faith, stating:

We told them $120 [million] and that's what we thought it was going to cost… That's why I wound up giving them back all my money because I said, 'Guys, I don't want you to think we lied to you just so we can get you to make this movie.'

Cameron went on to explain that while he still held the authorship of the movie, he did not receive a salary and wouldn't receive money on the backend after its release.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Danny Nucci in Titanic

The "I'm The King Of The World" Line Was Made Up On The Spot

Upon the release of Titanic to the end of the time, the line, "I'm the king of the world" will go down as one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history. But like all great things in movie-making, the actual words were made up on the spot.

During an interview with BBC Radio 1 in 2019, James Cameron explained that he had been working with Leonardo DiCaprio on the scene where he stands on the front of the ship for quite some time but couldn't come up with the right words to give the moment its extra flair until the final moment:

It was made up on the spot. I was in a crane basket and we were losing the light and we had tried this and we had tried that and tried this line and that line and nothing was really working. I literally was just coming up snake eyes and I said, 'Oh yeah, I got one for you. Just say, 'I'm the king of the world' and just spread your arms out wide and just be in the moment and love it and celebrate the moment.'

Kate Winslet in Titanic

Titanic Was Considered A Failure Before It Was Even Released

It's crazy to think about now, but Titanic, one of the most successful movies of all time, was considered a failure before it even hit theaters. I know, crazy, right? But we have hindsight in our favor these days, unlike the press and studio in the months leading up to the film's release.

In a 2017 op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron recounted all the drama that surrounded the project early on in production all the way to the days leading up film's premiere. Cameron goes into great detail about the treatment he and the movie received from the press leading to the release, especially before Paramount pushed back the release:

We were also being pummeled relentlessly in the press, especially the industry trade papers — about epic cost overruns, set safety, delivery dates and just about everything. We were the biggest morons in Hollywood history and the press had the long knives out, sharpening them as we approached our summer release. It would have reached a crescendo of scorn just as we put the film in theaters.

The sinking of the Titanic in Titanic

The Film Was Initially Set To Take Sail In July 1997 But Was Delayed To Finalize The Special Effects

Up until the spring 1997, Titanic was scheduled to hit theaters over the July 4 weekend, but as the New York Times described it, the most expensive film ever made was pushed back as there was no way to fast-track the new and complicated computer effects that make up a large portion of the movie. According to the same article, pushing the movie back until the late fall of that year had a ripple effect on Hollywood after Paramount and 20th Century Fox (RIP) decided to vacate the July 2, 1997, opening date to work out the kinks in post-production.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic

James Cameron Actually Drew The Iconic Nude Drawing

One of the most talked about scenes in Titanic after its release was the iconic "Draw me like one of your French girls" scene in Rose's (Kate Winslet) first-class quarters. It was the moment where you got to see Jack Dawson's (Leonardo Dicaprio) artistry come to life, but it actually wasn't DiCaprio behind the pencil.

During a 2017 appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Kate Winslet answered a series of questions about the movie, which included one about this particular scene. In the middle of the interview, Winslet blurted

Jim Cameron actually drew that picture. Maybe no one even knows that until this moment right now. Jim Cameron actually drew that picture and he did actually sketch me in a bathing suit.

Matthew McConaughey in Titanic

Matthew McConaughey Was Almost Jack Dawson

Before James Cameron and company decided to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as the leading man Jack Dawson in Titanic, another well-regarded and sought after actor was really close to being cast instead. Enter Matthew McConaughey. At the time of the casting, McConaughey wasn't the name he is today, but the Texan actor had already won audiences over in the 1993 Daze And Confused.

During a 2018 appearance on The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast, the one-day Oscar-winning actor revealed that he even auditioned alongside Kate Winslet, which made him feel like he had the part, stating:

I went and auditioned for that. I wanted that. I auditioned with Kate Winslet. Had a good audition. Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it. I didn't get it. I never got offered that.

Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic

A Mishap With The Wooden Staircase Almost Ended In Tragedy

The grand wooden staircase was at the center of multiple scenes throughout Titanic, including one when water begins crashing in from the glass ceiling as the doomed ship makes its way to the depths of the frigid Atlantic Ocean. That scene could have been even more terrifying if filming hadn't been stopped by James Cameron, as the director explained in the documentary Titanic: 20 Years Later:

The staircase has got a steel footing, then when we sank the ship, it lifted. Wood is buoyant. It ripped off that footing and it all floated up, and it actually pinned two stunt players. Fortunately, they weren't hurt, but it was a pretty scary moment.

Kate Winslet in Titanic

James Cameron Edited The 3D Re-Release After Talking To Neil deGrasse Tyson

Pretty much anytime a movie or television series that has anything or nothing to do with astronomy, famed astronomer and resident Debbie Downer Neil deGrasse Tyson is there to point out each and every flaw. James Cameron and Titanic were no different.

Ahead of 2012 3D re-release of Titanic, James Cameron revealed to The Telegraph that he had received a "snarky" email from Neil deGrasse Tyson about the much-debated driftwood scene, but it didn't have to deal with if there was room for Jack on the board, stating:

Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen. And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in. So I said 'All right, send me the right stars for that exact time and I’ll put it in the movie.'

That's right, an email from an astronomer convinced one of the greatest directors of our time to make a subtle and hard to find change to one of his most successful movies.

Bill Paxton in Titanic

There Was An Alternate Ending, And The Late Bill Paxton Was Glad It Was Cut

After more than three hours of love and tragedy throughout the course of Titanic, audiences were given a fairytale ending with the older Rose (Gloria Stuart) dropping the "Heart Of The Ocean" into sea before passing in her sleep and joining her long-lost love on the ship where they first met. At one point, however, the scene of Rose letting go of her past was going to be much longer and involved Bill Paxton's character Brock Lovett catching her tossing the diamond in the ocean.

Often described as one of the worst things you've ever seen, a lot of people weren't fond of the extended ending, including the late Bill Paxton, who once told Yahoo that it was totally unnecessary, and he was glad it was cut, even if it meant less screen time for him:

Coming back to us was a way to wrap it up and kind of tie up the old Rose's story and all that. But you didn't really need anything from us. Our job was done by then. So it became very evident in the cutting. If you're smart and you take the ego and the narcissism out of it, you'll listen to the film. The film will tell you what it needs and what it does not need. And the baby needs tough love. It just wasn't necessary.

The extended scene doesn't really make sense in the grand scheme of things and only makes an already long movie even longer. And if Bill Paxton said he was glad to see it go, then you have to just go with it.

Those are just 10 of the craziest behind the scenes facts from James Cameron's 1997 disaster epic, Titanic. Were any of these a surprise to you or is this stuff you already knew? Either way, make sure to leave a comment and check back for the latest movie and television news here at CinemaBlend.

Philip Sledge
Content Writer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.