MOVIE DOUBLE TAKE REVIEWS AFI'S 100 GREATEST AMERICAN MOVIES: #83: TITANIC
We're reviewing every single movie on AFI's List of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. We'll tell you why they matter, how they hold up, if they belong on the list, and then re-rank the 100 movies by quality! Today's film: Titanic. Find the master list here.
Release Date: 1997
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Runtime: 3 hours, 14 minutes
How to Watch: DVD (no longer on streaming)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Fun Fact: James Cameron is the one who drew the famous naked sketch of Kate Winslet. His hands are the ones that can be seen drawing in many of the scenes where she’s lying like one of Jack’s French girls.
Historical Context: By several measures, Titanic is one of the most successful films of all time. It was the first film to gross over one billion dollars worldwide (it nearly made two billion) and it tied the record for most Academy Award nominations with 11. It certified Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as A-listers for decades to come, and ensured that James Cameron would get all the funding he could ever want for his future films. A later film of his, Avatar, would have even greater financial success, though it hasn’t left nearly the cultural imprint Titanic has (so far).
Titanic came to fruition because James Cameron was long obsessed with shipwrecks, but Titanic seemed like it might go down as a train wreck. Exorbitantly expensive (at a 200 million dollar budget, it’s more than a million dollars per minute of film) and plagued by a harrowing production that caused many to quit before production ended, it’s easy to imagine an alternate-history timeline where Titanic is a punchline the likes of Ishtar. What actually happened, of course, is the stuff of history.
I have so many things to say about Titanic. Oh my gosh, where to start.
Titanic came out when I was 8, so I didn’t see it for many years after its initial release because Kate Winslet’s boobs were too risqué for a third-grader in Catholic school. When I finally did see it, it quickly became my favorite movie of all time. And while, yes, at the time it may have been because Leo was just so dreamy, it is really because Titanic has the ability to capture the hearts of a broad age span of audiences to whom it is geared. While I do think that the appeal of Titanic is largely to a female and/or chick-flick-and-romance-loving audience, the age range of people it appeals to makes it unique on that basis alone. It doesn't get stale when you get older, like other teenage-geared movies do (A Walk to Remember has not aged well in my movie-watching repertoire), but it also is pure and romantic enough to appeal to that teenage audience as well. Many years later, it’s still in my top five movies of all time (it just can’t compete with a few Ben Affleck gems) and some days it’s still my number one. I'm not claiming Titanic is a movie for everyone, and I don't think the historical context makes it a universally loved movie. Who are we kidding--Titanic is a chick flick if there ever was one. And it is just the best one out there.
The draw of Titanic is not only the love story, the historical context, and the important event that it remembers, but the grand scale with which it does so, much like this review says. This. Is. A. MOVIE. We’re not just watching some people go to a wedding and fall back in love (Not Since You is now on Amazon Prime and I do NOT recommend from my first ten minutes of viewing). Titanic is a massive love story in the center of a massive film documenting a massive event. It has infiltrated pop culture so fully that it’s still quoted 20 years after its release and girls still yearn for a love story like that of Jack and Rose. You just can’t top “I’m king of the world!” or “I’ll never let go, Jack,” or even, “draw me like one of your French girls.” The movie makes you wonder what will happen to Jack and Rose even as they’re clinging to the last bit of ship that’s above water in the Atlantic. We're begging for one last kiss.
While, sure, I have problems with the execution of the movie--I don’t think we need any of the present-day Bill Paxton scenes--I think it gets made fun of way too much in pop culture. Jack might have been able to fit on that stupid floating door but it didn’t really seem like he could. And who cares? Him dying isn’t what made the movie great. The movie has already captivated you for almost three hours at that point, and him dying isn’t even the end.
Sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone.
Titanic is a beautiful cinematic piece; everything in it is gorgeous and colorful, deep wooden interiors and dramatic sunsets. The soundtrack is intense and dramatic and the acting is, well, what catapulted Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to stardom. It’s the stuff of Hollywood and the plot is the stuff of a great Hollywood romance.
I have also made Bob listen to the instrumental Titanic soundtrack the whole time we have written these reviews. Sorry Bob.
It has only been twenty years since Titanic first took the world by iceberg, but the film is already showing its age. At an absolutely bloated three hours and fourteen minutes, it’s hard to imagine a justification for some of the duller stretches of the movie. Do we need twenty minutes of historical excavation as exposition before we launch into the story of Rose and Jack?
Titanic is one of the rare movies that has so permeated the culture, that you feel like you’ve seen the film without actually having to do the work of seeing it. Jack screaming that he’s king of the world, the famous “draw me like one of your French girls” scene, and the notorious (and often criticized) death/survival scene of Rose and Jack all live outside the movie. And in this case, that’s because they’re the most riveting parts of the film. Unfortunately, the material around it is often dull and forgettable. For every iconic nude portrait, there’s a much more forgettable scene like the one of Jack hobnobbing with rich socialites.
Ultimately, Titanic didn’t connect with me when I first saw and it doesn’t connect with me now. Jack and Rose feel like archetypes more than they feel like real people, and as a result, it’s left me feeling cold. It’s epic at the expense of being personal and grand at the expense of being intimate or specific. Not to mention, a cutting-edge iceberg in 1997 really looks like crap today.
Does it deserve a place on AFI's 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time?
Allie: Yes, most definitely!
Bob: It’s hard to deny the film’s cultural impact, so there’ll always be a case for it on lists like this which often gauge a film’s importance more than its quality. But given how dated the film already feels only twenty years later, I’m not convinced it will ultimately hold the test of time.
Is it One of My 100 Favorite Movies of All Time?
Allie: Yes, most definitely! Top 5.
Bob: Hard no.
Must-See, Worth Watching, or Pass:
Allie: Must-See, most definitely!
How does it rank among the other films in the AFI's Top 100 Greatest Films of All Time?
Of The Films Reviewed So Far:
#5 American Graffiti
#4 City Lights
#3 Raiders of the Lost Ark
#2 Forrest Gump
#5 American Graffiti
#3 City Lights
# 2 Forrest Gump
#1 Raiders of the Lost Ark