Year
1997
Month Day
December 19

“Titanic” sails into theaters

Director James Cameron’s epic drama Titanic, the story of the real-life luxury ocean liner that struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew, opens in theaters. Titanic catapulted its young stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to international fame and won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Music (for the song “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion). The film also immortalized the line “I’m the king of the world!”–which Cameron famously repeated during the Oscar ceremony, as he picked up his gold statuette for Best Director.

Titanic centers around a love story, between Rose (Winslet), the reluctant bride-to-be of a rich snob, and Jack (DiCaprio), a working-class adventurer and artist. Although Rose and Jack are fictional, the main events and details of film are largely historically accurate and some of the characters in Titanic are based on real people–including the American millionaire John Jacob Astor and “new-money” socialite Molly Brown–who were onboard the supership on the night of April 14, 1912, when it went down in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.

James Cameron, who also penned the Titanic screenplay, reportedly spent months researching the story of the luxury liner. In 1995, he hired two Russian submersibles and conducted a series of dives to shoot interior and exterior footage at the Titanic wreckage site, located off the coast of Nova Scotia. Much of Titanic was shot at a studio custom-built for Cameron near Rosarito Beach in Baja California, Mexico. A 770-foot replica of the Titanic was constructed and held in a 17 million-gallon tank. Manufacturers involved in producing supplies and furnishings for the original Titanic were reportedly consulted during construction of the replica, which was almost as large as the actual 10-story, 882-foot supership. Cameron’s quest to tell the story accurately was a massive undertaking and the project reportedly cost over $200 million, making it one of the most expensive in movie history.

Cameron, born on August 16, 1954, had his first major hit as the writer and director of 1984’s The Terminator, the movie that turned star Arnold Schwarzenegger into a household name. The famously temperamental Cameron went on to helm such hits as Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992), True Lies (1994) and Avatar (2009).

DiCaprio, who was born on November 11, 1974, began his acting career as a teen, appearing on TV’s Growing Pains and going on to co-star in such films as This Boy’s Life (1993), with Robert De Niro; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination; and Romeo + Juliet (1996), with Claire Danes. Following Titanic, DiCaprio collaborated with director Martin Scorsese on Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), which earned DiCaprio a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Howard Hughes, and The Departed (2006). His later films include Catch Me if You Can (2002), Blood Diamond (2006), Inception (2010), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The Revenant (2015) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). He won the Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant. 

Winslet, born on October 5, 1975, in Reading, England, made her big-screen debut in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures and earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. She went on to receive Oscar nominations for Titanic, 2001’s Iris, 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2006’s Little Children and 2008’s The Reader, for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress. She later starred in Revolutionary Road (2008), Steve Jobs (2015) and Wonder Wheel (2017). 

READ MORE: The True Stories That Inspired 'Titanic' Movie Characters

Tags
terms:
Film

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“A Christmas Carol” is published

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is published. Dickens was born in 1812 and attended school in Portsmouth. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a ...read more

Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China

In the Hall of the People in Beijing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang sign an agreement committing Britain to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 in return for terms guaranteeing a 50-year extension of its capitalist system. Hong Kong–a ...read more

President Clinton impeached

After nearly 14 hours of debate, the House of Representatives approves two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, charging him with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Clinton, the second president in American history to be ...read more

National Hockey League (NHL) opens its first season

On December 19, 1917, four teams of the National Hockey League (NHL) play in the fledgling league’s first two games. At the time of its inception, the NHL was made up of five franchises: the Canadiens and the Wanderers (both of Montreal), the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs ...read more

Last lunar-landing mission ends

The Apollo lunar-landing program ends on December 19, 1972, when the last three astronauts to travel to the moon splash down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Apollo 17 had lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 10 days before. In July 1969, after three years of preparation, the ...read more

Continental Army enters winter camp at Valley Forge

With the onset of the bitter winter cold, the Continental Army under General George Washington, still in the field, enters its winter camp at Valley Forge, 22 miles from British-occupied Philadelphia. Washington chose a site on the west bank of the Schuylkill River that could be ...read more

George Washington leads troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge

On December 19, 1777, commander of the Continental Army George Washington, the future first president of the United States, leads his beleaguered troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Things could hardly have looked bleaker for Washington and the Continental ...read more

Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack” is published

On December 19, 1732, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia first published Poor Richard’s Almanack. The book, filled with proverbs preaching industry and prudence, was published continuously for 25 years and became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an ...read more

World Series parachutist sentenced

Michael Sergio, who parachuted into Game Six of the 1986 World Series at New York’s Shea Stadium, is fined $500 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. On October 25, Sergio, a 37-year-old actor and Mets fan, landed on the infield with a “Let’s Go Mets” banner in the ...read more

Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov released from internal exile

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev releases Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Elena Bonner, from their internal exile in Gorky, a major city on the Volga River that was then closed to foreigners. The move was hailed as evidence of Gorbachev’s commitment to lessening political ...read more

Thomas Paine publishes “The American Crisis”

"These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have ...read more

Hitler takes command of the German army

In a major shake-up of the military high command, Adolf Hitler assumes the position of commander in chief of the German army. The German offensive against Moscow was proving to be a disaster. A perimeter had been established by the Soviets 200 miles from the city—and the Germans ...read more