On this day in 1997, 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; it will go on to become the highest-grossing movie in history. 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). Among DiCaprio’s other movies are director Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can (2002) and Blood Diamond (2006), for which he received a second Best Actor Oscar nomination.
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.