James Cameron’s epic feature film Titanic is considered one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. After all, according to Box Office Mojo, it ranks as the second highest grossing movie ever with a worldwide intake of nearly $2.2 billion, only behind the hit film Avatar, which coincidentally also happens to be directed by Cameron as well. Before its release in 1997, the movie was not expected to be a hit. In fact, it was feared by many of the creators that it would be one of the biggest bombs in cinema history as the production costs skyrocketed past expectations.
Fortunately for Cameron and his team, the movie went on to be the highest grossing film of all time at the time of its release, breaking just about every single box office record in existence up until that point. It connected with audiences on a scale that few films do, becoming a cinematic sensation through its action-packed ship journey and an epic love story between the two main characters, Jack and Rose, played by a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Here are thirteen things the movie Titanic got wrong and twelve it actually got right.
One of the storylines in the film that got a big reaction out of audiences was the depiction of Titanic passengers facing class discrimination when it came to who would be able to board lifeboats in an attempt to save their lives. The movie showed the third class passengers, who came from less money, not being allowed to get on lifeboats while reserving spaces only for the high-class first passengers.
In reality, once it became evident that loss of life would be significant, there was a concerted effort by all crew members of the ship to get as many civilians onto a lifeboat, regardless of class.
In the movie, as the ship begins to sink, an elderly couple’s final moments together laying in bed as water rushes into their suite is depicted in one of the more touching and emotional scenes in the film.
According to theculturetrip.com, “Isidor Straus, the owner of Macy’s, and his wife Ida were also passengers on the Titanic. Due to his old age, Isidor was offered a seat on a lifeboat, but refused special treatment. Ida didn’t want to leave him, so the two of them went to their room where they died together.”
Will Murdoch, one of the officers in the film, was depicted as a villainous man who took the lives of some third-class passengers before taking his own. In reality, this was far from the truth. In fact, he was actually quite the hero, who was responsible for saving many lives before perishing in the sinking.
According to USA Today, James Cameron had regrets when it came to his depiction of First Officer Will Murdoch, saying, “I was being a screenwriter. I wasn’t thinking about being a historian, and I think wasn’t as sensitive about the fact that his family, his survivors might feel offended by that and they were.”
Cameron went to great lengths to study the Titanic’s journey, from start to finish including its impact with the giant iceberg that caused its eventual sinking. The movie portrayed the impact in a very accurate way, getting the size and power of the iceberg correctly while also capturing the chaos that ensued shortly after.
The moments before the crash which showed the calm before the madness along with how the iceberg scraped the side of the enormous ship were all very real, done well by Cameron and his production crew.
Long before Rose ever mounted the wooden door that kept her afloat in the middle of the cold Atlantic Ocean, it’s likely that she would have not made it that far.
Her thin dress simply wasn’t enough to combat the frigid temperatures she experienced throughout her difficult journey in the waters, both on the ship and off. Even if she did make it that far, even propped up on the door outside of the water, there’s a high likelihood she would have succumbed to hypothermia while waiting for her rescue.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was named Jack Dawson in the film, but much to the surprise of Cameron, who had already finished the script, he found that there was an actual J. Dawson who was on board the Titanic.
According to thelittlethings.com, this J. Dawson, was actually a Joseph Dawson, much to the disappointment of fans everywhere who flocked to his grave in mass at Nova Scotia’s Fairview Cemetery, where many Titanic passengers are buried today, before finding out he wasn’t the real Jack Dawson.
One of the fan-favorite characters of the film is Margaret Brown, played by Kathy Bates, also referred to as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Although she was a very charismatic person, played perfectly in the film, it was inaccurate that she was known as Molly Brown during her time onboard the Titanic.
She didn’t actually become known for this moniker until after the ship’s sinking and her survival thereafter due to her antics onboard, becoming famous for her help and urging of the crew to go back to offer more assistance to passengers being left behind.
The ship’s splitting into two sections at the center was, in fact, the way the Titanic ultimately went down according to historians who studied the wreckage. The cracks on the side of the ship caused by the iceberg led to significant water making its way onto the Titanic in a hurry. As the ship’s hull began to fill with far too much water for it to support, the front end began to sink, causing the weight distribution to go out of balance. This ultimately led to the center of the Titanic splitting in half, causing the catastrophic sinking in historic fashion.
Although Cameron accurately depicted the hull splitting in half, it’s definitely safe to say that he took some great liberties when portraying the rest of the Titanic’s sinking.
Of course, as a director looking to make an epic adventure action film, he made the sinking significantly more dramatic to ensure audiences remained captivated throughout the three-hour runtime of the film. It’s safe to say this was the right decision, considering Titanic’s massive box office success.
Captain Edward John Smith is depicted in the film as the warm and gentle captain of the Titanic who ultimately went down with his ship as he stood in the wheelhouse, where a captain spends most of his time. The scene portraying his passing is seen as an emotional ode to the pride and love captains have for their ship.
It is believed by many that Captain Smith, in fact, passed away in similar fashion, just the way Cameron filmed it in Titanic.
The center of the entire movie focuses on the love story between the two lovers, Jack and Rose, which made the film the giant cinematic hit it turned out to be. Without their storyline, Titanic would have been an epic failure, but it has to be noted that their very existence was entirely made up for the dramatic love story effect.
Many fans want to believe their love story was real, but unfortunately, it was Cameron’s imaginative storytelling that captured the world’s attention instead of a true story.
Much like Captain Edward John Smith making the decision to stay with his ship as it sank, the mastermind behind the design of the Titanic, architect Thomas Andrews, similarly went down with the ship as well.
Although it’s unknown where Andrews passed away, Cameron portrayed his demise in one of the decadent rooms of the Titanic as he stood pensively. In a nod to show disappointed the architect felt at his masterpiece failing, Andrews looks on in his final moments before the Titanic sinks.
In one of the more talked about scenes of the film, Jack attends a fancy dinner party with the first class passengers alongside Rose after he saves her life. In reality, it is highly unlikely that any passenger from the third class section would ever be invited or allowed to mingle with the high class as there were strict rules that prohibited this type of class cross-socialization.
One of the better scenes of the movie is likely something that would have never happened in real life, unfortunately.
According to culturetrip.com, “Surprisingly, the boats on the Titanic actually surpassed the amount required by the British Board of Trade. It was the largest passenger steamship ever built, but could not ensure the safety of the passengers.” The movie’s portrayal of the Titanic not having enough lifeboats to save the passengers led audiences to believe the makers of the ship were irresponsible and cared little for all the lives of the passengers on board, but the reality is that this was actually standard practice for any ship built.
The Titanic actually exceeded the requirement, but fell victim to the entire ship sinking rather than a maritime accident that could easily be addressed.
In the movie, Jack and Rose were one of the last passengers to make it off the boat as they hang onto the railing high up in the sky as half of the ship floats in the ocean, suspended in the air. Once they make it into the cold waters of the ocean, their fates are decided. But before they ever made it this far, the truth is they likely would have perished long before. The pair is seen running through the halls of third class far down in the bottom of the hull where water has dangerously filled up the passageways.
The water from the Atlantic is so cold that running and swimming through it for the hour that Jack and Rose did is simply unrealistic. They would have perished from hypothermia long before making it off the Titanic.
In one of the most emotionally impactful scenes of the film, the ship’s band continues to play music while it is sinking as passengers run by chaotically trying to save themselves from impending death. Historians were almost certain they played through the entire way even into their eventual passing, but it’s generally accepted that Cameron took liberties with the song choice.
In the film, they played a beautiful rendition of Nearer, My God, To Thee, but according to theculturetrip.com, “one survivor claimed that the band played popular ragtime music, but that kind of music wouldn’t have the same emotional effect in a film.”
Cameron’s Titanic depicts Bruce Ismay, the president of the company that constructed the great ship, as a villainous coward. He is seen sneaking onto a lifeboat ahead of women and children in a cowardly and selfish act, leaving audiences to dislike him a great deal. theculturetrip.com reports that , “according to the British Inquiry Report, Ismay got in a boat after he helped many passengers board.” Cameron, as with many other high ranking members of the ship, portrayed Ismay in a negative light for dramatic effect.
In one of the biggest controversies surrounding the film, which has been argued on the internet for years is Rose’s ultimate survival by climbing onboard the heavy wooden door in the middle of the cold ocean, while Jack drowned alongside her in the water. Many argue that there was enough room for Jack to get on as well, which will always remain a mystery, but Cameron did get part of it right.
It’s likely that if Rose made it this far without succumbing to hypothermia, the door would have carried her weight enough for her to be saved by surrounding crew members.
In one of the scenes that incites the most outrage from the film, third class passengers are locked beneath deck in their quarters by crew members keeping them from escaping and giving them very little chance for survival with only drowning as a real possibility. Ultimately Jack and other members of the below deck class broke through the steel gates, freeing everyone.
According to theculturetrip.com, “historian Richard Howells argues that there is no historical evidence to support this. He claims that the gates seen in the film weren’t meant for a shipwreck, but other reasons like preventing the spread of infectious diseases.” There was likely no malicious efforts by crew members to keep passengers from escaping with their lives.
In one of the most beloved scenes in the film, Jack waits for Rose at the bottom of the staircase in the ship’s beautiful ballroom as she descends in her dress, making for a romantic scene that elevates the love story to new heights.
This staircase actually existed on the Titanic and Cameron along with his crew, reconstructed it in painstaking detail, ensuring that several details were captured perfectly.
“Do you know of Dr. Freud? His ideas with male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you, Mr. Ismay.” This is a line that Rose utters to Bruce Ismay during a conversation, quoting theories of Sigmund Freud. The only problem is this Freud theory wasn’t published until years later, after the Titanic sank in 1912. A bit of historical inaccuracy James Cameron was willing to overlook in exchange for witty dialogue to captivate the audience.
The movie depicts the reality that there weren’t enough lifeboats to save all of the passengers on board the Titanic, but it also accurately portrayed that many of these boats were not filled to capacity, which likely led to greater loss of life than was necessary. Unfortunately, the movie shows this as the crew only allowing first class passengers to board, but the reality is that they simply didn’t fill them up entirely due to the chaotic nature of the ship sinking.
Crew members ultimately decided to let the boats leave as quickly as possible rather than allow them to go down with the ship too soon.
There was no mention of the SS Californian in Cameron’s film. This ship was actually quite close to the Titanic when it sank and would have very likely seen the rockets being propelled into the nighttime sky as distress calls. The SS Californian did not answer the calls of the Titanic, leading to condemnation from both the United States and English governments which claim its assistance would have led to more lives being saved.
Cameron chose to leave this great detail out so as not to interfere with the story he was depicting.
Cameron’s Titanic does a great job of accurately capturing the panic and chaos that likely ensued onboard the ship before its eventual demise. There are portrayals of people from every class running around on board in distress, looking to do anything possible to save their own lives and those of loved ones.
The film does a realistic job of showing the hopelessness the victims likely felt in their last hours before they met their fate.
Throughout the film, the phrase “unsinkable” is repeated several times in reference to the grand Titanic ship. The architect, Thomas Andrews, as well as Captain Smith and the president of the ship, Ismay, all allude to the unsinkable nature of the ship, highlighting its giant and immovable nature at the time. The reality is that no one truly claimed this to be the case about the Titanic. It certainly was a marvel in maritime architecture, but everyone accepted the notion that it could sink like any other ship.