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29 Facts About the Making of "Titanic" You Never Knew

The 1997 blockbuster is packed with historical oddities and wild filmmaking choices.

Titanic, James Cameron's romance-disaster epic about the sinking of what was once the biggest ship of all time, is fittingly one of the biggest movies of all time. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio starred as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson, two star-crossed lovers who find romance on the doomed passenger ship before it meets its tragic end after hitting an iceberg. The 1997 film was a sensation, winning an astounding number of awards and becoming the highest-grossing film of all time at that point.

As you might expect from such a massive movie about such a huge historical event, there is a lot of trivia about the film, including real-life connections, record-setting achievements, goofs, and even drug-laced clam chowder. Read on to learn 29 facts about the making of Titanic.

RELATED: 25 Facts About the Making of "The Godfather" You Never Knew.

29 Fascinating Facts About the Making of Titanic

Titanic was not the first movie about the Titanic—one premiered 31 days after it sank.

Titanic wreckage
Ralph White/Getty Images

There had been numerous movies about the Titanic prior to Cameron's Titanic, most notably 1958's A Night to Remember. However, the first movie about the sinking, a now-lost silent film titled Saved From the Titanic, premiered on May 16, 1912. That's only 31 days after the actual ship sank. Dorothy Gibson, an actor who survived the sinking, played herself in the film.

Cameron spent more time with the Titanic than its passengers.

James Cameron at a photocall for "Avatar: The Way of Water" in London in December 2022
Fred Duval / Shutterstock

Cameron famously is very into deep-sea submersible dives, and he went down to the actual wreck of the Titanic 33 times to research and film the wreck. Because of all these dives—each of which takes hours—he has spent more time "on" the Titanic than the real ship's captain, Edward Smith, did on its voyage.

Titanic cost more to make than the actual Titanic.

Still from Titanic, grand staircase flooding
Paramount Pictures

It cost $7.5 million to build the Titanic in 1912, which, adjusted for inflation, is almost $250 million today. That's less than it cost to make the movie, whose $200 million budget in 1997 is equivalent to $390 million today.

The same company that made carpets for the real Titanic made them for the movie.

Still from Titanic dining room scene
Paramount Pictures

James Templeton & Co and Stoddard International, Scotland's oldest carpet manufacturer, made carpets for the first-class lounge for the actual Titanic. More than 80 years later, they made the same carpets for the movie version of the Titanic.

Titanic's code name for filming was "Planet Ice."

Still from Titanic behind-the-scenes featurette
Paramount Movies/YouTube

It's not uncommon for big, anticipated movies to use fake names while filming in an attempt to throw fans off the scent and keep them away from shoots. Titanic's code name was "Planet Ice," a cheeky nod to the fateful iceberg that the doomed ship collided with.

RELATED: 13 Surprising Artifacts Found in the Titanic Wreckage.

Winslet sent Cameron a rose to lobby for the part.

Kate Winslet and James Cameron in 1998
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Gwyneth Paltrow and Claire Danes both turned down offers to play Rose, though even then it was a bit of a fight for Winslet to ensure that she'd get the part. She sent Cameron a single rose and a card signed "From Your Rose" in an attempt to convince the director that she was right actor to play the lead character. Winslet eventually convinced him, and the rest is history.

Winslet accidentally flashed DiCaprio on the first day of filming.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Winslet had to disrobe for the scene when DiCaprio's Jack draws a picture of her. But by the time it came to shoot that scene, her co-star had already seen her in the buff. Winslet told People that DiCaprio accidentally walked in on her while she was getting makeup done and had nothing on. "I said, 'We're going to spend the whole day like this; we might as well get over it now.' That broke the ice," she recalled.

Cameron drew the famous nude sketch of Rose.

rose sketch from Titanic
Paramount Pictures

In addition to being an incredible director, Cameron is also a pretty good artist, too. It was actually him, not DiCaprio or some unnamed behind-the-scenes artist, who drew the iconic sketch of Rose posting on the couch wearing the Heart of the Ocean. Those are Cameron's hands in the close-up shots, and he also drew all of the other images in Jack's sketchbook.

One actual survivor of a sinking appears in the movie.

Eric Braeden in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

Eric Braeden, a German actor best known for his role in the soap opera The Young and the Restless, played John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men in the world at the time of his death, in Titanic. Braeden revealed in his 2017 memoir that he was actually a survivor of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff sinking, having been aboard the ship when he was a very small child. The boat was being used as a transport to evacuate more than 10,000 people as the Soviets advanced on Nazi Germany during the end of World War II, and more than 9,000 people died when a Soviet submarine torpedoed it in the Baltic Sea in January 1945. It's the greatest loss of life from the sinking of a single ship. (For comparison, 1,517 people are believed to have died when the Titanic sank.)

The actors ate real Beluga caviar on the set.

Caviar being plated in Titanic scene
Paramount Pictures

According to Brett Baker, DiCaprio's stand-in, the actors ate real Beluga caviar during dinner scenes in the first class dining room. Beluga caviar is among the fanciest varieties of an already fancy (and expensive) food, with an estimated cost of $4,000 per pound. That's delicious, pricey commitment to verisimilitude.

RELATED: The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies Ever Made.

Somebody spiked clam chowder with PCP and poisoned the cast and crew.

Bill Paxton in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

During filming in 1996, about 80 members of the cast and crew (including Cameron and Bill Paxton) had to go to the hospital because somebody laced a delicious pot of clam chowder from craft services with the psychedelic drug PCP. (Winslet and DeCaprio were not there.)

Although people got high and sick ("Some people were laughing, some people were crying, some people were throwing up," Paxton told Entertainment Weekly), nobody was seriously injured, luckily. The person responsible for spiking the chowder has never been found, and police in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who investigated the crime closed the case without identifying a suspect in 1999. However, in April 2024, police were told to release any additional information they had about the case, meaning it's possible we might learn more about the incident soon.

The breed of Rose's dog in the present-day scenes is an Easter egg.

Gloria Stuart in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

Elderly Rose, played by Gloria Stuart in the framing story, has a little Pomeranian. This choice of breed is no accident, as two of the three dogs who survived the sinking of the Titanic were Pomeranians. The third dog was a Pekingese.

The ship's departure was filmed in reverse.

Still from the Southampton scene in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

To save costs on an already very, very expensive movie, Cameron built a full-scale recreation of only half of the real Titanic and had it facing the ocean so that the prevailing winds would blow smoke, hair, and costumes back in a way that would make the ship look like it was moving. That worked for most of the shots, but when the Titanic departed, the port side was docked rather than the starboard side they'd built. This meant that for all the scenes where the ship was leaving (as well as for a few other shots here and there), the actors and extras had to do everything in reverse so that it would look like it was the correct side of the ship when the footage was mirrored. Lettering and costumes had to be flipped, too.

Jack mentions Lake Wissota, which didn't exist at the time.

Still from deck scene in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

One of the few flat-out historical inaccuracies in Titanic comes when Jack is telling Rose about his days ice fishing on Lake Wissota in Wisconsin. The problem was that Lake Wissota didn't exist at the time. It was manmade, created as a result of flooding as part of the Lake Wissota hydroelectric project in 1917—five full years after Jack supposedly told this story.

Celine Dion recorded "My Heart Will Go On" in secret because Cameron originally didn't want to end the movie with a pop song.

Celine Dion backstage at the Grammys in 1999
Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images

Although Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" became as iconic as any other part of Titanic, Cameron was originally skeptical of having a pop song—or any song with vocals—in his movie. But the film's composer, James Horner, wrote what would become "My Heart Will Go On" for Dion and had her record it one night so that they could insert it into a cut of the movie in an attempt to convince the filmmaker that ending the film with such an emotional, rousing ballad would be a good choice. He was convinced, and "My Heart Will Go On" became an essential part of the film's lore—and one of the best-selling singles of all time.

RELATED: The 15 Movies That Won the Most Oscars.

The young boy playing with a top was based on a real person and a real photo.

Boy playing with top in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

In an early scene, a young boy can be seen playing with a top on the first class deck. This is a reference to one of the few surviving images of the Titanic. Francis Browne, an Irish Jesuit priest, was on the Titanic for just the first leg of its voyage, boarding in Southampton, England, and getting off during the ship's stop in Cobh, Ireland. Father Browne took pictures of his short, uneventful journey, including one of six-year-old Robert Douglas Spedden playing on the deck. Spedden survived the sinking, though he was tragically hit by a car and killed three years later.

The car where Jack and Rose sleep together was actually on the ship.

Jack and Rose in the car in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

Jack and Rose have a steamy sex scene in the back of a car that's been stowed away inside the Titanic. That car, a 1912 Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville, was actually on the ship and was the only automobile known to have been aboard, according to the cargo manifest. The car has not been recovered from the wreck and it's unclear what sort of condition it would be in if it was.

The man drinking next to Jack and Rose when the ship's stern finally goes under was real.

Man drinking from flask in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

Jack and Rose are among the last people to get off the Titanic before it sinks, and they're joined on the vertical, rapidly descending bow by a chef who takes a swig of liquor from a flask. This character is based on a real person. Baker Charles John Joughin was the last person to leave the ship and he at least partially attributed his survival to liquor, as he testified that he'd had a "half-tumbler of liquor" before going down, and that helped him survive in the freezing water without ill effect until he was rescued by a lifeboat.

"We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen" was a real quote.

Michael Ensign in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

One of the famous victims of the Titanic disaster was Benjamin Guggenheim. He appears in a small part in the film as played by Michael Ensign. When the ship was going down, Guggenheim reportedly declined to get on a lifeboat, instead changing into formalwear and saying, "We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen." That quote was included in the film.

The couple who die in bed together are based on real people.

Couple laying in bed Titanic scene
Paramount Pictures

The first class couple who are seen lying in bed together as the waters rise and the ship begins to sink are based on real passengers Isidor and Ida Straus. Isidor, a former U.S. Congressman and co-owner of the Macy's department store, reportedly refused to get on a lifeboat before women and children. In turn, Ida refused to get on without her husband.

In a darkly ironic echo, Stockton Rush, the co-founder of OceanGate who died in 2023 when a submersible he was piloting imploded on a trip to the wreckage of the Titanic, is a descendant of Ida Straus.

RELATED: The Saddest Movie Deaths of All Time.

Cameron regrets the scene where First Officer Murdoch shoots a passenger.

Scene on the deck with Officer Murdoch in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

During the chaos as the ship sinks, First Officer Murdoch (Ewan Stewart) shoots a passenger before turning the gun on himself. While there were accounts of gunfire from survivors, including reports that an officer might have shot someone before killing themselves, there's no proof that it was Murdoch, who was a real person. Murdoch's descendants objected to the portrayal of their ancestor, and Cameron later said, "I think I got a little carried away with the narrative and was not sensitive to the impact that it might have had on the families."

The scenes set in 1912 are as long as the actual Titanic took to sink.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

The real Titanic sank two hours and 40 minutes after it collided with that fateful iceberg. If you take away all the scenes set in the present day and the ending credits from the movie's 3-hour and 14-minute runtime, you're left with the exact amount of time it took for the real ship to go down.

They filmed the flooding of the grand staircase in one take.

Grand staircase flooding scene in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

When it came time to shoot the scene where the water bursts in and floods the Titanic's Grand Staircase, Cameron and Co. only had one chance to capture it all. Dumping 90,000 gallons of water onto the ornate, elaborate set would destroy it. In fact, it's possible that the filmmaker might have helped solve an actual mystery about the real ship's staircase.

The staircase is missing from the wreck, and Cameron noted in a book about the making of the film that the fake staircase broke free and floated up the surface when the scene was filmed. It's possible the same happened to the real ship's staircase and that it further broke apart as it ascended.

The stars would pee in the water on the set.

still from titanic
Paramount Pictures

Because filming the sinking of the Titanic was a lengthy process that took place largely on sets that were partially submerged in a gigantic water tank, the actors would occasionally relieve themselves rather than bother to get out in their soaked clothes, change, and go to the bathroom.

"Yes, I admit to sometimes peeing in that water," Winslet told Rolling Stone. "Because you wanted to get it right. You didn't want to have to get out and go to the bathroom, which would take half an hour with corsets and dresses and all that sort of thing. So, yeah, I peed. I mean, it's the same with a swimming pool—do you really think about what's in it?"

Cameron corrected the starscape at the end of the movie on Neil deGrasse Tyson's advice.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Cameron went to great lengths to make Titanic as accurate to history as he possibly could have, but astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson found a mistake in the movie and pointed it out, as he is wont to do. Tyson noticed that the stars above Rose and Jack at the end of the movie were not the actual stars in the sky on the night the Titanic sank. He emailed Cameron about the goof. The director's response?

"So I said, 'All right, you son of a [expletive], send me the right stars for the exact time, 4:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, and I'll put it in the movie,'" the director recalled. The updated, corrected starscape was the only change Cameron made for the 2012 3-D re-release.

RELATED: 27 Movies With Shocking Twist Endings You Won't Recover From.

The "door" that Rose is on at the end of the movie is based on a real artifact.

Titanic Rose on Door
Paramount Pictures

Much fuss has been made about whether or not there was room for Jack on the door that Rose floats on after the ship goes down, but the piece of debris was not actually a door. It's based on a real artifact, a piece of broken, ornately carved wood that was recovered after the sinking and is currently housed at the Maritime Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The prop recently sold for $718,750 at an auction.

Jack is a fictional character, but there's a grave for J. Dawson at the memorial.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

Jack and Rose are both fictional characters Cameron created for the film, but someone with a similar name to DiCaprio's character did die when the ship sank. The body of Joseph Dawson, who had a job shoveling coal into the Titanic's engines, was recovered after the sinking. His remains were buried at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Canada, under a headstone that reads "J. Dawson." The creators of Titanic were unaware that there really was a J. Dawson on the ship before making the film. His grave has since become a minor pilgrimage site for fans of the film.

The actor who played Captain Smith holds an Oscars record.

Bernard Hill in Titanic
Paramount Pictures

Bernard Hill, who died in May 2024, holds the distinction of being the only actor to have appeared in two movies that won 11 Academy Awards. He played Captain Smith in Titanic and King Théoden in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. (The 1959 movie Ben-Hur is the only other film to have won as many Oscars.)

Titanic was the first movie to have two people nominated for Oscars for playing the same role.

Kate Winslet at the Academy Awards in 1998

Titanic was nominated for 14 awards, a record it shares with All About Eve and La La Land. Of those nominations, two were historic firsts, as Winslet and Stuart were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for playing Rose at different ages. It's the first (and so far only) time that two actors have been nominated for playing the same character in the same movie.

James Grebey
James has been an entertainment journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing for outlets like Vulture, Inverse, Polygon, TIME, The Daily Beast, SPIN Magazine, Fatherly, and more. Read more
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