Everyone Thought ‘Titanic’ Would Sink: Behind-The-Scenes Facts And Photos

When Titanic debuted in 1997, most people assumed that the movie would flop. Their expectations were shattered once the movie raked in $20 million after its first week in theaters. It became one of the most epic romances of all time and the first movie to gross over $1 billion. So what happened during production?

Titanic faced plenty of setbacks throughout production, from destroyed props to Kate Winslet getting pneumonia staying in the cold water. Here’s a sneak peek into bizarre happenings behind the scenes of Titanic.

To start, learn all the reasons why even the producers presumed that the film would bomb.

Actors Didn’t Get Bathroom Breaks

James Cameron talking to the actors in the water

During the scenes where actors swam through the water, James Cameron asserted that no one could leave the pool during the shoot. He even threatened to fire anyone who asked to take a bathroom break. Unfortunately, these scenes often took several hours.

After the film, many extras revealed that they relieved themselves in the water. Kate Winslet has hinted that they weren’t alone. Swimming for hours on end was hard enough.

They Destroyed Historical Clothing

Rose and Jack wade through flooding ship in a scene from Titanic
Titanic/Paramount/Twentieth Century Fox

Producers of Titanic squared in on historical accuracy. The costume department spent over a year acquiring clothing relevant to the period, including some original clothing from 1912. They tried not to get the vintage clothing wet, but of course, it was unavoidable.

At one point, Cameron needed more extras in the water. The actors were all wearing historical outfits, but that didn’t matter to the director at the moment. He dunked them all.

Most Were Convinced That The Film Would Flop

James Cameron directing his actors in the sinking ship scene

During production, the film suffered from delays and repeated injuries. Media buzz about the product only came out negative. Even executives at Universal Pictures turned down the movie because they thought it was “nuts.”

On top of that, Cameron repeatedly went far over budget with his elaborate sets, eventually adding up to over $210 million. Executives at Fox threatened to sue him. At one point, even the actors assumed that the movie would flop.

A now well-known child actress could have been in the movie, but didn’t.

The Water Wasn’t Freezing, But It Was Still Too Cold

Kate Winslet walks into water during a scene while James Cameron watches behind the scenes

During the scene where Rose searches for Jack in the ship’s corridors, her reaction to the icy temperature is genuine. The crew pulled in water from the Pacific Ocean, and although it wasn’t Titanic level (which was -2 degrees Celsius), it was still incredibly cold.

Although Cameron offered that everyone wears a wet suit, Winslet declined. As a result, she came down with pneumonia. She almost quit the production due to her illness, but Cameron persuaded her to stay.

The Crew Took Hot Tub Dips During Breaks

Leonardo DiCaprio sings to Kate Winslet in a hot tub

Billy Zane, who played Rose’s cruel fiancé, Cal, revealed some behind-the-scenes facts to the New York Post. He said that the set included several hot tubs that the crew could use to relax and warm up in between takes.

Zane explained that it wasn’t unusual for crew members to slip into the hot tub in a tux, or for the crew to provide snacks next to it. So it became common for them to sit in a hot tub in a tux, eating hot dogs.

Lindsey Lohan Almost Made The Role

Leonardo DiCaprio and Alexandrea Owens rehearsing their lines

Before she became famous, Lindsey Lohan auditioned to be one of the young girls in the film. Although producers liked her performance, Cameron worried that her red hair would be too confusing next to Rose. The audience may have suspected that they were related in some way.

In her place, the producers cast Alexandrea Owens, who plays the girl Cora that Jack talks to in third class.

The final day of filming might have been celebratory if someone didn’t spike the soup.

The Extras Wouldn’t Stay Frozen

Kate and Jack freezing
Titanic/Paramount/Twentieth Century Fox

To make the actors appear to be covered in ice, the makeup studio had to get creative. They painted their faces in a special powder that would crystallize upon contact with water. They also coated the actors’ hair with wax to make it stay wet.

Despite all their efforts, the chemicals in the water kept washing the powder away. As a result, several of these scenes had to be re-shot.

The Cast Experienced Hallucinations

Rose and Cal screenshot Titanic

In the real-life event, passengers likely experienced hallucinations due to hypothermia. But the cast of Titanic didn’t plan to experience the hallucinations they did. On the last night of filming, someone spiked the crew’s soup with phencyclidine, otherwise known as PCP.

The prank caused more damage than fun. About 50 crew members were rushed to the hospital due to hallucinations. To this day, no one knows who the perpetrator was.

The most tragic event of all: Leo’s pet lizard coming close to death.

No One Expected Cal To Flip The Table

Billy Zane and James Cameron behind the scenes

James Cameron allowed his actors to improvise their dialogue. As a result, Billy Zane crashed the set props not once, but seven times. He decided that his character would flip the table, but had to shoot several takes of the scene.

In his interview with the New York Post, Zane revealed that he struggled to avoid Kate Winslet’s dress when he threw the furniture. He said he “got maybe one drop [of orange juice] on one of the dresses.”

Lizard DiCaprio Almost Died

Leonardo DiCaprio poses with his lizard

The crew suffered from several injuries during filming, such as one cast member who broke his leg during a stunt. But the most serious of all happened to Leonardo DiCaprio’s beloved pet lizard (named Blizzard). Somehow, the small lizard escaped its cage and got hit by a truck.

With care, however, DiCaprio was able to nurse his battered lizard back to health. He likely didn’t let the pet out as often afterward.

“My Heart Will Go On” wasn’t even going to be in the movie, for many reasons.

One Cast Member Lived During The Titanic

Gloria Stuart, James Cameron and Suzy Amis

The oldest cast member, Gloria Stuart, was the only person involved with the film who lived while the sinking occurred. She was 86 while acting in Titanic, but makeup artists transformed her face to make her appear to be 101.

Although Gloria didn’t set foot on the Titanic, she was alive in 1912 when it all happened. She almost lived as long as her character, too. She passed away in September 2010 at age 100.

They Destroyed Most Of Their Set

Scene from Titanic: Jack and Rose walking by the grand staircase

James Cameron went far over budget in constructing a replica of the Titanic. To shoot the flooding scenes, though, he had to destroy much of his set. That’s why the crew waited until the last filming day to shoot the scene where the grand staircase floods.

The cinematographers and actors only had one chance to nail the scene, because the deluge was so intense that it destroyed much of the furniture. Fortunately, they got it all right.

Dion’s Heart Won’t Go On

Celine Dion performs the song

Céline Dion never intended to sing “My Heart Will Go On.” In fact, she hated it. James Cameron also didn’t want a pop song at the end credits, but Sony studios pressured him into creating a pop song marketing tool.

Céline’s husband, René Angélil, advocated that she sang the piece. She suffered from harsh menstrual cramps while recording the part. But beyond everyone’s expectations, the songstress won a Grammy for the piece.

Despite the movie’s historical accuracy, Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed that Cameron got something wrong.

“Over On The Bed…The Couch.”

Scene from Titanic with Jack looking at Rose

It’s no surprise that Leo made a few mistakes during early production. In the iconic drawing scene with Jack and Rose, Jack tells Rose to go “over on the bed…the couch.” The line sounds like nerves, but it was really just Leo forgetting his line.

Cameron liked the effect of the slip, however. He thought that it made the scene appear more genuine, so he kept it in the final cut.

Jack Would Have Fit On That Door

That scene with Rose on the door and Jack about to die
Titanic/Paramount/Twentieth Century Fox

The wood piece that Rose barely survived on was based on a real artifact that survived the sinking. It is a large panel door fragment that came from the First Class lounge and now sits on display in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Nova Scotia. And yes, it was definitely big enough for Jack.

In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Kate Winslet agreed that Jack could have fit on that door, confirming what fans have been saying for years.

Thanks To Tyson, Cameron Fixed The Stars

The night sky and Titanic boat. Publicity still by Paramount Pictures for the move Titanic

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is just as picky about his area of expertise in films as he is in real life. After he saw Titanic, he wrote a letter to Cameron complaining that the star alignment in the final scenes wasn’t correct.

Tyson brought it up a second time when he met Cameron in person, and then a third time when Cameron held an event at the Hayden Planetarium. Eventually, Cameron yielded and corrected the sky in the re-released film.

You probably didn’t guess that certain scenes weren’t scripted…

Old Rose Never Knew Her Fate

Screenshot of Old Rose from Titanic

Gloria Stuart, the 86-year-old actress who played Old Rose, never knew her character’s fate while filming the final scenes. She asked Cameron if she lay down to die or to dream, and he responded, “Just lie still, Gloria. You don’t need to know!”

Eventually, her grandson Benjamin Stuart Thompson revealed Rose’s fate to her. Cameron deeply and sincerely cared for Gloria, and she was the only crew member who could change his mind on anything.

The Spitting Scene Was Not Scripted

Titanic spitting scene between Rose and Jack
Titanic/Paramount/Twentieth Century Fox

The scene where Jack and Rose spit “like a man” prompted a charming relationship that led to love. However, the scene had no script. Kate and Leo improvised the entire moment!

James Cameron gave the actors a vague outline of what he wanted the characters to do, but he left the details up to his actors. Kate and Leo’s chemistry was so strong that they performed the unscripted emotional scene flawlessly.

There could be a significant reason for why the movie is so long.

Some Sinking Scenes Were Based On Real People’s Experiences

Older people hugging each other before drowning in Titanic
Titanic/Paramount/Twentieth Century Fox

During the montage of sinking passengers, an elderly couple hugs each other in bed as water floods over them. This scene was inspired by two real Titanic passengers, Isidor and Ida Strauss. Isidor was a co-owner of Macy’s.

Since women were ushered into the lifeboats first, Ida was offered a chance to leave. However, she refused and told Isidor, “As we have lived together, so we shall die together.” This scene was a homage to their tragic deaths.

The Movie’s Length Mirrors The Actual Sinking

Director James Cameron and crew filming on the grand staircase

When all the filming was done, the editors had several hours of footage to sift through. In the end, they spliced together 1,912 scenes that span about two hours and forty minutes. While that’s long for a movie, this length is the amount of time it took the real Titanic to sink.

It’s unknown if this match was intentional, but considering James Cameron’s loyalty to historical accuracy, it’s certainly possible. The iceberg crash scene also mirrored the real-life timing of the event at 37 seconds.