- Paramount Pictures
December 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of what would become one of the most lucrative and most deliriously popular movies ever made:James Cameron's Titanic. It should also mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of a wave of Titanic clones—and it says something about the movie industry that there aren't any.
The epic romantic disaster drama debuted in U.S. cinemas on Dec. 19, 1997, and wouldn't leave until October 1998,41 weeks later.It earned $1.8 billion worldwide, and remained the biggest box-office hit ever until 2010—when it was supplanted by Cameron's own Avatar. Titanic wasn't just a huge hit; it was an inescapable phenomenon. Showings were sold-out well into early 1998, even with the film in saturationrelease, and it stayed at the top of the box-office charts for 15 consecutive weeks (still a record). The film was a critical success, too. It won the Oscarfor best picture, and tied for the most Oscars won by a single film, with 11.
In 2012, to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the actual Titanic, the film was released and newly rejiggered for 3-D, earning another $300-million-plusglobally and pushing its total box office take over $2 billion. Now, in honor of this landmark anniversary, Titanic is back in theaters for one week only,in a newly remastered edition. Expect sellouts again.
I love Titanic. I've seen it countless times, and revisited it as a critic four times. I don't think there's a single movie I've written more about. Andhere's a recurring irritation when I think about the film: Where are all the knockoffs?
The film was "supposed" to be a huge flop,destined to be a legendary example of big-budget folly, doomed by Cameron's out-of-control creative arrogance. But we all know what happens when a movie is a hit, especially if it's an unexpected one, as Titanic was: Knockoffs. Lots of them, to thepoint where we get sick of 'em, even if some of the knockoffs are pretty good. It's been a feature of the blockbuster era since 1977's Star Wars, which spawned a lot of crap—including Italianschlock Star Crash and Battle Beyond the Stars, directed by an uncredited Roger Corman—and some not-at-all-bad flicks likeDisney's The Black Hole and The Last Starfighter. We can also thank George Lucas for the existence of the 1970s TV seriesBattlestar Galactica.
Some movies are so popular and so influential that they ignite what feels like entire subgenres: the "Alien Movie" (and then there were none, but in space);the found-footage horror flick, kicked off by 1999's The Blair Witch Project; the "Toy StoryMovie" ("let's animate some inanimate objects and/or animals to amuse the kiddies"). Gladiator, 2000's Oscar-winning best picture, started a sword-and-sandals craze that still flourishes almost20 years later, and the knockoffs keep getting made even when theyflop, like 2012's Wrath of the Titans ($83 million box office in the U.S. on a $150-million budget) or 2014's Exodus: Godsand Kings ($65 million domestically on a $140-million budget).
So it's very mysterious indeed that we were never inundated with Titanic knockoffs. We should be absolutely sick to death of all the cash-ins, pseudo-remakes and imitators. Hollywood is a business, we who complain about the poor quality of much the industry'soutput are constantly reminded: Hollywood is only out to make money. That's the excuse we hear, particularly when we complain about the lack ofmovies about women: They don't make money (although they do).
But the evidence of Titanic and Hollywood's supposed business practices is clear.We should have been swamped with movies that tried to recapture its money-making magic. But we weren't. Adventure romance amidst disaster and/or big historical events? Messed-up woman who learns how to really live via a manic pixie dream boy (that'swhat Jack Dawson is, after all)? There are so many possibilities here, and Hollywood completely ignored them.
Is it because the female audience thatspent so much time and money on the film was actively derided in the press? The phenomenon of the film received almost hysterical coverage, and we've heard of girls and women seeing the film a dozen times or more as if that were crazy, rather than indicating an underserved audience eating up a story that finally spoke to them. Did that only add to Hollywood's usualdisdain for stories about girls and women?
Of course it's true that if we had gotten a slew of ersatz Titanics, most of them would have completely misunderstood what made the film so appealing to its female audience. But the fact that the industry didn't even try makes it tough to buy that moviesare "just a business." Not when Hollywood left so much money on the table simply to avoid telling more stories like Titanic.