Titanic Was The Most Expensive Film Ever Made At The Time Of Its Release. Shockingly, The Production Actually Saved $750,000

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Written By Maya Cantina

It has been over 25 years since the release of Titanic. It’s safe to say that it changed movies forever, with its massive use of set pieces, innovative filmmaking techniques including some of CGI’s earliest use, and really defined what it truly meant to be a blockbuster. It launched the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and Titanic remains one of the most lucrative movies ever. Thankfully the movie did so well financially, because it also had the highest budget ever for a film. However, even with such sky high production costs, Titanic still managed to save $750,000.

Due to the still very ardent fanbase for Titanic, the film was recently remastered once again in 4K, this time with the intention of being presented with Dolby Vision HDR and Atmos audio. Ahead of the remastered release, director James Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment partner Landau opened up to the L.A. Times to discuss making the modern classic. While the production costs ended up resulting in a never-before-seen cinematic experience, at the time, the studio was incredibly worried about how expensive the movie was turning out to be. In order to save some money, they decided to change the way they sank the ship. Landau said: 

We compromised the three degrees and we saved $750,000.

For context, originally there were supposed to be three massive sets for the sinking boat. One set for any pre-iceberg scenes, another tilted at six degrees to represent the sinking ship, and an additional set titled at three degrees to show a slower sinkage for the boat. They ended up cutting out the set tilted at three degrees, and just kept it to two. While $750,000 dollars doesn’t seem to a major cut considering the budget was $200 million, it was a sacrifice to make the studio feel more comfortable about the inflated costs. 

As for why the budget was so high, the practical effects can be to blame. Behind-the-scenes stories about making Titanic include many anecdotes about shooting on a real flooded soundstage, sets being destroyed with water, and the challenges of working on such large scale filmmaking with such a large amount of personnel. Cameron also talked about equipment being an additionally large part of the production cost, and the pressure the costly production put on him as a filmmaker. He said: 

It was hundreds of miles of cabling, all the Musco lights in Hollywood at the time. The scale of everything was beyond anything we could imagine in terms of our prior experience. At the time we thought, wow, there’s no way this movie could ever make its money back. It’s just impossible. Well, guess what?

In terms of large scale filmmaking, at this point it feels silly to bet against James Cameron. Despite the meteoric budget, Titanic made its money back and then some, becoming the highest grossing film ever. The record was broken in 2009, once again by James Cameron with his motion capture sci-fi flick, Avatar. Just last year, the production costs of Avatar: The Way of Water were causing a stir amongst studio executives, but once again the movie exceeded expectations. The sequel film made $2.32 billion dollars, sitting nicely at number three on the list of highest grossing films. Sometimes it’s not about the budget, but what is done with the money, and when it comes to Cameron, you can always count on something spectacular. 

Fans of Titanic, can check out the remastered 4K version of the film now by purchasing the physical version on Amazon. You can also revisit the magic by streaming the 1997 masterpiece now with a Paramount+ subscription.

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