1997's Titanic. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack, Kate Winslet as Rose. On the bow of the ship
Twentieth Century Fox / Paramount Pictures

Revisiting ‘Titanic’ 23 Years After It Swept the Oscars

It's been 23 long years since Titanic set out on its maiden voyage, and swept the 1998 Academy Awards. Looking back, does it still hold up?
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“I will never let go, Jack. I’ll never let go,” an ice-covered Rose whispers in the middle of the dark, freezing waters of the Atlantic. And then she lets go of poor Jack and watches him sink into the abyss.

"never let go" scene from Titanic

Of course, she wasn’t talking about physically letting him go. It was a metaphor for not giving up, so she could make it out alive. But at the time — and really, still to this day — it makes me snicker a little.

It’s been over 20 years since Titanic hit theaters and became the world’s highest-grossing movie up until that point. The money made at the box office must have been a relief, considering it was also the most expensive movie ever made at the time, with a production budget of $200 million.

On March 23, 1998, the romance film went on to storm the Academy Awards. Titanic won 11 Oscars, including awards for Best Picture and Best Director. And, of course, Best Original Song for Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”

Now, 23 years later, let’s take a look back at James Cameron’s epic film about an epic disaster. Does it still hold up? And are Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet still the best on-screen couple ever? (Spoiler alert: I love them and they will always be the best on-screen couple ever to me. Sorry not sorry!)

Revisiting Titanic After More Than 20 Years

When Titanic was released in December 1997, it was not critically hailed as a masterpiece. No one thought it would become a film for the ages.

While some critics had a few nice things to say about the film, most found it lacking. The film was largely criticized for being clichéd and predictable. Critics said it was poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly directed. Ouch.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, "yeah that was pretty much it"

Looking back, I can admit that Titanic didn’t have the most in-depth script. The dialogue is more than a little cheesy, and there wasn’t a ton of character development. Rose’s villainous fiancé remains cruel and selfish from beginning to end, and even DiCaprio’s irrepressible Jack remains largely unchanged.

Even still, the sizzling chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is undeniable. And the story itself, a take on Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed lovers, served them well. It’s a simple, well-known premise that audiences love.

So, while the script may not have been the most well-written, the actors managed to connect with viewers. They made us care for the characters, despite the laughable dialogue and lack of character arcs.

Of course, after they made us care, the inevitable happens: the Titanic sinks.

What About the Accuracy?

Cameron’s recreation of the sinking broke our hearts. In terms of accuracy, though, it’s definitely more cinematic than accurate–at least based on reports and eyewitnesses from the real-life sinking.

the band playing on deck on Titanic

For instance, the band did, in fact, remain on deck to play to lift spirits. However, according to survivors, it probably wasn’t that beautiful and dramatic music that we see in the film. There is also no historical evidence that third-class passengers were forcibly barricaded below deck, and the cowardly portrayal of Bruce Ismay during the sinking is pretty unfair.

Although Cameron consulted historical experts while making Titanic, he definitely favored dramatic effect over historical accuracy. But hey, with a $200 million budget to earn back at the box office, what else could we expect? He was creating an epic film that would fulfill audience expectations, not one that would please historians.

Okay, But Does the Movie Hold Up?

Yes, Titanic still holds up — even if it’s just mostly nostalgia and DiCaprio’s adorable face propping it up at this point.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack in Titanic

Did Titanic deserve 11 Oscars? Well, probably not all of them.

Even still, it’s an epic story of forbidden love and heartbreaking tragedy. Plus, it’s set during an epic, devastating disaster that has remained a fixture of popular culture. It’s not meant to be wildly thought-provoking or inspiring.

But it was meant to be entertaining, and this film is indeed 3+ hours of entertainment. Just be glad you don’t have to switch to the second VHS tape these days.