22 years ago, ‘Titanic’ became first film to gross $1 billion

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James Cameron's film "Titanic" came out on Dec. 17, 1997, tying together the true story of the ship's sinking with a fictionalized romance. On March 1, 1998, the film became the first movie to gross $1 billion, months after its release.

‘$1 B and still no iceberg!’ reads a 22-year-old Variety headline

Twenty-two years ago on March 1, 1998, James Cameron’s disaster-romance film “Titanic” became the first to hit the $1 billion mark.

This feat was accomplished months after its release date in December 1997.

A Variety article, posted after "Titanic" broke $1 billion, pointed out that most other commercial successes to date were action or science fiction movies, such as the "Star Wars" trilogy.

"In spirit 'Titanic' is less like those films than it is like the granddaddy of all epic romances: 'Gone With the Wind' (both films, interestingly, were set approximately 80 years before their respective release dates). 'Titanic' also differs from recent blockbusters in a couple of other ways. Its audience is predominantly female and its setting is historic. Although best picture Oscar winners since 1980 have almost always been journeys into the past, they've rarely been top grossers." — Leonard Klady, Variety

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A 17-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind-but-poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic. No one would guess that this storyline would become an international craze, leading the movie to gross more than $2 billion. 

A 17-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind-but-poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic. No one would guess that this storyline would become an international craze, leading the movie to gross more than $2 billion. 

Combined ShapeCaption
A 17-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind-but-poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic. No one would guess that this storyline would become an international craze, leading the movie to gross more than $2 billion. 

»MORE: Kate Winslet said Leonardo DiCaprio's 'Titanic' character could have survived

The New York Times explained the unprecedented success to the film's ability to be related to across cultures.

"The sight of British aristocrats displaying stiff upper lips in face of adversity appealed to the Japanese sense of 'gamen.' But some British critics thought the movie anti-British. The French dwelled on the hidden political message of the movie (better food in first class, better dancing in third). And one German intellectual saw the ship's fate as punishment for the arrogance of modern technology. 'Nature strikes back!'" — Alan Riding, NY Times

By April 1998, “Titanic” had grossed upward of $100 million in each of those listed countries, respectively.

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“Titanic” was among the 25 movies added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2017. Its re-release that year helped the film pass $2 billion in revenue.

“Titanic” was among the 25 movies  added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2017. Its re-release that year helped the film pass $2 billion in revenue.

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“Titanic” was among the 25 movies added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2017. Its re-release that year helped the film pass $2 billion in revenue.

Filmmakers had a looming iceberg of production costs to overcome before even making money.

At the time, it was the most expensive film made, with a budget of $200 million.

They incorporated wreckage footage of the real-life RMS Titanic into the film and also created a replica of the ship in the studio, neither of which were cheap endeavors.

»RELATED: Cam Newton shows he has never watched Titanic after Panthers' win over Falcons

The producers also only received a fraction of the ticket sales. According to Variety, distributor Paramount received 90% of the revenue from the opening weeks. It took months for the film to receive larger cuts as theaters continued showing the film throughout 1998.

Due to its popularity, "Titanic" stayed in theaters for so long after its release that Paramount Pictures reportedly had to send replacement film reels.

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James Cameron’s “Titanic” has become a culturally iconic film. It grossed $1 billion months after its release.

James Cameron’s “Titanic” has become a culturally iconic film. It grossed $1 billion months after its release.

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James Cameron’s “Titanic” has become a culturally iconic film. It grossed $1 billion months after its release.

The film not only had record-breaking commercial success but was acclaimed by critics and loved by fans.

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It was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and brought home 11, including best picture.

“Titanic” has been re-released twice, once as a 3-D feature and again as a 20th anniversary special.

The total number it has grossed to date is even larger — $2.18 billion. It also was added to the U.S. National Film Registry as well in 2017, showing that even in the years since its release, modern-day fans, much like Rose in the movie, “will never let go.”

»MORE: 'Titanic' re-release sails to the big screen for film's 20th anniversary