I Just Saw 'Titanic' For the First Time, and It Is Awesome

Titanic hit theaters on December 19, 1997. Fifteen years later, I finally saw it—and it was worth the wait.

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Paramount

The weekend Titanic hit theaters in 1997, it earned $28.6 million at U.S. box offices. It then spent a record-setting 15 consecutive weekends as the top-selling movie in America, and stayed in cinemas for almost 10 months. In other words, between December 19, 1997 and October 1, 1998, pretty much everyone and their grandma saw Titanic at least once.

Except for me, that is. I saw it this past Sunday. Whoops.

I know I'm exactly 15 years late to the I-Love-Titanic party, but here I am: Titanic, despite all its famous faults, has both heart and remarkable guts—and I don't know that I would have been aware of those virtues had I seen it the first time around.

I had just turned eight when James Cameron's historical-romance-disaster epic arrived, and when it happened, my whole world suddenly became a swirling, squealing maelstrom of tweenage hysteria and stuff with Leonardo DiCaprio's face on it. I was, after all, squarely in the demographic cross-section most earnestly and passionately obsessed by Titanic: school-age girls. It was the first movie most of us had ever cried over, and somehow, that made us feel like grown-ups. Plus, Leo. Duh.

But at my house, Titanic was off-limits. Too sexy, my parents said, for a second-grader.

Humiliatingly, I was soon the only girl at my lunch table who hadn't seen Titanic. When I explained my predicament to a concerned classmate, she thought for a moment, then nodded sagely. "I guess you do see Rose's boobs."

It was pretty devastating. But thankfully, it wasn't many months before the intensity of Titanic Mania began to wane. By the end of my second-grade year, we had all collectively broken up with Leo Di-Crappy-o, and "I'll never let go, Jack!" soon became something my boy cousins screeched just before deliberately dumping me off of a blow-up raft at the pool.

Around the same time, something similar started happening nationwide. Though Titanic went on to become the second highest-grossing film ever and won a record-setting 11 Oscars, its audience seemed to slowly abandon it in the following years, transforming it from a universally adored Hollywood love story to a scoffed-at, overblown James Cameron vanity project, and then to a snicker-worthy pop-culture punchline.

By the time I reached the ripe old recommended minimum viewing age of 13, Saturday Night Live had thoroughly skewered Titanic, and Britney Spears had bizarrely re-appropriated it for a music video. "I'm the king of the world!" often echoed through my middle school—usually emanating from kids leaning, arms outstretched, over the second-floor balcony railing.

And that's how 15 years went by without my ever having seen Titanic: After a while, I didn't feel like I needed to anymore. Titanic was, it seemed to me, a thing you could be familiar with just by being alive at the time. The parodies and tongue-in-cheek references had become just as embedded in everyday culture as the original film.

So when I decided to celebrate Titanic's 15th birthday by, you know, actually seeing it, I had the (admittedly unfair) advantage of already knowing that it's widely considered a bloated, big-budget weeper that may or may not represent everything wrong with Hollywood in the modern era. That's one reason I'm so glad I waited all these years to see Titanic: I had the pleasure of seeing it for the first time having already made peace with its obvious flaws.

Another reason is that I'm old enough now (by most accounts) to appreciate some of the more grown-up touches I probably couldn't have as an eight-year-old kid. Back then, I couldn't have admired the class-defying act of cultural rebellion in Rose's barefoot Irish dance; I would have completely missed the fact that the "No, the Chippewa Falls Dawsons, actually" exchange is a tiny, droll comment on the brittle self-importance of the American aristocracy.

Presented by

Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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