‘Titanic’: All 150 Extras Had Detailed Backstories and Characters

James Cameron is responsible for some of the most visually stunning and financially successful films ever. One of those was Titanic, a film that ushered in a new era of big-budget filmmaking.

Titanic was a huge hit with movie fans, and Cameron is the biggest reason for that. It’s hard to pinpoint a single quality that makes Cameron successful as a filmmaker, but his attention to detail likely plays a big role.

There’s an amazing story about this that has to do with the extras onset that you may not believe. It shows just how serious Cameron was about making his movie seem real. 

‘Titanic’ is a classic love story

Seen here from left, Kate Winslet as Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack. Initial USA theatrical wide release December 19, 1997.
Kate Winslet as Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack. | CBS via Getty Images

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Cameron has always been one for big event films that revel in spectacle, and Titanic may have been the biggest of them all. Titanic blends the actual story of the Titanic’s fateful voyage across the Atlantic Ocean interspersed with a fictional plot invented for the film.

While viewers meet many real-life figures who helped build and run the Titanic along with many of its passengers, they aren’t the main characters. The film focuses on the fictional relationship of a woman named Rose and a young man named Jack, played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively.

Their love affair ultimately ends in tragedy. When the boat crashes into an iceberg, the two attempt to escape danger. Eventually, they’re submerged in the frigid ocean, where Jack sacrifices himself so that Rose can live. 

The film was an absolute box office smash, becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. It also launched DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s careers. Winslet went from being virtually unknown to being an A-lister seemingly overnight. While DiCaprio was a star prior to this, Titanic helped skyrocket him to even larger success. 

James Cameron’s perfectionism onset of ‘Titanic’

Cameron is known for his intense and sometimes excruciating attention to detail on his sets. Titanic was no different, as he spared no time or expense to ensure the film was as accurate as possible in almost every way. 

When Cameron released the film in 3D, he even struggled over whether to correct some of its earlier mistakes. He told ABC News that he left it as-is: 

“There was a moment when I thought fleetingly I could correct the film and actually have it match what Titanic really looked like…Another part of my mind said, no, then you’re going be a nutter standing on the street corner babbling away.

It has to be done right. Didn’t change a frame. The ship still sinks. Jack still dies.”

While Cameron’s perfectionism ate at him when he re-edited the film, it also manifested itself during the initial shoot in some pretty incredible ways. 

The many backstories of the ‘Titanic’ extras

The Titanic had hundreds of passengers, so that meant there were plenty of extras onset. Of course, even for a movie as long as Titanic, they didn’t have enough time to tell every person’s story. But just because every extra’s story didn’t make it to the film’s dialogue doesn’t mean they all didn’t have one. 

According to Screen Rant, every single one of the film’s 150 extras was given a specific character with a backstory. Why did Cameron do this? To make the film seem more real and believable.

Whereas most extras on a film pretend to look busy, these extras had stories and motivations for doing things. That made the background of the movie come to life. Rather than have the actors blend into the set, they gave the film a touch of reality. How much did this impact the finished product? It’s hard to argue with the film’s success, so it clearly didn’t hurt.