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Titanic became the highest grossing movie in Hollywood history from 1997 to 1998. Nothing would beat it until Avatar in 2009. With a legacy that large, the very first person to become a Titanic fan stood out to writer/director James Cameron. 

Titanic director James Cameron at the 2012 3D premiere
James Cameron | Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

In the Blu-ray bonus features for Titanic, Cameron describes the moment of watching somebody respond to the film emotionally for the first time. Titanic is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD, and in Paramount’s 10 Best Pictures Blu-ray collection. The anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is April 14. 

Hollywood expected the ‘Titanic’ movie to sink

In 1997, Hollywood was gunning for Titanic. Cameron and producers recall how the Hollywood trades had a “Titanic watch” to report on weekly occurrences from the set. The film missed its original July release date and was reportedly going over budget. Most movies have preview screenings with recruited audiences to get a sense of the reaction to the film. They had to pretend they were screening a different movie because Titanic already made so much news.

James Cameron looks at a model of the Titanic
James Cameron | Tim Brakemeier/picture alliance via Getty Images

“There was a moment where the tide turned for us,” Cameron said. “It was the first screening that we did. We snuck off to the Mall of America in Minneapolis and we recruited people to come to I think it was Great Expectations. I said when the title Titanic comes up on screen, we’ll know if people really want to see this movie or not. What I was hoping for was there’d be this applause when they knew they were getting to see Titanic because everybody knew Titanic was getting made.”

The first reaction did not go as James Cameron hoped

Cameron did not get his round of applause right away. It took the audience a while to realize they were watching the entirety of Titanic.

James Cameron giving a talk
James Cameron | Speed Media/ Icon Sportswire

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“I’m sitting there, right off the bat, the title comes up and nothing, not a sound,” Cameron said. “I thought I’m dead, I’m doomed. It turns out what it was, was people were just confused. They‘d been told it was Great Expectations so when they saw Titanic, they thought it was a trailer or something.”

The very first ‘Titanic’ fan

Cameron sat through the whole screening. He was in front of the very first person to react to the story of Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet). Fans around the world would become enamored with their tragic love story, but Cameron got to see it happen for the first time.

“A woman sitting behind me, the whole time she’s just narrating the movie, reacting to it. I thought she gets it,” Cameron said. “She got every beat. I thought, ‘Wow, this film’s really communicating. It’s really working.’”