Titanic at 25: PEOPLE Celebrates the Epic Film with a New Special Edition

Are you ready to go back to Titanic? Get the inside story of the movie that made stars of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. "I was a little bit obsessed there," director James Cameron tells PEOPLE

TITANIC BTS - Director James Cameron starring, Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Leonardo Dicaprio as Jack Dawson 1997
And... cut! Cameron directing DiCaprio and Winslet in a scene from Titanic. (The blade of Rose's ax was rubber.) . Photo: Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

Leonardo DiCaprio was not looking to make a special effects-filled blockbuster. "I don't like these gigantic, huge films," said the actor when he was 22. Meanwhile Kate Winslet, 21, not only lobbied to land her part of Rose Dewitt Bukater in director James Cameron's big project, a love story set aboard the doomed RMS Titanic, she also leaned on DiCaprio to take the one he'd been offered, Jack Dawson. Only after shooting was well underway did it become clear that neither had known what they were in for. "Nothing could have prepared me for it," Winslet told Los Angeles Times in 1997.

To be fair, no one could have prepared for it, as Titanic's production was unlike any before, both in the scope of Cameron's ambition and the cost and innovation needed to execute it. The mammoth effort involved 12 dives to the real Titanic wreck site, more than 450 computer-effects shots and multiple reproductions of the legendary ship, including one 90-percent-scale set constructed from 300 tons of steel. Along with much of the sprawling cast and crew, the film's two stars would risk hypothermia in frigid water, and endure workdays that stretched to 20 hours. As production blew past deadlines and budgets, the Hollywood press predicted an expensive flop and compared the filmmakers' hubris to that of the owners of the real RMS Titanic, who had promoted the luxury ocean liner as "unsinkable."

And then the movie opened.

When Titanic finally made it to theaters in December, 1997, all those "sinking feeling" headlines started to evaporate. The movie held the No. 1 box office spot for 15 straight weeks and became the highest-grossing movie of all time (ultimately earning $2.2 billion)—a record it held until Cameron's 2009 film Avatar. Then came the 14 Academy Award nominations, of which it won 11, including for Best Picture and Best Director. Not to mention its Oscar- and Grammy-Award-winning theme, "My Heart Will Go On," sung by Celine Dion. Now PEOPLE is celebrating the epic film on its 25th anniversary with a new Titanic special edition, filled with a behind-the-scenes look at its making and legacy.

People Titanic 25th Anniversary Cover
The PEOPLE Titanic anniversary edition has two collectible covers.

Filled with photos, including some rarely seen on-set images, the new issue illustrates the beauty of the recreated luxury ship, from the china in the first class dining room to its passengers' glorious costumes. Also inside: How the stunning Heart of the Ocean necklace came to life and was auctioned to raise funds for one of Princess Diana's charities.

Plus, in an exclusive interview writer-director Cameron talks about reuniting with Winslet for Avatar: The Way of Water, and his ongoing obsession with the RMS Titanic. Since he finished work on Titanic, he kept up with discoveries about the real ship and returned to the wreck site for several documentaries, notably 2003's Ghosts of the Abyss, which he produced with actor Bill Paxton, who had played Titanic's fictional treasure hunter, Brock Lovett. A planned 2023 National Geographic doc will be his sixth.

"Yeah, I was a little bit obsessed there for a while," Cameron tells PEOPLE. For now, he adds, "I'm not going back out to the wreck. I've done my investigation. We are putting all our data together with some of the other experts . . . to do a definitive publication on the marine forensics of the wreck."

Leonardo DiCaprio (L) arrives with co-star Kate Winslet for the 55th Annual Golden Globe Awards
DiCaprio and Winslet at the 1998 Golden Globe Awards. HAL GARB/AFP via Getty Images

Given what he now knows, is there anything he would have changed in his original dramatized movie? Actually, not so much. Before filming began, says Cameron, "I spent a year researching because I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. I said to the team, 'Guys, I want it to be like we went back in a time machine and filmed what happened.' Of course, history is a bit elusive, and people had differing accounts. But we got pretty close, and nothing in our subsequent 20-plus years of investigation really upset anything major in the film. Could I, as a rivet-counting nerd, make a few tweaks to the movie? Yes, but I think we got it pretty right."

PEOPLE's new special edition, Titanic: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and the Making of an Epic Love Story, is available now wherever magazines are sold.

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