It’s been 102 years since the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. But how much of what you know about that fateful night is based in fact and how much is based in film? While James Cameron was obsessive about getting hundreds of details right in his 1997 Oscar-winning blockbuster, he was careless about many others. Here’s a look at 11 of his film’s most egregious errors.
11 Titanic myths James Cameron made you think were real
1. Jack Dawson was not who you thought he wasYes, there was a J. Dawson on the Titanic, but his name was Joseph, not Jack, and he was a member of the crew, a trimmer in the furnaces. While many of the movie's fans have left flowers and other mementos at the real Dawson’s grave, Cameron insists that he was unaware of this man when he wrote the script.Image courtesy of Paramount
2. There's literally no way Jack and Rose could have gotten togetherOne reason the Jack-and-Rose romance (or one like it) didn’t play out in real life is the strict set of rules that kept third-class passengers separate from the rest of the boat’s population because—get this—officials felt the poor passengers were unhygienic and, therefore, likely to spread disease.Image courtesy of Paramount
3. Either Jack and Rose were psychics or......we have another inaccuracy here, folks. Throughout the film, our star-crossed lovers reference things that simply didn’t exist in 1912: For example, Jack plans to ride the roller coaster at the Santa Monica Pier four years before it opened; Rose astutely cites one of Freud’s theories several years before it was published or even researched.Image courtesy of Paramount
4. Yes, you have seen that painting before, and no, it wasn't at the bottom of the AtlanticWorks by both Picasso and Monet appear in the movie, though neither painting was really on the ship. Rest assured, Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon” is safe and sound and on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York along with some of Monet's "Water Lilies" collection.Image courtesy of Paramount
5. “I’m flying, Jack…and I'm freezing”In one of the movie’s most famous scenes, Jack holds Rose up at the bow of the ship, causing her to breathlessly declare that she’s flying. While the act itself isn’t entirely implausible, the temperature drop on April 14th, 1912, would have made the characters’ breath visible.Image courtesy of Paramount
6. The unsinkable Molly—er, Maggie BrownIn the movie, everyone's favourite Titanic survivor Margaret Brown goes by Molly, but in truth, that nickname didn’t come into use until several decades later. (Her friends actually called her Maggie.) When Brown’s story was turned into a play and a movie (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1964), the character’s name was changed to Molly because it sounded better.Image courtesy of Paramount
7. And the band played (the wrong song) on...Moments before the Titanic went down, the band on board played “Nearer My God to Thee.” While a song of the same name is played in the movie, it’s the American version, “Bethany,” not the British version, “Horbury,” which the real band more likely played. Image courtesy of Paramount
8. J. Bruce Ismay’s escape wasn't all that ladylikeChairman and managing director of the White Star Line (the company that built the Titanic), J. Bruce Ismay, did indeed survive the tragedy by fighting his way onto one of the lifeboats; however, in Cameron’s movie, he uses a more elaborate ruse to get off the ship: dressing as a woman.Image courtesy of Paramount
9. James Cameron sure doesn't think much of William MurdochFirst Officer William Murdoch went down with the Titanic, but not in the manner depicted onscreen. For reasons that remain a mystery, Cameron chose to portray Murdoch as a coward, who shoots two passengers and then himself.Image courtesy of Paramount
10. The stars were wrong, but now they're rightIn one of the more nitpicky Titanic complaints on record, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (you know, that guy from Cosmos) complained that the wrong star field appears in the sky while Rose is floating on a piece of driftwood.
EverSometimes the perfectionist, Cameron corrected the error in the film’s 2012 re-release.Image courtesy of Paramount
11. Flashlights, James? Really?!Flashlight experts (yes, there's such a thing) have offered similar critiques about the lights used to find survivors floating in the water. The type of flashlight seen in the film didn’t exist in 1912, nor were flashlights of any kind used during the search for bodies. Cameron has openly acknowledged this inaccuracy, explaining that he could find no other way to illuminate the search.Image courtesy of Paramount