AFI Top 100: Titanic

Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #83 on the list: Titanic (1997).

It’s difficult to impart how huge of a sensation Titanic was. In addition to being a critical smash hit and tying the all-time record for most Academy Award wins, it continued its theatrical run for almost an entire year, becoming the highest grossing film of all time (eventually dethroned by Cameron’s own Avatar, and further toppled by franchise films). Unlike Avatar, however, Titanic didn’t fade into obscurity in the cultural consciousness. From my experience, it’s the prime example of a film undergoing dramatic swings in public perception, with plenty of detractors reacting to its immense popularity in the years following its release, and more recently garnering both warm and cold critical reassessments.

Is Titanic actually a good movie, though? Honestly, it doesn’t matter with a film that’s this divisive. Personally, I’ve found myself on both sides of the aisle over the decades—revolted when I was dragged (twice!) to see the ostensible “chick flick” in theaters at a young age, warmed to the chaotic second half in my teenage years, and now, ironically, prefer the small-scale drama of the first half. Like all of Cameron’s work, if you can get past the simplicity of the writing and his bald sentimentality (Spielberg fans have no place holding Cameron’s feet to the fire here), there’s a hell of a lot to appreciate in his craft, in both the bombastic sequences and quieter moments.

Does It Belong on the List?

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny its magnitude. It absolutely makes my list, and any naysayers would have to make a hell of a compelling argument to convince me otherwise.

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