So the news is out: Avatar has officially surpassed Titanic as the highest grossing movie (worldwide) of all time and will soon surpass it in the United States as well. If my predictions are correct, it will be the first film to break $2 billion in worldwide box office revenue. To celebrate, I thought it might be time to take a look at some striking similarities between the newest biggest thing and its Titanic predecessor. Enjoy.
Big shit breaks apart
Both films feature enormous structures breaking and falling. In Titanic the biggest ocean liner the world has ever seen hits an iceberg, begins to sink, and breaks in half before our eyes. In Avatar, we see the largest tree ever put on film get blown to hell, break, and fall down and crush everything beneath it. Both of these are defining moments in each film and one of the major reasons audiences keep/kept flocking to see them.
No money, no problems
In Titanic, Rose, a rich young woman in 1st class, learns that the poor in 3rd class are happier than anyone she knows. She begins to resent her wealthy, predetermined life and prearranged marriage. Quickly, she longs to be with Jack, who embodies the free life she doesn’t have. In Avatar, this theme is even more literal. Jake is a paraplegic marine who, with the help of technology, enters the body of an alien/human hybrid with full motor functions. He’s stronger and faster than he ever was as a human. Through Neytiri, he learns about the Na’vi people and that their technology-less way of life isn’t primitive, it’s a more free way to live. He literally goes through the Na’vi right of passage and is accepted as one of them.
Tied up and bound
In both movies, at least one of the main characters is tied up and bound in the midst of a huge disaster. In both cases, neither really deserves to be there. In Titanic, Billy Zane (who isn’t up to much lately) falsely accuses Jack of stealing. Rose then descends the decks of the sinking ship and gets all wet to save him. In Avatar, Jake (sounds like Jack, no?) and Dr. Grace Augustine are tied up on wooden sticks/crosses after the Na’vi learn that the army is going to attack Hometree. They are freed as Hometree is destroyed.
“I see you” and “I trust you”
Anyone who knows Titanic knows of its key lines “I’m the king of the world” and “I’ll never let go.” However, the main thematic lines throughout were variations on Jack and Rose saying and asking if they trust one another. “Do you trust me?” Jack asks Rose when they’re at the bow of the ship. And when she’s about to swing at his cuffs with an axe Jack says back “I trust you.” Careful observers will find many more examples of this. In Avatar, Neytiri tells Jake “I see you” and explains that it means to see someone completely, beyond the skin. The two repeat this line many times throughout the film. Both of these lines basically mean “I love you.”
(“Do you trust me?” is actually kind of taken from Aladdin, but Cameron likes borrowing things from cartoon adventures. Avatar is basically Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.)
I’m a fan of James Horner, but even casual listeners will notice the similarities between his scores for Cameron’s two films. The love themes in both films even begin with the same few notes. The first time I heard it, I thought Horner and Cameron were actually going to reuse the Titanic love them. Check out samples of Avatar‘s soundtrack here. And to listen to Titanic‘s soundtrack, click here.
Two act plot structure
While Avatar is a science fiction fantasy and Titanic is rooted in historical fact, the two films share a remarkably similar overall plot structure. Here’s the chain of events, as I see them.
First Cameron shows his huge epic new location, unlike anything ever seen before. Then the films have two main acts: first the main characters explore and learn this new world together whilst falling in love. Then big shit goes down and their world is threatened, and their love is tested in climactic fashion.
In Titanic, Jack and Rose’s love takes them throughout the entire ship, showing audiences the beauty of the vessel that sank and the growing bond between them. In Avatar, Jake and Neytiri immerse us deep in the jungles of Pandora. Neytiri teaches Jake about her peoples’ way of life and the world they live in harmony with.
The situation surrounding its release
There are plenty of connections within the films, but even the situations surrounding the box office release of Cameron’s epics are similar, as AC points out.
Both Avatar and Titanic have followed the exact same pattern heading into their release dates. They were both highly anticipated films that promised an epic love story, mixed with state-of-the-art effects. But in both cases, they had epic costs and backlash before they ever even came out. In the case of Titanic, the budget ballooned, the release date was pushed back, and Cameron was accused of going overboard. In the case of Avatar, the budget also ballooned to record heights, and Cameron faced tons of criticism before the film was finished. In both cases, pundits and critics were ready to tear apart these movies before they saw it.
With both movies, Titanic and Avatar overcome months of bad buzz to get rapturous reviews. Both films were described as a new leap forward for movie spectacle, and proclaimed Cameron a genius after all.
The ending song
The ending credits song in Titanic was Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” The song was a last minute addition, but ended up being one of the biggest pop singles ever and a huge boost to the movie. Not to miss another opportunity to sell soundtracks, Cameron included a song “I See You,” sung by Leona Lewis, who does her best Celine Dion impersonation. At first, I actually thought it was Dion. Lewis’s single isn’t yet tearing up the charts like Dion’s, but the intent is there. I’ve linked to them both below.
James Cameron knows what he’s doing. I’m not sure if he wants the money or really wants to make something that appeals to almost everyone. Probably both. In any case, he’s succeeded. He’s handcrafted both of these films to appeal to the widest audience possible by cutting to the core of what a big movie is all about. Both films are criticized for their simple dialogue and story, but they are both films almost everyone wants to see at least once.
With Avatar, Cameron built on the Titanic formula by adding science fiction, fantasy, and giant battles to the mix, while retaining enough love and exploration to intrigue the rest of the country. Add in the visuals and 3D novelty and it’s a recipe for, well, $2+ billion dollars.
Before its release, I was openly bothered by Cameron’s attitude and the way he was hyping the film. He knew something I didn’t. Avatar is a visceral experience that hits all its notes right and then plays a few more, just like Titanic. I can’t wait to list the ways his next film is similar to this one, or Pocahontas.