Movies are great! But they also lie sometimes. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Facts Titanic Got Factually Right & Wrong.
For this list, we’ll be looking at some of the most shocking, touching and significant moments from James Cameron’s “Titanic”, and seeing which ones hold up as fact, and which ones are fiction!
#10: The Band Played as the Ship Sank
It’s one of the most dramatic and heroic moments in the entire movie, and it’s been referenced and copied many times in cinema. Well, it turns out that it actually happened. Survivors of the RMS Titanic have said that the ship’s band, in an attempt to calm passengers, continued to play songs even when the ship was sinking and people were chaotically running around trying to board lifeboats. And they kept playing as long as they could, eventually going down with the ship. It’s believed that the last song the band played was "Nearer My God to Thee".
#9: Jack Dawson & Rose Rose DeWitt Bukater
What’s a good story without romance, huh? Well, nothing it would seem, according to James Cameron, as he completely made up the characters of Jack and Rose for added drama and intrigue. The two lovebirds, divided by class, meet and fall head over heels while aboard the Titanic. Although their sacrifices for one another might echo events involving real people on board, Jack and Rose were fictional. In fact, if you start to look at the evidence - like the fact that a third-class passenger casually walks into first-class dining - it becomes pretty obvious. Mind you, turns out there was a Joseph Dawson on the ship, but it was just a coincidence.
#8: They Used Flashlights During Their Search For Survivors
The scenes where crew members cascade their flashlights over bodies in the frozen ocean, attempting to find survivors, is a sight that sticks in the memory. But apparently, flashlights were not used at all during the Titanic’s search attempts. In fact, in 1912 when the ship sank, the flashlight had not long been invented, and wasn’t commonly used at the time. James Cameron has admitted that this was an inaccuracy he purposely let slip, purely for convenience in the scene. There’s a few other historically inaccurate items in the movie too - like Jack’s modern-day handcuffs!
#7: How the Iceberg Sank the Ship
Most people already know that an iceberg was responsible for sinking the Titanic, but the way in which it was depicted in the movie was actually incredibly accurate. Director James Cameron went to great lengths to study the wreck of the Titanic and stories of its survivors. As a result, the calm before the collision, the collision itself, and the chaos that followed were all very realistic when compared to the real thing. Cameron and his team of movie makers were also able to accurately recreate the size and impact force of the iceberg, making the most important moments in the movie as believable as possible.
#6: The Ship Split in Two
The climax of 1997’s “Titanic” is dramatic to say the least, with passengers clinging on for dear life as the ship’s stern rises out of the water. It then breaks into two, before sinking under the waves. Although the Titanic was originally thought to have gone down in one piece, studies of the wreckage showed that it actually split between the second and third funnels. This happened because one side of the ship filled with water, due to the damage from the iceberg, causing the other side of the ship to lift out of the water and eventually break off due to the strain.
#5: Rescue by the RMS Carpathia
When they realized they were in trouble, Titanic crew members fired flares and sent out SOS messages. As seen in the film, the RMS Carpathia responded and arrived at the scene within approximately four hours to aid in the rescue efforts. But omitted from the movie is the fact that another ship was much closer: the SS California, which didn’t respond to the Titanic’s distress calls. The radio operator had turned the ship’s set off, and the captain decided to ignore the sinking ship’s distress rockets. Official inquiries concluded that this resulted in greater loss of life, although the conclusion has been disputed. Cameron actually shot some of this for the film, but removed it to provide a “clean cut”.
#4: There Were Not Enough Lifeboats
In the movie, due to the limited number of lifeboats, passengers can be seen scurrying to climb aboard them in an attempt to escape the sinking Titanic. And this is accurate. The Titanic had enough lifeboats to accommodate 1,178 people, which was about one-third of the ship’s overall capacity. But shockingly, this figure actually exceeded the legal requirement. Lifeboats were expected to be used to ferry passengers from a sinking ship to a rescuing ship, meaning that lifeboats could be reused for multiple passengers. Of course, this wasn’t the case with the Titanic. Another tragic fact is that due to the chaotic circumstances, many lifeboats were not filled to capacity, leaving seats empty.
#3: Will Murdoch Cracked Under Pressure
Movies need villains, and Titanic has a few - many of whom are fictional. But First Officer William Murdoch, who’s seen angrily dismissing and shooting passengers, before turning the gun on himself, is based on a real character. But, he was far from a villain. In fact, William Murdoch was hailed a hero for his actions, helping fill a reported 10 lifeboats full of passengers, before losing his life during the disaster. James Cameron has openly admitted that his screenwriter side took over when it came to depicting Murdoch’s story. At least he did still make the Titanic’s Captain Smith a hero. There are conflicting reports, but some claim that the captain went down with the ship, as in the film.
#2: An Elderly Couple Refused to Leave & Died Together
Many of “Titanic”’s characters have no basis in reality. However, the elderly couple seen holding each other in bed as their room fills with water is based on the heart-warming story of a real couple, Isidor and Ida Straus. In accordance with the “women and children first” motto, Ida was offered a seat on a lifeboat, but refused to leave her husband’s side - as can be seen in a deleted scene from the movie. Isidor was reportedly offered a place beside her, but wouldn’t board before the women and children. As Ida’s maid boarded a lifeboat, Ida gave her her fur coat to keep her warm. The couple were last seen together arm-in-arm on the ship’s deck.
#1: There Was Class Discrimination with the Lifeboats
Although there were first, second and third class facilities on board the RMS Titanic, and a wide variety of passengers with different occupations and status, there was no class discrimination when it came to loading passengers onto lifeboats. Once the severity of the situation hit, the priority of the crew was to get as many people as possible, regardless of wealth, off the ship and into lifeboats, starting with the women and children. Also, that scene where third class passengers are locked below deck as a means to take care of them, is absolute nonsense.