It’s been a quarter century since Titanic was released in U.S. theaters on Dec. 19, 1997, quickly amassing record box-office sales and eventually becoming the first movie to earn more than $1 billion worldwide.
The dramatized account of the RMS Titanic’s sinking in 1912 was also rewarded with 11 Academy Awards, including for Best Picture. But first it won Americans’ vote. A Gallup poll conducted right before the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony found 58% preferring Titanic for the top award.
Only one of the other nominated movies, Good Will Hunting, had more than 10% of Americans rooting for it, while As Good as It Gets, L.A. Confidential and The Full Monty were in the single digits.
The fictional romance at the heart of Titanic has prompted some to dub it a “chick flick,” but the 1998 Gallup poll found men (56%) nearly as likely as women (60%) to favor Titanic for Best Picture. The movie also enjoyed widespread appeal across all age groups, including 64% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 58% of those 65 and older.
A bit more differentiation was seen by education level, with non-college-educated adults showing greater support for it than more-highly educated Americans. But even among postgraduates, Titanic was the easy favorite for the Oscar.
Forrest Gump Matched Titanic in Public Support for Best Picture
Gallup measured Americans’ preference for the Best Picture award in most years from 1993 to 2002. During this period, Americans weren’t always as unified in their preferences for Best Picture as they were in 1998 for Titanic, but their choice of Forrest Gump in 1995 was similar. Fifty-nine percent of Americans that year wanted the multifaceted Tom Hanks film to win (which it did).
Americans were also in sync with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over Schindler’s List in 1994 (34%) and A Beautiful Mind in 2002 (28%), albeit with much smaller percentages favoring those than favored Titanic in 1998. (All of these measurements were taken in March of the year after each movie’s release, just before the Academy Awards ceremony.)
On the other hand, Americans’ top choice for best movie differed from the academy’s in several other years, including 1993 when the public favored A Few Good Men rather than the winning movie, Unforgiven. Americans were disappointed in 2000, when their preferred film, The Green Mile, lost to American Beauty; and in 2001, when they favored Erin Brockovich over the winning Gladiator.
Between 1993 and 2000, the biggest discrepancy between Americans’ selection for Best Picture and the academy’s came in 1999, when most Americans fell in behind Saving Private Ryan (53%), while the academy was smitten by Shakespeare in Love (11%).
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