You had to live during the years before Titanic was released to understand all the hype and hoopla surrounding it. For one, the budget was gargantuan. To add to that, there were tons of issues that occurred during the filming of the movie that made it feel like it was set up to be a monumental disaster. More than 50 crew members were rushed to the hospital after their lobster chowder was laced with PCP. They never discovered who poisoned the food. Three stuntmen wound up with broken bones and star Kate Winslet chipped a bone in her elbow in addition to the fact that she, and the crew, feared the temperamental director James Cameron. The shoot was originally intended for 138 days but wound up taking 160 days. By the end of it, the budget had reached an unheard of $200 million (which, equates to about $1 million per minute of screen time).
As its release got closer, many wondered if it was going to be a repeat of Waterworld, another film with a gigantic budget that didn’t succeed. However, Titanic turned into an absolute hit. It was the first film ever to cross the $1 billion mark at the box office. Not only that, it went on to win a handful of Academy Awards (a record-tying eleven to be exact) including Best Picture and Best Director. That’s not all. The hit song, “My Heart Will Go On” was one of the biggest hits of the 90s, sung by pop superstar Celine Dion. It was, in every way, shape, and form, a huge success and remains one of the most successful movies of all time.
While Titanic ran away with the box office in ’97, it was a hell of a year for film. To put Titanic’s numbers in perspective, it took in more than $1.8 billion, whereas the next biggest film of the year, The Lost World: Jurassic Park took in a staggering $618 million. In third place, Men in Black also had a phenomenal take in with $589 million. Even with the heavy drop off after third place, the James Bond installment Tomorrow Never Dies still brought in $333 million. In fact, the next three biggest films of the year all took in more than $300 million as Air Force One, As Good as It Gets, and Liar Liar all more than surpassed expectations. Rounding out the top ten at the box office for ’97 were My Best Friend’s Wedding, Fifth Element, and The Full Monty, all of which made more than $250 million worldwide.
1997 in music was unique in that two of the biggest singles were tributes to people who died far too young. The first, a remake of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” was written in honor of Princess Diana, who died in a tragic car crash in August of ’97 after being pursued by paparazzi. The other, “I’ll be Missing You,” was a tribute by Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, and 112 to Notorious B.I.G. who was murdered in March of 1997. While the hip hop ode to Notorious found great success with more than eight million singles sold, it pales in comparison to the success of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” redo. In fact, “Candle in the Wind” remains the second best-selling single of all time with more than 33 million copies sold. The original song was written in honor of Marilyn Monroe but the sudden death of his longtime friend Diana Francis Spencer prompted John to do another version in her honor. Out of respect to her, Elton John has only performed the song live once, at Princess Di’s funeral.
*Elton John and the late Princess Di
Hugely successful singles don’t stop with those two. 1997 had another giant hit with Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic. Just like “Candle in the Wind,” Dion’s biggest hit remains one of the most successful singles of all time, selling more than 18 million copies. 1997 is actually the only year in history that has two of the top ten best-selling singles of all time. Adding to the list of big time singles from ’97 were Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” Although Jackson was a far bigger name than Aqua, “Barbie Girl” remains the more successful single with more than eight million copies sold compared to over six million for “Together Again.” To put this all in perspective, the top 5 singles of 1997 have cumulatively sold more than 73 million singles worldwide. That is insane.
Quite a few iconic albums were released in 1997, among them Prodigy’s “Fat of the Land” and Radiohead’s “OK Computer.” In hip hop, Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous album “Life After Death” was a big hit, not only because he was one of the biggest names in the genre but also because the album was released only two weeks after his murder. It went on to sell more than five million copies. Wu-Tang Clan’s second album, “Wu-Tang Forever” was another successful hip hop record from ’97, selling more than four million copies. Other notable rap albums of ’97 were Missy Elliot’s “Supa Dupa Fly” and Will Smith’s first solo album after five albums as the group DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. “Big Willie Style” would wind up as the most successful rap album of ’97, going on to sell more than nine million copies.
In terms of successful albums of the 90s, one of the biggest of the decade belonged to Shania Twain’s 1997 album “Come on Over.” It has made its mark on the all-time best-selling albums list, in twelfth place with more than 33 million copies sold. A fun tidbit here about that as well: with Twain’s “Come on Over,” 1997 was the third straight year in which a female music artist had the biggest album of the year (1995 was Alanis Morissette with “Jagged Little Pill”; 1996 was Celine Dion with “Falling into You”). What’s also amazing is that Celine Dion had another giant album in ’97 with “Let’s Talk About Love,” which contained the hit single, “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. Put together, Dion’s two albums from ’96 and ’97 would go on to sell more than 64 million copies. Wow.
In television, ER and Seinfeld once again would fight each other for top of the Nielsen ratings for the third straight year, with Seinfeld edging it out by a couple of points. As for other shows ranked at the top of the Nielsen ratings, it was mostly the usual suspects again as Home Improvement, Frasier, NYPD Blue, X-Files, The Drew Carey Show, and 60 Minutes kept their places in the top 20 of the ratings. A couple of new shows including Veronica’s Closet and Just Shoot Me! found themselves at the top of the ratings as well although Kirstie Alley’s Veronica’s Closet would only go on for three seasons compared to seven seasons for Laura San Giacomo’s Just Shoot Me!
Speaking of debuts, ’97 was a unique year in that two animated adult shows started that would help pave the way for more adult animation in the years to come. One of them, King of the Hill, was the second show created by Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge. It was a big hit for Fox and would go on for 13 seasons before going into nightly syndication in 2010. The other show is arguably the most influential adult cartoon series in history. South Park debuted on August 13, 1997 on Comedy Central and 21 seasons later, it is still going strong. The controversial cartoon known for its brash language and subject matter turned creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker into big time Hollywood players.
Aside from those two iconic debuts, ’97 had many more great debuts. Buffy the Vampire Slayer would begin its seven-season run amassing a large fan base that remains strong today. My personal favorite debut of ’97 was Crocodile Hunter, the second-longest series for Discovery behind Mythbusters. Perhaps it would have been the longest-running series for them had it not been for the tragic and untimely death of host Steve Irwin. I still haven’t gotten over that myself. Another notable debut of ’97 were Daria, Mike Judge’s second animated adult show for MTV (the first being Beavis and Butthead). Other popular shows to debut that year were The View, Ally McBeal, Caillou, Dharma and Greg, and the cult classic HBO show Tenacious D.
As it is with debuts, there were many shows ending in ’97 that fans would be sad to see leave. One of those was Angela Lansbury and Murder, She Wrote. Another big show that had its finale was Roseanne, which wound up being one of the most-watched TV finales in history. Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell would call it quits on Martin after five seasons while audiences would finally say goodbye to Craig T. Nelson and Coach after nine seasons. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher finished the last season of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman after four seasons while the Bundys finished their eleven seasons of Married…With Children (which brought a tear to my eye as it’s my favorite show of all time). And finally, after 26 years on the air, Hee Haw would say goodbye to its legion of fans.
1997 for some would be remembered for the death of Biggie Smalls, but Titanic easily took charge of the year both at the box office and in the world of music with Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will go On” as well as James Horner’s soundtrack being one of the biggest albums of the year as well. There are many who don’t like Titanic as a movie but it is impossible to argue against the fact that it was the biggest moment of the year as well as one of the most successful films of all time. I guess it’s true what lead character Jack Dawson says on the boat when he declares, “I’m the king of the world!”