Titanic's Alternate Ending Could've Been One Of The Greatest Misfires In Movie History

When James Cameron set out to make his historical romantic disaster epic, "Titanic," he was taking a massive financial and creative risk. Not only was the film the most expensive ever made at that time, but Cameron's name was more affiliated with genre blockbusters like "The Terminator" or "Aliens," not the kind of movies that would make legions of moms cry in the theater. As has been proven time and time again, one should never bet against James Cameron, who from "Titanic" onward has exclusively directed the highest-grossing films in history.

The success of a film like "Titanic" is the result of thousands of decisions, like casting, costuming, special effects, editing, and most importantly, screenwriting. "Titanic" is considered by many to be one of the best films of all time, and is currently tied for winning the most ever Academy Awards (11, for your records). But before "Titanic" shipped into theaters and changed the cinematic landscape forever, Cameron shot a completely different ending that would have absolutely tanked the success of the film.

The scene was first included in the 10-year anniversary special edition DVD release, but luckily, dedicated preservation foot soldiers often upload the ending to YouTube, to ensure that the masses can continue to be horrified at the thought of how unbelievably close "Titanic" was to absolutely whiffing it in the final moments. It may sound like I'm exaggerating, but trust and believe there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the absurdity that is the "Titanic" alternate ending.

The original ending

Despite plenty of folks complaining about the modern-day wraparound framing of "Titanic," the film ends with a perfect bit of poetic beauty. Old Rose (Gloria Stuart) brings the research crew of the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh vessel to tears with her heartbreaking story of dropping the love of her life to the bottom of the ocean, taking his last name upon rescue, and abandoning her life of opulence to one forged of her own will. The research team's entire goal was to try and secure The Heart of the Ocean necklace gifted to Rose (Kate Winslet) by her villainous fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), which is revealed to have been in Old Rose's possession the entire time. Feeling as if her story has come to an end, she privately drops the necklace off the vessel, allowing it to sleep on the ocean floor with the rest of the debris and lost souls of the RMS Titanic.

Old Rose then returns to her bed, surrounded by the photos that prove she lived a long, fruitful life, and passes away only to be reunited with Jack on the ship of dreams, where she will spend the afterlife with the man who saved her "in every way that a person can be saved," no longer only existing in her memory. It's a pretty damn perfect conclusion, and to think James Cameron even humored a different ending is enough to make your head spin. But it's when you see the actual, tangible proof that "Titanic" almost had a different ending, that the true madness takes hold.

The alternate ending

After Old Rose tells her story, she walks toward the edge of the research vessel, only for Brock (Bill Paxton) and granddaughter Lizzy (Suzy Amis) to run toward her. The music swells with dramatics, trying to convince the audience we're about to witness an old woman's suicide. "Don't come any closer," she commands, "I'll drop it." She then dangles the Heart of the Ocean necklace over the railing, like a bank robber holding a teller hostage with a gun to their head. "You had it the entire time?!" Brock exclaims, doing his best Sally Field in "Mrs. Doubtfire."

Old Rose delivers a monologue about how she spent her whole life knowing she could sell the necklace and amass a great fortune, but never wanted to live a life that had any assistance from Cal, ending with the line, "Only life is precious." It is so painfully sentimental that it completely jumps the shark and lands firmly in "after-school special" levels of embarrassingly cringe moralizing. Brock realizes Rose is going to throw it but asks if he can hold the necklace in his hand before she gives it the boot. She obliges, and Paxton completely loses it.

He is overcome with the bewildered cackling of a man who has finally snapped. Researcher Lewis Bodine (Lewis Abernathy) wearing a "No Whining" shirt underneath a Hawaiian button-up, no less, yells "Holy s***," before spending the rest of the scene whining. Brock throws his head back in laughter in a crane shot, points and laughs in Lewis' face, and then randomly asks Lizzy if she'd like to dance in some weird callback to Jack and Rose's story.


Why the alternate ending is awful

Every single decision made in the alternate ending is the wrong one, from the overly dramatic music to the schmaltzy monologue, with the lunatic laughter of Bill Paxton serving as the cherry on top of this "Oops, all bad choices" sundae. Gloria Stuart looks on like a proud grandma when Brock and Lizzy start dancing (to no music), before looking up toward the sky and seeing a shooting star. If James Cameron wasn't such a mega-blockbuster director, this scene could have been his calling card to make rom-coms for the Hallmark Channel.

The scene then cuts back to the ending we all saw in theaters, with Old Rose going to sleep and dying in her bed. The power of her reunion with Jack in the afterlife is completely lost following the cheeseball parade that came before, and any emotional response elicited by the film up until that point has since been transformed into eye-rolling annoyance. It's the cinematic equivalent of finding out the entire movie was just a crummy commercial for Ovaltine, trading the chocolate powdered drink for embarrassing mawkishness.

I certainly hope whoever made the call to not use this ending was given a handsome bonus, and that Cameron rewatches this scene from time to time to keep him humble. "Titanic" narrowly escaped quite possibly the greatest misfire in movie history but at least we can all watch the footage together and laugh as maniacally as Bill Paxton at the ending that almost was.