James Cameron Just Explained What Happened Directly After His Polarizing 'I'm The King Of The World' Titanic Oscars Speech Fail, And It's A+

 James Cameron directing Titanic
James Cameron directing Titanic

Making a movie in of itself is a magic trick, isn’t it? To create entire worlds with a massive team of cast and crew and achieve something that’s believable and entertaining should afford a lot more gold trophies than the Academy hands out every year, but Hollywood does like a bit of healthy competition. At the 1998 Oscars, James Cameron’s Titanic won about half of the awards that night, including Best Director. It was during the show that the filmmaker declared “I’m the king of the world” in a speech that is greatly thought of as a bit of a fail. Twenty-five years later, Cameron recalled the major moment with an A+ account.

Titanic nabbed 14 nominations at the 70th Academy Awards, which equaled the record previously set by 1950’s All About Eve and has since been repeated by La La Land. Over the course of the night, James Cameron’s epic won 11 golden trophies. It was a great occasion, but James Cameron still views his acceptance speech for Best Director “cringeworthy.” Cameron began his recent recollection by explaining the first moment that he knew his address would cause hoopla:

I’ll tell you exactly when I first realized it [was going to be a problem]: when I walked backstage and Warren Beatty had this look on his face like, 'What the fuck did you just do?' He was just looking at me like, 'You poor boob, what the fuck did you just do?' And I went, 'Oh, was that not cool? Okay.' I mean, obviously I’ve analyzed that. My wife at the time, Linda, had said, 'Well, if you’re going to quote a line from the movie, then quote it with gusto.' I’m like, 'Well, I can do that.'

It would seem that celebrated filmmaker got swept up in the moment when he accepted the highly coveted honor. By the time he took to the stage to accept his award, a ton of his colleagues -- and even himself for Best Editing -- had already accepted other awards. Though that Best Director speech is sure to live rent free in folk's minds for years to come. See it for yourself:

It’s been over 25 years since Titanic hit theaters and James Cameron accepted that Oscar. Given that so much time has passed, the filmmaker has a different perspective on what he said before his colleagues. As he explained to The Hollywood Reporter for its oral history of the movie's Oscars dominance:

And what I realized is, the problem with it is that it’s too self-referential and seen as hubristic — not just the actual sort of semiotics of, 'I’m the king of the world,' but the scenario of quoting your own movie as if every single person in the audience is a big fan, because there were a lot of people in that audience that did not vote for Titanic. You can’t make the assumption that because you’re winning, you’ve won by some vast landslide. In my mind, it was celebratory — I was just stating how I felt. In fact, that’s exactly what I said. I was talking to my parents. If you actually look at a transcript of it, I say, 'Mom, Dad, I know you’re back there,' because they were in the back of the house. I said, “I can’t tell you how I feel right now except to say that I’m the king of the world!” Meaning talking to my parents saying, 'I feel pretty great right now.' And that was it.

It sounds like a lot of people didn’t understand that by quoting the classic movie quote, he meant to emulate the joy he felt in the moment rather than announce he’s better than others. As he continued:

What I specifically wasn’t saying is, 'I’m showing all y’all motherfuckers how it’s done, and yes, I’m the king of the world! I’m all that!' That’s not what I was saying. But, of course, that’s what they heard. And, of course, as a director, I’m supposed to be better than that. I’m supposed to know what the audience hears — how the line actually lands is actually part of the art form.

Titanic At The 1998 Oscars

Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack and Rose in Titanic
Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack and Rose in Titanic

The Academy Awards Titanic Won (Out of 14 Nominations): Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song and Best Original Score

There you have it, the Canadian moviemaker wasn't trying to be condescending. Let's be fair, It’s certainly not easy to get in front of millions of people and say the right thing. Since that night, James Cameron has yet to return to the Oscars stage to accept another golden trophy. (Though I'm more content that in that time, he's settled the Titanic door debate). In 2010, Avatar was nominated for three Academy Awards and the sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water is among the 2023 Oscar nominations with four nods to its name: Best Picture, Best Production Design, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects.

It’s very possible The Way Of Water could take home an award or two in the technical categories. But as James Cameron has recently state, it’s been a “long time since a crowd pleaser won” Best Picture. And this year, a couple major crowd-pleasers are up for the top prize, including Top Gun: Maverick. Still, it's not impossible for the long-awaited sequel to win the top prize. Let's just hope that if it does, Cameron's theoretical speech plays a lot better than his last one.

The 95th Academy Awards air this Sunday, March 12 on ABC at 8 p.m. ET. You can check out how to watch the Best Picture nominees.