Raise the Titanic (film)

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Raise the Titanic
Raise The Titanic Movie Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Produced by William Frye
Lord Grade (Uncredited)
Screenplay by Adam Kennedy
Story by Eric Hughes (Adaptation)
Based on Raise the Titanic! by
Clive Cussler
Starring Jason Robards
Richard Jordan
David Selby
Anne Archer
Sir Alec Guinness
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Matthew F. Leonetti
Edited by Robert F. Shugrue
J. Terry Williams
Distributed by Associated Film Distribution [1]
Release dates
  • August 1, 1980 (1980-08-01)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $40 million[1]
Box office $7,000,000[1]

Raise the Titanic is a 1980 adventure film by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment and directed by Jerry Jameson. The film, which was written by Eric Hughes (adaptation) and Adam Kennedy (screenplay), was based on the book of the same name by Clive Cussler. The film features Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer, and Sir Alec Guinness in leading roles.

Raise the Titanic was poorly received by critics and audiences and proved to be a box office bomb. The film only grossed about $13.8 million against an estimated $40 million budget. Lew Grade later remarked "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic".[2][3] The film's plot concerns a plan to recover the RMS Titanic because it is carrying cargo valuable to Cold War hegemony.


The film opens on the fictional island of Svardlov in the far North Sea above the Soviet Union where an American spy breaks into an old mine where he discovers the frozen body of a US Army sergeant and mining expert Jake Hobart. Next to the frozen corpse is a newspaper from 1912 as well as some mining tools from the early part of the 20th Century. Using a radiation meter, the spy discovers that what he seeks, an extremely rare mineral named byzanium was there but has been mined out leaving only traces. He is then chased and shot by Soviet forces but rescued at the last moment by Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan) a former U.S. Navy officer and a clandestine operator.

It is explained by scientist Gene Seagram (David Selby) and the head of NUMA The National Underwater and Marine Agency, (a NASA like agency for sea exploration) admiral James Sandecker (Jason Robards) that the mineral their man was trying to find is needed to fuel a powerful new defense system code named "The Sicilian Project" that, using laser technology will be able to destroy any incoming nuclear missiles during an attack and "make nuclear war obsolete".

The CIA and Pitt soon find out that boxes of the raw mineral were loaded onto the Belfast-built RMS Titanic by an American in April 1912. A search is then conducted in North Atlantic to locate the sunken ocean liner. It is aided by one of the Titanic's last survivors (Alec Guinness) who explains he was also the last person to see the American alive. Just before the Titanic foundered, the sailor said he locked the man inside the ship's vault containing the boxes of mineral, his last words being "thank God for Southby!" At this point it is decided that the only way to get a hold of the byzanium is to literally "raise the Titanic" from the ocean floor. Pitt comes up with a salvage plan that Sandecker then sells the president on it and the operation is on.

At this time the Soviet KGB station chief in Washington D.C., Andre Prevlov (Bo Brundin) is receiving bits and pieces of information on the project and leaks elements of this to a reporter, Dana Archibald (Ann Archer), who is also Seagram's lover as well as a former girlfriend of Pitt's. The story blows the project's secret cover and Sandecker must hold a press conference to explain why the ship is being raised. Questions are raised about byzanium but are not answered.

After a lengthy search in which a Titanic band member's cornet is first found, experts and the U.S. Navy then begin the dangerous job of raising the ship from the seabed, in which one of the submersibles, Starfish, experiences a cabin flood and implodes. Another submersible, the Deep Quest, while attempting to clear debris from one of the upper decks suddenly tears free and accidentally crashes through the skylight above the main staircase and becomes jammed. Dirk Pitt who heads the salvage operation then decides to attempt raising the ship before the crew of the Deep Quest suffocates.

Eventually the rusting Titanic is brought to the surface using explosives to break the hull loose from the bottom suction, compressed air tanks and buoyancy aids with the Deep Quest safely breaking away during the ascent. In response, Prevlov who has been aboard a Soviet spy ship nearby arranges for a phoney distress call to draw away the American naval escorts and comes aboard and meets with Sandecker, Pitt and Seagram. He tells them that his government knows all about the mineral and challenges them for salvage of the Titanic and ownership of ore claiming it was illegally taken from Russian soil and that if there is to be a "superior weapon" made from it then "Russia must have it!" Sandecker then tells Prevlov they knew he was coming and what he would threaten them with. Pitt then escorts him to the deck where U.S. fighter jets and a nuclear attack submarine have arrived to protect the Titanic from their attempted piracy. Prevlov then leaves in defeat.

The ship is then towed to New York harbor - its original destination and moored at the old White Star Line dock - with much fanfare, cheered on by huge crowds, escorting ships and aircraft. On entering the watertight vault, the salvage team discover the mummified remains of the American, but no mineral only boxes of gravel. As they contemplate their probable failure Sandecker tells Pitt and Seagram that they actually were thinking of a way to weaponize the byzanium to create a super bomb, not just to power a defensive system which went against everything the scientist believed in. As Pitt listens he goes through the belongings of the dead American found in the vault and finds the clue was in those final words, "Thank God for Southby". Looking at an un-mailed postcard showing a church and graveyard in the village of Southby on the English coast and where the American had arranged a fake burial for the frozen miner Jake Hobart prior to sailing back to the United States on the Titanic. Pitt and Seagram alone go the small graveyard and find that the byzanium is indeed buried there. They decide in the end to leave the mineral in the grave because they agree its existence would destabilize the status quo that maintains the peace between the West and the Soviet Union.




The film endured an arduous pre-production process. Lew Grade read the script by Clive Cussler and became interested, thinking there was potential for a series along the lines of the James Bond movies. He discovered that Stanley Kramer was attached to direct and Grade said he would buy the rights to the book and let Kramer direct and produce.[4] Pre-production began and models of the ship were built; Grade said that the models were at least two or three times larger than they should be. Eventually Kramer quit due to creative differences.[5]

Production costs spiralled to US$15 million as work was undertaken to find a ship that could be converted to look like the sunken Titanic.[6] The screenplay also underwent numerous rewrites.[7] Novelist Larry McMurtry - who disliked Cussler's novel considering it "less a novel than a manual on how to raise a very large boat from deep beneath the sea" - claims that he was one of approximately 17 writers who worked on the screenplay and the only one not to petition for a credit on the finished film.[8] Cussler himself was furious with the final result as most of the original plot had been jettisoned leaving a hollow shell of his story as well as feeling that the casting was wrong as well.


The film was shot in 1978, but remained unreleased until 1980. An old Greek ocean liner SS Athinai was converted into a replica of the Titanic. A scale model was used for close-up underwater scenes.

A 10-tonne 50 ft (15 m) scale model was also built for the scene where the Titanic is raised to the surface. Costing $7 million, the model initially proved too large for any existing water tank.[7] This problem led to one of the world's first horizon tanks being constructed at the Mediterranean Film Studios near Kalkara, Malta. The 10 million gallon tank could create the illusion a ship was at sea. The Titanic model was raised more than 50 times until a satisfactory shot was acquired.[9]


Composer John Barry created the film's musical score.

Christian Clemmensen, reviewer of Filmtracks.com, later stated: "When the film came out in the theatres, the score was a remarkably fresh and unique experience, and out of the novelty of that style of music arose the popularity of techniques that would inform Barry's Oscar-winning efforts for Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves....Sadly, there was no release of a soundtrack recording at the time and the loss of the original session tapes were probably due to the bankruptcy and selling off of the assets of AFD, the film's distributor."[10]

As of August 2014, Network On Air was releasing Raise The Titanic on Blu-ray in the UK with the only known available original Barry score.[11]


Raise the Titanic received mostly negative reviews at the time. It currently scores a 50% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

At the time of its release, Cussler was so disgusted with the film adaption of his book he refused to give any further permission for cinematic works based on his books.[12] (In 2006 Cussler sued the filmmakers of Sahara, a film adaption of his 1992 book, for failing to consult him on the script when it also made huge financial losses.[13])

The film, which had a budget of $40 million, grossed $7 million at the US box office, plus $6.8 million in video rentals.[1][2][3] However, it was popular in Japan.[4]

Lew Grade later wrote that he "thought the movie was quite good" particularly enjoying the actual raising of the Titanic and the scene where Dirk Pitt walks into the wrecked ballroom. He blamed the failure of the film in part on the release of a TV movie on the topic, SOS Titanic.[4]

Raise The Titanic, along with other contemporary flops, has been credited with prompting Grade's withdrawal from continued involvement with the film industry.[14]


Nominated: Worst Picture
Nominated: Worst Supporting Actor
Nominated: Worst Screenplay


  1. ^ a b c "Raise the Titanic - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Fowler, Rebecca (31 August 1996), "'It would be cheaper to lower the Atlantic'", The Independent (London), retrieved 2009-05-11 
  3. ^ a b Kennedy, Duncan (25 August 2012). "Australian billionaire on mission to recreate Titanic". BBC News (BBC). Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 260-261
  5. ^ Walker, Alexander (1985). National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties. Harrap. pp. 198, 202. ISBN 9780245542688. 
  6. ^ Suid, Lawrence H.Suid (2002). Guts and Glory. University Press of Kentucky. p. 413. ISBN 9780813190181. 
  7. ^ a b Cettl, Robert (2010). Film Tales. Wider Screenings TM. p. 74. ISBN 9780987050007. 
  8. ^ McMurtry, Larry (2010). Hollywood: A Third Memoir. Simon & Schuster. pp. 59–60. 
  9. ^ "His special effects bring magic to the screen". Weekly World News. 24 Mar 1981. p. 28. 
  10. ^ Clemmensen, Christian. "Raise the Titanic". Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 24 June 2011. 
  11. ^ http://networkonair.com/shop/1947-raise-the-titanic-5027626707040.html
  12. ^ Cunningham, By Lawrence A. (2012). Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter. Cambridge University Press. p. 153. ISBN 9781107020078. 
  13. ^ "Don't give him rewrite.". LA Times.com. 8 December 2006. 
  14. ^ Barber, Sian (2013). The British Film Industry in the 1970s: Capital, Culture and Creativity. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137163325. 

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