For someone like DiCaprio, who at that point already had a reputation as something of a womanizer (he was a member of a group of guys who were famously dubbed the “Pussy Posse”) and was presumably thinking an awful lot about his image and his perceived cool factor at the time, you may be able to imagine what it might feel like to be standing on a fake ship and asked to embrace this ridiculously cheesy line. As Cameron explained: 

“[DiCaprio] goes, ‘What?!’ I’m getting this over the walkie talkie. ‘What?!’ I said, ‘I’m the king of the world, just say I’m the king of the world. But you’ve gotta sell it.’ And he goes, ‘What?!’ I said, ‘Just f***ing sell it!’ So then he gets up there, and [says it].”

The secret weapon of “Titanic,” though (aside from just an all-timer scumbag villain performance from Billy Zane), is that the film’s cheesiness is actually an asset, not a hindrance. Cameron’s screenplay (one of the few aspects of the film that the Academy did not recognize with an Oscar nomination) is perfectly modulated to be endearing rather than off-putting. The writing is broad, yes — but it’s also a grand love story set among the greatest maritime disaster of all time, full of archetypal characters and relatable class commentary and swooning romance. One could look at “Titanic” as something of a template for what Cameron would later do with “Avatar”: By painting with the broadest brush story-wise and letting his performers work within those confines, he’s crafted a universal love story that everyone can understand. Some people — even DiCaprio himself! — may roll their eyes at lines like “I’m the king of the world,” but you can’t argue with the results.

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