When Titanic hit theaters the weekend of December 19, 1997, it only grossed $3 million more than the week’s other big release. That movie was Tomorrow Never Dies, which almost immediately killed the post-Goldeneye buzz of the Pierce Brosnan Bond era. The only other big release that weekend was Mouse Hunt, the third straight sad-trombone opening from DreamWorks SKG, which in 1997 was still trying to be a real studio (largely because they hadn’t yet discovered the winning formula of “Making Shrek sequels + Making Shrek spin-offs = $$$.”) But while those movies quickly faded down the box office charts in the ensuing weeks, Titanic would stay on top. In the process, Titanic presided over the quick box office demise of The Postman, the last time Hollywood would indulge Kevin Costner’s Messiah complex.
The top four shows on television were all on NBC. Seinfeld was midway through its final season, and ER was still in its Clooney-Margulies Golden era. Veronica’s Closet had the post-Seinfeld slot, which meant that — in the days before DVR and the cable-assisted balkanization of the TV audience — it was the third-most-watched show on television. That wouldn’t last long though…and the fourth-most-watched show, Friends, was about to become NBC’s post-Seinfeld linchpin. CBS had three shows in the top ten — their most popular show that season would be Touched by an Angel. ABC had just one show: Football. In the pre-American Idol era, Fox had only three shows in the Nielsen top 30: The X-Files, King of the Hill, and The Simpsons.
In the world of music, there was only one word that could define 1997: Spice. The Spice Girls’ debut album was the best-selling album of the year, and when Titanic hit theaters, they had just released their second: Spiceworld. It turned out that that would mark the high point of the Spice Girls’ reign of candy-colored girl-power terror — a few months later, Ginger Spice would set off on her solo “career,” (quote marks ours).
1997 also marked the release of OK Computer, the first Radiohead album which some called the greatest rock album ever. Coincidentally, OK Computer was also the first Radiohead album which made some wonder when they’d just go back to jamming on guitar. The best-selling single of the year was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997,” a hymn which rose to prominence when he sang it at the funeral for Princess Diana. (The royal died earlier in the year — the same week as Mother Theresa.) Elsewhere on the charts, Third Eye Blind’s impossibly catchy “Semi-Charmed Life” was the year’s most hummable anthem, which probably explains why it was the rare song that could feature references to oral sex and crystal meth and still be frequently played at junior high dances.
What are your memories of 1997, PopWatchers? Will you be taking a trip back in time to see Titanic rereleased in 3-D?
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