Box Office Bomb: Raise the Titanic was a notable financial and critical bomb, recouping only about $13 million of its $40 million budget, and is credited with bringing about the demise of Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment; it survived until 1998, and was acquired by Polygram and then Universal (except the library, which went to what eventually would become ITV Plc), but as a shell of its former self.
Creator Backlash: As Lew Grade said of the film's dismal performance, "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic".
Creator Killer: The film wasn't the only flop producer Lew Grade had at the time, but it was the biggest, and its failure pretty much ended his career as a movie producer; the other one was The Village People'sCan't Stop the Music, produced by EMI the record company, which had been trying to break into movie making much like Grade (to the point that they had formed a joint venture called Associated Film Distribution for American releasing); both the movies flopped so bad (in Music's case, because of the anti-disco backlash taking place in the US at the time), Grade and EMI's film divisions, and by extension, AFD all sunk, with the remaining backlog of releases sold to Universal (who would, of course, acquire ITC's shell by the late 90s, while the EMI library, via Cannon, ended up with StudioCanal, and hence Universal distributes those as well). This film also acted as the iceberg for the maiden voyage of director Jerry Jameson as far as tentpole films are concerned; he stayed on television for the rest of the 20th century and all future theatrical films directed by him have small budgets. note The next film based off a Cussler novel, Sahara, would also be a Creator Killer for that film's director, Breck Eisner (son of Michael Eisner, who was chief of Paramount when Raise the Titanic was released, moved to Disney just before the real Titanic was discovered, and left around Sahara's release; Sahara was distributed by Paramount), though he bounced back a bit.
Playing Gertrude: The then-64 year old Alec Guinness plays a surviving Titanic crew member, who would have been well into his 80s (at least) by then.
Reality Subtext: John Bigalow, played by Alec Guinness, notes that despite fighting in both world wars and surviving numerous shipwrecks, all anyone ever asks him about is the Titanic. Guinness himself used to complain that despite his long and distinguished acting career, all most people remembered him for was Star Wars.
Most of the trouble was in pre-production. Grade read Cussler's script and saw the potential for a Dirk Pitt franchise. The legendary Stanley Kramer had already been set to direct, and when Grade bought the rights he made Kramer the producer as well. However, he quit when Grade kept complaining that the models of the ships to be used were two or three times bigger than they should have been. Kramer was replaced by Jerry Jameson, who had just come off the similarly effects-heavy hit Airport '77, though whose career had mostly been directing television and schlock cinema like It Lives by Night.
The real trouble was with the script. The first draft, by Eric Hughes, was a pretty straightforward translation of Cussler's novel. Unfortunately, Grade felt it was far too long and wanted something with more appeal to family audiences, and so hired someone else to rewrite it... several times. Ultimately 17 writers worked on the screenplay, and all of them except for Larry McMurtry, who disliked the novel to begin with, petitioned the Writers' Guild for credit on the released film (credit was given to Hughes and Adam Kennedy, the latter of whom was mostly responsible for the final draft). Between the writing clusterfuck and the efforts to find a ship that could be dressed to look like the Titanic, $15 million (an amount that could have paid for a few modestly budgeted films at the time) had been spent without shooting a single frame.
It didn't help that they didn't have a cast after Elliott Gould turned down the part of Pitt. Eventually an all-star cast including Jason Robards and Alec Guinness was hired at yet more considerable expense.
The film had to deliver on its title promise, and in order to do so a 50-foot (15-meter) model of the Titanic was built. It turned out to be too large for any existing water tank, so a special 10-million-gallon "horizon tank"note one of the film's few positive legacies, in concept anyway was built off the coast of Malta. As if they hadn't already spent enough money they never expected to, it took 50 takes to get the shot of the ship rising they way they wanted it.
Thus finished, the film sat on the shelf for two years. Its 1980 release made just barely $7 million, nowhere near the final budget of $40 million (again, almost astronomical for the time) and video rentals weren't much help.