Raise the Titanic (film)

Raise the Titanic is a 1980 adventure film produced 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 story concerns a plan to recover the RMS Titanic due to the fact that it was carrying cargo valuable to Cold War hegemony.

Raise the Titanic
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJerry Jameson
Produced byWilliam Frye
Lord Grade
Screenplay byAdam Kennedy
Story byEric Hughes (Adaptation)
Based onRaise the Titanic! by
Clive Cussler
StarringJason Robards
Richard Jordan
David Selby
Anne Archer
Dirk Blocker
Sir Alec Guinness
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyMatthew F. Leonetti
Edited byRobert F. Shugrue
J. Terry Williams
Distributed byAssociated Film Distribution
Release date
  • 1 August 1980 (1980-08-01)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$40 million[1]
Box office$7 million[1]

The film starred Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer, and Sir Alec Guinness, it received mixed reviews by critics and audiences and proved to be a box office bomb. The film only grossed about $7 million against an estimated $40 million budget. Producer Lew Grade later remarked "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic".[2][3]


The film opens on the fictional island of Svardlov in the Barents Sea north of 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 Hobart's corpse is a newspaper from November 1911, 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 had been mined out leaving only traces. He is then chased and shot by Soviet forces, but is 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 the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA, 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 defence system, codenamed "the Sicilian Project". This system, using laser technology, would 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 the North Atlantic to locate the sunken ocean liner. The search team 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 the man locked himself 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 presents to the U.S. president. The president signs off on the plan and Pitt is put in charge of the operation.

At this time the Soviet KGB station chief in Washington D.C., Andre Prevlov (Bo Brundin), is receiving bits of information on the project and leaks them to a reporter, Dana Archibald (Anne 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, the Titanic is located and the search team, with help from the U.S. Navy, begins the dangerous job of raising the ship from the seabed. One of the submersibles, Starfish, experiences a cabin flood and implodes. Another submersible, the Deep Quest, is attempting to clear debris from one of the upper decks when it suddenly tears free of its supports, crashes through the skylight above the main staircase and becomes jammed. Pitt decides they must attempt to raise the ship before the Deep Quest crew suffocates.

Eventually, the rusting Titanic is brought to the surface by using explosives to break the hull loose from the bottom suction and compressed air tanks to fill buoyancy aids. During the ascent, the Deep Quest safely breaks away from the ship.

When Prevlov, who has been aboard a nearby Soviet spy ship, sees the Titanic, he arranges a fake distress call to draw the American naval escorts away from the operation. He then meets Sandecker, Pitt, and Seagram aboard their vessel. He tells them that his government knows all about the mineral and challenges them for both salvage of the Titanic as well as ownership of the ore, claiming it was illegally taken from Russian soil. Prevlov says that if there is to be a "superior weapon" made from the mineral, then "Russia must have it!" Sandecker tells Prevlov that they knew he was coming and that he would threaten them. 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 leaves in defeat.

The ship is then towed into New York harbour and moored at the old White Star Line dock, its original intended destination. The arrival is greeted with much fanfare, including huge cheering crowds, escorting ships, and aircraft. On entering the watertight vault, the salvage team discovers the mummified remains of the American, but no mineral. Instead, they find only boxes of gravel. As they contemplate their probable failure, Sandecker tells Pitt and Seagram that, in addition to powering the defensive system, they were actually thinking of a way to weaponise the byzanium and create a superbomb, 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 an unmailed postcard. He then realises that there was a clue in those final words, "thank God for Southby!". The postcard showed a church and graveyard in the village of Southby on the English coast, the place 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 had indeed been buried there. They decide to leave the mineral in the grave because they agree its existence would destabilise the status quo that maintains the peace between the West and the Soviet Union.




The film had 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 films. He discovered that Stanley Kramer was 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 was furious with the final result, because most of the original plot had been rejected leaving a hollow shell of his story; additionally he felt that the casting was wrong.

Elliott Gould was offered a lead role, but turned it down.[9]


The film was shot in 1978 and released in 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. At the time of filming there were conflicting views as to whether the Titanic had broken up as she foundered based on the original eyewitness testimony of the survivors, and - in line with the novel's assumption against the break-up narrative - the ship was portrayed as intact in the film. In 1985 the wreck of the real Titanic was located, confirming that she had broken up during the disaster, and lay in two pieces on the bottom of the North Atlantic in a state of advanced corrosion.

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.[10] Following the completion of filming, the scale model was left to rust for 30 years at the side of the horizon tank (at 35°53′36.36″N 14°32′4.41″E). In January 2003 a storm caused damage to the model. By 2012 the remains of the metal structure had been moved to a new location closer to the sea (at 35°53′37.51″N 14°32′6.13″E).


John Barry created the film's musical score, which became the most acclaimed aspect of the production and is considered by many to be one of the very best of Barry's career - closely following the style of his soundtrack for the James Bond film Moonraker the preceding year, with militaristic passages reflecting the Cold War aspects of the plot to the dark, cold, brooding compositions reflected in the underwater scenes.

Though the original recordings of the music have been lost, Silva Screen Records, along with Nic Raine, one of Barry's orchestrators, commissioned a re-recording in 1999 of the complete score with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

In August 2014 Network On Air were to release Raise The Titanic on Blu-ray in the UK, with the only known available original Barry score. There are tapes from M&E which contain the score plus sound effects. There is no known source for the original, complete score.[11]


Raise the Titanic received mixed reviews and has a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes.[12]

Cussler was so disgusted with the film that he refused to give any permission for further film adaptations of his books[13] (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).[14]

The film grossed $7 million against a budget of $40 million.[1]

Lew Grade later wrote that he "thought the movie was quite good", particularly 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, S.O.S. Titanic (released theatrically through EMI Films, of which Grade's brother, Lord Delfont, was then chairman).[4]

Raise the Titanic, along with other contemporary flops, has been credited with prompting Grade's withdrawal from continued involvement with the film industry.[15]


Nominated: Worst Picture
Nominated: Worst Supporting Actor (David Selby)
Nominated: Worst Screenplay


  1. "Raise the Titanic - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  2. Fowler, Rebecca (31 August 1996), "It would be cheaper to lower the Atlantic", The Independent, London, retrieved 11 May 2009
  3. Kennedy, Duncan (25 August 2012). "Australian billionaire on mission to recreate Titanic". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  4. 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. 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. Mann, R. (1978, 22 Oct). MOVIES. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/158662943
  10. "His special effects bring magic to the screen". Weekly World News. 24 March 1981. p. 28.
  11. "Raise the Titanic". Network on air. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  12. "Raise the Titanic".
  13. 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.
  14. Bunting, Glenn F. (8 December 2006). "Don't give him rewrite". LA Times.com. Archived from the original on 1 July 2018.
  15. Barber, Sian (2013). The British Film Industry in the 1970s: Capital, Culture and Creativity. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137163325.
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