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James Cameron Spills On The Origin Of Titanic's Most Iconic Line

If there's one line people likely remember from "Titanic," it's Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) exclaiming, "I'm the king of the world!" DiCaprio spreads his arms out in the scene as if on he's flying. Preceding this moment, we've seen Jack is barely scraping by and only earned his way onto the doomed Titanic through a poker game, but the moment declared to anyone listening that Jack — and likely DiCaprio — never felt better. Considering the 1997 epic went on to become the top-grossing movie of all time upon its initial release, it's safe to say there were plenty of folks listening, per Variety

"I'm the king of the world!" stands as a moment to mark the time Cameron's "Titanic" undoubtedly took over, well, the world, at least for a time. The line today is included on the top 100 list of most iconic cinema lines from AFI. It's also the phrase Cameron chose to shout out when he won the Best Director Academy Award for the picture at the 70th annual Academy Awards.

Cameron has revealed the origins of the "king of the world" line, and fans might be surprised to know that very little planning went into it and the line wasn't an immediate hit with everyone involved. 

James Cameron came up with the line on the spot

According to James Cameron, "I'm the king of the world" was a line essential to the character of Jack Dawson, but it was a line he didn't think up until cameras were rolling on the actual scene. 

"He doesn't have a penny in his pocket. He won his damn ticket in a poker game. He's just living carefree, fancy-free, He met Fabrizio [Danny Nucci] and they're just having fun. It was an expression of life and his life spirit, which seemed so unquenchable and so full of potential," Cameron explained to The Hollywood Reporter

After about 10 takes of Leonardo DiCaprio trying various ways to get across the moment of pure joy Cameron wanted, including howling like a wolf, the director came up with "I'm the king of the world." He immediately told Di Caprio over a walkie-talkie to deliver the line and to do so convincingly. 

"His acting spirit was there, but we just couldn't quite find the words, and it just popped into my head," the director said of the line. After telling his lead actor to howl like a wolf, however, Cameron's line didn't exactly knock everyone back. In another interview on the iconic scene, Cameron explained it took DiCaprio a bit of time before he jumped into the scene and sold the line.

James Cameron had to sell Leonardo DiCaprio on 'I'm the king of the world'

Whether it came down to a faulty communication line or some doubt after multiple takes of varying actions, Leonardo DiCaprio did not appear to fully get Cameron's "I'm the king of the world" line, at least according to the "Avatar: The Way of Water" filmmaker. 

Speaking to BBC Radio in February 2019, Cameron recalled while filming the scene with DiCaprio, it reached a point where the crew was losing sun and running out of time. When Cameron told DiCaprio about the now-classic line, the actor simply replied, "what?"

"I said, 'All right, I've got one for you, just say I'm the king of the world, and just spread your arms out wide, and just be in the moment, and just love it and celebrate the moment.' And he goes, 'What?' I'm getting this over the walkie-talkie, 'What?'" Cameron told BBC Radio. After more "whats" from his actor in a back and forth, Cameron finally told him to just deliver the line, instructing DiCaprio in his typically blunt fashion.

"'I said, 'I'm the king of the world, just say I'm the king of the world, but you've got to sell it.' And he goes, 'What?' I said, 'Just f***ing sell it,'" he said.