Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

People are trying to argue that Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't "famous famous" before Titanic

Partying with Marky Mark? He was famous.
Partying with Marky Mark? He was famous.
Photo: Kevin Mazur (Getty Images)

It was roughly five years ago that the Mandela Effect—the phenomenon of shared false memory—was popularized when people began claiming we once lived in a parallel universe where the the Berenstain Bears were actually called the Berenstein Bears. A similar moment occurred a few years later when a whole slew of people were convinced the comedian Sinbad starred in a non-existent movie called Shazaam. None of this is true, obviously, and neither is the current assertion that Leonardo DiCaprio was somehow not famous before he starred in 1997's Titanic.


This current argument began after Vox published an excellent interview with the French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, whose Portrait Of A Lady On Fire was one of our favorite movies of 2019. Their conversation turned to Titanic, which Sciamma praised for being “totally queer.” She also, however, described DiCaprio and co-star Kate Winslet for being “not known—not stars,” which, c’mon.

Here’s the full quote:

Titanic is the hugest success, and it’s because it’s totally queer. Leonardo DiCaprio was totally androgynous at the time. DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were both not knownnot starsso there was no power dynamic between them. Like, if you look at the sex scene in Titanic, she’s on top. He’s the one who’s being totally fragile and insecure. I think it was a huge success because it’s a love story with equality and with emancipation.

It’s a fascinating read on the film and definitely something to mull over. It’s also understandable that Sciamma, a Pontoise native who was only 19 when Titanic was released, might not have known DiCaprio and Winslet’s other work. That, however, doesn’t excuse the flood of people—a few of whom you’ll find in this Slate breakdown of the argument—that are now claiming Leo wasn’t “famous famous” until after Titanic.

This, of course, is absurd, though it’s equally absurd to say that DiCaprio was a commodity only amongst the Teen Beat sect of teenage girls, as he was up for an Oscar a robust three years before Titanic for his supporting turn in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, a list of DiCaprio’s pre-1997 bonafides:

  • Starring in two wildly popular sitcoms, Parenthood and Growing Pains
  • Leading 1993's This Boy’s Life alongside Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin
  • Scoring critical lauds, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor at the age of 19 for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
  • Getting gritty as hell for 1995's The Basketball Diaries, a film that stirred up ample controversy for its depiction of wayward school kids who shoot up and dream about shooting up their school.
  • Starring alongside Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, and David Thewlis in movies from Sami Raimi, Jerry Zaks, and Agnieszka Holland.
  • Becoming a tabloid fixture and arthouse darling as Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which grossed $147 million worldwide. He was splashed across the covers of Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and multiple issues of Premiere.
  • Leading Hollywood’s naughtiest group of bad boys, The Pussy Posse, with David Blaine, Tobey Maguire, Lukas Haas, and Kevin Connolly.

(We could do a similar list for Winslet as well, by the way, as she became sought-after following 1994's Heavenly Creatures and was nominated for an Oscar for 1995's Sense and Sensibility.) 

And these are just the broad strokes, but we will not endure your Grape/Growing Pains/Romeo + Juliet/Pussy Posse erasure. We must preserve history.


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Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.