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What Bizarre Incident Happened on the Set of “Titanic” in 1996?

Margaret Lipman
Published Jun 08, 2024
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Everyone knows that James Cameron’s epic 1997 blockbuster Titanic tells the love story of Jack and Rose, set against the historical backdrop of the doomed ocean liner’s maiden voyage and tragic sinking in 1912. The film was a success in every sense of the word, earning 14 Oscar nominations and winning 11. Titanic was the first film to earn one billion dollars and was the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron released Avatar in 2009.

Perhaps the most lingering question about Titanic is whether Jack could have fit alongside Rose on the floating door and thus survived (several experiments have been conducted to test this, with varying results). Yet there is another, far more bizarre, question about Titanic that also remains unanswered. Who put the dissociative drug phencyclidine (PCP) in the chowder that the cast and crew were served on August 9, 1996, after a day of filming in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia?

As the incident took place during the filming of the modern-day scenes aboard the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh research vessel, stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were not present for that portion of the production (the 1912 scenes were filmed at Baja Studios in Rosarito, Mexico). And thankfully, not everyone ate the chowder. Gloria Stuart, the 87-year-old actress who portrayed the older version of Winslet’s character, was one of the lucky individuals who ordered out or chose a different menu item from craft services.

However, around 80 people went to the hospital as a result of consuming the soup provided by a local catering company (according to varying reports, it was made with either lobster, mussels, or clams), including director James Cameron and actor Bill Paxton, with many people reporting hallucinations, strange behavior, terrifying flashbacks, anxiety, eupohoria, and a wide range of other powerful effects. Production members recall a conga line and a wheelchair race at the hospital. Luckily, everyone recovered, and filming resumed, with production moving to Mexico shortly afterward.

Despite a criminal investigation conducted by the Halifax Regional Police Service that lasted until February 1999, the individual who spiked the soup was never identified. Various theories have suggested that it was a disgruntled crew member, a food services worker who had been dismissed from the set, or an attempt to get the catering team in trouble. During the investigation, the Halifax police noted that PCP is much more common in Hollywood than in the area of Nova Scotia where filming was taking place, suggesting that it was brought in by a film crewmember rather than a local. Another, somewhat wilder theory is that the poisoning could have been an insurance fraud attempt to secure additional funding for the overbudget production. However, 28 years after the incident, we are still no closer to learning the truth, and it's likely to remain that way unless the culprit ever comes forward.

A blockbuster of epic proportions:

  • *Titanic’s production schedule overran significantly, ultimately requiring 160 days of filming instead of the planed 138, with filming wrapping on March 23, 1997.

  • *With an initial budget of $110 million, production costs eventually exceeded $200 million (approximately $1 million per minute of runtime), making it the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release.

  • *Considering its success and lasting cultural impact, it seems incredible that many studio executives at Fox and Paramount expected Titanic to be a commercial failure. Proving them all wrong, Titanic was a hit from the beginning that grew to be a phenomenon, earning $1.8 billion during its initial run in theaters.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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