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Tim Grierson on Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s Remarkable Post-“Titanic” Careers

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet

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Every once in a while, websites will run one of those “Where Are They Now?” features where they’ll spotlight a beloved old movie or TV show and then let you know what its cast members are up to these days. Normally, one of the actors has remained successful, while the rest of them had OK careers whose highlight was this specific movie or TV show. I realize such features are popular, but they always make me sorta sad. So many of these poor people are, say, 20 years removed from their biggest hit — it must be somewhat difficult to only be remembered for something a lifetime ago.

That’s what makes the 3D re-release of writer-director James Cameron’s “Titanic” this week so unusual. The Oscar-winning romantic drama, which opened December 1997, featured two rising young stars who haven’t been associated with a hit that mammoth since. (To be fair, though, almost no one has: It wasn’t until “Avatar” came around that “Titanic” was knocked off its perch as the highest-grossing movie of all time.) Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet became household names thanks to “Titanic,” but, somewhat miraculously, neither of them feel hopelessly chained to that film. They’ve gone on to impressive careers. That doesn’t happen that often.

You could argue that lots of people knew DiCaprio and Winslet before “Titanic.” And while that’s true, it’s important to go back and see what each actor’s biggest hit was before “Titanic.” For DiCaprio, it was “Romeo + Juliet,” which made $46 million and was sort of a dry run for Cameron’s high-stakes romantic tragedy. Meanwhile, Winslet had “Sense and Sensibility,” the Jane Austen adaptation that earned Winslet the first of six Oscar nominations and grossed $43 million. By comparison, “Titanic” made $601 million, which was far more than the two stars’ entire filmography combined to that point. Audiences may have been aware of DiCaprio and Winslet, but Cameron’s smash made them superstars.

The challenge, though, is what a superstar does next. Although Winslet was the one to get an Oscar nomination from “Titanic,” DiCaprio was the bigger name, and so his subsequent films had to contend with the expectations that they featured “the star of ‘Titanic.’” “The Man in the Iron Mask” was a modest performer, he had a small (but really funny) part in Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” and then he was the lead in “The Beach,” a critical and commercial disappointment that, just three years removed from “Titanic,” started to make people wonder if his star was beginning to wane.

But it was then that DiCaprio made a career decision that’s helped him immensely since: aligning himself with A-list filmmakers. In December 2002, he returned with Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” and Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can.” Additionally, DiCaprio, who had one Oscar nomination under his belt already with “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” began making the transition from marquee dreamboat to serious actor. That hasn’t always gone smoothly — some still complain that his performances in “J. Edgar” and “The Aviator” lack the necessary authority and grit — but with two Oscar nominations and five $100-million-plus hits in the last 10 years, he’s clearly established himself as a star who earns both critical and commercial respect. That was hardly a sure thing when “Titanic” came out and he was just 23.

Unlike DiCaprio, Winslet never had such pressure after “Titanic.” Maybe it was because DiCaprio already had a reputation as a Hollywood bad boy, but Winslet wasn’t perceived as a “celebrity” in the same way. She was an actress, appearing in acclaimed indies like “Heavenly Creatures,” “Jude” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet.” If her co-star’s turn in “Titanic” seemed part of a well-designed ascent to stardom, Winslet’s involvement was a bit more out of leftfield.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that after “Titanic,” she went back to indies, very happily doing “Quills” or “Iris” and not worrying if audiences wondered why she wasn’t interesting in the spotlight. She’s done the occasional studio movie, like the romantic comedy “The Holiday,” but mostly the art house has been her domain, and she’s done terrific work in films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Little Children.” (She also won Best Actress for “The Reader.”) But it’s worth noting that the biggest hit she’s been associated with since “Titanic” was last year’s “Contagion,” which only made $76 million. But wisely, she’s never made box office numbers the way to gauge her success — it’s from the impressive body of work she’s already amassed at age 36.

Ironically, this weekend’s other big release is also beset with nostalgia: “American Reunion.” Looking at the poster for the film, which recreates the group-shot photo from “American Pie,” you can’t help but glance at the different actors and consider which ones have disappeared and which ones have had thriving careers. (Of that bunch, would you have guessed that Alyson Hannigan would be doing as well as any of them?) But with “Titanic,” there’s no such whatever-happened-to-so-and-so? awkwardness. In fact, we almost take it for granted that these two young stars have continued to be major onscreen presences. Honestly, they made it look rather easy. Even when they reunited for “Revolutionary Road” in 2008, the “Titanic” connection (though obvious) wasn’t that big of a deal. They’re two of our most constantly rewarding stars — them being in another movie together seemed natural.

Maybe that’s why both DiCaprio and Winslet have expressed a little embarrassment at seeing “Titanic” again 15 years later. Cameron said that he showed the film to DiCaprio and “[h]e said to me, ‘I’m such a young punk. Look at me.’ He was practically crawling under the seat.” As for Winslet, “I’ve seen little pieces of it,” she said, “but it’s a whole different me and we look much younger and our acting was different, hopefully not as good as now.”

And they’re both right. It’s a nice feather in an actor’s cap to be part of a film as popular and acclaimed as “Titanic.” But perhaps it’s even better to have gone on to do even better work since.

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Holiday Extra Special

Make The Holidays ’80s Again

Enjoy the holiday cheer Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Whatever happened to the kind of crazy-yet-cozy holiday specials that blanketed the early winter airwaves of the 1980s? Unceremoniously killed by infectious ’90s jadedness? Slow fade out at the hands of early-onset millennial ennui? Whatever the reason, nixing the tradition was a huge mistake.

A huge mistake that we’re about to fix.

Announcing IFC’s Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special, starring Tony Hale. It’s a celeb-studded extravaganza in the glorious tradition of yesteryear featuring Bridget Everett, Jo Firestone, Nick Thune, Jen Kirkman, house band The Dap-Kings, and many more. And it’s at Joe’s Pub, everyone’s favorite home away from home in the Big Apple.

The yuletide cheer explodes Wednesday December 21 at 10P. But if you were born after 1989 and have no idea what void this spectacular special is going to fill, sample from this vintage selection of holiday hits:

Andy Williams and The NBC Kids Search For Santa

The quintessential holiday special. Get snuggly and turn off your brain. You won’t need it.

A Muppet Family Christmas

The Fraggles. The Muppets. The Sesame Street gang. Fate. The Jim Henson multiverse merges in this warm and fuzzy Holiday gathering.

Julie Andrews: The Sound Of Christmas

To this day a foolproof antidote to holiday cynicism. It’s cheesy, but a good cheese. In this case an Alpine Gruyère.

Star Wars Holiday Special

Okay, busted. This one was released in 1978. Still totally ’80s though. And yes that’s Bea Arthur.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

Pass the eggnog, and make sure it’s loaded. This special is everything you’d expect it to be and much, much more.

Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special premieres Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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It Ain't Over Yet

A Guide to Coping with the End of Comedy Bang! Bang!

Watch the final episodes tonight at 11 and 11:30P on IFC.

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After five seasons and 110 halved-hour episodes, Scott Aukerman’s hipster comedy opus, Comedy Bang! Bang!, has come to an end. Fridays at 11 and 11:30P will never be the same. We know it can be hard for fans to adjust after the series finale of their favorite TV show. That’s why we’ve prepared this step-by-step guide to managing your grief.

Step One: Cry it out

It’s just natural. We’re sad too.
Scott crying GIF

Step Two: Read the CB!B! IMDB Trivia Page

The show is over and it feels like you’ve lost a friend. But how well did you really know this friend? Head over to Comedy Bang! Bang!’s IMDB page to find out some things you may not have known…like that it’s “based on a Civil War battle of the same name” or that “Reggie Watts was actually born with the name Theodore Leopold The Third.”

Step Three: Listen to the podcast

One fascinating piece of CB!B! trivia that you might not learn from IMDB is that there’s a podcast that shares the same name as the TV show. It’s even hosted by Scott Aukerman! It’s not exactly like watching the TV show on a Friday night, but that’s only because each episode is released Monday morning. If you close your eyes, the podcast is just like watching the show with your eyes closed!

Step Four: Watch brand new CB!B! clips?!

The best way to cope with the end of Comedy Bang! Bang! is to completely ignore that it’s over — because it’s not. In an unprecedented move, IFC is opening up the bonus CB!B! content vault. There are four brand new, never-before-seen sketches featuring Scott Aukerman, Kid Cudi, and “Weird Al” Yankovic ready for you to view on the IFC App. There’s also one right here, below this paragraph! Watch all four b-b-bonus clips and feel better.

Binge the entire final season, plus exclusive sketches, right now on the IFC app.

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Everybody Sweats Now

The Four-Day Sweatsgiving Weekend On IFC

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This long holiday weekend is your time to gobble gobble gobble and give heartfelt thanks—thanks for the comfort and forgiveness of sweatpants. Because when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more wholesome and American than stuffing yourself stupid and spending endless hours in front of the TV in your softest of softests.

So get the sweats, grab the remote and join IFC for four perfect days of entertainment.

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It all starts with a 24-hour T-day marathon of Rocky Horror Picture Show, then continues Friday with an all-day binge of Stan Against Evil.

By Saturday, the couch will have molded to your shape. Which is good, because you’ll be nestled in for back-to-back Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Finally, come Sunday it’s time to put the sweat back in your sweatpants with The Shining, The Exorcist, The Chronicles of Riddick, Terminator 2, and Blade: Trinity. They totally count as cardio.

As if you need more convincing, here’s Martha Wash and the IFC&C Music Factory to hammer the point home.

The Sweatsgiving Weekend starts Thursday on IFC

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