LOS ANGELES - "Titanic," James Cameron's 1997 masterpiece -- and until his 2009 "Avatar," the biggest-grossing motion picture ever -- returns to movie theaters on Wednesday, this time in 3D.
Cameron and his producing partner, Jon Landau, spent more than a year converting the movie to 3D at a cost of around $18 million. The company Stereo D completed the conversion.
That's a high price for a 3D conversion. Disney spent an estimated $8 million-to-$10 million to convert "The Lion King" to 3D. Disney's payoff was strong from the start: The "Lion King" re-release took in $30 million in its opening weekend.
Paramount, which is releasing "Titanic" domestically, has more modest expectations for "Titanic," estimating the movie will take $15 million over the weekend and $20 million over the five days beginning Wednesday.
That's partially due to the movie's length. At 3 hours 23 minutes, it can barely be shown twice per night.
But it also is among the most highly regarded motion pictures ever with 11 Oscars and three more nominations. And with the 100-year anniversary of the ship's sinking coming on April 15, there has been no lack of hype. Eight TV specials on the Titanic are scheduled over the next week.
In September, just after the re-release of "The Lion King," Cameron told TheWrap that the animated film's 3D success proved there is a strong market for well-converted re-releases of beloved movies. And he said that even he was surprised by how good the 3D "Titanic" looked.
Earlier this month, he said he reshot one scene for the movie because an astronomer pointed out that the original movie had the positions of the stars wrong.
Recently, Cameron has raised his already-high profile. On March 25, the 57-year-old filmmaker became the first person in 52 years to visit the bottom of the ocean. Cameron, in a mini-submarine of his own design, plunged seven miles to the lowest point of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific.
Later this month, the director is speaking at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
"Titanic" is tracking strongest among young women, who helped make the romantic drama's original release an astonishing success. It opened to $28.6 million and went on to gross nearly $601 million domestically and $1.2 billion internationally.
The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a man and a woman from different social backgrounds who fall in love on the ill-fated cruise liner.