Titanic is a 1953 American drama film directed by Jean Negulesco. Its plot centers on an estranged couple sailing on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. It was the first Titanic movie by 20th Century Fox.
At the last minute, a wealthy American expatriate in Europe, Richard Sturges (Clifton Webb), buys a steerage-class ticket for the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic from a Basque immigrant. Once aboard he seeks out his runaway wife, Julia (Barbara Stanwyck). He discovers she is trying to take their two unsuspecting children, 18-year-old Annette (Audrey Dalton) and ten-year-old Norman (Harper Carter), to her hometown of Mackinac, Michigan, to raise as down-to-earth Americans rather than rootless elitists like Richard himself.
As the ship prepares for departure, her captain, E. J. Smith (Brian Aherne), receives a hint from the shipping company representative that a record-setting speedy passage would be welcomed. Other passengers include a wealthy woman of a working-class origin (based on a real-life Titanic survivor Molly Brown), Maude Young (Thelma Ritter); social-climbing Earl Meeker (Allyn Joslyn); a 20-year-old Purdue University tennis player, Gifford "Giff" Rogers (Robert Wagner); and George S. Healey (Richard Basehart), a Catholic priest who has been defrocked for alcoholism.
When Annette learns her mother's intentions, she insists on returning to Europe with her father on the next ship as soon as they reach America. Julia concedes that her daughter is old enough to make her own decisions, but she insists on keeping custody of Norman. This angers Richard, forcing Julia to reveal that Norman is not his child, but rather the result of a one-night stand after one of their many bitter arguments. Upon hearing that, he agrees to give up all claim to Norman. Richard joins Maude, Earl, and George Widener in the lounge to play bridge with them. The next morning, when Norman reminds Richard about a shuffleboard game they had scheduled, Richard coldly brushes him off.
Meanwhile Giff falls for Annette at first glance. At first she repulses his brash attempts to become better acquainted, but eventually she warms to him. That night, Giff, Annette and a group of young people sing and play the piano in the dining room, while Captain Smith watches from a corner table.
Second Officer Lightoller (uncredited Edmund Purdom) expresses his concern to Captain Smith about the ship's speed when they receive two messages from other ships warning of iceberg sightings near their route. Smith, however, assures him that there is no danger.
That night, however, a lookout spots an iceberg dead ahead. Although the crew tries to steer clear of danger, the ship is gashed below the waterline and begins taking on water. When Richard finds the captain, he insists on being told the truth: the ship is doomed. He tells his family to dress warmly but properly; then they head outside.
Richard and Julia have a tearful reconciliation on the boat deck, as he places Julia and the children into a lifeboat. Unnoticed by Julia, Norman gives up his seat to an older woman and goes looking for his nominal father. When one of the lines becomes tangled, preventing the lifeboat from being lowered, Giff climbs down and fixes the problem, only to lose his grip and fall into the water. His unconscious body is dragged into the boat.
Meeker disguises himself as a woman to get aboard a lifeboat but Maude Young notices his shoes and unmasks him in front of the others in the lifeboat. At the other end of the spectrum of courage and unselfishness, George Healey heads down into one of the boiler rooms to comfort trapped crewmen.
As the Titanic is in her final moments, Norman and Richard find each other. Richard tells a passing steward that Norman is his "son" and then tells the boy that he has been proud of him every day of his life. Then they join the rest of the doomed passengers and the crew in singing the hymn "Nearer My God To Thee". As the last boiler explodes, the Titanic's bow plunges, forcing her stern high in the air, then the ship rapidly slides into the icy water. The remaining survivors are last seen waiting in the lifeboats for help to come as dawn approaches.