The thing about following box-office news -- besides getting depressed when the movies you like get creamed by the movies you don't -- is that you end up focusing on the most fleeting head-to-head matchups, only to forget them almost immediately after. But as every major war in the course of human events has taught us, we do ourselves a disservice when we fail to remember our past. And so we're revisiting past box-office battles to see whether it was worth all the fuss in retrospect. To start, let's look at what was happening fifteen years ago last week, one of the most momentarily pitched box-office battles in memory ...

The Battle: Titanic vs. The Man in the Iron Mask

The Date: March 13, 1998

In this Corner, Titanic: I mean, you know how things went for Titanic, right? Seventeen weeks at #1, bajillions of dollars, repeat viewings as a rule. Leonardo DiCaprio was the hottest thing in history, and there was no beating back the crowds of teen girls flocking to his movie every week. It's not like the January/February movies it was knocking down every weekend were can't-miss classics, but the box-office graveyard was riddled with movies that ran into the Titanic iceberg: The Postman, Sphere, The Wedding Singer, Spice World. SPICE WORLD, people! If anything was as hot as Leo DiCaprio in 1997/98, it was the Spice Girls. And they got nothing. By the time March hit, it began to look like the only thing that could knock Leo off his perch was Leonardo DiCaprio.

In this Corner, The Man in the Iron Mask: You remember this movie, right? Of course you do. The Three Musketeers back in action again, to help King Leonardo DiCaprio's hideous doppelganger (Leonardo DiCaprio) topple the regime and free the serfs or something something. Lucky for the producers, the magnetic box-office pull of Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gerard Depardieu were augmented by the newly-minted biggest movie star in the world. Suddenly, it made sense that everybody who was lining up for their sixth viewing of Titanic might flock to see Leo in flowy French blouses, sexing up French chamber maids, and all of a sudden if you were sick of Leo being a mean, spoiled regal, you had his twin. If there was anything that had a shot at besting Leo in Titanic, wouldn't it logically be TWO Leos??

The Result: By the slimmest of margins, Titanic held onto #1 that opening weekend. It would stay on top for another couple weeks, until it finally fell to Lost in Space, another movie that's been swallowed up by time.

The Winner, Looking Back: Wouldn't it be funny If we all went back and discovered that The Man in the Iron Mask was a lost classic? That we all got it wrong and the dust kicked up over the Leo vs. Leo thing obscured a hidden gem? Unfortunately, it looks like America made the right call fifteen years ago. Iron Mask was an unremarkable costume drama that seriously betrayed DiCaprio's limitations at the time. Perhaps the more interesting (but less heralded) matchup came the following week when Mike Nichols's Primary Colors opened, but that didn't come nearly as close to toppling James Cameron's mighty ship. No, it was Lost in Space. REMEMBER? GARY OLDMAN AND MATT LeBLANC TOGETHER AT LAST?

 

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