top of page
  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

What If... Kate Winslet won Best Lead Actress for Titanic?

Welcome to another edition of What If…Oscars Edition. In this ongoing series, I’ll take a look at several Oscar races throughout history and try to answer the unknowable question of “what if things turned out differently?” Using best judgment and a bit of hopeful fun, we’ll look at the possible ripple effects one result can have on the course of Oscar history.

With a trophy shelf that includes an Oscar, two Emmys, three BAFTAs, four SAG Awards, and five Golden Globes, it’s not hard to see why Kate Winslet has often been regarded as one of the best actresses of her generation.

The British actress has been at the forefront of success throughout her entire career, debuting to rave reviews at the age of nineteen in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, and receiving her first of six Oscar nominations at twenty for her work in Sense & Sensibility.

Of course, a little thing called Titanic came along just two years after Ang Lee’s film. With two billion dollars in box office receipts, fourteen Oscar nominations (including a nomination for Best Lead Actress for herself), and the hearts and minds of the world, Winslet become queen of the acting world.

While receiving Oscar nominations post-Titanic was a cinch, winning the coveted trophy was more of a challenge. She even poked fun at her Oscar losing streak with an appearance as herself on a 2005 episode of Ricky Gervais’ Extras, where she humorously explained how appearing in a Holocaust film will guarantee you an Oscar win. Lo and behold, Winslet won her first Oscar just three years later for her leading role in Stephen Daldry’s Holocaust drama, The Reader.

Confusion was abound the entire 2008 awards season as no one could agree on what category, Lead or Supporting Actress, she should be placed in. Winslet campaigned as Supporting Actress for The Reader in order to boost her chances of being nominated for Lead Actress for her other movie that year, Revolutionary Road. The move worked for a while, with her winning the Golden Globe, SAG, and Critics Choice awards for Best Supporting Actress. When the time came for the major bodies of BAFTA and Oscar, she was placed in Best Lead Actress. It didn’t matter in the end, as she won the award. But instead of tasting like sweet victory, Winslet’s Oscar success was mired by Harvey Weinstein’s aggressive studio politics and a general feeling that she won for an inferior performance.

What if that dreadful scenario never needed to happen? What if Winslet was able to go the distance and win Best Lead Actress for Titanic back in 1997? In this edition of What If…Oscars Edition, we’ll go down that alternative timeline and investigate how future Oscar races would be changed because of this.

Winslet becomes "Queen of the World" with Titanic

As mentioned in the introduction, people tend to forget that Winslet had already won a SAG and BAFTA, and received an Oscar nomination, before she was cast in James Cameron’s Titanic. She was already on the radar of Academy voters at such a young age, and working during a time when young actresses had a better chance of winning Oscars (Anna Paquin in 1993 for The Piano, Gwyenth Paltrow and Hilary Swank in 1998 and 1999, respectively). When Titanic fever sweeps the world during the 1997 holiday season, Winslet jumps aboard and beats real-life winner Helen Hunt in As Good as It Gets, which gives Titanic its record-setting 12th win on the night.

Doubt brings Meryl Streep her third Oscar

Winslet’s early win for Titanic doesn’t take away her ability to get nominated, as she still receives attention for her work in Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Little Children. But now that she already has the statuette, there’s no pressure for her to win again for either The Reader or Revolutionary Road. She’s placed in Supporting for The Reader and Leading for Revolutionary Road, and gets nominated for both, but doesn’t win anything all season.

Real-life Oscar winner Penélope Cruz sweeps the Supporting Actress race for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And after twenty-five years and ten nominations since her second Oscar win in Sophie’s Choice, Meryl Streep finally gets her third win for her fiery role as Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. She now joins the ranks of Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn as one of the greatest actresses of all time.

Viola Davis gets crowned earlier with The Help

Now that Streep has her third Oscar, The Iron Lady is rightfully disregarded as a stilted biopic with a not-so-stellar performance. Voters still nominate Streep because she’s Meryl freakin’ Streep, but no one in their right mind would have her tie Katharine Hepburn’s Oscar record for this. Instead, Streep’s co-star from Doubt, Viola Davis, walks away with Best Leading Actress for The Help thanks to the film’s box office success and corresponding Best Picture nomination. Both Davis and Octavia Spencer sweep their respective acting categories, with a small vocal contingent debating whether rewarding these actresses for a white savior movie is the right thing to do. But everyone is happy just to see them get their due, so all’s well for now.

Winslet wins her second Oscar for Steve Jobs

Now that there’s a distance of nearly twenty years since her first win, voters are willing to look Winslet’s way again as she campaigns for Best Supporting Actress for Steve Jobs. Just as she did in real-life, Winslet begins her winning streak at the Golden Globes, following that up with a victory on her home turf with the BAFTAs. Hot on her heels is Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, who won the SAG and Critics Choice. It’s a two-horse race coming into Oscar night, with Winslet winning on account of her star power and voters being more receptive to Danny Boyle’s biopic than Tom Hooper’s. Both Titanic stars receive Oscars that night as DiCaprio gets his first with The Revenant, creating several picture-perfect moments that make every headline the next morning.

Michelle Williams gets her due with Manchester by the Sea

Before Winslet wins her second Oscar in February of 2016, Michelle Williams already plants her flag for next year’s Best Supporting Actress race in January as Manchester by the Sea takes the Sundance Film Festival by storm. With this being her fourth nomination and her closest competitor, Viola Davis in Fences, recently winning, Williams doesn’t lose an inch all season. The trio of her, Casey Affleck, and Kenneth Lonergan (for Best Original Screenplay) go on a sweep all season, making pundits believe that Manchester by the Sea may be a dark horse candidate for Best Picture as Moonlight and La La Land potentially split votes. Since Emma Stone still wins Best Lead Actress, the whole Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway presenter debacle still occurs and Moonlight is awarded Best Picture.

bottom of page