Hollywood Flashback: Leonardo DiCaprio Followed 'Titanic' With 'The Beach'

The Beach Still - Photofest - H 2018
Courtesy of Photofest

The then 23-year-old actor earned $20 million for the film from Alex Garland (whose 'Annihilation' hits theaters Feb. 23), as he made headlines for his overindulgent partying and learned to handle extravagant fame.

In 1998, Alex Garland, whose second film as a writer-director, Annihilation, is set for release Feb. 23, won the Hollywood casting lottery when Leonardo DiCaprio, then 23, chose The Beach as his follow-up film to Titanic.

The 20th Century Fox release, directed by Danny Boyle, was based on Garland's 1996 novel. To say DiCaprio was the hottest property in show business barely does justice to the incandescent media attention the 23-year-old was attracting. He was such a heartthrob that Sen. John McCain felt the need to tell reporters covering his presidential campaign that his daughter, "like every other 13-year-old in America, is in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, who I think is an androgynous wimp."

The actor's overindulgent partying became the stuff of legend. DiCaprio said at the time that unfortunately there's no manual on handling extravagant fame: "I couldn't go to Barnes & Noble and pick up a book on what it was like — a guide to being famous for dummies."

It was this fame that motivated Fox to shell out $20 million for the star's services, but even with that salary, making the movie was no day at the beach.

The film, which opened in 2000, centers on a group of lithe young travelers who drop out of society to live in a breathtakingly beautiful hidden lagoon in southern Thailand. The problem was that the remote Maya Bay island location the filmmakers chose was in a protected national park.

Environmentalists were furious over the changes to sand dunes and vegetation that filming required. Litigation ensued, and in 2006, the Supreme Court of Thailand ruled there had been environmental damage and ordered damages paid.

As for the film, which THR called "a movie that is part adventure story, part morality tale and sometimes gets tangled up in its own artistic ambitions," the $50 million production ($72 million today) had a worldwide gross of $144 million ($207 million).

As for Maya Bay, The Beach made it so famous that it went from being rarely visited to attracting as many as 5,000 visitors a day. On Feb. 14, Thai officials said the area would be closed to tourists for at least three months to allow coral reefs to recover.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.