The most romantic science fiction film I’ve ever seen was the 1999 music video “All Is Full of Love” by the Icelandic Artist, Björk. The video depicts an austere factory line assembling white-paneled robots. Ethereal, electronic chords fill the room. As a new robot is born into the world, another of their kind approaches them and begins to sing,
“You’ll be given love
You’ll be taken care of
You’ll be given love
You have to trust it.”
The two robots begin to kiss passionately as the sterile factory continues its solitary task. The warmth of their love is a stark juxtaposition to the coldness and sterility of their surroundings. Their kiss is an act of defiance, and their love is proof that they are greater than the limitations imposed on them by their creators.
The video ends with imagery of the same factory line, and I’m sure that’s symbolic of something like the fragility of love in a harsh world, or maybe Björk just wasn’t sure how to end the video.
Science fiction has the ability to transport us through time and space and ask deep questions about the nature of humanity. Questions like: What does it mean to be human? What lies beyond the realm of our imagination? How do we ethically control population growth? Is that hot guy from the future going to be the father of my child, or does he just like me as the mother of his beloved general?
Romance is a fascinating genre in that it also asks unique questions about human nature and can galvanize people to act in unexpected ways. I think science fiction romance is underrated genre that can a lot of things: sweet, heart-breaking, introspective, or goofy. It can represent a spectrum of feeling. Or it can just be an excuse to make a movie about hedonism. So for everyone’s delight, I present the following list:
1. Logan’s Run (1976), streaming on HBO Max
Happily Ever After: Yep! No more Carrousel for these people.
Content Warning: Cartoonish 70’s violence and sexual content.
What do you do with someone when they reach the putrid age of 30? If you’re a woman and live in just about any society, you hope that you’ve found some kind of purpose by then and exist solely to be ignored. If you live in the year 2274 in the enclosed, utopic city of “Unnamed,” home to Logan 5, then on your 30th birthday, you participate in a whimsical rite of passage known as “Carrousel.” During this ritual, the ancient being dons a spandex unitard, hockey mask, and white robe, then floats through the air until they explode like a kernel of popcorn in sizzling avocado oil.
I could talk for hours about how I think “Logan’s Run” is a prescient film that accurately portrays a hedonistic, youth-obsessed culture and how the film is still very much relevant almost 50 years later, but that’s for another day.
Our two lovebirds, Logan 5 and Jessica 6 meet under less-than-romantic circumstances. Logan is trolling on future tinder, and Jessica pops ups. Logan is ready to get his freak on, but when Jessica sees who he is, she goes cold. Logan is a Sandman, a murderous officer charged with terminating “runners,” aka the people who resist carrousel and the lie of renewal and try to escape the city. Their first meeting is a strange one. He’s like, “Hey baby, are you DTF?” and she’s all, “What if your core beliefs were wrong and everything you ever knew was a lie?”
I like Logan and Jessica’s characters because they’re curious and principled. Jessica has spent her life questioning the system and has no trouble sticking up for herself. Meanwhile, Logan does take a little longer to come around, but from his first moments on screen, we see that while he’s not a rebel like Jessica, he knows how to ask questions and when to listen to other people. Together, they embark on a perilous journey to find sanctuary (aka the land with people over 30) but are powerless to resist their attraction. In a movie that includes scenes like “The Love Shop” and a hook-up teleportation device, their relationship is almost wholesome.
(Emphasis on the “almost.” After all, “Logan’s Run” was filmed in the 1970’s and the only wholesome thing happening then was “Little House on the Prairie.”)
2. Moonshot (2022), streaming on HBO Max
Happily Ever After: For sure
Walt (Cole Sprouse) and Sophie (Lana Condor) could not be more different. Sophie is a serious student and determined environmentalist who misses her long-term boyfriend and his supportive family, all of whom are living on Mars. Walt is a barista with no game and has been rejected from the Mars program 37 times. He’s the kind of goofy, fun-loving guy who loves to explore and go on adventures but is unwilling to pick up an actual skill that may help him in this endeavor.
Sophie decides to buy a one-way ticket to Mars and Walt sees this as a brilliant opportunity to sneak aboard the interplanetary vessel. Sophie is mortified by Walt’s action but after some gentle black-mailing, she agrees to help Walt blend in on the ship until they reach their destination. As the two continue on their journey to another world, they develop a genuine rapport.
“Moonshot” is a cute movie aided by the charming performances of the leads, as well as by some fun set pieces and visuals. The ship setting is vaguely reminiscent of the space station from “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century” in a way that feels deliberate. Its aesthetic is a unique blend of retrofuturism and what people hope the near future will look like. (And considering that both Zenon and Moonshot take place in the year 2049, I can’t help but think that this is more than just a coincidence)
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), streaming on Peacock
Happily Ever After: Yes, but it’s complicated
Is this an obvious choice? I hope so. This movie is regarded as one of the best films of the 2000s, but I rarely hear it mentioned in conversation and almost no one I know has seen it. For that reason, I thought it deserved a spot on this list.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotline Mind” is an excellent film featuring fantastic performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. The story is about a couple, Joel and Clementine, who had their ups and downs but come to a dramatic stop when Joel finds out that Clementine has had all memories of their relationship erased. Not wanting to be outdone in this petty venture, Joel contacts the same company to have his memories erased.
Joel then proceeds on a wild journey through his memories with Clementine, reliving the good and the bad. Although the couple had their hard times, we also see moments of tenderness. Joel realizes during his procedure that he doesn’t want to forget all his memories of Clementine, and even tries to hide projections of her in random memories so as to hold on.
The film benefits from its non-linear story-telling: the ending of the movie is also the beginning. It says a lot about the cyclical nature of memory, and how even though Clementine and Joel may try to erase each other, they will still be drawn to one another.
4. Archive (2020), streaming on Amazon Prime
Happily Ever After: Nope
Theo James stars as George Almore, a brilliant inventor and widower still reeling from the loss of his wife, Jules, played by Stacy Martin. Rather than do the normal thing and grieve and move on from his wife’s passing, George instead spends his time working on a top-secret project to insert her consciousness into an intelligent, sexy robot.
George is aided in his work by J1 and J2, two very impressive-looking robots with unfortunate limitations. As J1 and J2 are earlier prototypes of his work, they cannot mature past the mental ages of six and fifteen years old, respectively. J1 is blissfully unaware of her limitations, but poor J2 is plagued with jealousy. She knows that she can never progress beyond her capabilities, but that doesn’t mean her desire for recognition and love is any less valid. Thus, she’s not pleased when George begins successful work on J3, the most advanced artificial intelligence.
“Archive” is not the first science fiction film to deal with the subject of loss, nor is it even the only movie about grief on my list. What helps make this film stand out is the warmth between George and Stacy in their scenes together, contrasted with the stark loneliness of George’s life without her. George has a gaping hole in his life where Jules used to be.
“Archive” manages to ask complex questions about life after death, what constitutes sentient life, and the ethics of artificial intelligence. The film also features beautiful imagery (which may be CGI, but I couldn’t tell otherwise, so I thought it was pretty) and impressive puppetry in the J1 and J2 robots. For that, I think “Archive” has earned a spot on this list.
5. Starman (1984), streaming on Tubi
Happily Ever After: Kind of? It’s bittersweet. There’s a short-lived TV show that takes place after the movie which adds a little more to the story for anyone interested.
First Contact is tricky. Most scientists would gleefully welcome an advanced alien civilization on Earth, but unfortunately, the people in charge tend to consider all alien contact an “Independence Day” scenario. In 1984’s “Starman,” an alien civilization intercepts the Voyager 2 space probe and sends an emissary to establish peaceful first contact. Naturally, the United States military guns down the spacecraft, and it crash-lands in the middle of Madison, Wisconsin. A floating ball of energy infiltrates the home of widow Jenny Hayden, played by Karen Allen. Jenny is still reeling from the loss of her husband, Scott, and so it doesn’t help matters when the energy alien uses a lock of his hair to clone itself a human body, played by Jeff Bridges.
When we first meet Jenny, she is a broken woman. The love of her life is gone and all that remains is a gaping emptiness, filled with old photographs and videos. Starman enters her life when she’s at her lowest, and at first, it seems as though his presence is some kind of sick cosmic punishment. He makes himself look like her husband, kidnaps her and forces her to drive to nowhere, Arizona, and puts her life in danger with SETI and the government. However, through their time spent together, she realizes that he’s her greatest gift. Although their initial meeting was frightening, Starman and Jenny come to feel genuine love for one another. He gives her a second chance of life and new meaning while she shows him the beauty of humanity. It’s a beautiful love story, and one that I did not want to see end.
6. I’m Your Man (2021), streaming on Hulu
Happily Ever After: I like to think so
Content Warning: Do not make the mistake I did and watch this with your family.
What would you do if someone offered you the opportunity to date an android programmed to be your perfect partner? What if I told you that the android looked like Dan Stevens? If you said no, you’re either already in a happy relationship or lying. I forgive you if you’re lying because dating an android is a strange and tempting offer. How could you resist forming an attachment if you had someone willing to be everything you needed, happy even, to make their life centered around you? And even though your feelings may be real, what about the object of your desire?
The movie “I’m Your Man” features this exact scenario. Dr. Alma Felser, played by Maren Eggert, is an archaeologist who grudgingly agrees to participate in the “android dating” trial in exchange for additional funding. Alma and Tom, the android, get off to a rough start, as Alma is unwilling to be emotionally vulnerable with a “machine.” However, throughout the course of the movie, we come to see Tom as more than just a machine, particularly when he challenges Alma.
While watching this film, I couldn’t decide for myself whether or not android romance was the way to the future. Although Alma is drawn to Tom, she recognizes that their dynamic isn’t healthy. As a viewer, I wanted them to find a way to be happy together because I liked Tom, and I did see how he and Alma would be perfect for each other. However, part of being human is accepting life’s imperfections. I think this film stands out as a romantic comedy because it knows which questions to ask but does not shy away from portraying to complex range of human emotion.
7. Way… Way Out (1966), streaming on Youtube
Happily Ever After: Yep, it’s that kind of movie
Content Warning: This film was released in 1966, so some of the humor and references may seem outdated.
It is the futuristic year of 1989 and the US is still pitting itself against the USSR in the space race. The USSR just got a leg up on the US by sending the first man and woman to the moon (and to clarify for modern audiences, yes, the cosmonauts are doing it). Not wanting to be outdone, the US decides to send up the first married couple to space. The only problem is that NAWA doesn’t have a married couple that can do the job, which means the organization needs to find two random, unmarried astronauts with the right job descriptions, and marry them.
And despite this being a terrible idea, it works! NAWA locates the two unmarried people, played by Jerry Lewis and Connie Stevens, arranges their nuptials, and then sends them to the moon!
Though I didn’t suggest this movie for the boring Americans. Nah, the real romantic stars of “Way… Way Out” are the unmarried cosmonauts, Igor Valkleinokov and Anna Solblova, played by Dick Shawn and Anita Ekberg. These two friendly, romantic weirdos are obsessed with one another and yet are also frequently opposed. Their conflict is simple: Anna wants to get married, and Igor is having too much fun sampling the milk for free and doesn’t want to buy the cow.
The actors playing the characters are clearly having an absolute ball, and when combined with the silly special effects, it’s a a lot of fun to watch. I love that this movie takes place in the “future” of the 1980’s and yet the technology is both outdated and wildly advanced. It all fits the tone of this goofy movie very well. If you’ve finished binging “The Jetson” you’re in the mood for a little more retrofuturism, then I’d check this one out.
8. Earth Girls Are Easy (1988), streaming on Amazon Prime
Happily Ever After: I recommended it in my list of 10 Movies to Watch After Reading Ice Planet Barbarians so I’d definitely say it has a HEA
Content Warning: Sexual content and some 90’s stupidity.
In the brilliantly titled “Earth Girls Are Easy,” three aliens are trolling through the galaxy on the hunt for some… female companionship. The aliens, played by Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, and Daymon Wayans, crash-land their ship in sunny Southern California. They meet Valley Girl Valerie, who decides to help them blend in and get adjusted on Earth. Part of this blending in includes giving the alien visitors makeovers, whereupon they’re revealed to be hunky dudes under all that primary-colored fur.
Now that the aliens look a lot more like cool surfer dudes and less like monsters, Valerie entertains the possibility of a close encounter with Mac, the leader of the trio. The alien trio gets into a series of scrapes that jeopardizes Mac and Valerie’s flirtationship, but true love wins out in the end.
The romance is a lot of fun, though I have to say that the true star of this movie is the setting. This movie looks like if 1990s LA projectile-vomited on a film set (think “Saved by the Bell” meets “Clueless” meets “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”). That may not have garnered it any Oscars, but it does win it a special place in my heart.
9. Solaris (1972) and Solaris (2002) are both streaming on HBO Max
Happily Ever After: Depends on what you mean by “happily” for the 2002 version. And the 1972 is three hours of Russian art film, so I think you can guess what the ending is like.
Content Warning: A major character commits suicide before and during the events of the film.
Stanislaw Lem, the author of “Solaris,” would be deeply disappointed to see that I’ve included two of the film adaptations of his work on my list. A recurring theme in his work is the futility of attempting to communicate with alien beings, and the novel “Solaris” details this impossible struggle at length. The book is about a group of scientists living on a space station orbiting the oceanic planet of Solaris. Scientists know that the planet is intelligent because strange things occur to the people who visit.
Dr. Kris Kelvin is a psychologist who goes to the space station to investigate the strange phenomena. He is skeptical of the events on the station until he receives a very unwelcome visitor: Harey (Rheya in the US version), his wife who committed suicide several years prior. Although at first horrified, Kelvin sees Harey’s arrival as a second chance for a happy life together.
There’s just one small problem: It’s not Harey. The person Kelvin is trying to desperately hold onto looks like Harey, sounds like Harey, and even acts how Kelvin remembers Harey, but this entity knows they are not Harey. They are a creation of Solaris made from the blueprint of Kelvin’s memories of Harey. They do not know why they exist or to what end but they do not want this existence.
The 1972 version of Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. The events of the film closely follow that of the book and focus more on the mysterious nature of the planet. It is also a three-hour-long Russian art film. In contrast, the 2002 version directed by Steven Soderbergh takes a close look at the relationship between Dr. Kelvin and Rheya. Kelvin is haunted by her presence, replaying events that went wrong in his mind over and over. He desperately wants to hold on to this new version of Rheya but this Rheya is too aware of the transient nature of their existence to submissively play house.
If you were to ask me which version you should watch, I would pose it like this: do you want filet mignon or chicken nuggets? Filet mignon is considered the most tender cut of beef, and its price and preparation often reflect this quality. If you want a good filet mignon, then you may have to make a reservation at a nice restaurant, dress well, and pay a pretty penny for the meal. Filet mignon is significantly higher in quality than chicken nuggets, which are boneless cuts of chicken that have been breaded and deep-fried. Though sometimes… you just want those tasty nuggies. I say make the choice for whatever you’re craving.
10. The Terminator (1984), streaming on Amazon Prime
Happily Ever After: One-half of this couple makes it to T2 😦
Content Warning: This film contains violence and sexual content
If you’re hanging out with someone and they’re in the mood for an action movie, and yet you’re more of a “I’ve watched the 2005 version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ so many times I warped the DVD,” type, then I would recommend giving this one a chance. On the surface “The Terminator” is a tense action thriller about a killer machine from the future hunting down a defenseless woman. Beneath the surface all of that stuff is still true, but with the unexpected bonus of the ultimate romantic hero: Kyle Reese.
Kyle Reese, marry me. Although, since you were born in 2003 and are only 19, that would be gross because I’m way too old for you. Fine, I guess we were never meant to be, but that’s okay because I would never want to get in the way of you and your one true love: Sarah Conner, the mother of John Conner, the future leader of the resistance.
Sarah and Kyle have a bit of a rough start. Sarah, played by the incredible Linda Hamilton, is a young waitress who is being targeted for reasons unknown. One night Sarah is out on the town when a giant monster of a man points a gun at her. Just before she’s annihilated, she’s rescued by a handsome man played by Michael Biehn, who says one of the greatest lines in 80’s movie history,
“Come with me if you want to live.”
Thus begins a terrifying chase, with Kyle filling Sarah in on all the pertinent details: Skynet is bad. Robots are bad. Kyle is a time traveler. Sarah will one day be John Conner’s mama. Oh, yeah, and Kyle is hopelessly in love with her.
Y’all, I first watched this movie on a whim – I was participating in an overnight sleep study and had nothing to do but watch movies, including this one. My expectations were low, but little did I know that my life would change that night. All I can hope is that any future viewers have a similar experience.
Extra Mention: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
When I was an impressionable preteen my family gifted me a DVD of “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.” This was a mistake. Every weekend I would fanatically watch and then re-watch this movie. Eventually, I learned to skip all of the boring scenes with Jedi crap and clone development and went straight to the good stuff: the sizzling white-hot passion between Padme and Anakin.
Was their dialogue bad and the acting stilted? I wouldn’t know – I was 12 and stupid. The only romantic examples I had to observe were from Disney movies and Baby-Sitters Club books. All that mattered was that Anakin was handsome and Padme wore beautiful dresses. What more could I possibly want?
I was hesitant to include anything “Star Wars” related on my website for a couple of reasons:
- It’s not my favorite franchise, and just like with the never-ending glut of Marvel movies, I lose interest as more content becomes available.
- There are a lot of tender feelings in regards to the franchise and stirring up those feelings with my critiques and praises feels about as wise as stepping on a fire ant hill.
- While the romantic relationships in the “Star Wars” franchise can be very fun, I do not think they drive the plot forward like the other movies on this list. “Attack of the Clones” is an obvious exception to this, as the entire original trilogy would not exist if Padme had succeeded in friend-zoning Anakin.
- Every person and their mother has heard of “Star Wars,” and I prefer to shine a light on media that I think deserves a little extra TLC.
So why did I include it? My obvious reason is that I had a feeling someone would comment, “What about Star Wars?” if I didn’t. My less obvious reason is that I think “Attack of the Clones” is a visually stunning movie that I want other SciFi franchises to take inspiration from. And to clarify, I only mean visually, like in terms of the costumes, backgrounds, and set pieces, which are an absolute feast for the senses. I don’t know if I would recommend other movies emulate the love story of Anakin and Padme.
Scifi fans, romance fans, and movie fans alike – did I mention any of your favorites? Is there a romantic science fiction film that I have to see? Let me know in the comments below, and hopefully this list can have a part 2.