Science fiction is all about discovering the unknown — but sometimes you find love along the way. This is a great time to love romantic comedies with a science fiction twist, with the surprisingly sweet Safety Not Guaranteed in theaters, and the apocalyptic Seeking a Friend for the End of the World coming out tomorrow. But science fiction and fantasy have had a love affair with romantic comedies for years.
Here are the 10 greatest science fiction and fantasy-themed romantic comedies ever made.
We came up with our own list of the greatest speculative romcoms — but then to double check, we went and asked people on our Facebook page for their favorites. Thanks to everyone who pitched in. Here’s the final list we came up with, including your input… And to be clear, we’re sticking to movies here, and they have to be largely about romance, rather than comedies with a romantic subplot.
Oh, and people who said Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was a great romantic comedy? I don’t want to know you.
This film starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Emma Caulfield has an ultra-contrived set-up, but enough wit and charm to make you buy into it. In the future, the TiMER corporation can fit you with a device that counts down until you meet your soulmate — as long as your soulmate is also equipped with a TiMER implant. Caulfield plays a dentist whose TiMER is blank, meaning her soulmate has never gotten hooked up. As we wrote in our review, this movie makes you think about whether it’s possible to fall in love with someone, knowing your soulmate is still out there somewhere.
Pretty much the live-action mermaid romance film. People tend to remember it for John Candy dropping his change and trying to upskirt people — but it’s actually the best Tom Hanks rom-com ever. Hanks makes a special connection with a mermaid when he’s a little kid, and then meets her again as an adult and falls in love with her — but he doesn’t know she’s a mermaid. Similar to E.T., she’s hunted by the authorities who want to study and dissect her, but meanwhile Tom Hanks has to struggle with his feelings for a woman who shares the first Gremlins rule: Don’t get them wet.
8. Happy Accidents
In this indie Sundance movie from 2000, Vincent D’Onofrio plays a time traveler from 400 years in the future who falls in love with Marissa Tomei’s photo, and travels back to the present to save her from being killed in a car accident. (The time travel and rewritten timelines in this film are complicated enough that someone has concocted a detailed explanation of them.) People praise this movie’s clever dialogue, tight editing, and the super-strong chemistry.
Neil Gaiman’s novel becomes a beautifully stylized film by Matthew Vaughn, with a huge extra helping of whimsy. A boy named Tristan ventures beyond a very special wall into the kingdom of Stormhold, where he seeks a fallen star for his beloved Victoria. But the fallen star turns out to be a beautiful woman, sought by princes and witches for the eternal youth her heart can confer. On the run from everyone, Tristan and Yvaine grow closer, and eventually prove that true love really can vanquish all obstacles.
6. Somewhere in Time
Christopher Reeve plays a playwright who falls in love with the picture of an actress from 1912, and uses self-hypnosis to travel back in time to meet her. And he succeeds! But the woman’s manager doesn’t want them to be together, for fear it will derail her career. The love between Reeve and Jane Seymour plays out entirely like a case of self-hypnosis, in which Jane Seymour convinces herself that he’s “the One” that she’s been searching for, and even delivers an impromptu monologue in the middle of the play she’s performing, in a trance-like state. But trances, including time-travel trances, can be broken… and so can hearts. This is one of the most unusual, and sweetest, time travel movies.
5. Electric Dreams
Miles and Madeline are in love — but there’s just one catch. Miles’ personal computer, Edgar, has attained sentience and is in love with Madeline too. Yes, it’s probably the first human-human-computer love triangle. Can Madeline learn to love a mid-1980s PC? Or can a computer learn to accept the special love between two humans? Or maybe the three of them can just learn to live together… in Electric Dreams?
4. Scott Pilgrim Versus the World
This movie is all about Scott Pilgrim trying to win the heart of Ramona Flowers, by defeating her seven evil exes. It’s about fighting for love, but it’s also about being a better person — because the Power of Love turns out not to be as powerful as the Power of Self-Respect, including being honest with the people you love. This is a love story for the video game generation, full of cool references and style points, but also a lot of heart.
3. Groundhog Day
This “day-long stable time loop” movie basically became the name we use for that type of movie, instead of saying “oh, it’s another day-long stable time loop movie.” Within the time loop, Bill Murray can alter his behavior and thus change the outcome in various ways, but he still wakes up the same morning over and over. To a large extent, the film is about a cranky cynic becoming a better person. But you can’t discount the extent to which it’s about Murray winning the love of Andie MacDowell, the honest way: By learning more about her, and learning to open himself up to her. When Murray finally has a perfect day and breaks the time loop, it’s because he’s found love.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Is this movie really a romantic comedy? Well, it’s funny as shit, and more romantic than five other rom-coms put together. It doesn’t adhere to any of the rom-com formulas, but that’s a feature rather than a bug. There’s a brand new technology that allows you to erase your memories of a love affair that turned out badly — and Clementine (Kate Winslet) decides to have this done to wipe out her memories of Joel (Jim Carrey). Joel, in turn, decides to retaliate by erasing Clementine from his own memories — only to change his mind halfway through the process. A beautiful metaphor for the ways in which you rewrite your whole life history after a breakup, this film also shows how love can take root in a place deeper than memory.
1. The Princess Bride
By far, this was the most popular choice for “best science fiction/fantasy romantic comedy” on our Facebook page, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not just one of the most quotable movies of all time, but also one of the sweetest — in which you’re sure Westley and Buttercup are destined to be together, even as she’s betrothed to the terrible Prince Humperdinck. It’s got everything: A loved one who’s believed to be dead but just masquerading as a pirate, a last-minute rescue, and Rodents of Unusual Size. Image by KevinBolk/Deviant Art