Your Guide to Sci-Fi Romance Movies
Sci-fi romance movies aren’t always described as such, but they run the gamut from big budget, mainstream releases to obscure independent films. Only a handful of bona fide SFR films exist—meaning ones where the romance has an upbeat ending—but they’re out there if you know where to look.
A true SFR movie will fall apart if one removes either the romance or the science element. This is the case with James Cameron’s AVATAR, one of the most successful and high profile films of all time. Of course, it was marketed as a science fiction action movie, but SFR is the glue holding the story together.
Reportedly budgeted at 176 million, Andy and Lana Wachowski’s JUPITER ASCENDING is SFR through and through. In a nutshell, it’s about Jupiter Jones, a lowly janitor who learns she’s the heir to an alien mega-corporation in the business of harvesting humans for a nefarious purpose. Caine Wise, a bounty hunter tasked with finding her, falls in love with Jupiter and decides to rescue her from the dangerous political machinations of her royal family.
Overall, JUPITER ASCENDING tells me the filmmakers totally get what SFR is all about. While watching this movie, it felt like I was watching the SFR books I read come to life. Even the movie poster is similar to SFR book covers! The filmmakers knew exactly how to integrate the SF and romance elements and delivered them with impressive visuals. Tone-wise, the story hits the right note.
JUPITER ASCENDING also accomplishes what many other SF films don’t: it centers the narrative on the heroine. It’s an unabashed wish-fulfillment fantasy for women and teens because it features a female protagonist gaining both political power and the love of her life.
Unfortunately—and this is a big “unfortunately”—JUPITER ASCENDING has so many plot flaws and other shortcomings it wound up puzzling and polarizing audiences. The problem wasn’t the SFR elements, it was the questionable execution of them.
Because the story has lots of action, short cuts are deployed for the romance development. And while the worldbuilding is gorgeously rendered, some of it is stylistically inconsistent (e.g., the BRAZIL homage). At times the SF concepts, which involve great stuff like genetic engineering, come across as muddled. I have the feeling the Wachowskis used their creative freedom to throw whatever caught their fancy into the story, a tactic which ended up crushing the SFR core under its weight.
My concerns about JUPITER ASCENDING have largely to do with the medium. The story’s grand scope would have been better suited to a comic book series or a television show. Everything about it feels rushed and simultaneously stuffed to the gills with convoluted story elements. I’m thrilled this movie made it to theaters, but am disappointed about how much it fell short. This was not destined to be the film that would win people over to science fiction romance.
More often than not, I’ve discovered more satisfying sci-fi romance films outside the mainstream. Though sometimes lacking the slick production values of their mainstream counterparts, indie SFR films make up for it with elements like inventive plots, diverse characters, quirky humor, and lots of heart.
I count four indie SFR films as the best I’ve seen: CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME (space opera, Earth setting; written and directed by Madeleine Olnek), SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (time travel; contemporary setting; written by Derek Connolly and directed by Colin Trevorrow), HAPPY ACCIDENTS (time travel; contemporary setting; written and directed by Brad Anderson); and GB Hajim’s STRANGE FRAME (animated space rock opera; written by Shelley Doty and GB Hajim and directed by GB Hajim).
Other sci-fi romance films get the concept and mix right, but the stories themselves are deeply flawed, if not downright awful. Juan Solanas’ UPSIDE DOWN has its heart in the right place, but it’s a pretentious, superficial mess. HEARTBEEPS is a comedic SFR about two robots falling in love, but despite the combined star power of Bernadette Peters and Andy Kaufman, the story is a bizarre, unfunny, and cringe-inducing experience from start to finish. India’s LOVE STORY 2050, which stars QUANTICO’s Priyanka Chopra, is one of my personal kitschy time travel SFR favorites despite the film being a disaster both artistically and commercially.
A number of SF films feature a significant romance. Romantic SF films worth checking out, at least in terms of a rental or via streaming, include the following:
- DARK CITY
- TIME AFTER TIME
- TAI CHI 0
- THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU
- PERFECT SENSE
A new film that’s being described as a post-apocalpytic sci-fi romance is the Ethiopian film CRUMBS. I haven’t seen it yet, but plan to as it seems to offer an inventive take on this genre.
I’m also keeping my eye out for PASSENGERS (2016), an outer space love story that will reportedly star Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Written by John Spaihts and to be directed by Morten Tyldum, the story will focus on two people traveling aboard a generation ship carrying colonists in stasis. One of them wakes up decades too early because of a malfunction and decides to wake another passenger. At this point, it’s impossible to know if the story will have an upbeat ending, but one can hope!
My quest for SFR films is an ongoing journey. I crave SFR in this medium because of the immersive experience and visual intrigue it can offer. Seeing SFR couples come to life is nothing short of amazing. Given the explosion of science fiction movies in the past few years, chances are good future ones will be either romantic SF or outright SFR. They don’t have to be mainstream releases, either, since indie films are probably better suited to this genre. Frankly, I don’t care what marketing labels studios slap on the films as long as we get them!
For more information about the films mentioned in this article and more, check out 15 Posts About Sci-Fi Romance Films (via The Galaxy Express).