Debate Club: The top 5 science fiction romances

Contributed by
Feb 14, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

 

This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, we look at the best romantic relationships in science fiction and superhero films. It might not be a natural fit with all the explosions and zero gravity, but the best love stories in sci-fi/comics provide an anchoring effect: They remind you of the stakes, and why you care about everyone involved. So be ours, valentine, and enjoy this list of the five best relationships in science fiction and superhero movies.

Diana Prince and Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman (2017)

Of the many smart subversions and twists on the traditional superhero movie Patty Jenkins pulls off, one of our favorites is how she turns the tables on your usual romance. Here, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor — a pretty heroic guy in his own right — recognizes immediately that he can’t hold a candle to what Diana/Wonder Woman can do, and thus… cedes the spotlight and only tries to support her.

He sees what she can do, and thus his own limitations, but he isn’t threatened by them: It makes him care for her even more. This culminates in a finale that’s as emotional as anything you’ll find in a superhero movie. There are real stakes, and real costs. That’s because you care about the both of them.

Superman and Lois Lane, Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980)

With all due respect to Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth, who basically did a Superman and Lois Lane impression for Superman Returns, when people think of that famous love affair between an earnest Kryptonian and a sharp-elbowed Earthling, they’re imagining Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in the roles. Especially in the first two Superman movies, their flirty relationship is crucial to the appeal of the Man of Steel — particularly because Reeve and Kidder play their characters as lovable goofballs.

Sure, Reeve really emphasized what a sweet doofus Clark Kent is, but even as Superman there’s an unashamed decency to the guy that feels totally out of step with our modern-day, ultra-moody superhero movies. As for Kidder, she envisions Lois as the very model of the empowered, independent working woman who was emerging in the 1970s, but beneath the ambition there’s also tenderness — Superman may be a goody-goody dork, but he’s her goody-goody dork.

Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Batman Returns (1992)

The relationship between Batman and Catwoman has always been fraught, but never has it been so weird, and even a little kinky, as it was in Tim Burton’s second (and final) Batman movie. Burton is able to find the isolation and loneliness in each of these iconic characters, along with their ability to hold out hope that they could end up discovering some solace together.

The big climactic scene, in which Batman actually tears his mask off and, painfully and openly, asks Selina to come be with him, is as oddly touching as you can imagine such a moment could be. We all know Batman and Catwoman can’t end up together. But Batman Returns finds the tragedy in why.

Wall-E and Eve, Wall-E (2008)

Sometimes love lands in your lap when you least expect it. For the titular robot of this Pixar masterpiece, the bolt from the blue very literally drops out of the sky. When we first meet Wall-E, he’s just a sweet, solitary droid who’s been left behind to clean up Earth’s garbage, having no idea that all of humanity abandoned the planet decades ago. His is a quiet, simple life — until he encounters Eve, a rigid, battle-ready reconnaissance probe seeking signs of life, only to stumble upon the Hello, Dolly!-loving robot.

The genius of Wall-E is that even though neither of its main characters can speak much, their deeds and facial reactions tell us all we need to know about these characters’ developing affection for one another. And that moment when we’re sure Wall-E’s dead at the end still kills us — more than anything in the universe, we just want these two robots to get their happy ending.

Han Solo and Princess Leia, the original Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983)

They were the original Sam and Diane. She was a proud, tough princess fighting for a cause she believed in. He was a scoundrel who stuck his neck out for no one. When they first met, there was nothing but animosity: He thought she was stuck up, and she considered him little more than a self-centered mercenary. But eventually, we knew, that friction was going to lead to something more.

Sure, you can make "Ew, Leia kissed her brother" jokes all you want. (In retrospect, her smooches with Luke in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are deeply unnerving.) But that should in no way diminish the actual love story that’s at the center of this trilogy. Han and Leia had the kind of fire-and-ice relationship that’s as iconic as Gone With the Wind's Rhett and Scarlett: They love each other because, in part, they drive each other crazy. And for millions of Star Wars fans, their romantic ups and downs were as captivating as Luke’s lightsaber battles with Darth Vader. Defeating the Empire is one thing — finding your soulmate in the form of a scruffy-looking nerf herder is, arguably, just as important.

 

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.